The Blessings of a Long Battle, part 4

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In thinking about this final installment about how God can bring much good out of our protracted struggle with sin, weakness, or a problem, it dawned on me how important it is to see the Big Picture. In some ways this post reiterates truths in part 2 of this series, but also adds important new dimensions to those truths and explores new territory.

When a soldier goes through boot camp, it’s crucial for him or her to see the overall purpose of his training–the Big Picture. He or she is being pushed and tested in different ways to the extreme so that they will be prepared for any situation on the battlefield, won’t crack under pressure, and will be a team player.

In the conquest of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership, the nation of Israel experienced many victories over different hostile nations. However, Judges 3:1–4 says that God did not allow the Israelites to completely triumph but left certain enemies in the land (e.g., the Philistines) so that his chosen people would learn warfare.

When we became Christians, God could have put us in a cocoon of protective grace where we would be insulated from our three primary enemies–the world, the flesh, and the devil–but he didn’t so that we would also learn warfare.

If he would’ve sheltered us from the battle, we would end up like many “trust fund babies,” who, because of their vast inherited wealth, never have to work a day in their lives. They’re protected from the toil and struggle of life and never have to worry about paying the rent or the electric bill.

Often there is something profoundly missing in their lives: many are spoiled, shallow, and have not been battle–tested. Perhaps God designed an existence where we battled the world, the flesh, and the devil so that we would not end up becoming spiritual trust fund babies.

Macarius was a great monk who composed the Macarian Homilies in the 4th century. He was convinced that, if after becoming Christians, we were protected in a cocoon of grace from the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, many of us would soon become conceited and fall as Satan fell. Instead of a three steps forward, two steps back grind that life often is, we would have a series of unbroken successes and become lifted up in pride and fall like Lucifer did.

In seeing the big picture, nothing is more important than understanding that God the Father through the Holy Spirit has been preparing a Bride for his Son in a Marriage that will span eternity. He wants you to be a part of that Bride. The Father wants the Bride to fervently love the Groom.

There is no love without free choice. If we would’ve been protected from the enemies of our soul, and choosing the Groom was exquisitely easy or even automatic, where’s the love that has been tested in the furnace of affliction? Like any spouse, Christ wants to be chosen. If we were automatons or even semi–automatons, where’s the love in that?

When we are in a long struggle with sin or weakness, it is because we have become over–attached to some created thing. Addiction is over–attachment in the extreme (e.g., overeating, alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex, power, work, shopping, etc.)

Christ the Uncreated One wants to be chosen over all the created things. Christ the Groom wants to stand in the midst of all his competitors–i.e. created things–and have the Bride choose him. One of the blessings then of a long battle is this: it’s the vehicle whereby we choose Christ as our Groom, as our only lover.

Does that love somehow go away if you’re a Christian who is up to your eyeballs in sin, addiction, and weakness? If anything God loves you more after you fall, because where sin abounds, grace abounds more. And as the old religious cliché tells us, he loves us in our sin and loves us too much to leave us there.

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Jonathan

Check out Jonathan’s own site at http://www.openheavensblog.com/.

 

God in Charge

Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?”

Matthew 6:31 

“God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain.”

–C.S. Lewis

“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.”

–Charles Spurgeon

“I am graven on the palms of His hands. I am never out of His mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him, because He first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, One who loves me; and there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted for me, and no moment, therefore, when His care falters.”

— J.I. Packer

 

 

 

Prepare for Flames and Floods

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“But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.
O Israel, the one who formed you says,
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.

2 When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.”

Isaiah 43:1-2, NLT

“YARNELL, Ariz. (AP) — July 1, an Arizona forest fire into an out-of-control inferno that trapped and killed 19 firefighters, nearly all of them members of an elite crew of “hotshots,” authorities said Monday. It was the nation’s biggest loss of firefighters in a wildfire in 80 years.”

“This is as dark a day as I can remember,” Gov. Jan Brewer said in a statement. Firefighters have a dangerous job. They put their lives on the line.

The promises here in Isaiah 43 meant to prepare us, and promise us. Fires burn and consume. Floods keep growing and multiplying. Yet in this world full of fires and floods, we have these promises of His presence in the middle of it all. He intends to be right there when things are going very, very wrong.

