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Blood in the Water

It’s a fact. Biologists tell us that sharks can smell blood from 2-3 miles away. They follow their noses to the place where they sense it. They have an ‘attack mechanism’ to anything that’s attcked. Blood acts as a trigger inside their brains. Occasionally dozens of sharks attack in a feeding frenzy that’s pretty sad..

Almost 40 years in the Church has taught me that sharks aren’t the only ones that turn on the wounded.

The Church supreme ls supposed to be a safe and a healing place. This is what the Holy Spirit wants. That isn’t always the case. A believers in Jesus we should of done better.–there is an explanation of supreme grace. Someone one fails, another falters. Sin is uncovered and everyone takes cover.

There are may who be might be restored and others are instead trampled down instead.   There’re many who would rather ‘kick’ than pray. Unfortunately there is always a sharp explanation and a deep escalation and personal attack of those who create more blood in the water.

There are many who bleed. Those with a mental illness, or confined to a wheelchair, or with Downs Syndrome, they’re are the first that come to mind. They’re often the developmentally disabled, the drunk, the addict, the adulterer, the disabled, the homosexual, the poor, and the ex-con who are just several kinds of people that regularly get hurt in our churches.

“God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.”

Matthew 5:7, NLT

Mercy is what God extends to people who don’t deserve any. Failure to understand God’s deep penchant becomes the mercy that becomes the religious confusion that typically disturbs us. Keep in mind that the Prodigal’s older brother refused to party with the forgiven son. How terribly sad, and religiously confusing. They’ve been attacked by the enemy.

In theory, we agree. We find tremendous inspiration when this verse is read. But the noble feelings don’t always translate well into dedicated action. I’ve come to see that I must consciously press this into action. I must actively show mercy for the healing of others– and if anything to protect my own heart.

The Kingdom of God is specifically designed for losers; it exists for the sick, the stumbler and the sinner.

The Great Physician has come for the sick– and not so much for the healthy. He loves each of us, but cares in different ways. He tailors His grace to fit our sin. He’s concerned for the very worst. He associates with the lowly.

If there is blood in the water, let’s turn it up a notch, and let’s show special mercy for those who are struggling. Let us be kinder than we have to be. If we err— let us always err on the side of mercy and kindness.

 

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The Awful Weariness of It All

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“For my life is full of troubles,
    and death draws near.”

Psalm 88:3

Not really ‘positive’ is it? There is often a very dull, desperate tedium that saturates our lives–especially those among us with profound mental and physical issues.  It never lets up, the grind is constant. Depression, confusion, paranoia, and mania weave in and out of our lives.  Sometimes they seem to have ‘moved in’ with us.  (And, they intend to stay.)

There can be a hopelessness present–an ugly realization that there is no hope for today, and that tomorrow will not be any different. Some consider ending it all–rather than continue without hope. It is a terrible way to live, but hopelessness isn’t something humans can handle appropriately.

Contained in the scriptures are many stories and parables about wedding feasts and the king’s banquets.  On one occasion, somebody ‘finagles’ his way into the party. But it is then he is strongly confronted.  The bouncers bind his hands and feet, carry him out.  He is thrown out into the “outer darkness.”  The charge prompting this was his attire, it was all wrong.  He wasn’t dressed for the wedding. He did not belong there.

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Matthew 22:11-14, ESV

Many have given in to their despair, they now reside in “the outer darkness.”  They are no longer dressed for the banquet. They’ve stripped themselves of their wedding garments. How tragic. They have given up.

I’ll be the first to admit that mental illness and discipleship don’t always blend well together.  But the Father understands and increases his deposit of grace to make up for this deficiency. He doesn’t treat his beloved sons equally. Extra grace is given to the chronically ill.

Those who limp are given extra help as they follow Him.

God has created us for a wedding feast. And it is with confidence that we look forward to this feast, for in Christ we will not be found naked but clothed in the white garments of His righteousness.  He took my dirty and filthy clothes and exchanged them for his own white ones.  We wear his gift, and oh, what a wonder we are!

It’s time to get dressed.

“I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God!
      For he has dressed me in the clothing of salvation
      and draped me in a robe of righteousness.
   I am like a bridegroom in his wedding suit
      or a bride with her jewels.”

Isaiah 61:10, NLT

 

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Becoming a Gentle and Meek Person

Being very gentle with others

Gentleness means recognizing that the world around us is fragile, especially other people. It is recognizing our own capacity to do harm and choosing instead to be tender, soft-spoken, soft-hearted, and careful. To be careful means that you are becoming aware.

Perhaps this idea of becoming careful brings us the closest.  People who know exactly who they have become the most gentle of human beings.  They now live for others, showing deep-seated care for even the “least.” They need to become our elders and pastors.

Jesus is gentle, just as much as He is strong and wise and bold. You could say He was always gentle, even when He was bold and authoritative. No once did Jesus show unkindness in His words or teaching or actions. He was kind all the time, even when He was tired and hungry.

“He will not crush the weakest reed
or put out a flickering candle.
Finally he will cause justice to be victorious.
And his name will be the hope
of all the world.”

Matthew 12:20-21, NLT

Quotes:

“The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority.  Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson, but he has stopped being fooled about himself.  He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life.  He knows he is as weak and helpless as God declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is in the sight of God of more importance than angels.  In himself, nothing; in God, everything.  That is his motto.”                                                

 A.W. Tozer

“The higher people are in the favor of God, the more tender they are.” 

Martin Luther

“Perhaps no grace is less prayed for, or less cultivated than gentleness.  Indeed it is considered rather as belonging to natural disposition or external manners, than as a Christian virtue; and seldom do we reflect that not to be gentle is sin.” 

Norman Bethune

“Gentleness is an active trait, describing the manner in which we should treat others.  Meekness is a passive trait, describing the proper Christian response when others mistreat us.” 

Jerry Bridges

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A Stone’s Throw Away

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“And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray,”

Luke 22:41

WHO KNOWS WHAT JESUS IS THINKING AT THIS PRECISE MOMENT as he entered the Garden? His disciples waited for Jesus and scripture states that he proceeded ahead of them to find some needed strength through prayer— this verse tells us he went “a stone’s throw.”

We often share in the sorrows of the people closest to us, and Jesus wants His disciples to follow him. And they do, but not all the way. They came close, but were oblivious to the full nature of the pain that was beginning for Jesus. They slept while he agonized. He was for the first time perhaps, needing someone close.

Many of us will make the same trip to the garden. Soon every believer makes the trip to ‘Gethsemane,’ but not as mere observers. It is a distinct place of testing and of sorrow. And each will experience it for themselves. “The servant is not above his master.”

But Jesus is close— he completely understands what it means to be alone with sorrow. The believer can lean on Jesus as the pain continues. He sends his “Comforter” to each, as he escorts us through this time. He comes in grace, and is completely kind. He truly is just a stone’s throw away.

“God is our refuge and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.”

Psalm 46:1

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On Being Loved More Gently (Disability)

There will be no wheelchairs, or canes, or even ‘seeing-eye dogs’ allowed in heaven.

Some of us have been struggling with a mental or physical illness.  Some people don’t understand and they walk away.  This really hurts, and we can isolate ourselves even more.  We feel not only forsaken, but even “cursed” by God. But these things shouldn’t separate us from our Father’s love.  (He loves “his special needs” children even more?)

We believe that our transformation is happening, more and more, into the image of Christ.  We are becoming like him (hence the word, Christlikeness).  This is a long process, but it is happening!  (Philippians 1:6). God has given his word.  Don’t give up. It may take years, or maybe taking just a few moments. I believe he understands us perfectly.

I’m seeing lately that spiritual growth and getting older often work hand-in-hand (and why shouldn’t they?)  Often as we get older, we’ll start having many different issues.  When you’re 60 years old, you don’t have the same situations that you had when you were 30.  Physically we grow and understand things differently, and this works into us spiritually.  Becoming older (and hopefully wiser) we will blend discipleship and age together, especially when the Word and Spirit are present.

“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5 for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. 6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Philippians 1:3-6, NLT

It is my wish for you that you could walk in your own shoes, and not somebody else. Also that you would know the grace of God intimately. Being disabled means special efforts will often be necessary, but Jesus’ love for your soul will be molded to fit that disability. There will be no wheelchairs or canes, or even ‘seeing-eye dogs’ allowed in heaven. I like to imagine that there will be a considerable pile outside the gates. Glory awaits.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

Romans 8:18

 

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Grief Sucks but God Restores Hope

It’s been 15 days since I got the news. My sister Suz passed away at 4:00 a.m. on a Thursday morning.

I hate that phrase, “passed away.” It makes it sound like she floated off in a gondola across the sea.

She died. Why do we shroud death in such wishy-washy language?

I never went to visit her before she died. I had plans to visit Memorial Day weekend. But that was a week too late. I really need to stop planning to visit loved ones who are sick and just do it.

The cards and condolences all give me permission to grieve this terrible loss. But I’m scared to let myself grieve. I can’t think about this loss of my oldest sister without remembering the loss of our sister Peggy (who also died on a Thursday), and Daddy before her, and Mom before him. The grief seems too much to bear.

Grieving is doubly difficult when every impulse to let tears fall feels like teetering on the rim of the pit of depression. What if I let the grief run free and it drags me into that hell I haven’t really known in over 20 years? I remember that place of desperation all too well and I refuse to go back there.

It’s not that I haven’t cried about her being gone. I definitely have, but it terrifies me when I do. And why do the tears keep coming back once they’ve been cried? How do I grieve but continue to live? 

I know this deep sadness is different from major clinical depression. I know the reason for these tears. When my depression was at its worst I had no idea why I couldn’t stop crying. The incessant tears served no discernible purpose. But the head knowledge that my tears of late do have a purpose—the loss of someone I dearly love—doesn’t alleviate the fear that they may drag me into another bout of depression.

The other day I queued up a few Chris Stapleton songs on YouTube while I worked on a relatively mindless project. I fondly reminisced about when she bought us tickets to see him at a small venue in Portland. Then a song came on that I hadn’t heard him sing before called “Drink a Beer.” The next thing I know I’m bawling and my heart feels like it’s breaking into a million little pieces and being compressed in a vise all at once.

Today, as every day for the last two weeks, the hard cider in the fridge calls to me. I usually wait until after work to have one. But I’m on vacation this week and today 3:00 p.m. seemed like a good time to have one. It’s 5:00 p.m. somewhere, right? And at least I’m not drinking tequila in her honor.

Maybe it’s the compound grief that is making it harder for me to cope with this loss. I don’t remember it being quite so unbearable when Peggy died, but then Suz was there with me for that loss. We began the grieving together. Now all my family support it on the other end of a telephone line.

