When Life is Dark and Heaven is Quiet

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

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

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

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

John 3:19, NLT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Bunyan, “Pilgrims Progress”

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For This Thing is From Me

 “Thus saith the LORD, Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel: return every man to his house; for this thing is from me. They hearkened therefore to the word of the LORD, and returned to depart, according to the word of the LORD.”  

 1 Kings 12:24, KJV

You can never accuse the Lord of being cold and distant and aloof.  He doesn’t detach Himself from the needs of His people.  He doesn’t ever disconnect and isolate Himself.  On the contrary, He is constantly thinking and acting on our behalf.  He is a proactive God.  That is most impressive.

Some say, that at the beginning of creation, God wound up the universe like a clock.  Now He watches as everything just winds down.  He makes no intervention, or attempt to regulate.  We call this “Deism.”  It may be understood philosophically, but not theologically–or biblically.  The God of the Bible is always intensively involved in the affairs and concerns of His covenant people.

“For this thing is from Me.”  God directs a confused king who has significant issues.  God decides that civil war between Judah and Israel is wrong.  He sends His prophet Shemaiah to stand before the king of Judah, and speak out a word to the nation.  The Lord is involved, and it is He who is actively enmeshed into this issue.

“For this thing is from Me.”  There is something here that can mystify and perplex the best of us.  He begins to weave and guide His active presence into the confusing issues of that time.  He is not a “landlord God,”  but He is intensely involved in our affairs.  He initiates and directs the very things that concern us.

“For this thing is from Me.”  The text clearly opens up this ugly situation.  In the midst of this bizarre issue, God has assumed control.  His prophet Shemaiah carries this Word into  a room of explosive personalities.  Now the arrogance of the king can be a tenacious thing.  But He moves wherever He wills.  Kings are never an issue, when God enters in.

Dear one, He is deeply involved in your affairs.  He draws very close, and He has engaged Himself to be intricately involved.  “For this thing is from Me.”  and that truth opens up His purposes to our desperate poverty.  We may try very hard to try to maintain control and direction.  But God directs and superintends.  He is big enough to touch and direct my small heart.  We will only come into confusion if we try to sidestep His lordship.

 “The Lord can control a king’s mind as he controls a river;  he can direct it as he pleases.” 

Proverbs 21:1

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Little Sin, Little Love— Much Sin, Much Love

 “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”  

Luke 7:47 

I have been a disciple of Jesus for almost 35 years.  But it seems that I really haven’t been a desperate lover of Jesus until recently.

I have seen a lot of stuff, so I made a quick list–

  • the charismatic movement
  • the Imperials
  • New Wine Magazine
  • “I Found It”
  • Larry Lea‘s Prayer Program
  • the PTL Club
  • the Shack
  • Jesus’ festivals, Festival of the Son
  • Promise Keepers
  • Anita Bryant
  • the Living Bible, youth edition
  • YWAM teams, the Candle– SF
  • Four Spiritual Laws
  • ’88 Reasons Why
  • “Honk if You Love Jesus”
  • street preaching in Haight Ashbury, SF
  • Don Francisco
  • carrying the cross, Arthur Blessit
  • the Hiding Place
  • Watchman Nee
  • Outdoor baptisms in city parks

I’ve been exposed to a lot of winds blowing through, and moving on.  You learn to separate the chaff from the grain.  Much of my life has been spent winnowing out to get to the good stuff.  God, through his word describes a coming “trial by fire” over each person’s works.  Romans 14:12 says, “Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God.”    

One time I walked as a backslidden Christian. I remember once waking up from a drunken stupor with my t-shirt soaked in blood. That blood was someone elses.  I sobered up really quick.  There was this shadowy awareness of beating someone to the point of death.  I still catch myself wondering what exactly happened.  There is so much stuff that will be revealed, and I have done many despicable things.

The judgment seat of Christ, therefore, involves believers giving an account of their lives to Christ. The judgment seat of Christ does not determine salvation; that was determined by Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf and our faith in Him. All of our sins are forgiven, and we will never be condemned for them. We should not look at the judgment seat of Christ as God judging our sins, but rather as God rewarding us for our lives. Yes, as the Bible says, we will have to give an account of ourselves. Part of this is surely answering for the sins we committed.    

The word used is “bema seat”, it was where the judge sat during athletic contests.  Think of the high chair on which a court official sits during a tennis match.  His word is not to be debated or ignored.  Jesus fully intends to judge us.

The issue will not be our salvation, but our faithfulness.    

Loving Jesus must become your critical objective for the rest of your days, 1 Peter 4:8, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”  We also read of the sinful woman who washed Jesus feet, “therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47)

My dear one, practice loving him– starting today.  Many are the doers, few be the lovers.  The demanding weight of evangelism and world missions has quadrupled in the last 10 years.  Now is our time!  We love much!  Time is becoming short.

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Still Figuring It All Out, [Hopeful Wisdom]

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And I’m Still Learning

I’ve learned — 1
that you cannot make someone love you.
All you can do is be someone who can be loved.
The rest is up to them.

