Why the Church? [Fellowship of the Saints]

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It is easy to become cynical and hard about the Church. We easily see failure and defeat permeating our local churches. That is a serious problem, if we look too close, or for too long. The sins of the Church are evident and massive. It’s popular to diss the Church.

Satan has a personal  vendetta against the Church. He clearly strategizes and makes tactical moves to stultify it. It is his grim effort to make the Church a non-factor in the lives of many. This is Satan’ will. The black lord desires to destroy the saints. The question begs to be asked, “Why the Church?”

Fellowship, or in Koine Greek is “Koinonia.” It implies a common sharing of things or experiences. It is to share with others what you have. At it’s best, believers share all that is good and right with each other. However, bad things can also be shared. Yes, we have seen this!

However, to be a Christian is to be:

  • A branch of the vine– John 15:9
  • A limb of the body– 1 Corinthians 12
  • A reborn child of the Father– John 1:12-13

There is a real dependence in all of these, an attachment to something that provides nourishment to the individual and protection of the person. God has designed it so we come to Him corporately (this is “koinonia”). We are family, and that is how we must access the Father.

I don’t necessarily think the job of the church is to make people happy. I think it’s to make them holy. And it can be the most dedicated place on this planet to accomplish this.

Why the Church? Because it is the source of life and community for believers. It is the way we should love each other. The Church exists for the Lord’s glory. But it’s not perfect, at least not yet.

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Frederick, [Handling Giftedness]

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Frederick, the ‘prophetic’ mouse

I have always loved to read. I was given books by my mother, and these books were like gold. I had been a avid patron of the library, but terrible at returning books. I had pretty much been branded as “persona non grata” by the librarians of my hometown library at the ripe old age of 12.

I have fond memories of some fine books. But perhaps the most influential of them all was a title called, “Frederick” by Leo Lionni.  It won the ’68 Caldecott ‘back in the olden days.’ It very well could be one of best children’s books ever written. ( I realize now that many of these books that shaped me were prophetic in their own way.)

We see Frederick, who is a young field mouse, off on excursion to find food with his four brothers. They must fill their pantry for the cold winter that’s coming. They are quite successful (it appears) and all seems well.

However, there is a bit of a problem with Frederick. While the other mice are ‘busting their mouse-butts’ he sits quietly thinking. They question him repeatedly, trying to motivate him (or shame him perhaps?)  There seems to be a general consensus against him, which is verging on open warfare.

But Frederick insists that he is needed to do this. He says that he is ‘working’. He is collecting sunlight, absorbing it until it’s needed.  He takes in colors, and then words. He just seems soak up these really wonderful experiences, and he seems a bit “clueless” (that’s not the right word), maybe a bit “preoccupied.”

FrederickFinally in the dead of winter, sheltered deep underground, their supplies are running low. One of the mice turns to Frederick, and asks him to share what he has collected. And he does precisely that. They sit in a circle and Frederick shares the sunlight, and the rich colors and the beautiful words he has stored up for them. Their little ‘mouse-hearts’ are deeply touched by Frederick’s contribution.

In so many ways, this has become a parable, or metaphor of my life. As a eight year old, I could hardly have foreseen how my life would unfold. I do however had a deep sense of being different, even then. My mental illness, mixed with being “gifted”, and then combined with being isolated and dirt-poor, worked in me.

Essentially, we all are products of our personal history.  What we have experienced good or bad develops us.  It did me.  I think what “Frederick” wants to do for us is to process uniqueness, gifting and steadfastness.  One of the things that the Holy Spirit has been speaking to me for the last few years is this, “Bryan, can you receive from the giftedness of other believers?”

We really must make room for “Fredericks” and what they can bring to us.  We will be drastically weakened if we won’t– or can’t.  Jesus faced a ton of resistance as He began to minister.  There is nothing new about that.  But it didn’t touch His spirit.

“Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more.”

Genesis 37:5

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Food Bank Epiphanies

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The last two months I’ve been the recipient of some reasonably heavy lessons of understanding. I was just standing in line at the food pantry. I’m learning more here than in my Biblical Doctrine class my first year at Bible college. Amazing! But again, maybe not.