When Mom and then Dad died, I was already depressed. My grief was fused with the vague despair of my mental illness. I suppose it could be that fusion that makes grieving so difficult now. I can’t seem to separate the two states of sorrow.

And yet this spiritual discipline of writing my thoughts and fears on paper helps me to gain a clearer perspective. I’m reminded as I write of a favorite Bible verse. John 11:35 says, “Jesus wept.” The occasion was the death of his dear friend Lazarus. Even though Jesus knew he was about to raise Lazarus to life again, Jesus modeled grief over the loss of a loved one. He declared in that shortest verse that tears are a normal part of this broken life we live in a world of sorrow upon sorrow.

The same apostle who recorded this verse penned the book of Revelation where we are told God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4 NIV.

These tears I cry for my sister are normal. This grief is okay. Today won’t be the last time I grieve this loss. This will likely not be the last loss I will know in this broken world.

“We will never be the same as we were before this loss, but are ever so much the better for having had someone so great to lose.”

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Rainy Day People

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“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”

Galatians 6:2

“Our counsel is that you warn the freeloaders to get a move on. Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs.” 

1 Thessolonians 5:14, Message

Proverbs tells us that giving good advice is as rare as gold or silver.  I have met so many people who have an opinion about my problems, but few want to listen.  And listening skills are what my counselors need.  Job’s friends were the best counselors when they sat quietly in the ashes with him. They were sterling silver until… well, you know what happened next.

I want to unload my issues.  Personally, I need someone who has been profoundly depressed and finally stumbled out into the light.  It’s not that I don’t love certain believers, but they haven’t been “checked out” on this particular problem.  It’s like flying a plane, or operating heavy equipment.  If they haven’t suffered, then leave me alone–but, please do pray for me.

I’ve discovered that good counsel invariably comes from a good person. 

But it’s more than that– not everyone can do it.  At one time I thought any mature Christian believer had a right to give guidance, but that really wasn’t the case.  I also believe that every believer will receive a minimum of a ‘spiritual semester’ in counseling. The Holy Spirit will come to teach you. We have to learn there is wisdom, and there is counseling. And at times, “wise counseling.”

I read this somewhere, and it seems like it’s true.  “Unless you have been lost in this particular section of hell– just shut up!”  I don’t want to be rude, or ungrateful, but I really need someone who has visited ‘hell’ on occasion. And especially down this specific corridor. People who have been damaged by life know what I mean.

Often counselors are offering a very small part of the needed wisdom. They must accept this. I however place a premium on the counsel of a few dear friends, even though I have hundreds of Christian relationships. I am a bit of a hermit, so it’s hard to find caliber people that I can trust.

My guess is that that 1 in 70 people, [more or less] are qualified to deal with mental illness. 

I don’t diminish relationships, but I do know that certain people are not tested on certain problems.  This may be simplistic, or a little harsh.  But when I had my brain tumor, I did not want my car mechanic to fix me, I wanted a neurosurgeon. And both are wonderful people. I’m fortunate to have them.

Choose your rainy day people carefully. Mark them out beforehand; before things get out of hand.

If you’re reading this, and you have a mental illness issue that’s starting to escalate, you need to reach out.  My guess is that that 1 in 70 people, [more or less] are qualified to deal with mental illness.  Ask the Holy Spirit for his help in this.  He is the Comforter and the Wonderful Counselor.  He will direct you, and help you.  That is what He does.

“Rainy day people always seem to know when it’s time to call,

Rainy day people don’t talk, they just listen till they’ve heard it all.

Rainy day lovers don’t lie when they tell ‘ya they’ve been down like you.

Rainy day people don’t mind if you’re cryin’ a tear or two.”

Gordon Lightfoot, 1975

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Mending Your Nets

Tools used to mend nets

“And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.”

Matthew 4:21, ESV

“And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

Mark 1:18

To mend nets was tedious but necessary. You would take your net and spread it on the ground in a open space. Every knot would be carefully examined. All holes would be repaired. Nothing was overlooked. Fishing nets were painstakingly maintained. Everyday, without fail.

Fish would school, and if your gear was right, and you were in a prime place, you could catch a lot. But at the same time, you could let hundreds of fish escape through a hole in your net. Each fish that escaped meant money lost.

Jesus walking along the beach surveyed the boats and crews. Since most of these guys had worked through the night, they were tired and maybe a bit “punchy.” Some had gotten somewhat lucky, while others had very little to show for working so hard. Most likely the different crews teased each other as they unloaded.

Jesus walked through the bunches of fisherman. He looked at their hauls to see what they had caught. But it wasn’t the catch He was looking at, it was the men. It was from these laboring fishermen that He would choose. These men were rough and tumble rednecks. If they had chewing tobacco back then, they would use it.

He stands, looks and then commands them.

Now if you are looking for disciples– future apostles and leaders, the seashore is not the best place to recruit. They really have a rudimentary education. No theology, and just a meager understanding of Jewish ritual and religion. Essentially there was no time for them to think outside their occupation. Sure there just might be one, or two that possessed more, but that would be the exception.

But Jesus had no desire to interview them, and take the best of the lot. He didn’t have a Human Resources Department, there were no tests, and no forms that had to list references. He simply commanded, and those who understood followed. Only after they left it all did He get their names and addresses. I think that it is the same today.

Will we leave our boat, with your nets? Really, you can keep mending or you can follow Him– it’s your choice. Most of the time though, decisions have a tendency to be irrevocable. Perhaps you have a moment, an instant of time to decide.

Sometimes mending nets can be back-breaking and tedious. But following the Lord Jesus is an unknown; too many choose to keep mending. Others are launched into something new, and eternally significant.

The glaring truth is the necessity of obedience to Jesus’ command. There is no other voice we must hear. As a matter of fact, hearing (and really apprehending) is the only foundation we can trust to make our obedience true.

You can keep mending your nets and preparing for another night on the water. That is always your prerogative. But if you decide to follow you will need to leave what you know behind. That is authentic discipleship.

“Rest in this – it is His business to lead, command, impel, send, call or whatever you want to call it. It is your business to obey, follow, move, respond, or what have you.”

-Jim Elliot, missionary to the Auca indians

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Counseling Others

 

“Rash language cuts and maims, but there is healing in the words of the wise.”

Proverbs 12:18, Message

Lately, I have grown skeptical of my own ability to give out sound counsel.  For the most part I have refrained from doing so, lately, I introduce them to the wisdom and love of Jesus.  It seems like a it’s a bit like a triangle– Jesus, them and myself–we each have a corner.  All I do when I counsel someone is to help them see the Lord.  Hopefully, once a dialogue has taken place I step back and let the supernatural happen.

Much of counseling is facilitating or creating an environment that you can gather information.  Probably your friend feels that you and your surroundings are “safe” and he/she can open up in that situation.  Almost all of the time, a certain level of confidentiality must exist and be understood as being “in place” even among peers.  

A key fact is getting permission to counsel.This should happen in order for the counselee to really receive.

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Job with his Friends

Usually when if I meet with someone, I don’t want to sound profound, or wise; I’m still trying to follow Jesus myself.  I recognize the Holy Spirit gifts the un-gifted. But I’m also pretty much aware of my own short-comings. (I guess this can make me a better listener and not a talker?)

Remember that Job’s friends were at their best when silently sitting with him in the ash and rubble. At that moment, they were very effective counselors.  The problem came when they verbally explain why Job’s personal disaster took place.  Very often I find that people have a need to be needed.  Some well-meaning believers give counsel so they can feel good about themselves. 

I’m afraid there is a lot of Christian counseling out there that is sabotaged by this inherent flaw.

Part of speaking wisely to a friend must include the option that I might be totally off-the-wall! Whatever I say must not be “ex cathedra“, or as truth unchallenged.  And just because I’m giving you counsel does not make me superior, wiser or more authoritative.  It really should take as much humility to counsel, as it takes to be counseled. I can think of an easy dozen encounters that I’m embarrassed by– and will never be able to retract. Mistakes are made, but we should trust the Holy Spirit to use those missteps. He is sovereign.

Peer-to-peer counseling is very much a blessing.  A great need exists in the church for this particular ministry.  But to be a source of wisdom to another should be both a sobering, and a clarifying experience.  To be a counselor can be quite dangerous, spiritually speaking, and I should not seek this place unless its thrust on me. A good counselor is almost always reluctant.


“If you young fellows were wise, the devil couldn’t do anything to you, but since you aren’t wise, you need us who are old.”  Martin Luther

“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.”   Thomas Fuller

 

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Hold Onto What You Know

 

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A dear and wise friend of mine once told me that I should never go by what I feel, but by what I know. Feelings can be fickle and reactionary, and oftentimes they do not reveal the truth about the situation they are a reaction to.

There are times when my feelings have been all of these things. I’m sometimes sad or angry or depressed or disillusioned. My feelings are often a reaction to what has been going on in my life, or to things that have been said to me as well as about me and others whom I care deeply about. I’ve had times of feeling hopeless and been in disbelief of the things that have transpired in my life. I had days when I feel completely lost and alone. On those days I listen to my dear friend and turn to the things I know to help me get through how I am feeling, to get to the truth of the matter. Here is what I know:

  •  ”And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28. The important word in this verse for me is “all.” It is not just in some things, but in all things, that God works for the good of those who love Him. I may not see the good that will come from my present circumstances, but God does.
  • “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11. God has planned my days, now and for eternity, and His plan is one of hope.
  • “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31. Even though my own strength may be insufficient to get me through difficult times, the strength of the Lord is always there for me to lean on.
  • “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”  Peter 5:7. God loves me and will take my burdens and anxiety if I will only let go.
  • “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3. Eternal life starts now by knowing Jesus, not just when this body dies.
  • “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:38. This is one I have proven to myself. As I am a blessing to others I receive a blessing in return much greater than I gave.
  • “Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10. There is a joy to be found when I trust in the Lord.
  • “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:16-17. Grace and truth go hand in hand, and they are the great blessing that we all have from Jesus.
  • “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10. Jesus came that we might live an abundant life, the best life that God could possibly want for us, something much better than we can ever imagine. Satan is the thief who promises pleasure and great ideas but means us only harm.
  • “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Psalm 23:6. This is a promise and a truth that can get me through any day.

These are just some of the things I know. God’s Word is full of promises of hope, love, joy, and redemption. It is full of stories of how those who had faith in God, who trusted in His promises, were blessed beyond measure.

God is greater than my feelings. I may feel hopeless, but that does not negate the hope He offers. I may feel lost, but that does not change the fact that He has found me and will never leave me. For all these promises I am grateful.

Love,

Linda K.