I’ve learned — 2
that no matter how much I care,
some people just don’t care back.

I’ve learned — 3
that it takes years to build up trust,
and only seconds to destroy it.

I’ve learned — 4
that it’s not what you have in your life
but who you have in your life that counts.

I’ve learned — 5
that you can get by on charm
for about fifteen minutes.
After that, you’d better know something.

I’ve learned — 6
that you shouldn’t compare
yourself to the best others can do
but to the best you can do.

I’ve learned — 7
that it’s not what happens to people
that’s important. It’s what they do about it.

I’ve learned — 8
that you can do something in an instant
that will give you heartache for life.

I’ve learned — 9
that no matter how thin you slice it,
there are always two sides.

I’ve learned — 10
that it’s taking me a long time
to become the person I want to be.

I’ve learned — 11
that it’s a lot easier
to react than it is to think.

I’ve learned — 12
that you should always leave
loved ones with loving words.
It may be the last time you see them.

I’ve learned — 13
that you can keep going
long after you think you can’t.

I’ve learned — 14
that we are responsible for what we do,
no matter how we feel.

I’ve learned — 15
that either you control your attitude
or it controls you.

I’ve learned — 16
that regardless of how hot and steamy
a relationship is at first, the passion fades,
and there had better be
something else to take its place.

I’ve learned — 17
that heroes are the people
who do what has to be done
when it needs to be done,
regardless of the consequences.

I’ve learned — 18
that learning to forgive takes practice.
Yet it is always worth the work.

I’ve learned — 19
that there are people who love you dearly,
but just don’t know how to show it.
And, never bother to learn

I’ve learned — 20
that money is a lousy way of keeping score,
and an even poorer way of showing love.

I’ve learned — 21
that my best friend and I can do anything
or nothing and have the best time.

I’ve learned — 22
that sometimes the people you expect
to kick you when you’re down
will be the ones to help you get back up.

I’ve learned — 23
that sometimes when I’m angry
I have the right to be angry,
but that doesn’t give me
the right to be cruel.

I’ve learned — 24
that true friendship continues to grow,
even over the longest distance…
and so does true love.

I’ve learned — 25
that just because someone doesn’t love you
the way you want them to, doesn’t mean
they don’t love you with all they have.

I’ve learned — 26
that maturity has more to do with
the way you handled experiences in life
and the lesson you learned from them,
and less to do with how many
birthdays you’ve celebrated.

I’ve learned — 27
that you should never tell a child
their dreams are unlikely or outlandish.
Few things are more humiliating, and
what a tragedy it would be
if they believed it.

I’ve learned — 28
that family doesn’t always mean biological.
Sometimes people you aren’t related to
can care and love you so much they
teach you to trust people all over again.

I’ve learned — 29
that no matter how good a friend is,
they’re going to hurt you
every once in a while
and you must forgive them for that.

I’ve learned — 30
that it isn’t always enough
to be forgiven by others.
Sometimes you have to learn
to forgive yourself.

I’ve learned — 31
that no matter how bad
your heart is broken
the world doesn’t stop for your grief.

I’ve learned — 32
that our background and circumstances
may have influenced who we are,
but we are responsible for who we become.

I’ve learned — 33
that sometimes when my friends fight,
I’m forced to choose sides
even when I don’t want to.

I’ve learned — 34
that just because two people argue,
it doesn’t mean they don’t love each other
And just because they don’t argue,
it doesn’t mean they do.

I’ve learned — 35
that sometimes you have to put
the individual ahead of their actions.

I’ve learned — 36
that we don’t have to change friends
if we understand that friends change.

I’ve learned — 37
that you shouldn’t be so
eager to find out a secret.
It could change your life forever.

I’ve learned — 38
that two people can look
at the exact same thing
and see something totally different.

I’ve learned — 39
that no matter how you try to protect
your children, they will eventually get hurt
and you will hurt in the process.

I’ve learned — 40
that there are many ways of falling
and staying in love.

I’ve learned — 41
that no matter the consequences,
those who are honest with themselves
get farther in life.

I’ve learned — 42
that no matter how many friends you have,
if you are their pillar you will feel lonely
and lost at the times you need them most.

I’ve learned — 43
that your life can be changed
in a matter of hours
by people who don’t even know you.

I’ve learned — 44
that even when you think
you have no more to give,
when a friend cries out to you,
you will find the strength to help.

I’ve learned — 45
that writing, as well as talking,
can ease emotional pains.

I’ve learned — 46
that credentials on the wall
do not make you a decent human being.

I’ve learned — 47
that the people you care most about in life
are taken from you too soon.

I’ve learned — 48
that although the word “love”
can have many different meanings,
it loses value when overly used.

I’ve learned — 49
that it’s hard to determine
where to draw the line
between being nice and
not hurting people’s feelings
and standing up for what you believe.

I’ve learned — 50
the feet you step on today
may be attached to the hand you’ll be
kissing tomorrow.

