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The Terrible Plight of the Impulsive Christian

 

“Unstable as water, you shall nimpulsivetiggerot have preeminence.”

Genesis 49:4

Walking on water is easy to someone with impulsive boldness, but walking on dry land as a disciple of Jesus Christ is something altogether different. Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus, but he “followed Him at a distance” on dry land.” 

Oswald Chambers

Peter was bold, rash, and impulsive.  

That explains so much. He did good things for sure, but he also could be weak. This quality also describes those of us who are often morally and spiritually “out-of-control.”

The impulsiveness symptom describes much of our actions, and our personal direction. We are something of a “loose cannon’ and we can deeply frighten people who know us. We love God deeply, at least some of the time.

Those of us who struggle with mental illness must often deal with impulsiveness.  We find ourselves turning aside so quickly.  We do those things which will later destroy us.  Self-destruction is so close. It’s like we are playing some kind of spiritual ‘Russian Roulette.’ 

But our soul is constantly loved and watched over. 

He cares for us as a Father cares for His son.  As mortals we make a lot of choices.  Some maybe godly, many are not.  We often find ourselves out of control, because we choose so poorly. We know it is wrong (so much cries out against it)  but we do it anyway, no matter what. We are often ashamed of our impulsiveness.

There is a lot out there, much that can side-track us. So many choices, and opportunities.  And the Deceiver will parade them all in front of us. I suppose that sin is as seductive as we let it be.  I remember a friend saying, “It can’t take me if I don’t want to go.” That makes some sense I think.

We must try to develop a commitment to what we know is true.

Impulsiveness will tear us apart.  When it resides in our heart, it will eventually destroy us.  It’s like uncontrolled nuclear fission within, it takes over and it seems I can’t stop it.  I find myself out-of-control, it seems to take me  beyond human help.  Once we are in this state, we are completely unreasonable. It seems only God can intervene.

In my awful impulsiveness, I can see His faithfulness.

We often think we are just spontaneous people, and we consider it to be a plus.  But our decision-making is dangerous. Some will understand what I’m saying, but many others won’t.

It seems when we choose the worst we’re degraded us the most.  We make these sudden decisions without the Spirit’s guidance.  They take us to places we otherwise never dare to go.  We find ourselves in an ugly and lost place.  We chose wrongly, and usually without considering the results of our choice.

When we are impulsive, we are like a ship without an anchor.  We go with the wind and the current, pushed along and directed by no one.  We think we are spontaneous, when all we are only desperately foolish. We’ve chosen to sail into forbidden waters.

We face the reality of being ship-wrecked.

As a mentally ill person, I simply can’t direct myself in a God honoring way apart from His active hand.  I’m a just ‘a kid out of school’– unable to understand the eternal issues at stake.  Instead of abandoning myself to the vacillating foolishness of my heart, I bypass the solidity of the Spirit.

If I could pass anything on to others, it would be the ability to say “no.”

I really don’t want to degrade and destroy myself by my wrong choices.  The Holy Spirit keeps comforting and encouraging me, all with an endurance and persistence far beyond my reasoning. 

Truly His pursuit of me is relentless. 

In my impulsiveness, I can often see His faithfulness. He has it within Himself to free me from these awful forces that would tear me apart. “God, please have mercy on me.”

 

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Kissing Crooked Lips

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“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”

Luke 7:34

God in some profound way, accommodates Himself to ‘sickness.’ He doesn’t turn away from you.

We find that He has this beautiful quality about Him–He becomes quite tender and gentle around any spiritual disease. He gravitates to the broken ones. His love for sinners is a well established fact we must consider frequently.

In his book Mortal Lessons (Touchstone Books, 1987) physician Richard Selzer describes a scene in a hospital room after he had performed surgery on a young woman’s face:

“I stand by the bed where the young woman lies. . . her face, postoperative . . . her mouth twisted in palsy . . . clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, one of the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be that way from now on. I had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh, I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut this little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to be in a world all their own in the evening lamplight . . . isolated from me . . private.”

“Who are they? I ask myself . . .

“He and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously. The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says, “it’s kind of cute.” All at once I know who he is.”

“I understand, and I lower my gaze.”

“One is not bold in an encounter with the divine. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers. . . to show her that their kiss still works.”

This is who Jesus has always been to you.

And if you think you are getting to be a great kisser or are looking desirable, I feel sorry for you. For it’s He who wraps himself around our hurts, our brokenness and our ugly, our ever-present sin.

Those of you who want to draw big, dark lines between my humanity and my sin, go right ahead, but I’m not joining you. And I don’t really understand you.

I need Jesus so much to love me like I really am: brokenness, memories, wounds, sins, addictions, lies, death, fear….all of it. (Take all it, Lord Jesus.) If I don’t present this broken, messed up person to Jesus, my faith is dishonest, and my understanding of it will become a way of continuing the ruse and pretense of being “good.”

God truly loves the unlovely.

He is wildly passionate about those who have been disfigured by sin. Those who turn with pretense find a sort of ‘spiritual Botox’ that can only hide their blemishes. But coming to him with all we can muster we’ll find healing and acceptance.

You see, you’re the young woman in this story. The kisses of your Savior are yours. Unconditionally. And forever.

For some reason He delights in kissing crooked lips.

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Walking This Broken Road by Faith

credit: www.internetmonk.com
credit: http://www.internetmonk.com

In one of my early blog posts at lindakruschke.wordpress.com, I was lamenting that remembering my past made me a little blue, because I had regrets and things have happened to me that were less than wonderful. But I have been reminded that I am who I am because of my history.

A week later I was listening to the CD  Stay by Jeremy Camp in my car alot. One of the songs on that CD is called Walk by Faith, but all week I really haven’t tuned into that song even though it is the one I really needed to hear. Then one night I was listening to my iPod while I was making dinner, and had it on shuffle of my Christian Music playlist. This is something I hadn’t done for awhile – I had listening to the Oldies playlist or the Sad Heartache Songs playlist instead. I started out that night listening to the Grunge playlist, but it wasn’t helping my mood at all (now that’s a big surprise, not).

It just so happened that the third song to play on the Christian music playlist while I was chopping veggies for homemade chicken noodle soup was Walk by Faith. The chorus goes like this:

Well I will walk by faith
Even when I cannot see
Well because this broken road
Prepares Your will for me

As I heard those words, I realized that the broken road I have traveled (and don’t we all travel a broken road of some kind?) has made me who I am. It has taught me love, compassion, empathy, and, most importantly, faith. If my life had been perfect and easy, with no pain and heartache, first of all I wouldn’t be human. But secondly, I would be a different, perhaps shallower person. I might not even be happy.

So I have decided not to lament or regret my past, but to see it for what it is: the broken road that has prepared me to be the person God wants me to be to those around me. Because ultimately, those around me have traveled a broken road too. And sometimes it is a very similar broken road so that we can relate to each other’s journey. Maybe, as I walk that road by faith, I can help others to walk by faith, too.

Besides, without the lessons learned on my broken road I would have nothing but fluff to write and my blogging would have no purpose.

Have you been walking a broken road? Have faith that God will use your experiences to make you the person He has planned for you to be so that you can be a blessing to others walking that broken road with you.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.  If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.  And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 (NIV).

^

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The Sheer Hopelessness of Mental Illness

Please bear with me. This was written in March of 2012. Right or wrong, it was where I was at with my illness. I hope it will bless, and bring hope into that situation that seems very hopeless:

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit.”

Psalm 34:18

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Depression can feel hopeless.

I’ve seemed to have settled down into a blackness that defies all explanation. I’m dodging being hospitalized, and they can’t put me where I don’t want to go. I don’t want to be locked up again.

It’s the hopeless/helpless thing, a “one-two punch” that is the most devastating to me. It crushes and pulverizes until I lie in this sad pathetic mess I’ve become. Dante had it dead-on when ascribed the gates of hell with the words, Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” In hell you’ll know what despair is really like. Perhaps heaven and hell really do start here?

And there was another writer, just as clever, said something along these lines,

Shut up! Unless you have been lost in this particular section of hell before,  just be quiet.”

And perhaps we should? Nothing can trump personal experience. The survivors, if you can find them, will understand what I’m saying. It seems that that hard book of Job is finally starting to make sense.

How is it,
People fear the dark?
Not me, I’m reconciled
as every day I see
the blackness grow,
I’ve come to terms with it,
it knows I know.

–Rod McKuen, Alone

Hopelessness swirls me around and I feel like a bug going down a drain. Thoughts of suicide are becoming more concrete and despair is becoming a frequent visitor.  Mental illness is frightening. Those who have experienced it, will learn not to say anything, but pray.

Durability may ultimately prove to be the most significant factor in this “mixed state” of Bipolar Disorder that I am wandering through at the moment.  Can I outlast these demons that plague me? My irrational mind plays tricks on me, I see mirages of wholeness and peace, but they don’t seem  real. It is a big, fat lie. It is nothing but a delusion, or a trick of the brain.  And yet something inside of me steadfastly hopes for God’s grace and mercy. 

I know that Jesus has conquered the dark. I must cling to Him. I must let this darkness go. He’ll need to work this out.

Up and down, side-to-side, where it stops, no one knows?  But God…and right now He isn’t saying. Jesus hold on to me. I hold on, by faith to the promise given to me—

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 1:6

I don’t mean to be this raw. Sometimes I just let it “all hang out.” I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m too open. I just wanted you to have a picture of a “broken believer” and more so of the grace that saves me. I know He does love me.

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An Attack of Panic

A panic attack affects one out of 75 people, and can be quite disconcerting.  My panic attacks occur roughly once a month and last for about 1/2 hour.  When the acute symptoms first appear my first reaction is to resist giving in to it.  I get the “shakes.” For a long time, I didn’t know what caused them or more importantly what could stop it.

A panic attack is a sudden surge of an overwhelming fear that comes without warning and without any obvious reason. It is far more intense than the feeling of being ‘stressed out’ that most people experience. Symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • racing heartbeat
  • difficulty breathing, feeling as though you ‘can’t get enough air’
  • a terror, that is almost paralyzing, a seeming irrational fear
  • dizziness, lightheadedness or nausea
  • trembling, sweating, shaking
  • choking, chest pains
  • hot flashes, or sudden chills
  • tingling in fingers or toes (‘pins and needles’)
  • fear that you’re going to go crazy, or are about to die

You probably recognize this as the classic ‘flight or fight’ response that human beings experience when we are in a situation of danger. But during a panic attack, these symptoms seem to rise from out of nowhere. They occur in seemingly harmless situations–they can even happen while you are asleep.

In addition to the above symptoms, a panic attack is marked by the following conditions:

  1. it occurs suddenly, without any warning and without any way to stop it.
  2. the level of fear is way out of proportion to the actual situation; often, in fact, it’s completely unrelated.
  3. it passes in a few minutes; the body cannot sustain the ‘fight or flight’ response for longer than that. However, repeated attacks can continue to recur for hours.

A panic attack is not dangerous, but it can be terrifying.

Largely because it feels ‘crazy’ and ‘out of control.’ Panic disorder is frightening because of the symptoms associated with it, and also because it often leads to other complications such as phobias, depression, substance abuse, medical complications, even suicide. Its effects can range from mild social impairment or just pretty a total inability to face the outside world.

Is it a heart attack or a panic attack? 

Most of the symptoms of a panic attack are physical, and many times these symptoms are so severe that people think they’re having a heart attack. In fact, many people suffering from panic attacks make repeated trips to the doctor or the ER in an attempt to get treatment for what they believe is a life-threatening medical problem.

While it’s important to rule out possible medical causes of symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, or difficulty breathing, it’s often panic that is overlooked as a potential cause – not the other way around.

If there is any doubt at all, call 911 immediately. 

“But when I am afraid,
    I will put my trust in you.
I praise God for what he has promised.
    I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
    What can mere mortals do to me?

Psalm 56:3-4

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Further reading and help on panic attacks check out these sites:

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The Dangers of Porn

Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.”

Matthew 5:8

“The righteous shall move onward and forward; those with pure hearts shall become stronger and stronger.”

Job 17:9

We live in a time when impurity threatens many men and women. Pornography is easily accessible in our generation. The internet is flooded with sites that’ll hurt believers. It will ruin our relationship with our heavenly Father. It affects our marriages and destroys our connection with others.

There is intense guilt that comes from using porn.

It covers us with a shame that hurts us deep inside, something detrimental to intimacy with our spouses, family, or friends, and as well with other believers. We’re guilty of hidden sin. Satan uses it to further isolate the Christian.

Porn causes us to be secretive. We want to hide it from others. We learn how to delete “cookies” on our computers. We want to hide the things we are doing. We must understand that using porn becomes addicting, it’s sort of crack cocaine to our spirits.