 

http://lindakruschke.wordpress.com/

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When Life is Dark and Heaven is Quiet

 

God’s people have always had to wrestle with the things from the dark.  As believers, the Bible tells us that we’re in a permanent state of war against Satan. There has never been an armistice or treaty signed to my knowledge.  Each one of us is on 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 dark, and desperately bleak. No one needs to educate us about the dark nightmare that is now active. Over a couple of millennia, God’s covenant people have been harmed and harassed.  Enemies are constantly manipulating and twisting God’s Word. As disciples, we’re under steady surveillance by the dragon.

Sometimes heaven is silent. But I believe it is never, ever disinterested.

But He certainly has not overlooked us.  As we read our Bible, our faith becomes like Teflon.  Nothing can stick to you; even though so much is thrown at us.  When life is really dark or terribly bleak, we can protect ourselves and others. There are times when we can sense nothing.

“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.”

We are not theologians, we are just simple disciples.  He knows this.  I believe He simplifies things in order to help us understand. God has little reason to complicate things for us.

I believe that we are “surrounded” by saints of 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 you 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.

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

John Bunyan, “Pilgrims Progress”

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Good Grief, [Post by James Winsor]

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How Depression is a Blessing in Disguise

A darkness creeps into the soul and smothers it. Who knows why, how long it will last, or what will make it go away. You feel like you have nothing left to give to anyone else. You don’t want anyone around, except that one person who knows how to lift the darkness. You can’t and don’t want to explain how you feel. You don’t know why you’re sad, and you feel embarrassed by it because you have a pretty nice life. You can see why hungry, sick or poor people would be sad, but not you.

If you’re up to it, you try to process thoughts about God or words to or from God. This feels impossible. At best, God is distant. He couldn’t care about these stupid, unjustifiable feelings. There are people with real problems; God should be much more concerned about them. At worst, God becomes a very active enemy. He judges you for feeling this way. He wants you to just drop this selfish, self-centered, self pity trip. Doesn’t the Bible command, “Rejoice in the Lord always?” You’re a long way from doing that. Every word of good cheer seems to condemn you more for not being cheery.

As you deal with these feelings, you start to see what’s at the bottom. For the most part, it’s self-loathing. You just can’t stand being around you! Sometimes you can’t see the causes for the self-loathing. It’s just there and it won’t go away. I hate being me, and anyone who really knew me would hate me. The people who love me only do because they don’t know me.

Sometimes the self-loathing turns outward. It explodes into a kind of rage against the world. Now the darkness has covered not only your heart, but your eyes. You can’t see outside of yourself. You have trouble remembering there is an outside world. When you wake up to that fact, you again see the self-centeredness and hate it all the more.

It doesn’t seem possible to break out or for anyone to break into it. Even God doesn’t seem to know how to break inside the darkness. Some of the most spiritually-rich Christians I know experience depression. Some of them medicate it. Some don’t. But it doesn’t make that much difference when it comes to the soul. You can’t medicate the soul.

God is up to something in your depression. There are things God can do for you better when you’re depressed. Someone once said that God empties in order to fill, and kills in order to raise up. God could have made a world where depression is impossible. He could have made a world where sin, death and Satan are not on the scene. But God decided ahead of time that it was better to do things His way. There was something important that He could do with a broken world that He couldn’t do with a perfect world.

In paradise, Adam and Eve did not know God as well as you do. They walked and talked with Him, but were ignorant of what God was really about. God is self-sacrificing, self-giving love. Adam and Eve didn’t have a clue about Good Friday. They didn’t need Good Friday. Do you realize what that means? They didn’t need God’s self-sacrificial love. All they needed was a creator and provider. They didn’t need a Savior.

But that’s what’s best about Him. He saves sinners by dying for them. When Jesus was on the cross, you were loathed enough. God took out all of His holy loathing, and it was over. There is nothing more important in your life than God’s saving love for sinners.

Depression is a cold, gray wind that blows you off the cliff.

You can’t find anything inside yourself to cling to, to hope in, to claim as a basis for God’s acceptance.

All you have is Jesus and His love for sinners.

His resurrection of sinners in Himself. His baptizing of this sinner, you. That’s all you have. You fall into the water and lose yourself. But once you fall in, you can only see the love of God in Christ. A purple robe for mocking. A brown cross. Silver nails. Red blood. A white robe shining forth from the darkness of the tomb.

Have you ever noticed that you can see the farthest at night? In the daytime the most distant object you can see is the sun – a mere 93 million miles away. But at night your eye takes in countless stars and galaxies that are many light years away. Your vision is greatly improved in the darkness.

So it is with depression. When you are having bright days of happy sunshine, you can’t see too much further than your studies, sports, work, friends, family or possessions. A very small world. But in the darkness of depression you begin to see the glistening vast expanse of God’s love in Christ.

And when you are full of self-loathing and darkness, the love of Christ is all you have. And as it turns out, you don’t have Christ at all until all you have is Christ.

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The Rev. James Winsor is pastor at Risen Christ Lutheran Church in Arvada, Colorado.

Taken from the Spring 2002 edition of Higher Things magazine. You can write Higher Things at P.O. Box 58011, Pleasant Prairie, WI 53158-8011.  http://www.issuesetc.org

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Memories That Shame Us

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 

Genesis 3:6-10, ESV

There is a good chance that some of your memories are pretty awful. When we get looking back we can see shameful, dark things.  Some of us carry things that are profoundly evil, and they go with us wherever we go. It’s no secret that  guilt and mental illness travel hand in hand, for they are brothers. They have tormented us for terribly long time. They are like playground bullies who have no fear– they  only have hatred for us.

I’m quite convinced that the only way to move on is to have Jesus Christ to fully cleanse you; and that includes your dark humiliations.  The human tendency is for concealment. We take considerable effort to conceal and cloak our past lives. (Both Adam and Eve understood personal shame.)

I remember back when my dad discovered that one of our dogs had killed a chicken.  He took that dead chicken and wired it around that dog’s neck. That dog wore that chicken for weeks.  It was awful, and it began to putrefy. The smell was terrible.  I can still see that dog, staggering and tongue lolling out and slobbering.  My dad said it was the only cure for a “chicken killer.”  The dog would get very sick, attached to this rotting carcass.  It was sobering lesson for a boy to see.

Somehow, that is what our past disgrace has done to us.  Sure we have moments when we can almost forget.  But, for the most part, it is just a temporary reprieve.  We slide back and rediscover the pain; it’s just waiting for us.   The cost on our mental health is staggering.  Many of us are driven in a mad movement to drugs and alcohol.  We are compelled to escape the pain, and for a little while it seems to work. (This is called “co-morbidity.” Which is ‘fancy talk’ for a dual problem.)

It’s like filling a bucket with corrosive acid.  It will “eat” its way out.

Most of us, would quickly trade this mental pain, this misery;  for a physical one. Something shameful that was done 20 or 30 or 50 years ago continues its destructive work.  Our conscience will not allow us to dispose of our self-disgust in this easy, cavalier manner.  We need a ‘hazmat’ crew to help us clean-up mentally and spiritually.

You have to forgive yourself.  You must, or you will destroy yourself and those closest to you as well! Often we believe these things are simply a moldy wall; they seem to just need a coat of paint. Our problem is that it will only cover for a short time.  After 20-30 layers are applied, we realize this isn’t really the answer. Nothing we can do is ever enough.  We must have Jesus– we must!

“God doesn’t want us to punish ourselves to erase our guilt. He punished his Son to cancel our guilt. God will not build His kingdom on our pain because He is building it on His mercy.”

-Bryan Chapell

A full repentance is critical. Don’t scuff off this first step.  The blood of Jesus isn’t some nicety. It is foundational for salvation. We are to, by faith, start the obedience. Our blistering sin and guilt are absorbed in Jesus’ death and resurrection.


“When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun!”

2 Corinthians 5:17, LB

 
 

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Lots of Sand and Plenty of Heat

“Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.”  

Isaiah 43:19

There is nothing that will increase your strength and your character like the wilderness does. It is God’s gym; he works you out on his equipment.  Good things will happen to all who exercise. The desert becomes a place of separation and resolve. It is not for the faint of heart.

This spiritual geography is also the launching pad for ministries: for Jesus’ public ministry was 40 days in the wilderness — the training for Moses’ powerful leadership of God’s people was 40 years in the desert — and maybe why you are serving your time in the wilderness, right now.  It has to be.  It is your place for this moment.


I tried to relieve your fears: “Don’t be terrified of them. God, your God, is leading the way; he’s fighting for you. You saw with your own eyes what he did for you in Egypt; you saw what he did in the wilderness, how God, your God, carried you as a father carries his child, carried you the whole way until you arrived here. But now that you’re here, you won’t trust God, your God—this same God who goes ahead of you in your travels to scout out a place to pitch camp, a fire by night and a cloud by day to show you the way to go.”

Deut. 1:31, ESV

At times of strenuous activity/emotion–he comes and carries us.  He is exceedingly gentle, and he knows precisely what we need, and he sure doesn’t stint on his grace–he pours it out lavishly.

Once in the desert, the Father keeps a close-eye on all his children. 

If you’re in the desert, know that your God is on duty.  Nothing that comes to you sneaks past His alert observation and consent.  (And after all, if you think about it, the wilderness is His as well.) We seem to always be on the anvil; in the wilderness where God is shaping us for higher things. But, by faith, it is a rich place to be.

“To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness, is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment nonetheless. Even in the wilderness – especially in the wilderness – you shall love him.”

–Frederick Buechner

Love, in Jesus,

Bryan

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Calibrating Your Heart to His

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A chart used to calibrate video

“May the patience and encouragement that come from God allow you to live in harmony with each other the way Christ Jesus wants.”

Romans 15:5

“Now make me completely happy! Live in harmony by showing love for each other. Be united in what you think, as if you were only one person.”

Philippians 2:2

The science and method of calibration provides us with a way to bring two, or more things into harmony.  It is done frequently on diverse things as scientific instruments, avionics, or music.  Without ‘this quest for blending’ things degrade into a symphony of confusion.

A piano is tuned, and the worship leader then tunes into that piano.    The worship team is blending simultaneous sounds of different pitch or quality, making chords. This takes practice, and a gift. This principle is enhanced when we think of several gears that mesh and turn together.  There is a certain congruity, or a symmetry that makes it successful. Beautiful music can happen only if the musicians have been calibrated with each other.

We need a calibration of our spirit with God’s Holy Spirit.  We tune in to Him.  His Word is a little bit like a tech manual, showing us, and helping us.  He helps us adjust so that we are harmoniously flowing with Him and with others. Sometimes this takes time.