My 10 Commandments of the Food Pantry

  1. Jesus has a special connection to the poor among us.
  2. The needs are tremendous as many lack food. (This may be a new concept for some.)
  3. The Church has the mandate and potential to meet these needs.
  4. What the government does is often just confusing the real issues.
  5. The stigma in receiving food seems to be temporary.
  6. Understanding and wisdom are more important than the box of food.
  7. People will stand in line for a long time to help their families.
  8. Most people are nicer than they used to be by going to the food bank.
  9. Some people’s abundance should be given away.
  10. You can never have too many boxes to use to carry stuff (and avoid the milk.)

What is worked inside is far more than what we get standing in line. Many things can happen once humility and need does its work inside. There is a powerful comradeship that can develop. Strangers become friendly when they are in line. There is a kind of a mutual understanding that proceeds out of poverty, and takes root, and spreads.

I honestly believe the distribution of food is only the secondary benefit. I really think the spiritual work is the new found work done in people’s hearts. There should be a dignity that saturates this work.

The Church Leader’s Ten Quotes on Giving

  1. You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.   Amy Carmichael
  2. I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.  C.S. Lewis
  3. The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation.   Corrie Ten Boom
  4. Get all you can, save all you can and give all you can.   John Wesley
  5. Christian giving is to be marked by self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness, not by self-congratulation.   John Stott
  6. God doesn’t look at just what we give. He also looks at what we keep.   Randy Alcorn
  7. Our giving is but a reflex of God’s giving.  Sam Storms
  8. God made all of His creation to give. He made the sun, the moon, the stars, the clouds, the earth, the plants to give. He also designed His supreme creation, man, to give. But fallen man is the most reluctant giver in all of God’s creation.   John MacArthur
  9. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours.   C.S. Lewis
  10. I will place no value on anything I have or may possess except in relation to the kingdom of Christ.   David Livingstone

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Being Honest As I Can

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 “So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.”

Ephesians 4:25, NLT

I intend to be simple.  I am worried and distressed by my own confusion and a simple disorientation about my own detachment to what is spiritual.  I confess a trust in Him, but am wary of  an evil attachment to things that take me away from Him.  I know this sounds confusing, please bear with me.

I turn to Him, and yet I know that I know that a small part of me does not really belong to Him.  I want to belong, but am conscious that I just don’t work into the Kingdom.  I am a liability.  I quickly will admit to some confusion, but I have no real intention to deceive anyone.  I desperately want to be His, but I’m aware of issues that would defy such a connection.

I have an incredible infatuation with Jesus, and His teaching.  He is the most amazing man to step out out of the ‘river’ of the human race.  I see in Him so much, and deep down I want to fall on my knees and worship Him.  The things He did are honestly the most sublime in the history of man.  He is astonishing.

And yet, I continue to struggle.  I see all of this and yet I’m confronted with my own issues.  I know what I would like to be.  But if I press, I begin to short-circuit.  I do, certainly turn it over to Him.  But I also am aware of a certain antipathy or rebellion (although that word seems too harsh) against the whole idea of grace.  I can not figure ‘grace’ out.  Grace perplexes me.  It is the ‘Gordian Knot’ of the entire human race.

But I do connect with Him.  My bipolar would quickly render me a traitor.  I vacillate much more then the average person.  Ultimately, I do turn and trust Him.  He has led me to a wonderful place.  If it is all a delusion, then so be it.  But I will still believe in Him who gave Himself for me.

If that makes me a disciple, then so be it.  But I know I am the least of His.  I guess faith would venture more.  But I scrape up all that I have and a saving hope it is enough.  I look at the accounts of Him and am pretty much astonished.  Jesus did things, consistently, above others before Him and after Him.  He is quite exceptional.

I am a follower.  I will struggle, and then have to deal with that sin.  But I do believe and intend to keep believing.  I only wish I was more consistent.  I sometime wonder that in the “Book of Life’ if my name would include an asterisk.  (“Made it, but by the skin on his teeth.”)

Don’t fret, I am under His hand.  He deals with me, and fully intends to lead me, home.  I so do want that.  If on that Day, you hear someone hollering, it will be me back in the 715,426,488th row, shouting ‘I am finally here”, in the fellowship of heaven.

Some will understand this:

He who has this disease called Jesus will never be cured.”