Masturbation is common to those viewing pornography.

Our view of naked men or women in sexual acts objectifies them. Subconsciously we start to evaluate our closest relationships. We compare others to the things we see.

  • It’s addictive. We can’t imagine life without it.
  • It seperates us from others. It begins to isolate us.
  • We have a secret life, hidden and masked.
  • Porn is easy to find, and it latches itself in our minds and hearts.
  • It often leads us into further and deeper perversions.
  • We see others as objects, not people who God loves.
  • It often leads one into a life of hypocrisy and deception.
  • Porn can lead one into masturbation and wrong relationships with others.
  • It weakens our God-ordained relationship with our spouses.
  • Viewing porn is a form of adultery.
  • We start to compare our spouse to the things we’ve seen.
  • It instills us with guilt and shame. It will destroy your discipleship.
  • The time we spend in porn can be better used for the Word, worship and prayer.
  • It desensitifies our relationship with God’s Spirit.

There’s so much more that can be added to this list. But this dear one is just a start. Perhaps you’ll discover more that should be added.

“I have made a covenant with my eyes.
How then could I look at a young woman?”

Job 31:1

“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things.”

Philippians 4:8

Only the Spirit of holiness can make an impure heart pure. However, we must do the ‘leg work” and make it to free ourselves from this sin. Our minds and hearts are our battlefields. To recognize this constantly is necessary. We must take solid steps to take the victory He gives. I realize that the demonic forces are very intense, but God’s power is far stronger.

Your desire to be pure is evidence of God’s care and grace.

If you’re struggling it’s really helpful to share your problem with someone you trust. Becoming accountable will help. Please don’t be afraid of being judged. Quit lying to yourself (and others) that you can overcome this on your own. You can’t hide it any longer.

If you wish you can contact Linda or me. If anything we can pray.

“Can a man embrace fire and his clothes not be burned?”

Proverbs 6:27


	
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Toxic Shame

Some years ago while in prayer I saw a white marble fountain situated in a gorgeous courtyard. It was beautiful. As I looked I realized that it didn’t have clean freshwater like you might think, but it spewed feces and urine. It was gross, it was awful, and I immediately understood.

I realize that I was that marble fountain, and I generated only filth.

Being ashamed is cruelty that can only destroy a person. We think we must have defense mechanisms to survive. We drink, use drugs, get involved with sex. We might put on a tie and raise our hands in the church worship time. Whatever works I suppose. Almost always shame drives us to look for ways to escape.

People who live with shame often feel worthless, depressed, and anxious. Shame can be a contributing factor to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. People who are constantly ashamed live out a difficult emotional and mental battle each and every day.

The psalmist understood. The human spirit can not handle shame. I know first-hand that it’s terribly destructive. Psalm 44:15 describes a person who understood:

“My disgrace is before me all day long,
and shame has covered my face.”

I believe only the power of Jesus can “purify” us. Only He has the ability to clean my spirit. In the New Testament, we see Jesus healing the leper with just a touch. Shame will be removed from your heart when he touches your own “leprosy.”

Here are things you must remember.

  • Shame seperates me from God.
  • Shame is a sign of self-hatred.
  • Shame makes me feel like giving up.
  • Shame leads me to go out and sin more.
  • Shame destroys the gifts that He is waiting for me to serve others.
  • Shame makes me judgemental and critical of others.
  • Shame weakens the Church in ways I can’t comprehend.

These two verses (below) are true. They will move you out of shame and guilt. These two must be believed and put into practice before you can be really free. It will probably be a battle–every day. The following two promises are crucial.

“But if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins.”

1 John 1:9, LB

“Once again you will have compassion on us. You will tread our sins beneath your feet; you will throw them into the depths of the ocean!”

Micah 7:19

I must reiterate this, and use all authority God has given to me, to bear on you its importance.

Jesus stood against Satan in the wilderness. He used the Word to do this. You’ll need to do this if you want to destroy Satan’s grip on you. You must do the same. Too many people are waiting for you to do this.

Unless you do so you will be destroyed by the enemy. I dare not pull any punches with you. I don’t mean to be hard, I really don’t.

I strongly suggest you share your battle with another believer who will understand and be discreet.

Shame is the raincoat over my heart that repels the living water of Jesus. It’s that shame that keeps me from understanding that I’m the beloved of God and His precious child.

 

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Our Heavy Weight

“The bridge of grace will bear your weight, brother. Thousands of big sinners have gone across that bridge, yea, tens of thousands have gone over it. Some have been the chief of sinners and some have come at the very last of their days but the arch has never yielded beneath their weight. I will go with them trusting to the same support. It will bear me over as it has for them.”

CH Spurgeon

Quite often many of us deal with guilt and condemnation. We live in sinful bodies, and it seems that we actually cherish things that God has told us are wrong, and not part of an authentic Christian walk.

We’ve got an enemy that condemns and accuses. Our sin can be compared to “hooks” that Satan can latch on and pull us toward dark things. I personally don’t believe that a Christian can be demon-possessed. The Holy Spirit resides in the believer–He protects us with His presence.

The believer can be oppressed but never possessed.

Life can be very challenging when we choose sin over holiness. Often we really don’t have a fear of God. A healthy believer knows that he or she will stand and give an account of the way we live. Rewards will be given, and judgment will be passed on all that we’ve done.

When God saves a person He really does save a person.

We need not feel condemnation or guilt, Jesus was punished for our sin. His poured out blood is sufficient for everyone. He died so we won’t. He was risen to give us power over all of these nasty dark things. He becomes the bridge that holds our weight.

Be encouraged saint, as His holiness is given to each of us. We must choose it.

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Losing Everything

My own studies have immersed me in the awful book of Job. This man lost everything–there is much we can learn from him. But it may be a definite challenge to plow through these “dark” issues. But we need to do this, sooner or later.

First of all, Job is a mysterious book. There’s no reference to the Temple or the Temple services. No connection with other biblical writings or persons. Most students believe that the book of Job is the first one written in the Old Testament.

It’s not Jewish, but it’s not pagan either. In a real sense, it speaks about suffering and pain. Job lost everything. The book tries to explain what brokenbelievers face every day. We all struggle. We all will experience suffering and loss.

Job connects us with those with illnesses–mental or physical.

We are people who must try to navigate through dark things. Most will never really understand this, but we are those who must face adversity and conflict. Like Job we ask why. We may even end up accusing God of attacking us.

We have to sort things out and believe me, it’s never easy. As we try we’ll often ask “why me?” We often accuse God. But I’m thoroughly convinced that the Almighty isn’t fazed by our questions and we should never think we’re wrong when we so challenge his goodness. He’s big enough to handle these.

In Job we’ll hear God speak to us through “the whirlwind.”

I want to encourage you (the reader) to find place in your heart for this book. Job isn’t easy to read–but I’ve gained a lot by reading it in the Message translation, but any other modern Bible works.

We’ll realize all of our questions will probably not be answered, but that’s okay. The problem of our suffering will most likely remain. There are no pat answers. I’m sorry.

“Anyone who has suffered knows that there is no such thing as “getting a grip on oneself” or “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. The only bootstrap in the Christian life is the Cross, sometimes laying hold of the cross can be comforting, but other times it is like picking up a snake.””

“Job knew this firsthand. From him we learn that there are no easy answers to suffering. That the mark of true faith is not happiness, but rather, having one’s deepest passions be engaged by the enormity of God. And through Job we learn the secret of the gospel: that “mercy is the permission to be human.” The Lord never gave Job an explanation for all he had been through. His only answer was Himself. But as Job discovered, that was enough.”

Mike Mason

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Number Them

 

          “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” –ESV

 
“Teach us how short our lives  really are so that we may be wise.” –NLT

 “Oh! Teach us to live well!
      Teach us to live wisely and well!”– MSG 

Psalm 90:12, three different translations

Growing up we must learn different things.

We’re taught the alphabet, how to brush our teeth and use deodorant.  We need to be educated, or tutored into many different skills.  Our teachers direct and guide us, they provide for us an understanding of the skills we need to acquire.  As we advance through their instruction, we grow in proficiency.

The Psalmist comes to the realization that he needs to develop a particular skill.  He desperately wants to craft his life to be honorable and obedient.  He turns to God and seeks His aid.  The psalmist seeks a ‘teacher’ who will instruct him.

Our own lives are often chaotic and foolish. 

We live in a great deal of ignorance, strained relationships and bad decisions.  Most definitely we are ‘saved by faith,’ but the course of our lives can still be difficult. There is much to be learned in the spiritual world. We’ll make many mistakes.

The author of Psalm 90 doesn’t want to continue doing stupid things.  He has a need, and he is pretty adamant that God will help him.  Part of what he understands is that he needs to get ahold of the reality of the ‘shortness’ of his life. That’s a good start.

He must understand that he has a limited lifespan–an expiration date. 

He refuses the deception that life will just always continue unfolding.  He doesn’t buy it.  He counts on God to pace him, and to keep him from recklessly wasting his life.  He is asking for restraints. He must learn to say “no” and say “yes” to many things.

I encourage you to consciously make this step.  Be deliberate in this.  If we lack wisdom, we need to ask Him for it.  Apart from His presence, our lives grow increasingly irrational.  Living without restraints will lead us into more foolishness and despair. We must learn to say “no.”

“Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”

Ephesians 5:16, ESV

 

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The Prayer of a Minor Prophet

A prayer by A.W. Tozer

Every now and then, I come across something that will not fit into the scope of Brokenbelievers. This is one of those times. I share it with my brothers and sisters who serve Jesus in any leadership capacity in the Church. I think it’s fitting that this be shared as we step into 2022. These are challenging times to serve him; but not dangerous–at least not yet.

The Prayer of a Minor Prophet was originally written on August 18, 1920. It still means a lot to ordained/non-ordained serving in the ministry. I suppose it still speaks to every leader in every Church. You may want to copy and keep this for those hard times that will come to each of us. Could it be that you might want to share this word with the leaders of your local fellowship?

The article was written on the day of Tozer’s ordination into the ministry.

O Lord, I have heard Thy voice and was afraid. Thou has called me to an awesome task in a grave and perilous hour. Thou art about to shake all nations and the earth and also heaven, that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. O Lord, my Lord, Thou has stooped to honor me to be Thy servant. No man taketh this honor upon himself save he that is called of God as was Aaron. Thou has ordained me Thy messenger to them that are stubborn of heart and hard of hearing. They have rejected Thee, the Master, and it is not to be expected that they will receive me, the servant.

1897-1963

My God, I shall not waste time deploring my weakness nor my unfittedness for the work. The responsibility is not mine, but Thine. Thou has said, “I knew thee – I ordained thee – I sanctified thee,” and Thou hast also said, “Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.” Who am I to argue with Thee or to call into question Thy sovereign choice? The decision is not mine but Thine. So be it, Lord. Thy will, not mine, be done.

Well do I know, Thou God of the prophets and the apostles, that as long as I honor Thee Thou will honor me. Help me therefore to take this solemn vow to honor Thee in all my future life and labors, whether by gain or by loss, by life or by death, and then to keep that vow unbroken while I live.

It is time, O God, for Thee to work, for the enemy has entered into Thy pastures and the sheep are torn and scattered. And false shepherds abound who deny the danger and laugh at the perils which surround Thy flock. The sheep are deceived by these hirelings and follow them with touching loyalty while the wolf closes in to kill and destroy. I beseech Thee, give me sharp eyes to detect the presence of the enemy; give me understanding to see and courage to report what I see faithfully. Make my voice so like Thine own that even the sick sheep will recognize it and follow Thee.

Lord Jesus, I come to Thee for spiritual preparation. Lay Thy hand upon me. Anoint me with the oil of the New Testament prophet. Forbid that I should be come a religious scribe and thus lose my prophetic calling. Save me from the curse that lies dark across the modern clergy, the curse of compromise, of imitation, of professionalism. Save me from the error of judging a church by its size, its popularity or the amount of its yearly offering. Help me to remember that I am a prophet – not a promoter, not a religious manager, but a prophet. Let me never become a slave to crowds. Heal my soul of carnal ambitions and deliver me from the itch for publicity. Save me from bondage to things. Let me not waste my days puttering around the house. Lay Thy terror upon me, O God, and drive me to the place of prayer where I may wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Deliver me from overeating and late sleeping. Teach me self-discipline that I may be a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

I accept hard work and small rewards in this life. I ask for no easy place. I shall try to be blind to the little ways that could make life easier. If others seek the smoother path I shall try to take the hard way without judging them too harshly. I shall expect opposition and try to take it quietly when it comes. Or if, as sometimes it falleth out to Thy servants, I should have grateful gifts pressed upon me by Thy kindly people, stand by me then and save me from the blight that often follows. Teach me to use whatever I receive in such manner that will not injure my soul nor diminish my spiritual power. And if in Thy permissive providence honor should come to me from Thy church, let me not forget in that hour that I am unworthy of the least of Thy mercies, and that if men knew me as intimately as I know myself they would withhold their honors or bestow them upon others more worthy to receive them.