And dear broken believer, trials and tribulations are a fact of life for us. Life is often full of badness, but my God, we learn. (Oh, how we learn.) You may be struggling now, but we are being made into something wonderful.

“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.” –1 Peter 4:12

No surprises– burning trials– something strange? Hardly, it’s just the life of a saint, as he travels home to heaven. And isn’t heaven is worth just a little temporary pain? (I walk with a cane, so I’ll be behind you a bit.) 

The reality is this, the Isaiah verses declare that there will be floods, and rivers to cross, and fires and flames. These are going to happen. But, the Lord does promise that He will walk with you, as your Companion, and Protector.

“It is quite useless knocking at the door of heaven for earthly comfort. It’s not the sort of comfort they supply there.” –C.S. Lewis

We are looking to be given comfortable things, naturally easy things. Like lots of money in our bank accounts, bills paid off. A redesigned kitchen would be nice. And one of those huge refrigerators (big enough to hang a cow in.) A new VW Jetta, maybe. But this is not the comfort that God is supplying us.

You may have to shift things in your thinking. But maybe you have already learned this, and might just need a tiny reminder. There is a definite upside to this– the presence of the Holy Spirit. He is standing at your side, and you will know his true comfort and assistance. It is a promise. And it is yours. (But not the VW, most likely).

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ybic, Bryan

Kyrie elesion. (Lord, have mercy)
 
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Melancholy in Amber

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Edgar Degas, Melancholy/ c. 1874, oil on canvas, Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

The sadness flows from this painting. Degas caught the dark despondency of his model. Her inertia becomes something we can gaze on carefully and at leisure.

This is one of my favorite paintings. For me, it captures an essence of what depression “looks” like. The anguish and the whole sense of being is seen in the expression of her face. She is frozen in her despair.

Depression immobilizes and then lays waste all that it touches. It is a vicious blight on the human soul.

amberI remember as a boy seeing a prehistoric bug caught in amber. It struck me as a bit macabre. This poor insect frozen for all to see.

Little did I realize that this was going to happen to me.

For almost 20 years I’ve tangled with clinical depression. It was initiated by a brain tumor in 2002 and has been evident since then.

Depression to me is like being frozen in a deep sadness that clings to my soul. It shows me no mercy when it is active, but I can go several weeks at a time without it being an issue.

There is a dual aspect to this. My experience is like a complete suppression of the good and optimistic, combined with an increase of despair and despondency. I despair of any future good that might occur. Everything becomes bleak and black.

My life becomes a meltdown; a cascading effect of worsening feelings.

A few points that have helped me:

  • A main point for me is to doubt the “certainties of despair.” I believe that God’s promises to me contain a “future and a hope.” This is vital. At times I feel too far gone, and completely irredeemable. I must doubt the lies of the enemy.
  • Freedom come through a real faith in God’s grace. I believe that His Holy Spirit empowers the weak. He holds my hand as I stumble in the path. My confidence is in His promises to this “weak lamb.”
  • Scripture tells me that Jesus’ present ministry is one of intercession for my soul.Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34.)
  • Jesus has the power to keep His flock. He also gives me a few select companions. I meet with some of “my fellow sheep” at my local church. These know me, and their friendship encourages me. They don’t condemn.

I hope that some of this helps, if anything I hope you have a window into my convoluted faith. I don’t want pretend to have all the answers. I’m not a guru. I’m a “work in progress,” and some ways far behind you, the reader.

“Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”

Hebrews 7:25

ybic, Bryan

 

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Forgiven First

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This evening I got tired of the TV. Or maybe tired of the control it emits over me. I picked up one of the many Bibles I have in my loft. I do think it is ‘funny/sinister’ of the real pressure it takes to open its pages. I have no doubt it is the darkness of my flesh and the wickedness of demons. Melodramatic? I think not.

But this is what I read and thought.

“Jesus climbed into a boat and went back across the lake to his own town. Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man,“Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.”

Matthew 9:1-2, NLT

Jesus is mobile. He moves and goes where His Father goes. At this moment He is needed in Capernaum. He is to meet a small crowd– and a paralyzed man on a mat. Jesus travels, but this man can only be carried. So Jesus Christ the Son of God, comes to him.