Have you ever met a believer not in harmony?  I bet you have. They may have a belief that is out-of-balance.  It may be health, or sickness.  That is quite common today.  Finances are also an issue, or politics. Be very careful.

I lived in San Francisco in the 1980s with SOS Ministries.  There was a small church down in Pacifica who would drive up to ‘worship on the street’ with us.  They were incredible.  They had a sensitivity and anointing that other groups didn’t have.  They loved Jesus very much and loved each other, and it showed.

Within six months they disbanded, and went their own ways.  I was told that their meetings were essentially ‘gutted out’.  They became fanatical about the ‘anti-abortion’ message to such an extreme they didn’t even have a church service anymore.  It was now nothing more than a political rally, and they were not even reading the Word or worshiping together. They were no longer calibrated to the Spirit or the Church.  They were no longer aligned to the truth.

I have to be regularly adjusted into a harmony with the promises of God.  I need my gauges to be consistent with the Word.  Not to be ‘heavy’ on certain things. I realize that my illness causes me to be very inconsistent.  I sometimes feel like I’m God’s ‘ping-pong ball.’  I wish I was different, but the promises given are that He intends to change me.  I bet He can do this remarkable thing.

Bless you,

Bryan

 

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Don’t Waste Your Sorrows

 

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“You have given me many troubles and bad times, but you will give me life again. When I am almost dead, You will keep me alive.”

Psalm 71:20, NCV

“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

Isaiah 53:3, NASB

Everyone hurts sometimes. We all will face our special sorrows. But there are times, when our pain pounds us intensely, and it can get really bad. The darkness rolls in on our souls like a caustic fog. We might devastatingly discover that there are things that are worse than terrible.

I have never spoken out like this, but my wife and I had a daughter who died— she was stillborn. She was doing great, up to a week before her due date. We knew that in seven days, we would be able to see her– face-to-face.

But that was not to be. Elizabeth Grace Lowe died from strangulation (from her own umbilical cord.) Nothing could have been done. My wife had noticed a moment of very frantic activity, as Elizabeth fought for her life. We plummeted from ecstatic joy to a devastating sorrow in just seconds. It came “out-of-the-blue,” totally unexpected. We were completely undone. 

“For the Lord will not reject forever,
For if He causes grief,
Then He will have compassion
According to His abundant lovingkindness.
For He does not afflict willingly
Or grieve the sons of men.”

Lamentations 3:32-33, NASB

There is pain, but there are also promises. There can brutal sadness, but there are psalms. There is a blessing on all those who grieve. This topic deserves far more attention than this simple post. (If you’re in the thick of things, I’m trusting the Holy Spirit will help you to your next step.)

There can be such sorrow in this life, much more than the human heart can possibly contain. But our Savior has a title (one of many.) He is the “Man of Sorrows.” He is the one who is “on point.” He leads us through such intense hostility. He is there, when the switch is flipped and it becomes instantly dark. We can’t, won’t and will not leave you to face your pain alone.

There are a few things that I want to communicate to you. These have come out of great darkness. I have tried awfully hard to be a disciple, even through the worst of it. They may be right, wrong or just okay, I don’t really know…

  1. God takes the full blame for our pain and sorrow. He doesn’t shift the blame, or deny His presence in our sufferings. Sometimes you need to adjust your theology. Maybe it’s hard to trust Him right now–that’s more than understandable. In eternity, I believe, it’ll make perfect sense.
  2. Jesus has fully shared our sorrow. All that you are feeling right now, He feels. If you feel you are at a minus 10, then He does as well. As you suffer, He is your shadow.
  3. Nothing is ever wasted. We really shouldn’t treat these moments of sorrow as a waste. Have you ever wondered at Jesus’ ‘economy’ after the 5000 were fed?  He assigns value to the leftovers. The disciples pick up their baskets and collect everything up again. Nothing will go to waste.
  4. This pain, this sorrow is the intensive crash course in becoming a person of mercy. You now will always walk with a limp. At times the scars will be quite visible to those who can really see. This will become forever a healed wound (but a wound nevertheless.) It helps to seek out others who have walked this same path. I don’t think I will ever fully trust a person who doesn’t walk with a limp.
  5. You will need (but maybe not accept) the transformation of your suffering into glory. This will take some time, and it almost feels like your not progressing at all. I encourage you to re-think each of these simple points. The Holy Spirit maybe working, perhaps behind the scenes.
  6. Finally remember this: God is not a monster, stomping on us like a boy crushes ants. He has carrie all of our pain and illness. He clearly comes along side every suffering believer. It is Satan who would suggest to you that God is a Celestial Menace, not worthy of our love. I will be very blunt with you, that idea has to be implicitly rejected. It’s origins are satanic.

*“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

Psalm 147:3, NLT

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.”

Isaiah 61:1, NLT

“He heals the wounds of every shattered heart.”
Psalm 147:3, TPT

*

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Assurance of Salvation for the Mentally Ill

 

”So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs.”

Romans 8:14-17, NLT

As mentally ill Christians, we are often a mixture of good and bad things regarding our faith.

  • The Good: we don’t have to be convinced of our sin.  We live in a broken world, and we’re pretty sure that we have formidable issues. We’re needy. We’ve tried lots of things, and we just might be a little wary (but that can be good.)
  • The Bad: our consistency fluctuates from day-to-day. We never know what our state of mind will be. Some of us have problems socially that hinders us. Attendance at our local church is hard. We struggle in our relationships with others.

From one day to the next many of us struggle. The existence of this ‘flightiness’ is painfully evident. And it is hard to maintain anything, much less a spiritual life. But I believe that the Holy Spirit not only makes an allowance, but even pours out extra grace on the afflicted believer. The Lord loves His misfits.

But we can’t put any confidence in our flesh. We do bounce around, but salvation is not of our own doing. What stabilizes us is a serious dedication to the promises we have in the Word of God. He gives us His Words to strengthen.

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Obviously, the engine must pull the other cars. We must look to the promises of God to stay on track. Both faith and feelings follow the engine. Some struggle a great deal because they are led by their feelings. Confusion will follow if we get the proper order mixed up.

  1. First facts, (the Bible)
  2. then faith,
  3. and finally feelings

The Word of God is our only safety. Even our faith is to be connected to the promises of God. For those of us with a disability, we realize that we deal with issues that others seem to skate through. (But hey, we’re used to that now.) And yet the Father makes some things easier for us too. 

Please, read the Word, the Psalms or the Gospels are always good. Try to memorize Jesus’ promises to you. If you collect up His words, in your mind and heart, the Holy Spirit will bring to your mind these verses when you really need them. (I draw much strength from the Psalms.)

We’ve been adopted by the Holy Spirit as sons and daughters. We are deeply loved by God Himself. He has gone and made us ‘heirs’ without any of our effort at all (Romans 8:14-17). These are examples of taking up the promises by faith. We are a people in need of stability. What God gives us is His own constancy. Read the Word, fresh just for you. The promises applied lavishly will enable you to be like Jesus.

 “And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.”

2 Peter 1:4, NLT

“In the darkest of nights cling to the assurance that God loves you, that He always has advice for you, a path that you can tread and a solution to your problem–and you will experience that which you believe. God never disappoints anyone who places his trust in Him.”

 Basilea Schlink

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Poetry of the Broken

Last Saturday I purchased a wonderful find at Powell’s Books (Portland, Oregon’s own homegrown new and used bookstore) – a used book called “Invisible Light: Poems about God” – for only $4.50. And it is in excellent condition. It is a collection of poems by various poets, some well known and some not so well known, as well as a few Psalms and other pieces of poetic scripture. I noticed in the table of contents that there were two poems by William Cowper, who I first heard of when reading “When the Darkness Will Not Lift” by John Piper. (See my book review of that book here).

Both of Cowper’s poems were so beautiful; made me wonder why I even try to write poetry. (But I do know my poetry is getting better, and reading poems like Cowper’s just makes me want to learn more about poetry and get better at writing it).

I want to share one of Cowper’s poems with the readers at Broken Believers. I do so because it is a great reminder that even when we think we are too lost and broken to be of any use to God, even then God can do the impossible. He can take a broken vessel and cause great light and wonder pour from its cracks. I am thankful for the poetry Cowper wrote, and for the witness that he provides of the truth that God uses the broken for astonishing things.

William Cowper, English poet and hymnodist
(1731-1800)

You see, Cowper suffered from recurrent bouts of depression and severe mental illness. At times he was convinced that he was damned for all eternity, and that he was a lost soul. Nonetheless, he was able to write some truly inspiring poetry and hymns to glorify God. This particular poem will cause the “Comfortless, broken, afflicted to delight in the joy of a life to come where all pain and sorrow will cease, and the glory of Jesus will be all we need.”

If you are struggling, feeling like you can never be of any use to God, take heart. God is in the business of using His power and wisdom in tandem with the broken believer to accomplish great things.

The Future Peace and Glory of the Church
by William Cowper

Hear what the Lord hath spoken:-
O my people, faint and few;
Comfortless, afflicted, broken,
Fair abodes I build for you:
Thorns of heart-felt tribulation
Shall no more perplex your ways;
You shall name your walls, Salvation,
And your gates shall all be Praise.
There, like streams that feed the garden,
Pleasures, without end, shall flow;
For the LORD, your faith rewarding,
All his bounty shall bestow:
Still in undisturb’d possession,
Peace and righteousness shall reign;
Never shall you feel oppression,
Hear the voice of war again.
You no more your suns descending,
Waning moons no more shall see;
But, your griefs for ever ending,
Find eternal noon in me:
God shall rise, and shining o’er ye,
Change to day the gloom of night;
He, the LORD, shall be your glory,
God, your everlasting light.

Hymn No. 10 of The Olney Hymns

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Peace, Linda K.

You can find Linda’s own blog at http://lindakruschke.wordpress.com/

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Making Progress

The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens.

Mark 4:28, NLT

This concept of physical growth is now applied by Jesus to us.  He has cultivated us, and we must insist on a maturation.  We sprout, and extend ourselves in a growth that means, ‘there is now life’ here.  Life is not mechanically rigid.  It has nothing to do with plastic, steel girders or cement.  It is emphatically not a concrete issue.  It is life!  It has a very different definition.

Jesus takes a seed, that seed splits open.  A green leaf pushes through, and it is growing!  Put into the ground, and watered, it will have life!  It is living.  This all seems easy and obvious now.  “Of course,” we say.  “I understand that.”  But when Jesus taught this (even as simple as it is) the implications were profound.  The earth seemed to shake when He declared this truth.

There was a rigidity to the spiritual world in Jesus’ day. 