Doestevesky

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Caregivers: Improving Your Serve

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One of the weightiest issues of caring for a mentally ill spouse, child, or friend, is that it is so phenomenally relentless.  The disease is so unpredictable, in its intensity and its spontaneity.  You think you have the situation in hand, and it breaks out somewhere else, and often in public and causing major problems.  This is wearing on anyone, including the Christian believer. And sometimes that can even make it more challenging.

You will need a support network, if you’re going to be a caregiver.  This support is received in three different ways.

First, emotional support.  Without someone who can listen and give words that encourage you, you’ll grow in resentment and frustration with your particular “lot”.

Second, I would suggest physical support.  You will need someone to help you make sure the practical issues are met.  (washing the car, fixing the shower, etc.) My wife as a caregiver has had to do things that she would normally wouldn’t be called on to do (fix the stove, do the taxes, etc.) because of my illness.

Third, spiritual support.  It has three concentrations. Worship, prayer, and fellowship.  These three have obvious effects on the caregiver.  Just a word to the wise–when you pray you are going into it as two people (as well as for yourself).  You must maintain and strengthen yourself and for the person you are serving.  I think this is critical to your relationship.  Try to see challenges, not obstacles. Don’t forget the power of a worshipping heart or the warmness of good Christian fellowship.

God gives special grace to the caretaker.  My advice is to take it, and then use it.  Draw upon Jesus who is your caregiver.  Present your afflicted one to Him.  Be supernatural in the mundane.  The story of the paralyzed man on his cot being brought into Jesus’ presence by his friends fascinates me.  It has many parallels for you to be a good caregiver.

“And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus,”

Luke 5:18, ESV

My last word of advice is that you don’t be self-critical or feel guilty.  Remember, it is your friend or family member who is the sick one.  Don’t get consumed by your responsibilities.  Don’t fall in the trap of judging yourself by how well you do or don’t do as a caregiver.  Remember, you are not performing for others, but for an audience of One, who sees all.

Educate yourself, use the internet to track down information.  If I can help you further, please feel free to contact me.  I’m not a rocket scientist but if I can encourage you I will.   May the Holy Spirit touch your heart. You are going to need it.

 

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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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The Only Army that Shoots its Wounded

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By Dwight L. Carlson

From an article in Christianity Today, February 9, 1998

The only army that shoots its wounded is the Christian army,” said the speaker, a psychologist who had just returned from an overseas ministry trip among missionaries. He summed up the philosophy of the group he worked with as:

1. We don’t have emotional problems. If any emotional difficulties appear to arise, simply deny having them.

2. If we fail to achieve this first ideal and can’t ignore a problem, strive to keep it from family members and never breathe a word of it outside the family.

3. If both of the first two steps fail, we still don’t seek professional help.

I have been a Christian for 50 years, a physician for 29, and a psychiatrist for 15. Over this time I have observed these same attitudes throughout the church—among lay leaders, pastors, priests, charismatics, fundamentalists, and evangelicals alike. I have also found that many not only deny their problems but are intolerant of those with emotional difficulties.

Many judge that others’ emotional problems are the direct result of personal sin. This is a harmful view. At any one time, up to 15 percent of our population is experiencing significant emotional problems. For them our churches need to be sanctuaries of healing, not places where they must hide their wounds.

THE EMOTIONAL-HEALTH GOSPEL

Several years ago my daughter was battling leukemia. While lying in bed in the hospital, she received a letter, which read in part:

Dear Susan, You do not know me personally, but I have seen you in church many times….I have interceded on your behalf and I know the Lord is going to heal you if you just let Him. Do not let Satan steal your life—do not let religious tradition rob you of what Jesus did on the cross—by His stripes we were healed.

The theology behind this letter reminded me of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Health and Prosperity: Your Divine Right.” The letter writer had bought into a “healing in the atonement” theology that most mainstream evangelicals reject.

According to this traditional faith-healing perspective, Christ’s atonement provides healing for the body and mind just as it offers forgiveness of sins for the soul. The writer meant well, but the letter created tremendous turmoil for my daughter. While evangelicals have largely rejected “health and wealth” preaching—that faithful Christians will always prosper physically and financially—many hold to an insidious variation of that prosperity gospel. I call it the “emotional-health gospel.”