And now, O Lord of heaven and earth, I consecrate my remaining days to Thee; let them be many or few, as Thou wilt. Let me stand before the great or minister to the poor and lowly; that choice is not mine, and I would not influence it if I could. I am Thy servant to do Thy will, and that will is sweeter to me than position or riches or fame and I choose it above all things on earth or in heaven.

Though I am chosen of Thee and honored by a high and holy calling, let me never forget that I am but a man of dust and ashes, a man with all the natural faults and passions that plague the race of men. I pray Thee, therefore, my Lord and Redeemer, save me from myself and from all the injuries I may do myself while trying to be a blessing to others. Fill me with Thy power by the Holy Spirit, and I will go in Thy strength and tell of Thy righteousness, even Thine only. I will spread abroad the message of redeeming love while my normal powers endure.

Then, dear Lord, when I am old and weary and too tired to go on, have a place ready for me above, and make me to be numbered with Thy saints in glory everlasting. Amen.

AMEN.

Written in 1950, Aiden Wilson Tozer was 23 years old when he was called to pastor a new church in Clarksburg, West Virginia. On August 18, 1920 at a campground a few miles outside Cleveland, Ohio, leaders of the Christian and Missionary Alliance scheduled an ordination service.

After the formal ceremony, Tozer slipped away from the crowd and found a quiet place to be alone with God. He never forgot what he prayed that evening and years later as the new editor for the Alliance Weekly, Tozer published his prayer in an article “For Pastors Only: Prayer of a Minor Prophet” (May 6, 1950).

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Becoming a Steward of Your Pain

Some time ago I came across a story that connected. A visiting speaker stood in front of a congregation and shared a painful incident from his childhood. He wanted to bring healing. After he spoke, an elder came and spoke to him–

“You have learned how to become a proper steward of your pain.”

The visiting speaker was profoundly touched by this. Finally, something came together in his heart and soul. Yes, he did learn how to deal scripturally with those ugly things from his past. He was becoming a proper steward of his pain.

The word for steward in the original Greek is oikonomos. It literally means “a keeper of a home.” It describes a manager, a superintendent to whom the head of the house or proprietor has entrusted the management of his affairs, the diligent care of receipts and expenditures.

The issue for us is managing these awful things for the Kingdom of God.

No question about it, we live in a world of darkness. Each of us has been touched by hard things. Scars are part of our lives. When we come to Christ they come with us. All of these grim things are a real piece of us, we have been hurt (or maybe we’ve wounded others?)

Are you a good steward of who you are? Whether it’s a trauma, a physical, sexual, or perhaps a mental illness. It’s a scar you carry from your past, and no one is immune from them it seems. You’ll find freedom if you can use these things for Him and his Kingdom.

We must see and understand that Jesus has taken everything and redeems it all for His glory.

He understands us fully–our past, present, and future. He ‘knows’ us–the real and hidden us. The challenge I suppose is to take these sad events to the throne. He alone can heal and then use that which has devastated us.

Satan has afflicted you in his dark attempt to destroy you.

Jesus intervenes to save. As we grow to accept this, the Holy Spirit comes as our comforter and guide. He starts to teach us true redemption, and the incredible healing that he brings with him. It really is his work, not ours. We finally understand. It’s then we become broken healers that God can use.

The light has truly overcome the dark.

We’re being taught (sometimes very slowly) to carry all of these things and plead the blood of Jesus over our past. He covers us completely. He has redeemed us. Luke 1:68 explains much clearer than I can:

“Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel because he has visited and provided redemption for his people.”

Becoming a steward of our pain is his doing. We’re able to touch others with these things that would cripple and destroy others. He has made us “managers” of these things, and we are taught to teach others, declaring that God has completely saved us. He works miracles!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!”

2 Corinthians 5:17

We’ll sovereignly meet those who need to hear our story. We’re being transformed into authentic witnesses. Yes, at times these awful things still hurt, and I suppose that’s to be expected. But we’re learning to manage them. We’ve become real-life stewards of our pain.

That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”

Romans 8:28, Message

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The Incarnation

“The central miracle asserted by Christians is the incarnation. They say that God became man.”

C.S. Lewis

Incarnation, the central Christian doctrine that God became flesh, that God assumed a human nature and became a man in the form of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the second person of the Trinity. Christ was truly God and truly man.

Have a blessed Christmas. Know deep down that He has come for you, He holds you and cares for you. He will never ever leave you!

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A Rose in the Snow

Merry Christmas, dear ones! 

Linda and I hope, and pray that Jesus will direct and keep you in His care. 

I’m looking to a Christmas a thousand years from today, when He will bring us all together.  I think that we’ll all kick back, and we will try to remember Christmas, 2021.  We will most likely say, “But that was so long ago, it feels like a dream, I’m not so sure now…”

Like me, I trust your deepest hopes are pinned on an incredible grace. 

The gifts that are for me, under the tree are good.  But we have been given a gift– of gifts.  It is something that ‘rocks our world’.  It’s called ‘eternal life’.  It has been given to us freely, and without any stipulations.  We’ve been ‘cut-loose’ from the tangled mass of sin.  We are now very much free.

I know I need to learn to live like a free man.

My physical and mental illness often trips me up. I’m saddened by my weaknesses.  But I reach out and touch this grace, I pull it in and take and make it my own.  Jesus has freed me, and I want to walk in truth, with Him—and with you.

I’ve recently been diagnosed with a terminal disease. I’m grateful for my doctors, they’re definitely a blessing. I must keep looking to my rose–my Jesus who is my Savior. I covet your prayers especially now.

Our Lord Jesus is truly a “rose in the snow.” He has come to this hostile environment, and is precious and beautiful in the eyes of the faithful. Linda and I pray that you find Him flourishing in your heart.

Love to you from Brokenbelievers!

*

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Let’s Get Loud. It’s Christmas!

“Today your Savior was born in the town of David. He is Christ, the Lord.12 This is how you will know him:

You will find a baby wrapped in pieces of cloth and lying in a feeding box.”

 13 Then a very large group of angels from heaven joined the first angel, praising God and saying:
 14 “Give glory to God in heaven,
       and on earth let there be peace among the people who please God.”

Luke 2:11-14, NCV

How very busy things get.  Think of it, shepherds are meeting singing angels who are meeting people.  It must of been a bit crazy!  It’s verse 13 that, ‘a very large group of angels’ made their entrance that night.  Human history is being made now, the world has now been changed.

these are not quiet or stoic angels. they are large, and musical and filled with so much joy.

And as happy as this ‘angel-crowd’ gets,  it doesn’t phase them that God in heaven is now wrapped in human flesh and has been born in a manger.  Every angel, and almost every person understands– this is’t the place to have babies!  (Angels being angels, I think they were not thrilled with this dark hospitality being shown to God.  They probably said some ‘un-angelical’ things under their breath).

But this doesn’t matter, you see this swarm of angels descend on the stinky stable. 

And they are ecstatic, belting out at the top of their lungs songs of worship and praise.  The squalid environment isn’t a problem for them at all.  The cow manure, sheep feces, filthy straw can all be smelled, but that means nothing at this moment.

Friends, I must confess–my heart is very much like this dirty stable. 

Everything is so filthy, and the smell makes my eye’s water, and the flies are thick and intrusive.  It is all so sad, and pathetic.  There are many others with clean, white hearts, why should He choose my heart to abide?

The choir is singing now, and all of them are in deep, wonderous worship.  They belt it out with the enthusiasm of rabid fans at a NFL game.  But I examine my heart, I see so many issues, some things that are actually destroying me. I’m glad He’s all powerful and all loving–all the time and forever and ever.

But the angels, well, they just keep singing.

Christmas is just a couple of days away. Yet this is the time to prepare for a special holiday in your heart. May this year be the most meaningful time you’ve ever had.

“It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”

Charles Dickens

 

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This Special Place, Where it is Always Christmas

“This Gospel anticipates a world far different from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia,where it is “always winter, and never Christmas.” But the promise of the Gospel is that it is always Christmas. To be “in Christ” is to enjoy each morning as a Christmas morning with the family of God, celebrating the gift of God around the tree of life.”

–Kevin Van Hoozer

Christmas can be a torment and tribulation for so many. I have no doubt it brings grief. Family, friends, finances– mixed liberally with heavy doses of materialism and manipulation will always bring us issues.  The music and decorations are mostly mere Novocaine (which doesn’t always work). Stress builds up. And we want none of that.

Being mentally or physically ill often accentuates these issues. I’m not sure why exactly, but suicide increases during this season. Perhaps the challenges Christmas brings just overwhelm a person who is struggling hard just to make it.

“Christmas is for children. But it is for grown-ups too. Even if it is a headache, a chore, and a nightmare, it is a period of necessary defrosting of chilled hidebound hearts.”  

–Lenora Mattingly Weber

As I think about Christmas, it is helpful for me to see it as a “mirror.” It is my reflection back to me. What we see, is who we are. If we have issues in our own life, the Season will just magnify them.  But this doesn’t mean its bad, far from it. There is always conflict, but this spiritual combat can bring us success. Some things must be fought for.

I’m convinced that in all of this, there is opportunity.  

The chance to connect to “Christmas”. The very idea is quite strange.  But Christmas can be an exquisite treat.  It is made by mixing love and truth in generous portions. As we look hard for it, there is something that moves us to a place far beyond us. Grace makes us to stand and look, perhaps for the first time.

When we truly process this, we’ll find “Christmas”. And honestly, it is more than a holiday. For the Christian, it is special time. And yes, there will be times when it is trying, but in my own thinking, Christmas has become a time of great joy and anticipation.

It won’t take much, maybe a little imagination on your part.

But those things you do may ignite and become a blaze that will direct them through their lives. Be kinder then you need to.

“The universal joy of Christmas is certainly wonderful. We ring the bells when princes are born, or toll a mournful dirge when great men pass away. Nations have their red-letter days, their carnivals and festivals, but once in the year and only once, the whole world stands still to celebrate the advent of a life. Only Jesus of Nazareth claims this world-wide, undying remembrance. You cannot cut Christmas out of the Calendar, nor out of the heart of the world.”   

Anonymous

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Messy Presents: A Christmas Poem for All Seasons

We want our presents in pretty paper
All wrapped up in a shiny neat bow
We want our faith to be the same
So our doubts and struggles never show

Yet the greatest gifts aren’t neat and tidy
Like the manger birth steeped in blood
A child born like any other babe
With the addition of dirty stable mud

And Christ’s willing sacrifice on the cross
After flogging caused welts and spit adorned
The bleeding brow of the King of kings
Ringed by crowds who mocked and scorned

Each trial and loss we face in life
Can draw us closer to the God we need
If we don’t bury the doubts that rise
But seek the gift each death has freed

Open the messy presents He gives
To find healing for all of life’s woes
Remember when you grieve the most
The Babe born to die for you knows

For more Christmas poetry, check out my latest poem on Anchored Voices blog. It’s called My Favorite Name.

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Our Lesson for Today: Learning to Lean

“One of His disciples, whom Jesus loved [whom He esteemed and delighted in], was reclining [next to Him] on Jesus’ bosom.”  

John 13:23, Amplified

“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

Matthew 22:37

This apostle, traditionally known to be John, is sitting at the table with the rest of the disciples.  It is an intimate and relaxing affair, they eat and talk and rest in a cool, quiet room. It’s here that John learns to lean.

John sits next to Jesus, an informal place of honor. 

The scripture says that he just rests his head on Jesus’ shoulder.  And Jesus did nothing to stifle such behavior.  Often, with men it would be very uncomfortable and distracting.  I remember when I was a missionary in Mexico watching men holding hands, as good friends.  (I’ve heard that this is true in other cultures as well.)

The intimacy between Jesus and John might strike some as a little odd. 

But for Jesus this love encouraged him as he prepared himself for a brutal death. He felt John’s love and confidence in Him. It was a precious moment. I’m certain both men drew strength from this. Perhaps maybe we can also encourage Jesus like this–maybe?

Tradition tells us that John was boiled in oil. Loving him can be dangerous.

When the black rolls in, and it begins to get scary, resting your head on Jesus’ shoulder is a wonderful place to be.  We may not look at it like this, but I believe Jesus is comforted by our love.  He is encouraged by our affection. It was now getting dark outside.  Jesus had just hours before the nightmare would begin. 

We can make Him happy and content by our simple tokens of affection.