This principle of life, and growth, and greenness was not at all descriptive of Pharisees.    The legalistic and cold hardness was unmoving, unrelenting and unyielding.  For many, this is a really major issue–the spiritual life was supposed to be have more organic freshness, then this.

But a living life of spiritual growth should be more than that; it was meant to be energizing and life-giving.  I remember seeing a mannequin in a mall (it was dressed in nicer clothes than I was.)  But although this display was in human form, it was definitely inanimate.  Going up to it, I tried to talk with him.  I wanted to explain things of the Spirit, but he just stood there, staring.  He was decidely devoid of real life.

Ridiculous?  Perhaps.  But having eternal life is profound.  We are like department store mannequins that have been made to really live.  And there is a growth that now takes place.  There is a supernatural, organic development–its this that should really infuse us with the life of the Spirit.  Our life is constantly and wonderfully changing, it should infuse us with a joy and elation we can’t keep a lid on.

Blessings,

Bryan

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Dances With Bruises

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Photo by Beto Franklin on Pexels.com

“It seems like bruises are part of life’s gift package to us.”

Dancers are some of the most talented people I know. Their gracefulness can be seen both on and off the stage. A dancer’s training 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 choose to live with chronic tendonitis. Their feet bleed sometimes, and pain is their constant companion, but they still choose to dance.

Two things to consider.

  • They choose to dance. Dancers must operate with an iron-will and an elegant grace. I suppose that is why they can dance the way the do. They have painfully blended the two.
  • The scars and bruises often become “badges of honor.” They would rather dance in pain, than not to dance at all.

Someone once compared depression as a “mental bruise.”

I think I might understand this. As a depressed person, I know what it is like to bury myself in my bed for several weeks at a time. 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 again. My sense of being totally lost in sad, dark thoughts 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 often a hellish and desperate depression.dancer-feet

I believe Jesus died for all my sins. He has forgiven me of much evil, I know that will live for eternity. 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.”

I refuse to hide my mental bruises from those who share in my issue. 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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The Lost One

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders.”

Luke 15:4-5, NLT

These things will happen from time-to-time.  Good shepherds keep a mental tally of every sheep in the flock.  The absence of just one is a matter of intense concern.  The parable rolls out and the shepherd takes off, leaving 99% of the sheep. Now, over the years I always thought that was very foolish.  You just can’t leave your flock “in the wilderness” (the NIV says, “open country.”)

If it was me, I wouldn’t play blackjack with my flock like this.  I would of just cut my losses, and move on.  It’s bad luck for sure, but why risk more? Could it be that this shepherd is a lousy one, and unable to handle his responsibilities?  Leaving behind 99% to rescue a single sheep doesn’t seem wise.

But yet it is a core thought of Jesus’: losing–searching–finding–rejoicing.  Finding this sheep is imperative. When he does find it, the text tells us that the shepherd lifted it up, and carried on his shoulders. He does not drive the poor, weary sheep home. This is not the way the Eastern shepherd does it.

He stoops down and lifts it up, and lays it on his own shoulder and carries it back.  Some others  will often use their staff, and beat the sheep out frustration. Perhaps that want to teach the wandering one a lesson.  But that didn’t happen.

 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.”

John 10:14-15, NLT

There is a desperate need today for insightful shepherds to work in God’s flock.  People who watch and feed and protect.  We must advance to this point–Jesus carried us, our burdens, illnesses, sins and perversity.  He picked me up, and lifted me back into the flock.  The heart of a shepherd cares for every single sheep, even one lost sheep…and maybe even especially the one lost sheep. Does the Church today reflect this parable? What do you think?

Your brother in Christ,

Bryan

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Emails from Almighty God

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Often, we benefit from reading the Word just a little bit “fresher.” Perhaps you’ve been approaching it much in the same way, every time. We’ll often get the same sense from it, as a result, and I suppose anything at all is helpful. But we need to reset from time to time. Let’s remember, the Bible has a distinct heartbeat, it’s alive, and it declares to us its vitality and relevance.

The author of the letter will always determine its value.

If an email is coming from a Nigerian Lottery, you quickly dismiss it. From your grandparents, not so much. When we read we look for wisdom and joy, and peace for our souls.

We get a email from a special friend. We find time to read it and imagine them sharing good things. We might get distracted, but we go out of our way to read, and maybe reread all our friend is saying. And if that email is especially good, we’ll save it as a kind of a ‘keepsake.’ And, after reading this great letter, we often will tell somebody close about what the writer shared.

We value the message when we seek to make it permanently available; printing it would the first step to that end. And memorizing it would be a next step, especially if the note was of a very important significance. Sometimes, you may read it out loud to others!

The New Testament is the Church’s collection of letters which we deem as “inspired” to speak to us. These “emails” were saved and treasured as coming from the Spirit of God, They are infused with a living presence, they can be like a sponge saturated with God Himself.

Some “letters” are read quickly, in just 10 minutes:

  • 2 Thessalonians,
  • Titus,
  • Philemon,
  • Jude,
  • 2 & 3 John.

Others can be read in just 20 minutes or so.

  • Galatians
  • Ephesians
  • Philippians,
  • Colossians,
  • 1 Thessalonians,
  • 1 & 2 Timothy,
  • James,
  • 1 & 2 Peter,
  • 1 John.

The following letters can be read in about a hour.

  • Romans,
  • Hebrews,
  • 1& 2 Corinthians.

We must, MUST, read His Words. We must figure out how we can make it work in our busy lives. If we don’t do this–we will find ourselves in spiritual danger.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”

2 Timothy 3:16-17, NLT

 

Alwyn Wall, Jano Wall and Tom Hooper at Calvary Chapel Melbourne, Florida, playing the 1970’s Christian classic, “Fool’s Wisdom.”

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“The Bible is alive; it speaks to me. It has feet; it runs after me. It has hands; it lays hold of me!”

– Martin Luther

“The Word of God is creative. It is a hammer that crushes the hardness of our insubordination. It is medicine that heals the broken-hearted. And it is light that gives us guidance and hope on our way.”

— John Piper

Be blessed,

Bryan

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Processing Pain Through Poetry

 

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by Linda K

I wrote this poem a couple of months ago. I wrote it while trying to process the struggle of dealing with one sister who suffers with mental illness (bipolar disorder and bulimia) and other family members who don’t understand.

I have experienced seven years of major clinical depression myself, and over the last few years have come to the realization that ending up there again is not outside the realm of possibility if I’m not ever vigilant. But that doesn’t make the family relationships any easier, and I often feel like I’m the only glue or buffer holding things together, and I’m not doing a very good job at it.

I share this here to maybe give someone else the strength to keep being that glue or to appreciate the one in the family who is the glue or . . . well, frankly I’m not sure why. It just seems like something I need to share.

A note on the final stanza: I do not, in any way, wish that the person this poem is about was dead. Far from it. I’ve lost too many other family members, including another sister who died of cancer two years ago. But on the day I wrote this, that felt like it would have been easier to take than the present situation.

Impossible Madness

Why does it feel like I’ve lost you
when you aren’t even dead?

Why am I the only one
who wants to make amends?

Why does it have to be so hard
after all these years?

Maybe it’s the tears
mine and yours, and theirs,
that makes breathing and living
loving and forgiving so impossible

I guess sometimes families and madness
can’t survive one another

Because that’s what you are, you know,
mad, or crazy, or mentally ill
whatever you want to call it

It’s torn us apart
because you don’t understand
why they can’t begin to comprehend
what’s going on inside your head

It’s torn us—you and me—apart
because you’ve convinced yourself
that I don’t at all understand
what’s going on inside your head

You forget I’ve been there
that those crazy, mad thoughts
have been inside my head, too

But then you’ve forgotten a lot of things
all the times I was there for you
just to listen
and the times you were there for me

Forgetting the good
is a tragic side effect
of medications meant to help
Somehow they don’t erase
memories of the less-than-perfect moments

My greatest desire is to forgive
and to be forgiven
to live and laugh and love again
to mend what has been torn asunder
to heal the thoughts inside your head

But right now, in this moment
it feels like you might as well be dead
at least that would be easier to live with

 

aasignLinda

You can find Linda’s own website at http://lindakruschke.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

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Braiding Yourself Up With God

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Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

Isaiah 40:31, NASB

The particular word “wait” is a vital force. It’s not a passive word in the Scriptures. It does not mean to be apathetic or lazy. Sometimes we wait in line at the grocery store, or maybe we’re waiting on a phone call. We regularly wait all the time, and usually, we don’t even realize it.

The Hebrew word used in v. 31 is ‘kawvah’ which means, ‘to bind together by twisting.’ It sometimes will mean, ‘to braid.’

It’s an interesting word picture, isn’t it? Sometimes we only take the English idea of waiting and turn it turns into a frustrating delay. Often, this is why we lose out on what ‘wait’ is really about. I have to believe the Holy Spirit wants to teach this idea of becoming ‘braided up with God.’ All too often we are limited by our definitions, and not God’s Word. 

For those of us who are ill— physically or mentally, just to be told simply, “wait on the Lord” is a real challenge. Often, we will end up resenting this counsel (and the counselor) because we have misunderstood what it means to really ‘wait.’ We come tantalizing close to this critical idea, but we never quite make it through the doorway.

Yet when I truly wait on God, I’m actually braiding myself into Him.

He becomes my strength; He is now the strong cord I am braided into. (Perhaps this is how He imparts strength and might to His people?) We need this, and the Lord is quite eager to lead us into this new kind of intimacy.

The promise in Isaiah 40:31 tells us about new strength–the eagle’s wings, a holy stamina. This verse is relevant to us today, and we need this kind of strength now. I only want to encourage you in your own prayer time, to see yourself intertwined to the Lord, and to recognize the good gift of the Holy Spirit freely given.

“Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!”

Psalm 27:14

Blessings,

Bryan

slowe299@yahoo.com

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Doctor’s Orders

 

“And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:17

I am convinced that as strugglers, who just happen to be believers, that there is a deep truth we must understand. In a nutshell, the terribly weak get sprinkled purposefully into our churches–they have a much needed ministry, a honest calling to become the ‘audio-visual’ (AV) department of the Church.

Allow me to explain–we display for all who can see, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We can be really mixed up, and really confused. But in contrast, He has become our everything, He is now our all in all. As AV people, we show and declare the deep, deep kindnesses of God. We display grace to the “hard-hearted.”

We are meant to be seen and heard, because that is what the AV department does best.

But that is really not our natural tendency or inclination. Jesus spoke of becoming a “candle on a lamp stand,” that gives light into the house. I suppose because of all our inconsistencies, this is often frightening–but this is our certain place in a dark, and very foolish world. And again–we’re now on display, whether we like it or not.

