A Simple Gospel for Really Simple People

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The gospel is a profound mystery that has been made quite simple. A little child could grasp it. We have the deep sense that it is quite complicated, but it is really straightforward. For years, day after day after day, I have tried to jump high enough to attain a semblance of peace, but to no avail. After a long period I finally realized I couldn’t make it work. If God was going to save me, He was going to have to personally intervene. I just didn’t have it in me. The simplicity of our faith needs to be declared; too many believe it is unattainable. C.S. Lewis once wrote about this simple gospel:

“We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. … That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed.”

–C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Over time I realized, (actually it was more like a lightning bolt) that it wasn’t how high I could jump— but how low I could go. The ‘good news’ is designed for the simple; not for the spiritual athlete. We must become as “little children to enter the kingdom of God.” There is no other way. Jesus has made it clear. I simply can not attain salvation by my own merits, rather it is given out to those who can’t arrive at some vague legal standard.

“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 18:3

We are a people who are engineered for achievement. We value those who have ‘arrived.’ But what if the opposite was true? What if it wasn’t greatness, but ‘smallness’ that opened heaven’s doors? Would you qualify? I ask these questions not to demean you, but to reassure you. I would only suggest that you reexamine your faith. It is only prudent after all.

Adopting the world’s attitudes is not surprising. We are saturated by her presence. She makes her presence known by everything we perceive. It is the basic environment that surrounds all that we do or think. Jesus’ gospel asks us to rethink some basic things:

  • Do I belong here?
  • Is this my real home?
  • What am I living for?
  • Am I a loving person?
  • What am I living for?

We ask these questions, not because they are somewhat profound; we ask them because they are basic. Yet so much rests on each. We must clear away the world’s confusion, in order to grasp each question. We must become like little children, again. When we start to ask these questions— we are on our way.

 

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More Bumble Than Believer, [Aging]

A Bumble with a tender heart

It’s strange to be in the position of being older.  A whirlwind of days and nights swirl from this human drama, and I think I may be starting thinking about my exit— Lord willing, stage right.

I’m supposed to be a ‘veteran’ now– a mature believer.  I’m not supposed to get stressed.  However, age is a brutal teacher– and it seems we have to learn so dang fast, it’s like trying to drink from a fire hose. (Just the other day three teeth almost came out from the blast.)

Getting old is great in some ways. I only wish I could do it more gracefully.

On top of it all, it seems to me like my sin has poisoned the air that others must breathe.  I have contaminated so much. You might just say, I have ‘soured’ everyone’s milk.  “Learning to live with the  regrets” is a class that we should add to the local high school’s curriculum. It certainly would be useful.

A old friend is celebrating her birthday so I volleyed a semi serious “tongue and cheek” regret at her.  But then, I suddenly realized that there is a point when we realize that behind every older person, is someone else wondering what the hell has happened, and how did it get this way so fast? It would be funny if it weren’t so serious.

As a Christian, I tentatively believe that this world I’m in, has folded open for me, and God has specified a direction.  I do contend though, unbelief is easier on a certain level, but I do not intend to take any detours.  Perhaps the real trick about reading a map in the car is that you most likely won’t get it folded back the same way ever again.  You must learn to accept this. And as a rule, maps seldom reveal the best detours.

“I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
    until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
    I will carry you along and save you.”

Isaiah 46:4, NLT

I must admit to having a connection to “Bumble”, that crazy, loveable, abominable snowman in one of those schlocky, animated children TV classics from my youth.  I guess I identify with that ‘misfit’ yeti– someone who finally sees the light, but only when all his teeth are pulled!  Somewhere in that show he seemed almost good,  but didn’t we all wonder for a while if he would come around or not?

I  also wonder about the thief on the cross who got his ticket punched by Jesus at the last possible moment.  When we finally make it to heaven, we will find him there laughing and celebrating like everyone else, just like he belonged.  I guess grace does that to a person.

“What does it matter?  All is Grace”

— Georges Bernanos. Diary of a Country Priest

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Ten Resolutions for Mental Health

Clyde Kilby’s Resolutions for Mental Health and for Staying Alive to God in This World

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Holding the substantial

 

  1. Once a day I will look at the sky and remember that I am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.
  2. I will suppose the universe is guided by an intelligence.
  3. I will not fall into the lie that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding 24 hours, but rather a unique event, filled with wonderful potential.
  4. I will prefer reality to abstractions.
  5. I will not demean my own uniqueness by envying others. I will mostly forget about myself and do my work.
  6. I will open my eyes and ears by at least once a day simply staring at a tree, a flower, a cloud or a person. I will simply be glad that they are what they are.
  7. I will often remember back to when I was a child and think about my dreaming eyes of wonder.
  8. I will frequently turn to things like a good book and good music.
  9. I will enjoy each moment, not always worrying about what the decade before me will demand from me.
  10. I will bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic but rather acknowlege that each day strokes are made on the cosmic canvas that in due course I will understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.

___________

Clyde S. Kilby, 1902-1986
Clyde S. Kilby, 1902-1986

” Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise.”

Proverbs 1:2

 Clyde Kilby, who is now with the Lord in heaven, was my teacher in English Literature at Wheaton. He did as much as any other teacher I have had to open my eyes to the ministry of God in the skies. 

       – Pastor John Piper, DesiringGod.org

 

 

A Sidetracked Life

 

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I’m thinking that an awful lot of my life has been filled with ‘inconvenient interruptions.’ I like a certain order, and schedules and keeping appointments. I’m not a rigid person, but I become mildly annoyed when my life becomes ruled by these unplanned intrusions.

However, at times an interruption can be quite productive. Often when my plans are set aside, I get the opportunity to see the Holy Spirit step in. He does things that are eternally true and special.