The ‘arm of the Lord’ is spoken of repeatedly by the prophets.  They had a prophetic insight into the strength of God.  We call it, ‘omnipotence’, and our understanding is that He has all strength, and all power– all of the time.  I think that John was leaning on that omnipotence.  But it still was motivated by his affection and love for Jesus.  

Our Savior is strong enough to carry our very heavy burdens and all of our loads.

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When Life Hurts You Terribly, Some Guidance

How you handle these fragile moments is pretty much key to the remainder of your life. It’s ok to feel abandoned or alone. It’s ok to be depressed. But let God know about where you’re at. I’m convinced He really wants to know.

I really hope that these thoughts might help. We face challenges and difficulties. Just maybe this post will strengthen your walk? I chose each thought purposefully and every one contains something helpful (I hope). 

Quotes to Guide You Through Your Trial:

A.W. Tozer

“It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He’s hurt him deeply.” (Roots of Righteousness, Chapter 39)

Calvin Miller

“Hurt is the essential ingredient of ultimate Christ-likeness.” (Quoted in Christianity Today, July 2007, p41)

Larry Crabb

“Brokenness isn’t so much about how bad you’ve been hurt but how you’ve sinned in handling it.” (Christianity Today, A Shrink Gets Stretched, May 1, 2003)

“Shattered dreams are never random. They are always a piece of a piece in a larger story. The Holy Spirit uses the pain of shattered dreams to help us discover our desire for God, to help us begin dreaming the highest dream. They are ordained opportunities for the Spirit to first awaken, then to satisfy our highest dream.” (Shattered Dreams, 2001)

Alan Redpath

“When God wants to do an impossible task, he takes an impossible person and crushes him.” (Quoted by Gary Preston, Character Forged from Conflict: Staying Connected to God During Controversy. The pastor’s soul series, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1999)

Bruce Wilkinson

“Are you praying for God’s superabundant blessings and pleading that He will make you more like His Son? If so, then you are asking for the shears.” (Secrets of the Vine, 60.)

Charles Swindoll

“Someone put it this way, ‘Whoever desires to walk with God, walks right into the crucible.’ All who choose godliness live in a crucible. The tests will come.” (Moses, Great Lives from God’s Word, 285.)

“Being stripped of all substitutes is the most painful experience on earth.” (David, p70)

Elisabeth Elliot

“The surrender of our heart’s deepest longing is perhaps as close as we come to an understanding of the cross… our own experience of crucifixion, though immeasurably less than our Saviour’s nonetheless furnishes us with a chance to begin to know Him in the fellowship of His suffering. In every form of our own suffering, He calls us into that fellowship.” (Elisabeth Elliot, Quest For Love, (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1996), 182.)

George MacDonald

“No words can express how much our world ‘owes’ to sorrow. Most of the Psalms were conceived in a wilderness. Most of the New Testament was written in a prison. The greatest words of God’s Scriptures have all passed through great trials. The greatest prophets have “learned in suffering what they wrote in their books.” So take comfort afflicted Christian! When our God is about to make use of a person, He allows them to go through a crucible of fire.”

Helen Keller

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through the experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” (Quoted in Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 4.)

Oswald Chambers

“God can never make us wine if we object to the fingers He uses to crush us with. If God would only use His own fingers, and make me broken bread and poured-out wine in a special way! But when He uses someone whom we dislike, or some set of circumstances to which we said we would never submit, and makes those the crushers, we object. We must never choose the scene of our own martyrdom. If ever we are going to be made into wine, we will have to be crushed; you cannot drink grapes. Grapes become wine only when they have been squeezed.” (Chambers, O. (1993, c1935). My utmost for his highest : Selections for the year (September 30). Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers.)

“No-one enters into the experience of entire sanctification without going through a ‘white funeral’ — the burial of the old life. If there has never been this crisis of death, sanctification is nothing more than a vision… Have you come to your last days really? You have come to them often in sentiment, but have you come to them really?… We skirt around the cemetery and all the time refuse to go to death… Have you had your ‘white funeral’, or are you sacredly playing the fool with your soul? Is there a place in your life marked as the last day, a place to which the memory goes back with a chastened and extraordinary grateful remembrance–’yes, it was then, at that ‘white funeral’ that I made an agreement with God.” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, January 15, (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour and Company, Inc., 1963).)

Jesus Christ had no tenderness whatsoever toward anything that was ultimately going to ruin a person in his service to God…. If the Spirit of God brings to your mind a word of the Lord that hurts you, you can be sure that there is something in you that He wants to hurt to the point of its death.” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, September 27, (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour and Company, Inc., 1963.)

Charles Stanley

Does God purposefully allow suffering? “The comfortable, but theologically incorrect, answer is no. You will find many people preaching and teaching that God never sends an ill wind into a person’s life, but that position can’t be justified by Scripture. The Bible teaches that God does send adversity – but within certain parameters and always for a reason that relates to our growth, perfection, and eternal good.” (*Stanley, C. F. 1997, c1996. Advancing through adversity (electronic ed.). Thomas Nelson: Nashville, TN.)

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Melancholy Me and My God

In early November, I went to California for a writers retreat. There were only four students and the woman leading the retreat. I learned so much and hung out with a few other wonderful writers. And yet, the poem below is what I wrote the first night after our opening session.

The next day I read it to one of my new writer friends, a woman who has been on this writing journey for a lot less time than I have. She was touched because she had been feeling inadequate and that the rest of us were so much more accomplished than she was.

I do love when God allows me to remember the dark night of the soul in a way that brings cheer and blessing to others.

Why so downcast, Oh my soul?
I understand the psalmist's plea.
Here I am with new friends of gold
But feelings of sadness needle me.
Am I just a fraud pretending to be
One who has something worthwhile to say?
When truth be told, or a lie of old,
Never will I point to God's way.
How I feel runs hot and cold;
Now I am weak when once I was bold.
Powerless and useless are words I hear
Echoing deep in my mind as fear.
Wounds that run deep still bleed
I know they're not true, never were.
But still, still these words Oh Lord.
You are the truth, the life, the way.

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Being Obscure, Just Like Jesus

servant-king

“But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.”

Mark 10:44

I must admit that I’m processing something right now.

I suppose its implications could turn everything ‘upside down,’ at least for me anyway. Some scientists have postulated that our planet is due for a complete magnetic switchover. This is when the north becomes south and vice versa. My issues at this moment are not quite that cosmic.

There are 7,000,000,000+ people now alive on this planet.

Sometimes I wonder if many of my issues come from not seeing this. It seems that there’s an intoxication of success when we become increasingly confused over ‘who’ we are. We think it’s about our efforts, our giftedness. Pride drives us, even among mature Christian believers.

3 “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”

Philippians 2

Jesus was not driven like we seem to be.

We on the other hand, think we need to be assertive, (at least the Christian version of it) and push our way forward. However, Jesus’ message and teaching were all about emptying Himself of being God and becoming a servant of servants. This is the arresting fact we fail to consider–

Jesus did all of this while wearing a towel, not a crown.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet.  

John 13:3-5

He could have just done a ‘teaching’ on servanthood and I’m reasonably certain it would have been more than sufficient. But instead, Jesus put ‘skin on His words’ and actually got down on His knees to wash dirty feet. His disciples freaked out when they saw him do this.

It was something they could never forget.

6 “Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,

 he humbled himself in obedience to God
   and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

How can we not do this? This is a hard question to ask, but to be perfectly honest, does our  discipleship include emptying our self daily? Can we find peace and fulfillment by becoming an unknown? Is this what we’re missing in becoming Christlike? These are very hard questions.

“Humility is perfect quietness of heart, It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble.”   

Andrew Murray

 

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(All verses are from Philippians 2, NLT, unless noted.)

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Change (for the Unchangeable?)

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I stagger over the patience of God for my soul.

Sometimes repeated forays into sin become all I can see. I am the prototypical sinner, and it’s hard to believe anyone else could be as stubborn as me. But grace is always found when I return to Him. I am certain He loves me very much.

And I do know that growing up has much to do with time spent with Him. Coming into Jesus’ presence, by faith, is my ‘life task.’ I know this to be true.

Any advice you could give me would be good. TY. I’ll tune into any comments that you leave below (I’m terrible with email.) I want this verse to be mine.

“I will bless those who have humble and contrite hearts, who tremble at my word.”

Isaiah 66:2

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Dying to Self

In this particular post we[re looking at an element of Christian discipleship that ties us all together. It’s our common denominator as His disciples. We must learn to die to self to be faithful. There can be no obedience unless we choose to carry our cross to a place of death.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.”

Galatians 5:24

But what does that look like? How can I know that I’m really doing this? Maybe this will guide you.

dying-to-self

By no means is this list exhaustive. But that is good. The principle has room to fit all areas of your life, and the core idea of self-renunciation becomes the way your spirit operates. We deny ourselves so real life can begin.

There can be no resurrection power unless there is crucifixion weakness. 

We must go to the cross daily and find our life. That is the way.

“This is a trustworthy saying: If we die with him,

    we will also live with him.”

2 Timothy 2:11

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Some Christmas Advice

Christmas is my most favorite time of the year. 

I grew up in the northern part of Wisconsin, and my most valuable and tenderest recollections are my Christmases.  I was raised in a Norwegian Lutheran church, (Think: Lutefisk.). Many memories flow from that; the cold, the snow and the tree, and the presents.  I’m a ‘wealthy’ man through all of these great memories.

Even when it was bad, it was still very good.

I remember our annual Nativity play at Church. I fondly remember the sticky, caramel-covered ‘popcorn ball’ each one of us would get from the church ladies aid.  I also remember a very bleak Christmas when there was no money to be had for presents. A local charity came through at the last minute with gifts. I was profoundly touched by all of this, and more. 

But I have no real way of instilling any of this to you. 

However, I do exhort you to go out of your way to minister to the young hearts you have contact with.  Help them believe.  Make it easy for them to touch the miracle of the manger.  Let them leave your company yearning for  God’s presence in their day. 

It won’t take much, maybe keen imagination on your part and humble prayer.  But those things you do may spark, ignite and become a blaze that will direct them through their lives.  Be kinder than you need to be. Purposefully do things that will impact them, even small things often carry an astonishingly strong influence.

You may be in the thick of it.

Just maybe you have lost the purpose and meaning of this day. But I’m pretty sure any failure isn’t permanent. But at least, try to do as much as you’re what able. Let Linda and I pray for you this season. Email us please.

A Lutefisk History – Lutefisk Recipe 

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“Darkness is My Only Companion”

“Lord Jesus Christ, you are for me medicine when I am sick; you are my strength when I need help; you are life itself when I fear death; you are the way when I long for heaven; you are light when all is dark; you are my food when I need nourishment.”

Ambrose of Milan (340-397)

Our theology makes all the difference in fighting depression, writes Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Author of “Darkness, Is My Only Companion” and Episcopal priest. Here is an excerpt where she introduces the depression of Christians.

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In his Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis says that suffering is uniquely difficult for the Christian, for the one who believes in a good God. If there were no good God to factor into the equation, suffering would still be painful, and  ultimately meaningless.

For the Christian, who believes in the crucified and risen Messiah, suffering is always meaningful. It is meaningful because of the one in whose suffering we participate, Jesus. This is neither to say, of course, that suffering will be pleasant, nor that it should be sought. Rather, in the personal suffering of the Christian, one finds a correlate in Christ’s suffering, which gathers up our tears and calms our sorrows and points us toward his resurrection.

In the midst of a major mental illness, we are often unable to sense the presence of God at all. Sometimes all we can feel is the complete absence of God, utter abandonment by God, the sheer ridiculousness of the very notion of a loving and merciful God. This cuts to the very heart of the Christian and challenges everything we believe about the world and ourselves.

I have a chronic mental illness, a brain disorder that used to be called manic depression, but now is less offensively called bipolar disorder. I have sought help from psychiatrists, social workers, and mental health professionals; one is a Christian, but most of my helpers are not. I have been in active therapy with a succession of therapists over many years, and have been prescribed many psychiatric medications, most of which brought quite unpleasant side effects, and only a few of which relieved my symptoms. I have been hospitalized during the worst times and given electroconvulsive therapy treatments.

All of this has helped, I must say, despite my disinclination toward medicine and hospitals. They have helped me to rebuild some of “myself,” so that I can continue to be the kind of mother, priest, and writer I believe God wants me to be.