Because we belong to the AV department, we’re compelled to announce the solid mercy and kindness of God. Maybe in this short life, that is all we can really do. Fair enough. But still we hear that frightening call to become visible for Him– to point to His fantastic glory. He deserves this, and uses the worst He can find.

We may become quite intimidated by this ‘ministry.’ It seems we know far more about sin than we do about holiness. Quite a few of us are expert sinners. Some of us have our  Ph.D in evil. We have taken training in sin, and are quite proficient in it.

“This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.”

1 Timothy 1:15, NLT

When it comes to holiness or purity, we discover that we don’t have a chance. Without His grace on us, we don’t belong in heaven. We will often try to pretend like we do, but we are surprised when the Holy Spirit tells us “No.” He will not let us deceive ourselves in this way. We have no claim to righteousness. Without Jesus, we stand in front of all of heaven, wearing filthy rags.

Our sins and weaknesses, depressions and sicknesses, have become even more evident in time. We are the ones who walk with a definite limp. We will falter, and we stumble. But we continue to turn to Jesus–over and over. And in this persistent action, others will see a broad mercy that is poured out on rascals such as us. We will be those AV people.

But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’”

Luke 18:13

Blessings to you,

Bryan

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Those ‘Marginal’ People

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“Light shines in the darkness for the godly.
    They are generous, compassionate, and righteous.”

Psalm 112:4, NLT

The glory of Jesus lies in this: in weakness, vulnerability, and apparent failure. He has called forth disciples to come after Him, willing and able to carry the cross and relive His passion with compassion.

They are marginal people, not part of the scene, irrelevant to the “action.” In their ministry or quiet presence they do not need to win or compete. They may even look like losers, even if its just to themselves.

The world ignores them. But they are building “the Kingdom of God” on earth by reaching out in vulnerability and weakness to share the suffering of their brothers. They work by love rather than continue in sin.

“Where the compassionate One is, there will His servants be.”

Manning-devo-coverBrennan Manning, “Reflections for Ragamuffins.”

From an entry dated June 27th.  “A Stranger to Self Hatred,” by Brennan Manning.

Copyright @ 1982 by Brennan Manning, reprinted by permission of Dimension Books, Inc.

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Notice Leah’s Eyes, [Handicaps]

 

Portait of woman wearing scarf with eyes closed

 

Stuck in the wonderful convolutions of scripture we can start a great study of Leah and her sister Rachel. These two daughters of Laban have become Jacob’s wives.

Now, we may question this polygamy when all we know is monogamy. These kind of decisions may be criticized and even outright challenged, but we will change nothing (and does it really matter)?

Jacob longs for Rachel. She is his “soul mate” and because he is so much in love, the customs and technicalities of the day somehow get by him. Because of this, he will have to take on Laban’s subtle trickery, where daughters get exchanged, and he must sort out who is who.

Laban’s deception really creates a crisis. But it seems Jacob just rolls with it. I suppose deception has always been Jacob’s strong suit. (But when a deceiver gets deceived, that can’t be all bad, I suppose).

Jacob is so in love with Rachel that he works for seven years for the right to marry her. This may be a bit outrageous. But we really must weigh these issues. I believe Jacob really is a monogamist at heart (shh… don’t tell him). He can only see that one girl that he is crazy about, his true love, Rachel. But it’s Leah that I think about. Her own issues are unique. Genesis 29 explains it a bit cryptically,

“Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.” 

Genesis 29:17

I must tell you that there is confusion by commentators about the “weak eyes.” Some take it literally (as in, she in very “near-sighted,”) others who look at the original Hebrew find the words to be a bit looser and vague. They think that this is a polite way of saying she really wasn’t pretty. IDK, but I think I can gain from either interpretation.

In the long view, Leah would birth four patriarchs for Israel. But she would struggle with jealousy over her younger sister’s beauty and favor. Her pain was real, and she would hurt deeply over this.

I think I may understand Leah. She is wounded, and life requires that she live as unwanted. She sticks out as a woman of tragedy and broken hopes and dreams. She will always live as a reject. At best, she will always be a distant second, and perhaps a bit scorned and neglected for this.

Leah is the champion for the challenged.

I so love Leah and I do understand her. Her life is a long tragedy and very full of sadness. For the next 30-40 years she will always be a cast-off, someone who has been broken on life’s hard wheel. I look at her with a painful bit of understanding. She reminds me of being a struggler and a survivor. Her sad life is comparable to us who have to fight so hard over our own illness or handicap.

I have no idea what her issue was. But I do know that she was weak, and challenged by this terrible weakness. I understand this. My own life has been “topsy-turvy” and a really hard struggle. Somehow it seems we must work through way too much. It doesn’t seem fair. 

For those of you who are confined to a ‘chair,’ and the others who must deal with mental illness. Leah should be our hero. Those who have been betrayed by addiction, or who have felt rejected through a bitter divorce. Leah speaks to us. For she is for every loser and for failures of all stripes. But through all of our “set-backs” and messes, we must realize that God does love us– even as we weep.

We may have “Leah’s eyes,” but we also have His grace.


“When you encounter difficulties and contradictions, do not try to break them, but bend them with gentleness and time.”

–Francis de Sales

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You Can Only Come Through the Door

“I am the door, and the person who enters through me will be saved and will be able to come in and go out and find pasture.” 

John 10:9

This is powerful–its implications can rattle the windows! I sometimes struggle with depression, and sometimes with an assurance of my salvation.  Even after 40+ years of walking with God my mind boggles at my salvation.  But I read this and it tells me that Jesus is the door.  I need to understand that Jesus has to be the entry point for every real seeker.  We must cross over God’s own threshold to find eternal life.

Philosophy and religion are crowbars which many are using to force open the door. 

People are doing their best, but the door remains solidly shut.  There isn’t any other way in.  If the door is closed, no one can open it.  Access is restricted to those who will come through the door that is the Lord Jesus.

There is total forgiveness waiting to anyone who enters through this door.  A transformation of the heart is now given to all who come in properly.  Once we enter through Jesus,  our life opens up and we can live out lives of real love and goodness. This is the Gospel, and at last we understand what life is really all about.

We now know what is real, and what is not. 

We have been outrageously blessed! Jesus Christ has the keys, and He has opened the door for us. It was once securely locked, but now we can step right in, it is now unlocked for everyone who will put their trust in Him. We can enter in, and we will find everything we were looking for. Our pasture is waiting. We can step into a place that has been prepared just for us.

“God saw in the cross of His Son the only door by which he could enter to give a blessing to sinners.”

 -G.V. Wigram

Your brother,

Bryan

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Jesus Wept

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When I was a kid I learned no one wanted to hear me cry. When I was little, I had a temper like a small hurricane. I didn’t like to be teased and would become angry and cry if anyone teased me. I was always told, “Go to your room and cry. No one wants to hear you crying.” So I did.

But the temper tantrum didn’t end there. You see, the way our house was designed, my bedroom was, I think, supposed to be a family room. It had two doors opposite one another so that it functioned as a hallway between the dining room and the back hallway where the bathroom and other bedrooms were. When I was sent to my room, I would run into the room and slam one of these two doors. Because of some principle of physics that I don’t even remotely understand, the door would not completely close and the slamming would cause the other door to fly open and hit the closet. So then I would run over and slam that door, with the same result, until my mom yelled, “Quit slamming those G** damned doors!”

The belief that no one wanted to hear me cry or to witness my temper tantrums stuck with me for a long time. The way I always interpreted that statement was that no one cares how I feel. When bad things happened to me later in life, I told no one because I didn’t think they would care. When I was the most depressed, I kept it a secret because I was ashamed of feeling so bad and didn’t want to waste anyone’s time.

It turns out that many of the things we learn as kids just aren’t true. This is one of those things. Okay, so maybe there are people who don’t care. A lot of them. But there are also people who do care. People, like me, who when they ask “How are you?” they really want to know, even if how you are is horrible. The world is full of loving, compassionate people who have struggled just like you and me, and want to help us find a way through the temper tantrum of the day.

And even if you can’t find anyone in your life who cares, Jesus cares. John 11:35 records that “Jesus wept.” Why was He weeping? Not because Lazarus was dead, for He knew death was not the end of Lazarus. Jesus wept out of compassion for those who mourned the death of Lazarus.

In 1 Peter 5:7, the apostle wrote, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” He really does, you know. And so do His followers, though sometimes they don’t know how to show it.

aasignLinda

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Suffering Intelligently

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

James 1:2-4, NLT

There are many different points where our Lord connects to us through our desperation. Our sorrow and confusion can be how God ‘wires us’ for additional contact— in some kind of weird and cosmic way, my pain becomes His ‘copper wire.’ This often is how He touches my heart as He flows through it.

It is helpful to see our issues in this way.  There is a current that must work through us, making contact and ultimately to create a circuit. What I mean by this is that it seems we have to experience pain, in order to know His presence.  Only if you know that a brother has struggled, do you become aware that a tremendous wisdom (and love) is now accompanying him.

We must be aware that our distress allows us access to His ‘careful’ grace. Our trials, properly received, endow us with a special and supplemental power.

When it gets dark, any light becomes exceptional.  In a book by Stephen Lawhead, (I think it was “the Silver Hand.”) we see a man, the hero take up stones which have been infused the creative power of the universe.  Standing on the walls of a besieged stronghold, the desperate hero throws the stones down on the attackers.  And as each stone smashes into the ground it releases a part of a song, which destroys the enemy, and defeats those strong in the darkness. (Silly story.)

His Spirit infuses into our hearts.  He has imparted something in us that is both precious and powerful.  He works through the pain and struggles that we encounter.  These are terribly ugly, no question.  But it is through these we plug into something real and eternal. I suppose when the tragic finally brings real life it’s a most precious thing. We treasure all this for it comes at such an exorbitant price.

Pain indeed has a purpose, but oh, so many times it seems to only hurt.

But yet, that is our calling. I certainly know that life is seldom easy and our choices are even harder. I recently read that Queen Victoria, as just a teen fiercely opposed her future coronation as the sovereign of England. She grew sullen, rebellious and would continually frustrate her teachers.

Only once when Victoria was shown a lineage that showed her and revealed her place in England’s future as queen.  She became uncharacteristically quiet and she responded with an astonishing simple awareness, “I will be good.” From that moment everything changed for her.

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We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem. We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may then pour ourselves out for others.

Elizabeth Elliot

 

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Help for the Trapped

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“I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
    I am like one without strength.”

Psalm 88:4

In May 2011, this is what I wrote–

“I feel like I am going through a meat grinder. Pushed against my will (and desire) I’m finding myself in a place I’d rather not be. My therapist confirmed today that I’m in a “mixed state” where bipolar mania and depression come together.  I suppose you might compare it to two massive ocean currents smashing into each other. In the midst of all this strange crap I know that Jesus helps those who can no longer hold on by gritty determination.