Scriptures are saturated with ‘inconvenient interruption.’ Mary, whose life was jolted by a visit by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:26-31). Paul, on the road to Damascus was overwhelmed suddenly and converted (Acts 9:1-9). The virgin Mary would have a son, and Paul would shake the world with his preaching the Gospel of Jesus.

There are many others who had their calm lives interrupted by God.

One could almost say that the Bible is a book of ‘blessed interruption.’ I’m thinking right now of Moses, whom God shook and completely altered his life in just a few moments. And of course we read of Abraham, suddenly leaving everything to follow a promise.

I tell you, God has a flair for the dramatic. He often steps into the lives of His people. We might get irritated, frustrated, owly and a bit afraid. The question is this– can the Spirit interrupt you?

“The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect.”

Psalms 33:10

Perhaps this is the next lesson in your discipleship. You will need to be a servant. The most profoundly Christian people I know are those whose lives can be side-tracked. I encourage you, look for God’s purposes behind your next interruption. Let Him arrange your schedule. 

“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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&

On Being Loved

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“The human heart is the most deceitful of all thingsand desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”

Jeremiah 17:9

For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.”

Romans 8:7-8

The reality is that we are in a real fix. The grim news isn’t changed simply because we graduated from a ‘charm school’ or become Eagle Scouts. We are fundamentally flawed, our hearts throughly contaminated. Any good we try to do is a ‘freak of nature,’ and astronomically beyond our ability. The race of men has failed. (Maybe that’s why history keeps repeating itself.) Without the presence of God, we would destroy ourselves. And each other.

The word “hostile” is used. That sort of sums it all up, doesn’t it?

God’s Constant Love for You

8 “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

Romans 5:8

Although we’re in active rebellion, “God so loved the world…” His love for us is called ‘agape,’ it is a word used in the New Testament, and it’s a love marked by consistency and selflessness. God loves without any conditions or merit on our part. Agape is love undeserved. The word is full of mercy, a concept very hard for us to grasp.

God’s love for us the way the universe is run. Love is what empowers Him to save us from our sins. It is the Lord’s love that draws us to Himself. Love is like a magnet that pulls us out of darkness into the light. His love for you is infinite.

“In math, if you divide an infinite number by any number, no matter how large, you still have an infinite quotient. So Jesus’ love, being infinite, even though it is divided up for every person on earth, is still infinitely poured out on each one of us!”

  Charles Spurgeon

You can trust the Lord to be fully loving you right this minute. It is a full and constant love— there is scarcely a human parallel. The ‘prophets’ exhaust language seeking a metaphor to explain God’s love to a doubting and disobedient people. I imagine they are frustrated; they can’t explain what they’ve seen. They try, and end up explaining God’s love by type: marriage, and motherhood.

Over and over, these two metaphors are used extensively. And over and over you can see the love of God for people (flesh and blood, like you and I) for us. He loves us like a husband loves his straying wife. He loves us like a father loves his struggling child. We stray and struggle, and we will find no peace apart from His love. After all we are His, and we really can’t ‘work right” apart from His guiding presence.

Look at His heart. See His hands.

They both bear us witness of a supreme love. He loves you right now— wrecked and ravaged by your sin. I don’t know where you are at this very moment, but I do know He loves you intensely. Sin may have destroyed you, but His love never, ever vacillates. God is passionate about you— He won’t let you go. But you must risk being loved.

“See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.”

1 John 3:1

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Mother Teresa Explains Humility

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“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 and as we listen to him we are schooled further. Generally the attitude of a child can be seen as: innocent, simple, kind, eager, curious, relying on others, and of course–humble.

As a bona-fide 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.

Mother Teresa, 1910-1997

I came across this list 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 speak as little as possible of one’s self.

To mind one’s own business.

Not to want to manage other people’s affairs.

To avoid curiosity.

To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.

To pass over the mistakes of others.

To accept insults and injuries.

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)

Once my church gave me a gold medal for humility. The elders took it back because I wanted to wear it all the time. Anyway, I like most of this list, with one/two questions— and I’ll let you find them.

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Like Well-Watered Gardens: Isaiah 58

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Feed the hungry,
    and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
    and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
    giving you water when you are dry
    and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like an ever-flowing spring.”

Isaiah 58:10-11, NLT

This is the precise key many need for this moment. It just could be as vital as your next breath.

You see our faith was never intended to be a personal ‘spiritual make-over.’ Discipleship was not meant to be about becoming a ‘new-and-improved’ person. That simply is not the message. There can be an emphasis placed on a selfish preoccupation with becoming better (and nicer) and we miss out on God’s real intent for His redeemed people. The difference is subtle but significant. We cannot sanctify our selfishness— no matter how hard we might try. 

For years I travelled under a misconception that God wanted from me ‘a better Bryan.’ I felt like a juggler trying to keep the balls moving. But by making this my focus, and not on others, I only exacerbated my mental illness. For me, my depression is only intensified when I look inside. Often I can’t see the needs around me. All I can see are my own issues (which are formidable.)

Isaiah prophesies a spiritual ’cause-and-effect.” If a person will only reach out to others will there be a spiritual blessing. Often we struggle because we don’t realize the implications of being spent for others. We become ‘a well-watered garden’ if we will only reach out to others. If we would only learn that it is when we give out— we receive. The kingdom is reciprocal in the way blessings come.

“And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Acts 20:35

The entire chapter of Isaiah 58 makes it a vital point to the people of God. Our own healing is contingent on becoming a blessing to others. If we will pour out we will be poured on. We become ‘a well-watered garden’ when we begin to serve others. Our own ‘healing’ will come when we reach out to the desperate needs around us. After all, isn’t that what we’re supposed to be about?

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