During these bouts of illness, I would often ask myself: How could I, as a faithful Christian, be undergoing such torture of the soul? And how could I say that such torture has nothing to do with God? This is, of course, the assumption of the psychiatric guild in general, where faith in God is often viewed at best as a crutch, and at worst as a symptom of disease.

bad-times-333-300x250How could I, as a Christian, indeed as a theologian of the church, understand anything in my life as though it were separate from God? This is clearly impossible. And yet how could I confess my faith in that God who was “an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1) when I felt entirely abandoned by that God? And if this torture did have something to do with God, was it punishment, wrath, or chastisement? Was I, to use a phrase of Jonathan Edwards’s, simply a “sinner in the hands of an angry God”?

I started my journey into the world of mental illness with a postpartum depression after the birth of our second child. News outlets are rife with stories of women who destroy their own children soon after giving birth. It is absolutely tragic. Usually every instinct in the mother pushes toward preserving the life of the infant. Most mothers would give their own lives to protect their babies. But in postpartum depression, reality is so bent that that instinct is blocked. Women who would otherwise be loving mothers have their confidence shaken by painful thoughts and feelings.

Depression is not just sadness or sorrow.

Depression is not just negative thinking. Depression is not just being “down.” It’s walking barefoot on broken glass; the weight of one’s body grinds the glass in further with every movement. So, the weight of my very existence grinds the shards of grief deeper into my soul. When I am depressed, every thought, every breath, every conscious moment hurts.

And often the opposite is the case when I am hypomanic: I am scintillating both to myself, and, in my imagination, to the whole world. But mania is more than speeding mentally, more than euphoria, more than creative genius at work. Sometimes, when it tips into full-blown psychosis, it can be terrifying. The sick individual cannot simply shrug it off or pull out of it: there is no pulling oneself “up by the bootstraps.”

And yet the Christian faith has a word of real hope, especially for those who suffer mentally. Hope is found in the risen Christ. Suffering is not eliminated by his resurrection, but transformed by it. Christ’s resurrection kills even the power of death, and promises that God will wipe away every tear on that final day.

But we still have tears in the present.

We still die. In God’s future, however, death itself will die. The tree from which Adam and Eve took the fruit of their sin and death becomes the cross that gives us life.

The hope of the Resurrection is not just optimism, but keeps the Christian facing ever toward the future, not merely dwelling in the present. But the Christian hope is not only for the individual Christian, nor for the church itself, but for all of Creation, bound in decay by that first sin: Cursed is the ground because of you … It will produce thorns and thistles for you …” (Gen. 3:17-18).

This curse of the very ground and its increase will be turned around at the Resurrection. All Creation will be redeemed from pain and woe. In my bouts with mental illness, this understanding of Christian hope gives comfort and encouragement, even if no relief from symptoms. Sorrowing and sighing will be no more. Tears will be wiped away. Even fractious [unruly, irritable] brains will be restored.

“Darkness: My Only Companion”

Kathryn Greene-McCreight is assistant priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in New Haven, Connecticut, and author of Darkness Is My Only Copanion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness (Brazos Press, 2006).

On the web:  http://www.hopeandhealing.org/contentPage.aspx?resource_id=311

 

 

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Deeply Hurt

A.W. Tozer seems to have gotten a hold on something here. Those who step forward into discipleship or ministry will inevitably be hurt in some significant way. I wouldn’t say it was a ‘given’, but it is the common path we take. We must be aware–but often we can’t or won’t.

God really isn’t the problem.

He loves us and wants to really bless us. He is all goodness and grace. He has no evil intentions concerning you, and certainly has no desire to see you suffer in a crisis of suffering or trial. Even in times of temptation, He simply views it as a step to strengthen us; He never is out to trip us up.

I really think that the issue is us.

Our old nature–the sinner inside, delights in things like pride and selfishness (even in religious matters). Some of the most difficult people I have ever had to work with were in places of oversight within the Church. Sometimes it’ll take a post like this one, to simply remind us of what is happening. We’ll agree with the idea, but often we forget.

Could it be that the problem isn’t that we are too weak, rather, it is because we are too strong?

God’s intention is ‘to bless greatly.’ But my pride and self-will must be left at the door (repeatedly). My old nature cannot truly work in the Kingdom. Only when these issues are dealt with (repeatedly) will humility and brokeness transform us. Quite simply, there is no way around this. God uses broken things. We must be broken as well.

“It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.”

Vance Havner

Becoming broken is often a lifetime of trial, temptation, and affliction.

You will ‘log-in’ many hours in the desert. Many of His best soldiers have been recruited from that barren place. The Holy Spirit is our best guide through the difficult aridity of such extremes.

“Before God could bring me to this place He has broken me a thousand times.” 

Smith Wigglesworth

aabryscript

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Our City of Refuge

Buried in the Old Testament is the idea of Cities of Refuge.

They speak profoundly to our situation and bring real hope for us who struggle so. Six places of safety were given to protect those who accidentally killed another person— may be an ax-head flew and hit someone, and they died as a result.

God told Joshua to establish cities of protection where one could be safe from an avenger. There were six of them, three on the east side of the Jordan river, and three on the west. The cities were pretty much covering Israel; each was spread out intentionally so they were always close. That city became a place of asylum for those guilty of manslaughter.

For us as believers, we know that we’ve committed crimes against God and other people. The burden we carry threatens to undo us. Satan (and his minions) want to destroy us—and honestly, we deserve it. We are essentially ‘criminals’ who have hurt others, and damaged ourselves in the process.

Outside of the city, we’re vulnerable—but inside those walls we find safety.

Those who have killed others are protected. If we venture outside, we find our adversary who is waiting. Scripture tells us that we must stay cloistered there until the current high priest died. Upon his death, we’re released and may leave the city walls.

For broken believers, the whole concept rings true.

The text speaks for itself, and there is spiritual logic in all of this. We see parallels here that speak to our condition. We’ve messed up big time. We also carry issues that the enemy can attack. Depression, bipolar, trauma, and even thoughts of committing suicide—they are a real part of our lives.

I must tell you that safety is found in only place.

Finding God and abiding in him is our place of safety. His walls protect us, Jesus is our high priest, who never dies; that means we need to stay with him, permanently. I like Hebrews 6:18, LB:

“Now all those who flee to him to save them can take new courage when they hear such assurances from God; now they can know without a doubt that he will give them the salvation he has promised them.”

For us especially, we often have problems with the doctrine of assurance of salvation. Our enemy works overtime to accuse us (Rev.12:10). We’re his targets and the lies of many demons assault us. We can, at times, wonder if we’re really saved. We wonder if we are really forgiven, and we doubt our salvation. Satan’s efforts can be constant and crippling.

I encourage you to think this over and pray about this. Numbers 35 is a good place to start. That chapter is pretty clear. Look also at Exodus 21:13-14; Joshua 20:1-6; Deuteronomy 19:2-13.

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‘Sunning Ourselves in the Smiles of God’

kites

A boy stood on a windy hillside, flying a kite.

He continued to release the string of the kite and it went higher and higher until it was completely out of sight. One of his friends walked up and asked how he knew there was still a kite on the other end. He replied. “I know it’s there, I can feel it tugging on the line.”

Like the kite, we can’t see heaven with our eyes, but we can feel it tugging at our souls!

As a person with a mental illness, it’s easier in some ways to think about that place I am journeying to.  Through many cycles of depression I find this present life gets old, and the more I hear about heaven, the more excited I get.  I imagine a life without meds, and the constant monitoring of my moods. This place is going to be good, and that’s just the start!

 Heaven is described as:

  1. a great reward, Col 3:24
  2. present suffering not worthy to be compared with future glory, Rom 8:18 
  3. eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 2 Cor 4:17-18
  4. surpassing riches of His grace towards us, Eph 2:7
  5. beyond all we could ask for or even think, Eph 3:20
  6. a complete and total healing, Rev 21:3-4

I sometimes think of my infirmities and pain.  I can’t wait to “shed” this mental illness. 

To be free from it will be one of best things I can think of.  To take off my depression, like a heavy coat on a warm day. To sit with Jesus in a cool garden with living water, that’s more refreshing than any iced tea. Eternity is my favorite things to think about–

“Where the unveile’d glories of the Deity shall beat full upon us, and we forever sun ourselves in the smiles of God.

—Ezekiel Hopkins 

I want to encourage you who are struggling now, with depression, anger,  schizophrenia, paranoia, abuse, OCD, addictions, PTSD, bipolar or any other handicap. There is a day coming, when we will forget the challenging battles that we’ve had to face. Wait for it.

And I must tell you, with all the strength I can muster–take hope and just journey one more day, and go ahead, dream about heaven.

Love, Bryan

 

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The Facts of Life

An Internet List

  • At least two people in this world love you so much they would die for you.

  • At least fifteen people in this world love you in some way.

  • The only reason anyone would ever hate you is because they want to be just like you.

  • A smile from you can bring happiness to anyone, even if they don’t like you.

  • Every night, SOMEONE thinks about you before they go to sleep.

  • You mean the world to someone.

  • If not for you, someone may not be living.

  • You are special and unique.

  • There is someone that you don’t even know exists, who loves you.

  • When you make the biggest mistake ever, something good comes from it.

  • When you think you have no chance of getting what you want, you probably won’t get it, but if you believe in yourself, probably, sooner or later, you will get it.

  • Always remember the compliments you received. Forget about the rude remarks.

  • Always tell someone how you feel about them; you will feel much better when they know.

  • If you have a great friend, take the time to let them know that they are great.

  • You’re intensely loved by God. He is now your father forever and ever.

 (from a list I found on the internet)

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A Life for a Life

entertain-cross

We must decide upon some things. This is not easy theology. It calls us to take decisive action.

The idea of Jesus dying on the cross for my sin is brutal. I’m left with the idea that I contributed to His death. But my sin had to be covered, and alas, and He did so. But I can never repay God for the drastic measures He took. But I do know that my life is now His. His for mine.

In many cultures it is a life for a life.

Some people groups believe that the person who saves another person is owed a “life debt” out of gratitude. I become His “property” because He died in my place. A life for a life. His for mine.

There are sins that I commit that He must pay for. This is not as easy as you might think; I confess my sin, and Jesus Christ picks it up. He has chosen to pay every and all penalties for it. I go “scot-free” while He must die. This is what He decided to do for me. A life for a life.

The cross was not just a Roman method of execution. It was planned in eternity for the rebellion of mankind. It was God’s “method.” He knew those “from the foundation of the world” but had to find a way to atone for their sin, and redeem them from Satan’s control. He must die for them. And it’s a life for a life. His for mine.

I’ve been ransomed and redeemed.

His death gives me eternal life– something which can ever be taken away. His own death makes me “holy.” The Bible promises me even more than this: forgiveness, peace, joy and “real” holiness. He has done everything, I have done nothing except believe.

His life for mine. A life for a life.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”

Romans 11:33, ESV

 

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A Plea

Being a Christian is not having better ideas, but having new eyes, a new heart. And God’s heart is broken over the sin and rebellion of men and women. Where’s the Church? Most never read their Bibles, they don’t pray or fast anymore. Instead, we listen to preachers who insist that political engagement is the solution.

This is not biblical.

The Church no longer has a passionate and all-consuming love and passion for Jesus (Rev. 2:4). We consult the internet and watch our favorite TV shows. We think that this is appropriate considering the evil we see. This is not the way.

Satan rejoices when we the Church capitulate like this. Most of us are not seeking the Lord. Churches are now a political force, and not a spiritual one. We don’t pray, and we seldom read our Bibles. We never fast or intercede. Our pastors never talk this way.

I heard recently a large church supported a chant, “Lets go Brandon.” (f**k Joe Biden). What a grief. We should be praying, “Let’s go Jesus.” (Or “lets go Church!) We’re no longer emphasizing the Kingdom of God. Statistics now tell us that only 20% of believers pray, and only 10% of us pray and intercede. Instead, we’re turning to the internet, and our favorite network commentaries.

Satan is rejoicing.

I believe we must be salt, we must be light. But we can’t adopt the world’s approach or techniques. We must pray. We must fast. We must read the Word again. We must become passionate about Jesus. Don’t allow yourself to be seduced.

“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his trickery, your minds will be led astray from sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

2 Cor. 11:1-3

This is my view. Others may believe differently. Please forgive me if I offend. That’s not my intention.

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To Give Beyond Giving

“Calling his followers to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow gave more than all those rich people.”

Mark 12:43, NCV

Heaven uses scales that earth knows nothing about.  Jesus calls out to His disciples, and they gather up close.  Life has a way of teaching us incredible things.  Circumstances usually make the best instructors.  These disciples did not need a didactic lecture.  They needed an authentic example of how of giving was processed through the economy of heaven.

The widow’s desperate poverty becomes the prime matrix of giving to the Father.  Her deposit was miniscule, hardly even enough for Jesus to even acknowledge.   Two pennies– laughable at best.  Many would give thousands more that day.  The widow gave everything she had.  The big ticket guys gave a very small precentage from their bank account.