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Severe depression, yes. But there is also the grandiosity. I believe that I think clearer, better, and faster than other people. It’s like I have superpowers.  I will think of myself as extremely gifted, superior to others.  I paint and write poetry and do “noble” things. (I’m working on jumping over buildings.)

But I also have tremendous anxiety, with racing thoughts, and even heart palpitations esp. when I am sitting trying to relax. I don’t sleep well at all, in spite of the sleeping pill, the Klonopin and the melatonin, and the Benadryl, (to make sure I do sleep.)

The endless cycle of feeling really good and then feeling really bad is a challenging one. 

It’s difficult to have a stable walk of discipleship under these circumstances.  I think being starkly honest and broken over my own fallenness is the key for me. (Now if I can only remember this.)

I continue to take my meds like a good boy. But they don’t seem to work like they used to. I think they can’t handle this particular concoction of depression/mania.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m getting better, but I never seem to get well!

I know that I’m being blunt here. Tact has never been an easy thing for me! As I read I remember the struggle, and how I couldn’t see a way out. I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit who led me when no one else could. 

I wrote this post some time ago, and decided that it needed to repost.

I’ve been reasonably stable, and I’m in a better frame of mind the last several months. I covet my time alone with God. He heals me. I’ve been captured by Jesus’ love; I know He shelters me with His love. I can live with that.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”

Romans 5:6

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The Power of My Wound

Healing doesn’t happen all at once.
Sexual trauma runs too deep,
is much too complex for simple remedies.

We have no Star Trek sickbay
or magic tricorder
to bind up the wounds,
erase the battle scars.

And would we want to if we could?
Would we walk away,
pretend it never happened,
we were never assaulted
violated… hated… berated…
made to feel shame and doubt?

Could we ignore the very truth of what we
know was wrong… evil… the vilest of all?
Could we simply walk away
and cease to bear witness
for those who come after?
Or maybe for those violated before
our own innocence was vanquished
but are yet to heal at all?

If we could be healed completely
in an instant, in the blink
of a selfish, knowing eye…

But to do so meant leaving
our sisters, our friends,
our daughters, even strangers,
without the hope of #MeToo?

Could we? Should we?

Because to heal 100 percent
I think is to forget every ounce,
every moment, of
the pain and struggle.

And to forget is to lose compassion.
So perhaps it is worth the
ups and downs of scars
that appear healed but sometimes,
more often than we’d like, bleed tears
of understanding helping others
feel not so alone.

Often I pray for complete healing.
For years I prayed to forget.
But then I remember that
without my wound
I am not me.

Without my wound,
the scarring of my heart and soul,
I am powerless.

aasignLinda

AnotherFearlessYear.net

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When Does Depression Become Sin?

The Bible is chock full of commentary on depression. King David experienced intermittent times of intense darkness.  He was a man who had to work through a great deal of it, and we can see that he succeeded in breaking through into freedom.

Would David today be treated with antidepressants?  Could he have been treated at a mental hospital? I honestly think the answer is “yes” to these questions.  He was definitely devastated by depression at certain times.

There is no question he experienced both spiritual and physical depression.  But I believe that David teaches us that depression has a spiritual component in our fallenness.  It has to be treated holistically, covering both the physical and the spiritual.  It’s like having two hands being injured, but only treating one of them.

We need to discern the difference between:

  • depression caused by guilt (sin)
  • depression caused by a medical issue (organic)
  • depression as a reaction to a trauma or loss (reaction)

This is key. And there are others. But all forms can be working at the same time (and very often do).

But remember, there will only be a partial release, if there is only a partial solution.

 13″If you don’t confess your sins, you will be a failure.  But God will be merciful if you confess your sins and give them up.” 

Proverbs 28:13, CEV

 The story of Cain and Abel reveals the issue of “angry depression” taking over a person’s actions.

“6The LORD said to Cain:

 What’s wrong with you? Why do you have such an angry look on your face? If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling.  But you did the wrong thing, and now sin is waiting to attack you like a lion. Sin wants to destroy you, but don’t let it!”  

Genesis 4:6-7, CEV  

David was depressed until he confessed his sin of adultery that he committed with Bathsheba.

3“When I refused to confess my sin,
      my body wasted away,
      and I groaned all day long.
 4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
      My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.” 

Psalm 32:3-4, NLT

The way out of some depression that is caused by guilt is almost always confession, and seeking God’s forgiveness. 

 5 “Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
      and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
   I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
      And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

  1 Oh, what joy for those
      whose disobedience is forgiven,
      whose sin is put out of sight!
 2 Yes, what joy for those
      whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
      whose lives are lived in complete honesty!” 

Psalm 32:5 , 1-2

If you are a believing Christian and are experiencing moderate-to-heavy depression, I encourage you to seek out medical help.  Medication may be helpful to get through this rough time, and talk therapy can be a life-saver.  If your depression is caused from guilt, it will NOT get better, until you deal with it in the presence of God. Seek guidance from a pastor, elder or a mature believer who understands things like this.

RedcrossNow I’m not a physician, nor is this medical advice. If you are experiencing thoughts of depression or suicide seek out help immediately. Call 911 if you are in a dangerous place. Your regular doctor can help and guide you in a better direction.

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Has God Given Up on You?

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If we are unfaithful,
    he remains faithful,
    for he cannot deny who he is.” 

2 Timothy 2:13, NLT

There can be times of a great despair; when sin or sickness is definitely in the spotlight. Losing hope is an easy response for mere mortals like us. There can be a place where the darkness won’t lift; and it’s at that point you realize that you’re simply in over your head.

I know that feeling quite well. I have bipolar disorder and I tend to camp out at the margins where it seems like the grace of God evaporates in the heat of the moment. Whether it is my sin or circumstances, I occasionally feel pretty much abandoned, and it usually is something self-inflicted. We have this glaring tendency to put ourselves in where we should not have been. And condemnation means no comfort can get through to us.

We wonder if God has finally given up on us, throwing us on the trash heap of lost souls. We might feel that is what we deserve.

“Many are saying about me, “God won’t rescue him.” 

Psalm 3:2

In Psalm 3, David has come to the realization that his sins have “tainted” him. He talks of many enemies that have suddenly gathered, and they are claiming that David was now outside of God’s grace and favor. The theology of this seemed logical. David had sinned greatly. And just perhaps he had. David’s sin of adultery and murder was heinous and depraved. His enemies suggested that God would now abandon him.

Our own sin may be excessive, but God’s faithfulness is even more extreme.

”Lord, your love reaches to the heavens, your loyalty to the skies.’

Psalm 36:5

The grace of God is limitless. It is beyond human comprehension or reasoning. When he committed himself it was for forever. King David understood this, and would survive the devastating fall-out from his sins. Indeed he would reap all that he sowed (Gal. 6:7-8).

You see, Jesus has taken all your sin upon himself,  and that includes your faithlessness. He has done this astonishing thing out of the deep depths of His love and mercy. We don’t deserve it and we can’t pretend it is something else. A heart welded to His knows this. We are “saved by grace through faith.”

Do you still feel God has abandoned you forever? Dear one, there is an unholy war on the saints that Satan is waging. He hates your simple trust in God and will shake it anyway he can. He blisters believers hoping to discourage them. And he doesn’t ever fight fair.

“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:“I have  loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”

Jeremiah 31:3

Christ will always accept the faith that puts its trust in Him. You must only rest in His kindness and love.  He will not abandon anyone who puts even a feeble trust in Him. When we turn from our sin, God will always turn to us. Always believe it, for it is true.

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‘A Drowning Kind of Despair’

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“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.

   2 Corinthians 1:8

“…we should all fortify ourselves against the dark hours of depression by cultivating a deep distrust of the certainties of despair. Despair is relentless in the certainties of its pessimism. But we have seen again and again, from our own experience and others’, that absolute statements of hopelessness that we make in the dark are notoriously unreliable. Our dark certainties are not sureties.”

John Piper

It is my ‘deliberateness’, and not my impulsiveness that scares me.   I know ‘despair’.  I know what it is like to be ‘backed into a corner’ and then feel the empty desperation of being lost.  But you must understand, there can be a weird seductiveness to ‘being lost’, a ‘strange sort of nobility’, a twisted honor, when it comes to despair.

Piper talks about the ‘dark certainties’ of knowing you are lost.  Now this really seems rather bizarre, that people could do this intentionally, without duress.  But I’m afraid to tell you that it happens all the time.  Despair is chosen over the option of life. This is the ‘lostness’ of the race of Adam.

Pop culture has given us words, albeit in a rather simplistic form.  I just happened to think right now of an old AC/DC  song, ‘Highway to Hell‘.  The lyrics are pretty basic, very simple, but the lead singer seems to really have a chronically, decided dedication to being one of the irretrievably lost.  He formats a ‘certain glory’ to being part of the damned.  This is a simplistic approach to the next stop– a more advanced case of stark-white despair, suicide. (We can call this ‘spiritual hubris,’ or even, “sex, drugs, and rock-n-rollism.”)

In examining the striated world of despair, we come to the interesting place where our foolishness combined with our arrogance produces a decision to be lost.  Of course, our fear of God must be extracted from the situation.  But for the eager candidate for despair, this is not an insurmountable problem.

Escaping this ‘drowning despair’ we must first dethrone our right to personal sovereignty.  And secondly, we need to grab the concept that God’s grace has an ultimate power that supersedes our notions of a ‘deserved’ love.  (It is completely undeserved).  We must believe that somehow, someway God chooses us out of a pile, a pile of the worst and ugliest.  And somehow, He delights in doing this, and after all, He is the Lord.

We are meant to be the people of redemptive hope. 

Because of our problems, our addictions, we must clearly renounce our evil folly of despair.  These are the issues that make us vulnerable.  There is a seductiveness to ‘giving up’ and taking up the sin of despair.  There can be a ‘weird romance’ that lures those who ‘walk out lostness’.  We are pulled into a vortex of an exotic melancholy with a dash of fatalism, which makes it reasonable and weirdly heroic in some perverse way.

But is it not even more heroic to live in hope?

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and 6 my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you.”

Psalm 42:5-6

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Being Very, Very Sick

Potter shaping a ceramic plate on a pottery wheel
Potter shaping a ceramic plate on a pottery wheel
“So Miriam was kept outside the camp for seven days, and the people waited until she was brought back before they traveled again.”

Numbers 12:15

To be numbered as the one of chronically ill often can mean awful frustration. We can’t do what we want, we are ‘trapped’ by a disease we never asked for, and we’re held hostage by our minds and bodies. We once had a job– a career… and our time was occupied by that. We were accustomed to something, anything more than being very sick.

