Setting Yourself on Fire

Difficulty and pain sometimes come from others, and challenges to the Lordship of Jesus often come from our unique circumstances.

But what if it was something we’ve done?

I remember the classic picture of a Buddhist monk who sat in the middle of a street. He was serene as he soaked himself with gasoline, and lit himself on fire as a protest against a war he believed was wrong and evil. He burned himself in front of the cameras.

All too often we’re pretty much responsible for our own self-immolation. It is we (and we alone) that set ourselves ablaze. Sin affects our minds and hearts. We set ourselves on fire.

When we sin– when we walk in ‘known’ disobedience we always put ourselves in an awful place. We love it but learn to hate it too. But we continue to do it regardless of the awful death that ensues.

God promises to forgive us. Out of our ashes, He keeps bringing us life and hope.

You can be forgiven. You can find life again, even if you’re fully responsible for the evil we’ve done to yourself. Yes, we all sin, and yes we walk in our own personal rebellion. But Jesus knows it all. These awful things we’ve all done can be forgiven.

As a man and a preacher of the Gospel, I realize that I often choose to sin. In spite of all I know and teach I realize that I can live in the ashes of my own making. As one who also struggles with bipolar, I understand that I’m even more susceptible to doing awful things. I understand that I choose darkness even though others will call me “a man of God.”

As you read this I’m praying that you find His forgiveness and mercy. You’ve come a long way it seems, but you must see His blood that was ‘released’ from His veins and arteries for you.

He desperately loves you–even if you’ve set yourself on fire, and sit in the ashes of your doing.

“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.

Isaiah 61:3

Bitter Water

In Exodus 15 there’s an incident that carries weight for today. Israel has come to the springs of Marah. The water is bitter. The people turn to Moses. They challenge him and the complaint voraciously. “Why have you brought us here?” They press Moses to the point of mutiny. They are furious.

Some commentators believe this bitter water was a laxative, and anyone who drank this “bitter” water made many trips to the outhouse!

Moses is shown a branch of a common tree. The Lord speaks a word of ďirection he’s to throw the branchaďirectly into the spring. It’ll cure the water, and make it sweet.

It seems to me that Jesus’ awful cross cures the bitterness we absorb as we make our way through life.

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.

 

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.

 

The Fellowship of Pain

“In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Luke 5:12, NLT

The Bible text reveals that this man is desperate.  His leprosy has advanced; he is covered with it from ‘head-to-toe.’ He’s an outcast now, completely infected by something he never asked for; he is ‘unclean’ and completely without hope. There is no treatment, the doctors can do nothing.

The leper knows that without the touch of Jesus, he’ll never be healed. 

He knows it; he doesn’t need to be convinced by anyone over the complete hopelessness of his condition. He has heard that he can do incredible miracles. Could it be that Jesus can heal his sickness? The leper comes and falls on his knees before the Lord, with his face in the dirt. This man is completely broken; he has no hope, except for Jesus. What else can he do?

Our diseases differ, but our lives have been completely changed by our pain. We all have this in common. 

Our pain and darkness vary. Some hurt more, some less. But we’ve all come to the place where we no longer have illusions of somehow being made whole. Whenever we meet, I think there should be a secret handshake or a password. We all share a comradeship— we’re all part of the same community. 

We’re a broken club of tired and decidedly unclean misfits.

We belong to the fellowship of pain.

Lying in the dirt, we start to believe the unbelievable.  Our faith doesn’t activate our healing, as much as it simply guides us to Jesus. We can kneel, and perhaps that’s all we need to do. His presence drives away the fear, the doubt, and the pain. He’s come, and somehow we begin to hope for mercy. Only he can carry us through this.

I have struggled with deep dark depression. I’ve had to take meds.  But when I come into Jesus’ presence, all my melancholy is driven out. He comes and I start to hope again.  Am I a stellar example of perfect discipleship?  I think not. But isn’t about us becoming “angels,” perhaps it’s more about us learning how to kneel, and to allow Jesus to touch our hearts.

You must do this. Repeatedly.

“The power of the Church is not a parade of flawless people, but of a flawless Christ who embraces our flaws.”

“The Church is not made up of whole people, rather of the broken people who find wholeness in a Christ who was broken for us.”   

–Mike Yaconelli

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