The money box was a place of worship. 

Jesus acknowledged what this very poor widow did.  Some stood close to money box, and they would evaluate the giving of each one.  The text tells us that many came “with large sums of money.”  But Jesus declared the “widow’s mite” to be supreme.  Her pathetic gift was of a utmost value.

Upside down.  The view of heaven has turned everything on it’s head. 

Our first impression is almost always wrong.  This poor widow has been exalted to a place of example.  She now takes the spotlight as the model for us. Jesus makes her his Director of the Treasury for the KoG.  Two pathetic pennies!  And she becomes an astonishing pattern for us.

 

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When Despair Empties You

“It is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of Heaven.”  

Acts 14:22

As a broken believer this happens to me:

#1, I breakdown, and begin to fray. I begin to despair.

  1. #2, my own ‘faith’ is questioned, I’m burdened by my sin and guilt, I eventially become unsure of my salvation.

#3, I feel like I’m all alone. No one can help me. I’ve sinned my way out of the grace of God.

Life doesn’t seem to matter anymore.

When you’re profoundly depressed issues like a simple hot shower and eating something besides top ramen seem impossible. I’m embarrassed to say I once went 34 days with a shower. I laid in bed unable to function. I suppose that is the insidious truth about chronic depression, I know it well. God seems far, far away. Life doesn’t matter anymore. I am way beyond ‘salvageable.’ I obviously don’t say it but I feel like I’m destined for destruction.

  1. Just a word here about Satan’s battle for our souls. He is evil far beyond human comprehension. His schemes and plots are his attempt to destroy me and to extend his darkness.
  2. The devil is already condemned and his power lies emasculated (ouch!). With the weapons (Ephesians 6:10-18) we protect family and friends. We set free the captive, heal, and preach the gospel to those who can’t see yet.

There is much I can do before it gets to this point. Life’s concerns can seem insurmountable. We must grab the truth that clinical depression kills people. It slowly devours “a sound mind.” It cripples before it takes away your life. There is nothing quite like it; people tell you it will pass, and that you’ll see the sun again. But at the time that seems to be the worst advice ever given.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

2 Timothy 1:7

Meds help a lot. I used to take Zoloft and that is a godsend. I never missed a dose. I know I’m not bulletproof. But I’ve taken it for several years now. (It’s like insulin for a diabetic). Taking meds may not be your cup of tea, but pray about it and at least keep it as an option. (Just be aware that only a doctor can prescribe antidepressants.)

Afflicted souls are special to God.

And that alone truly comforts me. Sometimes it seems like there is an invisible tether that holds from completely dropping off the edge. When I do pray–it is desperate and brief. (More like a quiet scream for help.) There are no frills and no eloquence, but I know I’m being heard by Him who guards my soul.

7uyhjn xoikjhgfdnb People for the mo2st part, are of little help. And I admit that my attitude can be less than stellar. “Unless you have been lost in this section of hell yourself, it’s best if you just shut up.” (I don’t really say this, but I’m tempted to.)

But there are only a few that can speak clearly.

Almost always these are the ones who have been through some affliction themselves. They have been hurt and they ‘walk with a limp.’ I’m convinced that they can speak in direct proportion to the pain they themselves have suffered.

When I was very sick once I woke up to find another pastor praying prostrate on my bedroom floor. He didn’t have to do or say anything else. He left without saying some ‘pious’ word to me, yet what he did was wonderfully done.

“I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain.”   

John Henry Newman

Prepare in advance spiritually for the next. Identify those ‘dear-hearts’ who can help you in advance.Keep taking your meds, even if you think your o.k. And speak often with the Lord, and learn to listen to His voice. That “sound mind” is a promise for those who truly need it.

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The Equation of Discipleship

He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.

John 3:30, NLT

Before our Lord appeared, John the Baptist had incredible popularity.  Thousands and thousands came to him as he preached in the wilderness of Judea.  However, when Jesus initiated His own ministry, people left in droves to follow Him.  Imagine having a wildly successful thing going, and the next day having it fizzle.

I have discovered that it is one thing to be the center of attention, and quite another to be a minor player.  John the Baptist was the MVP, but overnight he was sent to the farm team (baseball metaphor).  Men and women reach for center stage, to be in the limelight.  But very few can move in the other direction gracefully.

A conductor was asked what the hardest instrument to play.  The interviewer expected that it would be a saxophone or trombone or some other.  The conductor just smiled,  and said, “The hardest is the second violin”.

How great victory was that which Jonathan must have gained over himself, when he rejoiced to see David raised above him! He discerned the mind of God in David, and had so learned to delight in God, that he did not see in David one who was to outshine him, but another faithful man raised up for God and Israel.”   

 
–Robert C. Chapman
 
Jonathan understood who David really was.  He had a sense of who was to be the new king. He had a conviction that understood David’s destiny and giftings.  Jonathan turned his back decisively on being made king.  Ambition was not in his vocabulary.  He could rejoice with David. Knowing this, Jonathan became a free man.

We must not aspire to being a leader as much as learning to become a true follower.

The need at the moment isn’t so much better leaders, but stronger followers. Often we struggle with this, somehow we believe, we’ll become “second class” disciples if we submit to another’s vision or giftings. The way of true servanthood is difficult for many. But to be a real follower will often mean not to strive or assert, but to surrender. That’s the way of Jesus.
 
Thomas a Kempis counseled,

“Be desirous, my son, to do the will of another rather than thine own.”

  
That is an interesting place to find yourself.  But that is the need of the moment.  He must increase, become greater, and I must decrease, become lesser.  There can be no room for personal aggrandizement. 

We need people who know how to play second fiddle.

 
 
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The Strange Ramblings of a Broken Believer

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“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:9, NLT

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”   

— C.S. Lewis

I think I am often a creature of habit, far more than I’d like to admit. I rather think we choose our habits and inclinations.  They, in turn, decide our paths.  But I suppose we give ourselves too much credit, to decide and direct.  Simply put, we are not that big. I honestly don’t think we have the power to steer our lives the way we like. That is what I’m thinking about today anyway.

Somebody once told me, “The purpose of life is not to find your freedom, but to find your master.” 

I don’t live that way, at least my inner propensity does not include God.  Did you ever think something like this?  “I wish God did not exist.  I want to be in charge, and I want to do, how I want to do, when I want to do it!”

Living it all with no rules and no accountability! Somehow I still seem to find myself sitting on my throne. I like this!

But as we get older, our hair goes gray and we look in the mirror and see bags and wrinkles, we realize how vulnerable and how tenuous life really is.  If we are honest and sufficiently self-aware, we understand that we will never be able to seize control of the known universe.

“Life is what happens while you are making other plans,” John Lennon observed. 

It seems that reality springs on you, and you have this bolt out of the blue that shocks you to the core.  Life has happened, and you didn’t even realize it.

I sometimes look at myself in the mirror, not in vanity, but in steady amazement.  The ugly tattoos, and the ‘track marks’ are from another life. I have scars on my wrists from a couple of suicide attempts.  I have an amazing surgical zipper scar from a brain tumor.  I have severe ataxia that makes me walk with a cane. I have lost the use of my right hand in an accident. But I am also learning how to be broken.  And everything that has happened has happened for a reason.

C.S. Lewis once said, “Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My God, do you learn.”  

I sense that he did learn, otherwise he couldn’t have said that.

Re-reading this I decided that I ramble a lot.  Forgive me.  Maybe there is scrap or two in it for someone.

“I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling.”

1 Corinthians 2:3

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Short Timers

“Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered— how fleeting my life is.”

Ps 39:4, NLT

Typically, we avoid this level of scrutiny.  Life is best enjoyed in a relative ignorance, and we certainly don’t welcome the knowledge that our life is limited.  We are like people with a bunch of credit cards, and we impulsively buy whatever we want. But soon you’re gonna have to bay the bills.

But, do we really want to be reminded? 

Our time is brief.  Fleeting.  But the psalmist values the reminder… life has been scrutinized, and counted out.  We only have a finite number of days [they are counted out] and then we must say ‘good-bye’. 

You have an expiration date.

I am convinced that we are to be settled on our ‘finiteness’.  We are not immortal, nor are we perpetual.  Things wind down, and soon they will lay us embalmed and in a casket, and a memorial service will be held in our memory.  This will be, more or less, the end of us.  But we will go on.

Are you able to handle the truth? 

Your life will end, and there is nothing you can do about it.  Let it unfold, and take its lumps.  You really do not have a choice.  There is a limit to our living on this terrestrial ball.  We can make no further advance here.  It is finished.

The verse speaks of an eagerness to know one’s limits.  Tell me, remind me, how short it all is.  I want you to tell me, where the end is, so I can live my life in a response to the truth.  I want to respond to reality, whatever that may be.

We must calmly accept the end of our time here on earth. We can’t deceive ourselves.  We need to welcome the intrusion of a finish line. Let us live, men and women, in a full understanding of our limits.  Let us walk in the fear of our God.

“Life, lovely while it lasts, is soon over.
Life as we know it, precious and beautiful, ends.
The body is put back in the same ground it came from.
The spirit returns to God, who first breathed it.”

Ecclesiastes 12:6-7, The Message Bible 

 

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When Your Giant Mocks

 

Young David stood and looked at Goliath face-to-face. 

Physically there was hardly a comparison.  Goliath was almost 10 feet tall, a warrior since birth–we read of his armor–he was like a human tank. 

But David was just a pesky boy, nothing more.  Goliath preened and strutted into the field of battle, and simple David was stepping up for his first try at hand-to-hand combat.

And then Goliath begins to blaspheme. 

He boasts and mocks.  In his mind he believes is superior, his arrogance knows no bounds.  The center of the universe is the Philistine army, and he is their champion. He is contemptuous of everything else–physical or spiritual.

Goliath essentially is a ‘human’ wood chipper. 

Everyone who has faced him has been destroyed.  There have been no survivors to speak of. But I find David to be powerfully exceptional.  His reaction to the ‘human mountain’ of Goliath was to run directly at him.  This is an astonishing faith.

“As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him.  Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground”.

1 Sam. 17:48

Many of us face a giant called guilt, pride, doubt or despair.

Satan (our enemy) has marched out on the field of battle, confident of his ultimate triumph over us.  We’ve been rightly tutored that there are enemies that can destroy us. I suppose that should terrify us. And we’ve also been indoctrinated to accept their control, and the inevitable slavery, with a spirit of timidity.

The ‘monster’ of despair is real and brutal.  Our destruction is inevitable in his mind.  Satan does expect to win over your soul, but Jesus stands as our advocate shielding us. We are saved because He wants us saved.

Yet so many believers, cowed and intimidated, surrender to the boastings of the giant Despair.  Hope, and faith are drained out of our being, and we become an empty spiritual shell.  The “warfare” dimension gets nullified, and soon irrelevant.  Despair reaches us and has the full intention of taking total control. It’s never satisfied with just a little bit.

David ran to the battle–to face his giant. 

He passed through the dark intimidation and influence to approach Goliath.  There was no passiveness or doubt to cloud his mind.  David took a spiritually aggressive position, he took on the fear, and then ran directly at the giant Goliath.  His spirit was untouchable.

As believers, we might struggle and David and Goliathpout.  We can turn our hearts over to despair.  We become available to the enemies workings.  And the confidence we might have through faith is dissipated into doubt and confusion.  But the victory we have in Christ allows us the liberty, through the Blood of Him who defeats our own Goliath of despair.

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We’re Pretty Much Scum

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“To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.”

1 Corinthians 4:11-13, NIV

The apostle Paul isn’t ashamed to be called ‘scum.’ He realizes that this is his ‘standing’ in this world’s opinion. He is regarded as a nobody and of little value by the ‘powers-that-be.’ A tension exists between the believer and the world system. The expectations that the world has is part of the package that we have been given. The message of the Cross is the ultimate foolishness. Jesus told his own disciples that:

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.”

John 15:18-19, NLT

 The world hates us because we belong to Jesus.

It is his reproach we bear. We should not see the trial and sorrows as our issue, and we shouldn’t get upset by the world’s snub. The tension is real and we can expect being ostracized. In fact, we might do well to be concerned if we don’t see it.

After all, hatred is such a hard word.

And the stigma should humble us— it has a supernatural origin. We shouldn’t expect otherwise. To follow Jesus means we will only experience what he is already gone through. Some of us will follow him even to martyrdom. The hardships and challenges do not invalidate our walk, rather they confirm what he said would happen. The world is under seige by Satan,  it is his spirit that controls the unbelieving world.