The Lord’s eyes alertly move over these people. People are the reason He came. This crippled man has been waiting. Jesus looks, and all He sees is “faith.” And He knows that the Father has led Him here.

The Word says that He could see their faith. Funny. What does faith look like? It seems like that is the first thing He saw, and noted. I’m not sure about the man on the mat. Did he have faith? Or had it been ‘burned out of him’ by too many doctors, and too many ‘treatments’? It is good to surround yourself with others who will believe when you can’t.

Jesus finally spoke, and its worth noting His first utterance was to proclaim forgiveness. Not healing. Forgiveness! What did this man’s friends think? I see them feel tenative, and maybe a bit shocked about this. What evil did their friend commit? What had he hidden from them, the way we try to hide things from each other?

The healing is going to come. This man will stand. He will carry his mat and go home. (V. 6). But perhaps the paralysis wasn’t the main reason he was there.

Maybe, his biggest need was to be forgiven?

Man has two basic needs.

  • One, to be forgiven of awful sin. Washed and cleansed. Forgivemess.
  • Two, to become a good person. Kind and humble. Healing.

There will always be those looking on who will condemn and challenge what is taking place. For them, it has nothing at all to do with the hearts of people. That means nothing to them. Rather for these, it has to do with a rigid and lifeless religion– with its 613 laws, and tithing of dill and mint.

What do you really need? Forgiveness? Or something else? Psalm 103:3-4, are verses for the redeemed.

“He forgives all my sins
    and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
    and crowns me with love and tender mercies.”

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“God pardons like a mother, who kisses the offense into everlasting forgiveness.”  

Henry Ward Beecher

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Rainy Day People

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“Rainy day people always seem to know when it’s time to call,
Rainy day people don’t talk, they just listen till they’ve heard it all.
Rainy day lovers don’t lie when they tell ‘ya they’ve been down like you.
Rainy day people don’t mind if you’re cryin’ a tear or two.”

Gordon Lightfoot, 1975

“The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.”

Proverbs 27:9, NLT

“Wise words are more valuable than much gold and many rubies.”

Proverbs 20:15

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

But its more then that, not everyone can do it.  At one time I thought any mature Christian believer had a right to give guidance, but that really wasn’t the case.  I also believe that every believer will receive a minimum of a ‘spiritual semester’ in counseling. The Holy Spirit will come to teach you. We have to learn there is wisdom, and there is counseling. And at times, “wise counseling.” Choose your rainy day people carefully. Mark them out beforehand; before things get out of hand.

“From a wise mind comes wise speech;
    the words of the wise are persuasive.”

Proverbs 16:23

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

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

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

Often counselors are offering a very small part of the needed wisdom. They must accept this. I place a premium on the counsel of a few dear friends, even though I have hundreds of Christian relationships.  I don’t diminish those relationships, but I do know that certain people are not tested on certain problems.  This may be simplistic, or a little harsh.  But when I had my brain tumor, I did not want my car mechanic to fix me, I wanted a neurosurgeon. And both are wonderful people. I’m fortunate to have them.

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

 

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

“A saying I heard years ago: ‘It doesn’t matter what you do. Just do something, even if it’s wrong!’ That’s the most stupid counsel I’ve ever heard. Never do what’s wrong! Do nothing until it’s right. Then do it with all your might. That’s wise counsel.”  –Chuck Swindoll

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When Despair Empties You

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

Acts 14:22

As a broken believer this happens. I breakdown, my faith is questioned, and I feel all alone. Issues like a simple hot shower and eating something seem impossible. I’m embarrassed to say I once went 34 days with a shower. I laid in bed unable to function. That is the insidious truth about chronic depression, I know it well. God seems far, far away from me. Life doesn’t matter anymore.

There is much I can do before  it gets to this point. And although life seems insurmountable. 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 take Zoloft and that is a godsend. I never miss a dose. I know I’m not bulletproof. I’ve taken it for several years now. (It’s like insulin for a diabetic).

Afflicted souls are special to God. And that 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.

People for the most part, are of little help. 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 a few that can speak. 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. I once woke up to 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, 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

Take care of yourself. If this isn’t your first major depression, 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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