And….. I’m still learning.

flourishx

I’m not sure who wrote this, I can’t remember even where or how I found this. I’m not the author. But it is an excellent piece of thought, I really hope it blesses you– making you see your life through wisdom.

I do know that I have a savior who is within me living His life through me. Today, I will rest in His unfailing love for me.

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When Brutality Smashes Into Grace

photo, by Jonny Jelnek- Flickr

photo, by Jonny Jelnek- Flickr

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

Job 33:19, NLT

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

Rick Warren

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

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

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

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

Exodus 3:7

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

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

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

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

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

F.B. Meyer

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

Aeschylus

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Working God’s Night Shift

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Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem

A song for going up to worship.

134 “Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
    you who serve at night in the Temple of the Lord.
Raise your hands in the Temple
    and praise the Lord.

May the Lord bless you from Mount Zion,
    he who made heaven and earth.”

Psalm 134, NCV

This remarkable Psalm is part of an elite group known as “the Psalms of Ascent.” These 15 were sung as the congregation of Israel went up the steps of the temple in Jerusalem. They would sing each in “rounds” with each other. As you can well imagine, this made the ascent slow, but meaningful.

As you read the three verses, I get a picture of worshipers turning back and blessing the Levites. This takes place at the very end of the day. The Levites, and other godly ones who lived in the Temple, (remember Anna and Simeon, in Luke 2?) They were the support staff for the priests.

Commentary

V. 1, “Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
you who serve at night in the Temple of the Lord.”

The first significant thought is “Lord” mentioned three times. The word is the recognition of someone’s status and standing. We call Him Lord, because He is that (and more).

The second has to deal with the Levitical “night shift.” They served and guarded the Temple during the wee hours of the night. They probably cleaned, stacked wood, sharpened knives and maintained the Holy Place with its needs.

There was no real glory working the night shift. There were no people to serve. The crowds were for the day shift. (Here’s a weird thought– think “Disneyland at 2:00 a.m.”) There was also a contingent of non-Levite people ministering to the Lord as well. They had no duties, and only the priests could serve through their work.

The Levites working at night were not ‘second best.’ At least, not in the eyes of the Holy Spirit. They were integral in both presence and service to the Lord. To despise them is to reveal one’s ignorance. They definitely mattered.

V. 2 “Raise your hands in the Temple
and praise the Lord.”

I’ve worked nights before. It’s a real adjustment. You never feel like you’ve had enough sleep, and it is really hard to be positive and cheerful.  I could get pretty grouchy at times.

But an exhortation is given, a shout and a blessing as the crowds leave. “Raise up your hands– and praise Him!” It is as the work, although necessary, would be secondary. The worship however, was primary. We need to hear that.

V. 3, “May the Lord bless you from Mount Zion,
he who made heaven and earth.”

To be blessed (literally, made “lucky”) by our Creator and Lord is pretty profound. As a kid who read a lot, I think of ‘fairy dust.’ I know better now, but to be blessed by God is deeply significant.

To summarize, I believe this Psalm is speaking of those in the church who are doing “hidden service.” No one sees them really. They go about there duties quietly, and purposefully. The only recognition is from God– who sees all.

I must encourage you to keep on. There are many more than you think who see your hidden ministry to the Father. You are His ‘night shift.’ You’re seen by few, but Him. He knows what you do.

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My ‘Agape’ Jalopy

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

My “Agape” Jalopy

Accepting ourselves is a lifelong process.

We talk of “accepting Christ”, but for many that really is not the problem.  When we talk about Jesus, there is such an attractiveness about him, that makes ‘hard-boiled’ agnostics stand back and grudgingly admire.  But, to accept “me”, well that takes more then just a bit of imagination.  When your depressed or anxious it just escalates the problem.

We just don’t like ourselves.  Sometimes I think that if I met me, I would think, “What a jerk! ”  Having psychiatric issues only intensifies and focalizes my sin into a horrifying mess.  I’m not just a loser, I’m a loser on steroids.  A supreme loser!  I’m certainly not the red Ferrari, I am obviously the rusty Edsel with the balloon tires and a lousy heater.

The remarkable thing though is not my spiritual unattractiveness, but God’s irrational love for me.  The New Testament writers used the word we translate “love” as “agape“.  That Greek word meant a love without any conditions, a selfless love, a love that was passionately committed to the well being of the other.  Actually, it is a love that goes out of the way to care for its enemy.  That’s the audacity of agape.

We do the mental gymnastics to try to grasp the definition.  We strain and contort but it defies comprehension.  We grab, hold it, and then it gets loose and we clutch air.

“This is how much God loved [agape] the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life .”                                

 -John 3:16, MSG

When I tell you, “Jesus loves you”, you will probably smile politely, nod and say “I know,” and turn away.  But, once in awhile, “lightning will strike,” you will look up in stunned amazement, with tears in your eyes, and whisper, “I know”.

…………………………

Spirituality is not about being fixed; it is about God’s being present in the mess of our unfixedness.” — Michael Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality

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