“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

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Father of all comfort, please come to your servants who are suffering for their faith in you. Meet them and hold them close to you. Give them boldness and awareness. Seek them out and make them your witnesses in a hostile world. Give them the Spirit of Jesus and help them overcome by their love. ~In Jesus Name, Amen

 

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Explaining True Humility

“But among you, it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.” Luke 22:26, NLT Jesus Christ turned everything upside down. I know of no other teaching that might disturb his disciples as “humility.” I’m sure that they shook their […]

But among you, it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.”

Luke 22:26, NLT

Jesus Christ turned everything upside down. I know of no other teaching that might disturb his disciples as “humility.” I’m sure that they shook their heads and replayed what Jesus had said. (Maybe looking for a loophole?)

This is not something you just “click into place,” rather it’s a complete overhaul of living as a disciple. Humility is a process, not an event.

“So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Matthew 18:4

We may think children are wonderful, but hardly the stuff of the Spirit. And then Jesus shows up and we’re naturally schooled further. Generally, the attitude of a child can be seen as innocent, simple, kind, eager, curious, relying on others, and enjoying simple things.

As a bonafide broken believer, I find I’m quite consumed with “me.” Life can revolve around “me.” The awful nature of my mental illness is I get absorbed with it, and it is all I think about. And I hate this. It isn’t right. It isn’t healthy. It doesn’t honor God.

cropped-2719-500x500-2-2.pngThis list was written by Mother Teresa that sheds further light for us. Her discipleship was radically different than mine, and I have much– very much to learn. Perhaps you might commiserate our mutual lack.

These are the few ways we can practice humility:

  • To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked.
  • To be kind and gentle even under provocation.
  • Never to stand on one’s dignity.
  • To choose always the hardest.”
Mother Teresa (The Joy in Loving: A Guide to Daily Living)

 

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The Intensity of Evil

I have a heart–but it is broken and crushed.

Today I realized that I was sick and very tired of myself. It’s really not disgust, or even loathing. It’s more like a weariness, exhaustion. I’ve never felt this way. In a strange way it intrigues me. Could this definite disenchantment mean something spiritual? Does it have value, or am I just feeling self-absorbed or conceited?

There exists is a real rigidity to evil, something intense. I have seen it– sin hardens all who touch it, plain and simple. My growing immobility disturbs me, as I know I’m developing a “hardness of heart.” Atherosclerosis is a condition of a sick heart where arteries become blocked. It’s also known as “hardening of the heart, or arteries.” It is a patient killer, slowly and surely making hard deposits that block the flow of blood.

The Bible speaks about having a hard heart.

It also uses the metaphor of fallow ground that must be plowed up. Jesus used the same image in His “Parable of the Sower” in Matthew 13.

“A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain.”

There are only four options.

  • The first is seed that never arrives.
  • The second lands on hard stones.
  • The third possibility is landing on thorns and thistles.
  • Only the fourth flourishes.

Heart of Stone Heart of Flesh
The Battle of the Heart

The question I have is this, can the hard soil become soft, and can the good soil become overgrown with thistles? Is this a static, set experience? Or could it be far more fluid? I seem to move from one soil condition to another.

I have found that my own heart drifts. I struggle with a mental illness where emotions fluctuate constantly. They gallivant around, floating here and then there. I may be depressed and suicidal in the morning, and then I can be euphoric in the evening. It’s having the identity of a “wandering star.”

I so want my heart to soften.

I want to sit with Jesus and hear His words. I need Him to share what He is thinking about. Any sin I entertain has a hardening effect on my spiritual heart. This really scares me. But truly he still holds me close, and he keeps his steady loving hand on me. *

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Meeting C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite Christian authors.

It can take some thought to get the point he is making in some of his writings, but the effort is well worth the understanding that I gain. Some time ago I bought a journal that consisted of various C.S. Lewis quotes followed by about a page and a half to write my own thoughts about the quote. This blog entry is a quote and journal entry from that journal.

In “Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer,” Lewis wrote:

I come back to St. John: “if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart.” And equally,”if our heart flatter us, God is greater than our heart.” I sometimes pray not for self-knowledge in general but for just so much self-knowledge at the moment as I can bear and use at the moment; the little daily dose.

Have we any reason to suppose that total self-knowlege, if it were given us, would be for our good? Children and fools, we are told, should never look at half-done work; and we are not yet, I trust, even half-done. You and I wouldn’t, at all stages, think it wise to tell a pupil exactly what we thought of his quality. It is much more important that he should know what to do next.

I like Lewis’ prayer, for just so much knowledge of my own failings and successes as God deems to be appropriate for my spiritual growth today. If I was aware of all that God must do to complete the good work that He has begun in me, then I would be overwhelmed and feel completely hopeless at the enormity of my need. On the other hand, if I were in one single moment to be aware of all the good that He has accomplished in me, then I might become vain and think myself better than others whose canvas is still bare.

I am like an unfinished painting, more than just the bare canvas, but not a finished work fit for hanging in God’s art gallery. I feel as though my underlying sketch has been completed with Christ as its foundation, and some of the paint has been applied, but all the colors and the detail are not there.

What I need and hope is for God to help me see myself as He deems appropriate, not as He sees me (for He sees all that was, is, and is yet to be in me). If I saw myself as God sees me, that would be too much for me to bear. But I am thankful He knows what is best for me, and allows me to see just what I need.

You, dear broken believer, are also an unfinished painting.

You’re a masterpiece in the making. I pray He shows you just so much of your failures and successes, your weaknesses and strengths, as is beneficial to you this day so that the next brush strokes may be perfectly applied by the Master Painter.

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

 

 

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Choosing a Christian Counselor

 
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Written by “Holly,”  “In my search for a counselor, I visited a secular psychologist, read books written by extremist biblical counselors, and had tearful talks with my own general practitioner. I wish I had known then what TYPES of Christian counselors were out there and how on earth I could find help I could trust and afford.”

Why Educate Yourself about Christian Counseling?

Perhaps you do not suffer from depression, have a great marriage, kids seem to be doing okay, everything is fine. Why should you look into various types of Christian counsel?

1) Think of a Christian counselor as an invaluable resource, much like the family lawyer, pediatrician, or accountant. When problems arise, wouldn’t it be nice to already have the information you need regarding local counseling services?

2) It’s always a good idea to have information at hand so that you can guide distraught friends and family members to a trusted counselor who can offer biblical guidance and support.

If you are a believing Christian, I MUST recommend seeking a Christian counselor.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.”

Ephesians 2:19

There can be a problem with secular counsel.

Many secular counselors will take your faith into consideration when treating you. However, as citizens of heaven, seeking counsel from a non-Christian is much like seeking counsel from someone who doesn’t speak your language…and he or she does not speak yours. Progress and inroads could be made, but in the long run, little will be accomplished.

There’s seldom wisdom and truth apart from godly counsel:

“The godly offer good counsel; they know what is right from wrong.”

Psalm 37:30

Please try to find a Christian who is a professional counselor. There are a number of directories on the internet. Each individual counselor is different from the next, however, and you will need to interview any counselor before you decide to use his or her services.

If possible, find a specialist.

You may wish to choose a counselor who specializes in a specific area. There a number of issues for which people seek counsel, including:

  • Abuse
  • Addiction
  • Anger Management
  • Anxiety
  • Coping with Stress
  • Depression
  • Divorce
  • Eating disorders
  • Emotional trauma
  • Financial difficulties
  • Grief
  • Loss
  • Major life changes
  • Marital issues
  • Mental illness
  • Pain management
  • Parenting issues
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Pre-marital counseling
  • Relationship conflict
  • Religious doubt/ confusion
  • Sexual/ intimacy difficulties

The first thing to consider when choosing a Christian counselor is whether or not they are capable or qualified to handle the particular issue you seek counsel for. A marriage counselor may not be the best person to go to if your thirteen-year-old daughter is battling anorexia. This seems like a given; however, be sure your counselor has experience handling your specific issue.

Decide whether or not you would feel more comfortable seeing a man or a woman for your particular problem.

Seek a Licensed Professional

Also, if you seek counsel outside of your church, make sure your counselor is a licensed professional. I suggest finding a professional who holds a minimum of a master’s degree in their field of study, who have completed the required number of supervised hours, and who has passed your state’s examination to become a licensed counselor.

Remember that most counselors employed by churches are professional counselors, but some are not. A church counselor should be qualified through their educational experience, and have some sort of license or certification that enables them to counsel (generally they have a Christian counseling certification awarded from various Christian counseling training programs or colleges.)

Interview Your Prospective Counselor BEFORE Your First Session

Going into a counseling session before you know where your counselor is coming– I should never, ever exercise my personal freedom if that action infringes on the liberty of others. That can be dangerous, especially when you are in a vulnerable emotional position unable to clearly think or discern the counsel you receive.

Before your first session, make the counselor shares your faith and concerns about the issue at hand. If possible, bring a trusted companion along to get their opinion about the practice you are considering.

Some questions to ask your potential counselor are:

  • What is your Christian counseling approach?
  • Do they adhere strictly to biblical counseling or do they consider psychological approaches as well?
  • Will they work with your psychiatrist and or doctor?
  • What license or certification do you have? Is it from an accredited college? A Christian college? A training program?
  • Are you affiliated with any particular Christian counseling organization?
  • How do you integrate the Bible into your counseling sessions?
  • How do you incorporate prayer into your counseling practice?
  • Do you have experience counseling people with (insert the issue for which you seek counsel)?
  • What is your payment structure?
  • Will my insurance cover my sessions with you?
  • What is your view on psychoanalysis, medication treatments for psychological ailments, and other scientific approaches to mental illness?

If you have an opportunity to interview your potential counselor in his or her office, take a good look at the books on the bookshelves. The types of books displayed might give you an excellent indication of the types of counsel you will receive.

Before you make your final decision, pray on it, consult your Bible, and if possible, talk to your trusted general practitioner before seeking therapy.

Recap:

Educate yourself about the various types of Christian Counselors. When finding a Christian counselor, remember to find a licensed, experienced CHRISTIAN professional capable of addressing your specific issue. Interview your prospective counselor before attending your first session. Go prepared with a series of questions that will help you gain knowledge about the kind of counsel you will be receiving. Prayerfully consider whether or not you and the counselor are a good fit.

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(Bryan— I unearthed this from somewhere. Thought it might help someone. I apologize for not being to attribute the article.)

 

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Love is On the Loose

“Cross Jesus one too many times, fail too often, sin too much, and God will decide to take his love back. It is so bizarre, because I know Christ loves me, but I’m not sure he likes me, and I continually worry that God’s love will simply wear out.

Periodically, I have to be slapped in the face with Paul’s words in Romans 8:38-39, ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

Michael Yaconelli, “Messy Spirituality

I admit I live with a continuous fear that God’s love has limits.  That someday, I will sin myself beyond a Savior’s reach.  It nags on me and betrays me.  The fear that I will end up on some spiritual “junk heap” is real, and it is pervasive. I guess it has to do with the unbelievable richness  of God’s fantastic grace.

This doubt accentuates my depression, aggravating it and poisons my whole being.  I feel worthless and so alone.  Since my particular struggle is with paranoia, I end up bringing that with me into the throne room.  Kids who have been beaten by their fathers often visibly flinch when Dad raises his arm to scratch his head.  They cower and duck out of habit, waiting for the blows.

Our heavenly Father has gone out of his way to make the gospel truly good news.  We often have to be convinced of a love that cannot be diluted by the stuff of life.  And we who are the wounded and paranoid need that assurance.  We are loved with a love of such quality and quantity, and such magnificence that all we can scream is “GRACE!”

As broken people we must come and allow ourselves to be loved with this outrageous love.  Our depression, bipolar disorder, addictions, BPD, OCD, and schizophrenia are not insurmountable issues.  We are sick, we admit it.  We are different than other people (“the norms”).  But the Father delights in us. 

He especially loves his lambs who are weak and frightened.

 

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The Art of Denying Jesus

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“Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly.”

Matthew 26:75, NLT

Three denials are followed by three reaffirmations.

A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”

John 21:17

The apostle Peter was a fervent disciple. He knew who Jesus was before most. He was always included in special times (e.g. the transfiguration, Gethsemane). He was favored by Jesus throughout times of ministry. I also believe that he was Jesus’ friend.

Peter is known for:

  • being called on the shores of Galilee, Matt 4:18-19
  • ‘almost’ walking on water, Matt 14:29-30
  • finding the tax money in a fishes’ mouth, Matt 17:24-27
  • having his feet washed, John 13:6-7
  • in Gethsemane– cutting off an ear, John 18:10-11
  • his remorse at denying Jesus, Matt 26:75
  • at the empty tomb with John, John 20:3-8

Peter’s own denials were of a serious nature affecting who he was, and who he was to become. Jesus astutely intervenes as they ‘breakfasted’ on the seashore. There would be three affirmations; one for each denial. Peter needed to meet the resurrected Jesus, and speak with him about what he had done. Peter needed this.