I once was a pastor of a small church. I also taught Gospels for several years in a local Bible Institute. I loved ministry very much. They defined my identity and gave me purpose. I enjoyed helping people and teaching the Word. I endeavored to be faithful in the ministry.

With the sudden onset of a brain tumor, followed up by a diagnosis of Bipolar disorder (BP), my life more or less exploded. I knew I had to step out of the ministry. I simply could not function. It was a hard thing to leave it behind. (I still miss it).

My depression grew even more profound with the stillborn death of our third child just 3 days before her delivery, Things suddenly ground to a stand still as my wife and I tried to process all of this. I guess I just couldn’t understand and more or less just shut down. I was angry at God. I spent months in bed, unable to function. A profound sadness settled on me.

Some people were true jewels. Others were mean and uncaring. (I had to learn to take the good with the bad.) I suppose I should have understood, but things were so tangled up inside me that I couldn’t verbalize a thing.

The post-op surgery following the tumor was an ordeal, as I had to learn many things all over again. A few years later I ended up on disability; I was unable to work, and my symptoms were so unpredictable. The BP was giving me it’s customary depression, and a solid dose of paranoia and fear. I learned that meds can help, but they can’t fix the problem.

Sometimes, like Miriam, we are quarantined by the Lord for His purposes. The isolation seems worse than the pain. We wonder why this is happening, and we hear lies about our worthiness or God’s goodness. Our value to others seem to be scuttled by our illness. We can feel cursed, forgotten, crippled by God or even worse. (Maybe even irrevocably lost.) Satan often snares unsteady souls.

I admit I have been slow to learn this– God brings good things out of the dark. I’m embarrassed by my personal lack of acquiring all of this. Now I’m starting to learn finally, and I want His words to reflect these truths.

“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

2 Corinthians 4:7

This light will shine. The treasure is found in clay vessels. Brokenness only means the treasure is now seen clearly. It’s important to note–treasure loses none of its value by being surrounded by broken clay. Our weaknesses are being turned into goodness, understanding and love for our brothers and sisters.

Troubles of many different varieties come to us. No matter what their nature, God holds his people in place while everything else is falling apart. But for the broken believer, there is another dimension; we will indeed triumph. The tragedies we’ve had to endure only supplement our faith. We will stand– because He makes us stand.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.”

2 Corinthians 4:8-9

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Suicide Prevention

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It’s very real and it’s very possible. Often we see suicide as the only way out. It becomes an option for us. We can plot it, and entertain it. I have personally seen it first hand, and I understand its seductive pull. It seems logical. Suicide has become a real possibility.

We feel like a magnet; bad stuff gets pulled into our thinking, and we plunge into dark thoughts and a deep pain. I know, I’ve been down this road. I’ve had to walk through this stuff myself. It scares me. Once (or twice) when we make our way down this trek, it becomes easier and quicker to make the slide into what ending it all.

It happens to Christian believers. I was a pastor of a church and a teacher in a Bible college. I acquired a degree of having a competent religion but without real knowledge. I professed but never attained. There were moments though, when I got quiet enough to listen, that I knew it really wasn’t working.

Will we go to hell if we commit suicide? The answer evades me, and I can find no definite direction in scripture. King Saul in the Old Testament, and Judas in the New, are those who come to mind. Both men found themselves in a very ugly situation. There isn’t any positives for them both.

Somehow, deeply ingrained in our hearts, we know it’s wrong. Maybe it’s genetic or a societal convention. Deep down we know it can never, ever be an option. It’s completely beyond the pale. And yet, we arrive at a terrible point when it does seem it’s the only thing left open to us. We’ve become our own worst enemy.

“Suicide doesn’t take away the pain, it gives it to someone else.”

Suicide devastates those who are left behind. Our terrible pain gets passed to those who knew us; the closer they are to us, the more it will damage them. Husbands, wives, children and friends will know trauma first-hand. Our decision to die will scar their hearts forever.

We are all connected. We are each tied to each other. Family and friends, churches and communities. We all have relationships that, like it or not, bind us to each other. We’re not solitary entities existing on our own. Consciously or not, we effect others. We will never know the scope of our influence.

There are stages an afflicted person will go through. These are just generalities, but having been down this path I do see them as steps to self-destruction. They blend with each other and sometimes they can be slower or faster, depending on the individual.

Step One: Ideation.

Thinking about it, is it even possible?

Step Two: Fascination.

When the idea begins to become more real, more seductive. We see a burnished glory in it. Suicide seems like logical to us. It seems the only way out. (Besides, isn’t there a certain ‘hubris’ to killing yourself?)

Step Three: Planning

How am I going to do this? What method makes the most sense to me?

Step Four: Committing.

This is the final, ultimate step. Everything up to now is just setting me up for this.

One of the 10 Commandments expressly tells us that “You shall not murder.” Suicide is essentially “self-murder.” This I suppose, is the ultimate

Suicide is never logical. It’s a slide into that which is irrational. It isn’t normal to want to kill yourself. And it does seem that mental illness (schizophrenia, depression, anxiety etc.) can be an incredible factor. Physical illnesses or diseases also can make suicide logical. Or honestly, it can be a ‘blend’ of all that is listed here.

Suicide prevention

If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person:

• Call 911 or your local emergency number. Get help as quick as you can.

• Stay with the person until help arrives. Don’t let them alone with their ‘demons,” real or imaginary.

• Remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.

• Listen, but don’t judge, argue, threaten, or yell. All of these only increase the possibilities.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Most of all, PRAY! Get help from a pastor or elder of your local church. (That’s what they’re there for.)

Love,

Bryan

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Raising the White Flag

“So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.”

Matthew 17:16

Failure is hardly an option in our minds, for we know that Jesus Christ has shared his power with us.  But if we are honest we must admit to moments when we can’t do what Jesus can do.  We step out and meet the sick, and the possessed, with failure and defeat.

This is not an indictment of this “White Flag Christianity”.  It concerns us however, to the proximity and presence of Jesus.  And I really believe that that is what is at stake here.  We tell someone that He can heal, we lay our hands on her…and nothing.  Often there can be a feeling that we’ve failed the Lord.  Soon we start avoiding the topic of healing altogether, we can even go as far as denying it because we don’t see it.

When Jesus moves in to your location, he convincingly comes as the One of power and authority.  The nearness of His presence always brings good (and never evil).  In our failure, our white flag of giving up, should provoke us not to try harder.  Our effort for authentic discipleship is not contingent on our effort and works, but how close is Jesus.  I cannot become confused. He is the Healer.  I’m just the dude that is carrying the stretcher.

Your brother,

Bryan

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Everything is Broken

I’m really sad today.  There are just too much hurts, too many casualties, too many victims.  Job’s own reflection was that “man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward” [not really sure I know what the last part means, but the first part is perfectly clear].

We are all citizens of this fallen world.  It seems we go through life like a bull in a china shop.  We don’t move very gracefully and we break a lot of things just trying to move through it.  No matter how hard we try we always make a mess of it. I’d like to think of it as moving through life sideways. We go through life crashing and smashing.

There is no place in the Bible where God promises us a “trouble-free” journey to heaven, a journey without pains, hassles and the problems of life.  If you are hearing anything else, I strongly suggest finding another voice to listen to.

“Accepting the reality of our broken, flawed lives is the beginning of spirituality not because the spiritual life will remove our flaws but because we let go of seeking perfection and, instead, seek God, the one who is present in the tangledness of our lives.”

— Michael Yaconelli

We all have flawed lives.  Everything gets tangled up and really messy. This is the normal life of being in ministry of some kind.

Our very best efforts give us little hope at resolving these things.  We are agitated by our personal failure and we often feel God is angry with us.  The really hard part is the incessant voices from the sidelines that announce our failures and flaws to everyone. Satan has a cruel and a vicious ministry of hate targeted at you.

Yet these terrible things are redeemed by the Holy Spirit.  He loves failures and weaklings.  When we finally realize we are flawed, he then places something real into our hearts.  In our weakness we finally become strong.  We become authentic.  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”  (Matthew 5:4).

Be kind to everyone today, to each person you meet. For all of us are fighting a difficult battle. Please, be kind out there.

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Release the Perfume!

jesusperfume
“And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment.”

Luke 7:37, ESV

“Your love delights me, my treasure, my bride. Your love is better than wine, your perfume more fragrant than spices.”

Song of Solomon 4:10

“What about you? What precious perfume is locked inside your heart that could be lavished on our Lord? The little treasures you and I struggle to hold on to may hold back opportunities to worship Him with extravagant praise, releasing ministry and service to Him that will bless all those around us.”

-Angela Munizzi

We should know that our simple words really do have a way of blessing Jesus.   Our words spoken will be translated into actions. Our actions become an obedient faith. An obedient faith is the character that moves the hand of God.

We are truly significant.  You have no idea the role you play in His kingdom. What you really do does matter in His realm. The worship we sincerely offer is also duly noted. Furthermore the radiance seen on our faces is the proof we’ve been with Him.

We touch Jesus, somehow, and in some way we’ve blessed Him.  I believe that this must encourage Him, and that He receives our offering.  He then responds and blesses those who are desperately crying out.  God is not capricious, nor is He temperamental. One of the hardest things to grasp it seems, is believing that our worship really does matter to Him.

Worship needs to become extravagantly simple again.  Poured out, ‘good-to-the-last-drop’ kind of worship.  It gives and pours out until there is simply no more.  A praise that is on the lookout for  the needs of others. This level of worship becomes intercessory. It is supercharged praise that  reaches a level of ‘standing-in -the -gap’ for others. Prayer at this level breaks chains and heals the sick.

Intercessory worship will cover the helpless, and turn God’s intervention to the needs of the lost.

When the Holy Spirit tunes us, we become precise instruments of grace and love; that enables us to touch the hearts of many billions who are lost, who have no hope at all. We are never more like Jesus  than when we’re in intercession for the needs of people.

I’m one of many believers who really struggles with clinical depression. The realization that I might be inserted into a challenging situation while I’m severely struggling is an awful possibility. It truly is a awful prospect for me. I don’t want my issues to ever thwart the work of the Holy Spirit.

But I have learned much of this while laying down at His feet.  I attempted to pour out every bit of perfumed nard,  and I sincerely desired to hold nothing back; to pour out the entire bottle.

This desperation has a way somehow of making me adequate.

It’s showing me how to become competent.  It has nothing to do with me, but everything to do with Jesus Christ, and His undisputed authority in the realm of this world.

His desire is to create a flock from the willing, and to bring all that glory home, to His Father.

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