A denial has different intensities and can be used in many different ways.

Out of our own confusion, we realize that we can also deny Jesus. Perhaps frequently.  And none of us have an immunity as of yet. We deny the Lord when we refuse to speak of him to others. We deny the Lord when we fail to do what is right. Sometimes we deny him flagrantly, other times it is a more subtle attitude. At best, we’re still inconsistent, and at worst, apostate.

We’re not punished or abandoned for this behavior.

Human logic would suggest that we should be. But instead we are gently restored. Given the opportunity, Peter the fisherman, would eventually become a wise shepherd to the young Church. I would also suggest that Peter’s personal weakness would serve him well as a gentle, and caring pastor.

Peter, near the end of his life, goes ‘full circle’ and uses a very precise Greek word found in only two places in the New Testament. It is the specific form of the word “shepherd.” It is only used in John 21:16-17 in Peter’s restoration, and in 1 Peter 5:2. Peter encourages the Church with the same words Jesus himself spoke to him on the beach so long ago! Peter wrote:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing.”

1 Peter 5:2, NIV

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Living Psalm 23

1-3 God, my shepherd!

    I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
    you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
    you let me catch my breath
    and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
    Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
    when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
    makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
    right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
    my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
    every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
    for the rest of my life.

Psalm 23, Message

The Lord wants to escort you to someplace wonderful, it’s where there is a rich rest and a sweet intimacy– in spite, of conflict.  Everything is revealed in Psalm 23;

It is more than good poetry. It’s a way of life.

There is a preciousness just beyond our ‘status quo.’  It is an abundant life for eternity.  When you have apprehended it, you will understand what I am talking about, and wonder why you’ve missed it for so long. Eternal life has already begun even though many of us don’t walk as if it did. We have eternal life, right here—right now!

There is a place which we can enter into where Jesus is all there is.  His dear presence pervades everything, and there is no doubt about His lordship.  He rules completely, and He is “all-in-all.”

There is real evidence when you have appropriated this deeper life. There will be a surrender of all you have, and you will fully understand what it truly means to be His follower.  There will be a complete renunciation of all rights to yourself.  You will give it all up, with an insurmountable joy, just to walk with Him.

Live on earth as if you’ve already died, and are now living in heaven with Him.

There must be a definite place where you turn your rights over to Him. Perhaps His love has already pressed you into this.  Often there will be a disillusionment and cynicism with this planet and its ugly ways.  You want to escape all its dullness and jadedness.  You will step into ‘life-effervescent.’  He intends to walk you through many issues, but if He is close I will suggest you trust Him fully.

If you struggle with a mental illness: clinical depression, bipolar, anxiety issues, or schizophrenia, I want to reassure you, you are not a “lesser” Christian.  And my comments include you.  You are not on the ‘scrap heap’ of the Spirit.  In so many ways, you can enter in while normal people will struggle.  And you do need to step into this, and discover a life worth living.

A “Psalm 23 life” is yours for the asking. Take it up, humbly and true. It’s your birthright to be with your Shepherd forever.

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The Snare of the Fowler: Psalms 91

caged-bird

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.” 

Psalm 91:1-2, NIV

This psalm focuses being intimate with our heavenly Father.

Throughout the entire chapter we see personal pronouns used. In contrast to other psalms that are directed to the nation, this one is written to an individual. This personal focus makes this a favorite psalm for many.

Shelter and shadow, refuge and fortress are the opening ‘word pictures’ used very elegantly. The psalmist writes what he knows, and it is apparent that he understand the needs of the human spirit, and for protection. Each of these four words creates a common link between believers. Each of us need a working understanding of all four protections.

Dwelling, resting and ‘saying’ are necessary elements for the word pictures to work. I should ‘dwell’ in God’s sheltered care. All too often, I wander out past the security of the Lord (or maybe I’m lured out?) But there is safety in having God so close to us. His proximity is for my protection.

“Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”

Psalm 91:3-4

silhouette-bird-on-branch-grangerV.v. 3-4, maintains its personal or familiar tone. ‘Save you’ (salvation) is far more that a theological term.  For the psalmist however, it’s not about ‘doctrine’; rather the psalm is an embrace. He is rescued from the trap, and the sickness that seems so contagious never touches him. Moving from metaphor to metaphor, he engages our imaginations to ‘see’ God’s salvation. The writer knows his stuff.

The Lord is pictured as a protective bird that covers his chicks (Ex.19:4).

We have a sure confidence as we gather together in that warm and safe spot under His wing. Whatever is after us has to go through God first. His presence is formidable. In His company is found our only safety.

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.”

Romans 8:31, 33

All of heaven is rallying for your well-being. You are sure of this based on your faith in God’s own word. He has ‘busted us’ out of a dark cage, and now defends you against all your enemies. And that is a very good thing.

 

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Praying Authentically

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Prayer often can be just a nice religious duty, that makes us feel warm and fuzzy. But such prayer the does not suit a disciple who is tired of religion, and is seeking authenticity. There are few models who can be our guides.

That one of the reasons why we need elders in our fellowships; they have been through so much, they can anchor us to all that is real. As elderd they probably had lessons in prayer.

We often will theologically play on the periphery, and cleverly deceive others and ourselves.  My own heart gets pretty creative as I display a self-righteousness. (I should win an Academy Award as ‘best actor.’) But Jesus insists on us becoming real. You might say that real is the prayer that touches his heart.

When you talk with Jesus, do you really talk to Him? Do you have a real awareness that you are really talking with Him?

Is it the real you that fellowships with the ‘real’ God?

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The following is an excerpt from A Diary of Private Prayer, by the Scottish theologian, John Baillie, 1886-1960:

Eternal Father of my soul, let my first thought today be of You, let my first impulse be to worship You, let my first speech be Your name, let my first action be to kneel before You in prayer.

For Your perfect wisdom and perfect goodness:

For the love with which You love mankind:

For the love with which You love me:

For the great and mysterious opportunity of my life:

For the indwelling of your Spirit in my heart:

For the sevenfold gifts of your Spirit:

I praise and worship You, O Lord.

Yet let me not, when this morning prayer is said, think my worship ended and spend the day in forgetfulness of You. Rather from these moments of quietness let light go forth, and joy, and power, that will remain with me through all the hours of the day;

Keeping me chaste in thought:

Keeping me temperate and truthful in speech:

Keeping me faithful and diligent in my work:

Keeping me humble in my estimation of myself:

Keeping me honorable and generous in my dealings with others:

Keeping me loyal to every hallowed memory of the past:

Keeping me mindful of my eternal destiny as a child of Yours.

Through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.

(Taken from Richard Foster’s Devotional Classics, pp. 126-127.)

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Wishing You a Thoughtful Christmas

Some thoughts about the meaning of Christmas:

He was created of a mother whom He created. He was carried by hands that He formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, He the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute.    

–Augustine

There were many who saw the babe, but did not see the salvation.  

–Author Unknown

For the Christ-child who comes is the Master of all; No palace too great, no cottage too small.  

 –Phillips Brooks

Rejoice, that the immortal God is born, so that mortal man may live in eternity.    

–John Hus

His poverty was so great that He was born in another man’s house, and buried in another man’s tomb.    

–John Boys

It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the most profound unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. God became man; Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the incarnation.  

–J.I. Packer

Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world. The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son. The only requirement is to believe in Him. The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life.  

–Corrie Ten Boom

The Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the Incarnation.  

— J.I. Packer

There were only a few shepherds at the first Bethlehem. The ox and the donkey understood more of the first Christmas than the high priests in Jerusalem. And it is the same today.    

–Thomas Merton

Christmas is based on an exchange of gifts, the gift of God to man – His unspeakable gift of His Son, and the gift of man to God – when we present our bodies a living sacrifice.   

 –Vance Havner

The idea that there’s a force of love and logic behind the universe is overwhelming to start with, if you believe it. Actually, maybe even far-fetched to start with, but the idea that that same love and logic would choose to describe itself as a baby born in shit and straw and poverty is genius, and brings me to my knees, literally. To me, as a poet, I am just in awe of that. It makes some sort of poetic sense. It’s the thing that makes me a believer, though it didn’t dawn on me for many years.    

–Bono

The central miracle asserted by Christians is the incarnation. They say that God became man.   

— C.S. Lewis

Infinite, and an infant. Eternal, and yet born of a woman. Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman’s breast. Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother’s arms. King of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph. Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter’s despised son.   

–Charles Spurgeon

Carols stir us. Holy words inspire us. The golden glow from the manger warms us. A little religion at Christmas is fine. But that glow in the manger comes from the Light of the world. It exposes evil and either redeems it or destroys it. The babe in the manger is far more than an object for sentimental sighs. He is the Son of God who must be accepted as ruler – or confronted as rival.  

–John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.  

–Charles Dickens

Christmas is for children. But it is for grown-ups too. Even if it is a headache, a chore, and a nightmare, it is a period of necessary defrosting of chilled hidebound hearts.  

–Lenora Mattingly Weber

Hark the herald angels sing,
Glory to the new-born king.”
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.

–Charles Wesley

This Gospel anticipates a world far different from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, where it is “always winter, and never Christmas.” The promise of the Gospel is that it is “always Christmas.”  To be “in Christ” is to enjoy each morning as a Christmas morning with the family of God, celebrating the gift of God around the tree of life.  

–Kevin VanHoozer

The spirit of Christmas needs to be superseded by the Spirit of Christ. The spirit of Christmas is annual; the Spirit of Christ is eternal. The spirit of Christmas is sentimental; the Spirit of Christ is supernatural. The spirit of Christmas is a human product; the Spirit of Christ is a divine person. That makes all the difference in the world.  

–Stuart Briscoe

Here’s a side to the Christmas story that isn’t often told: Those soft little hands, fashioned by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb, were made so that nails might be driven through them. Those baby feet, pink and unable to walk, would one day walk up a dusty hill to be nailed to a cross. That sweet infant’s head with sparkling eyes and eager mouth was formed so that someday men might force a crown of thorns onto it. That tender body, warm and soft, wrapped in swaddling clothes, would one day be ripped open by a spear. Jesus was born to die.    

–John MacArthur

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Saint for Today

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) is known for his leadership role in the Confessing Church, efforts on behalf of peace and justice, opposition to antisemitism, and writings on theology and ethics that have been influential far beyond his German Lutheran context. He was was hanged by the Nazis on April 6, 1945 in the Flossenburg concentration camp.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes:

In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give; life can be rich only with such realization. source: Letters and Papers from Prison

To be silent does not mean to be inactive; rather it means to breathe in the will of God, to listen attentively and be ready to obey. Meditating on the Word

It is not necessary that we should discover new ideas in our meditation. It is sufficient, and far more important, if the Word, as we read and understand it, penetrates and dwells within us. Life Together

When we come to a clearer and more sober estimate of our own limitations and responsibilities, that makes it possible more genuinely to love our neighbor. Letters and Papers…

There is not a place to which the Christian can withdraw from the world, whether it be outwardly or in the sphere of the inner life. Any attempt to escape from the world must sooner or later be paid for with a sinful surrender to the world. Ethics

You have granted me many blessings; let me also accept what is hard from your hand. Prayers from Prison

The first call which every Christian experiences is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. The Cost of Discipleship

Earthly possessions dazzle our eyes and delude us into thinking that they can provide security and freedom from anxiety. Yet all the time they are the very source of anxiety. The Cost of Discipleship

The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love of God begins with listening to his word, so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them. Life Together

From God we hear the word: “If you want my goodness to stay with you then serve your neighbor, for that is where God comes to you.” In the anthology, No Rusty Swords

Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others, we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as ourselves. The Cost of Discipleship

I can no longer condemn or hate a brother [or sister] for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me is transformed through intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died. Life Together

We have learned a bit too late in the day that action springs not from thought but from a readiness for responsibility. Letters and Papers from Prison

Which of us has really admitted that God’s goodness can also lead us into conflict. In the Anthology, No Rusty Swords

Our enemies are those who harbor hostility against us, not those against whom we cherish hostility… As a Christian I am called to treat my enemy as a brother and to meet hostility with love. My behavior is thus determined not by the way others treat me, but by the treatment I receive from Jesus. The Cost of Discipleship

So long as we eat our bread together, we shall have sufficient even for the least. Not until one person desires to keep his own bread for himself does hunger ensue. Life Together

In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things, the figure of him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger. Ethics

 A Prayer written by Bonhoeffer

In me there is darkness,

but with you there is light;

I am lonely, but you do not leave me;

I am feeble in heart; but with you there is help;

I am restless, but with you is peace.

In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;

I do not understand your ways, but you know the way for me.

Amen.

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