The emotional-health gospel assumes that if you have repented of your sins, prayed correctly, and spent adequate time in God’s Word, you will have a sound mind and be free of emotional problems.

Usually the theology behind the emotional-health gospel does not go so far as to locate emotional healing in the Atonement (though some do) but rather to redefine mental illnesses as “spiritual” or as character problems, which the church or the process of sanctification can handle on its own. The problem is, this is a false gospel, one that needlessly adds to the suffering of those already in turmoil.

This prejudice against those with emotional problems can be seen in churches across the nation on any Sunday morning. We pray publicly for the parishioner with cancer or a heart attack or pneumonia. But rarely will we pray publicly for Mary with severe depression, Charles with incapacitating panic attacks, or the minister’s son with schizophrenia. Our silence subtly conveys that these are not acceptable illnesses for Christians to have.

The emotional-health gospel is also communicated by some of our most listened-to leaders. I heard one national speaker make the point that “At the cross you can be made whole. Isaiah said that ‘through his stripes we are healed’ … not of physical suffering, which one day we will experience; we are healed of emotional and spiritual suffering at the cross of Jesus Christ.” In other words, a victorious Christian will be emotionally healthy. This so-called full gospel, which proclaims that healing of the body and mind is provided for all in the Atonement, casts a cruel judgment on the mentally ill.

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Don’t Shoot the Wounded

Two authors widely read in evangelical circles, John MacArthur and Dave Hunt, also propagate views that, while sincerely held, I fear lead us to shoot our wounded. In his book “Beyond Seduction”, Hunt writes, “The average Christian is not even aware that to consult a psychotherapist is much the same as turning oneself over to the priest of any other rival religion,” and, “There is no such thing as a mental illness; it is either a physical problem in the brain (such as a chemical imbalance or nutritional deficiency) or it is a moral or spiritual problem.”

MacArthur, in “Our Sufficiency in Christ”, presents the thesis that “As Christians, we find complete sufficiency in Christ and his provisions for our needs.” While I agree with his abstract principle, I disagree with how he narrows what are the proper “provisions.” A large portion of the book strongly criticizes psychotherapy as one of the “deadly influences that undermine your spiritual life.” He denounces “so-called Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who testified that the Bible alone does not contain sufficient help to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs,” and he asserts, “There is no such thing as a ‘psychological problem’ unrelated to spiritual or physical causes.

God supplies divine resources sufficient to meet all those needs completely.” Physically caused emotional problems, he adds, are rare, and referring to those who seek psychological help, he concludes: “Scripture hasn’t failed them—they’ve failed Scripture.”

A PLACE FOR PROFESSIONALS

When adherents of the emotional-health gospel say that every human problem is spiritual at root, they are undeniably right. Just as Adam’s fall in the garden was spiritual in nature, so in a very true sense the answer to every human problem—whether a broken leg or a burdened heart—is to be found in the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. The disease and corruption process set into motion by the Fall affected not only our physical bodies but our emotions as well, and we are just beginning to comprehend the many ways our bodies and minds have been affected by original sin and our fallen nature. Yet the issue is not whether our emotional problems are spiritual or not—all are, at some level—but how best to treat people experiencing these problems.

Many followers of the emotional-health gospel make the point that the church is, or at least should be, the expert in spiritual counseling, and I agree. Appropriate spiritual counseling will resolve issues such as salvation, forgiveness, personal morality, God’s will, the scriptural perspective on divorce, and more. It can also help some emotional difficulties. But many emotional or mental illnesses require more than a church support network can offer.

I know it sounds unscriptural to say that some individuals need more than the church can offer—but if my car needs the transmission replaced, do I expect the church to do it? Or if I break my leg, do I consult my pastor about it? For some reason, when it comes to emotional needs, we think the church should be able to meet them all. It can’t, and it isn’t supposed to.

This is why the emotional-health gospel can do so much harm. People who need help are prevented from seeking it and often made to feel shame for having the problem. Thankfully, more and more people in the Christian community are beginning to realize that some people need this extra help. If professionals and church leaders can recognize the value of each other’s roles, we will make progress in helping the wounded. Forty percent of all individuals who need emotional help seek it first from the church, and some of these will need to be referred to mental-health professionals.

Church leaders should get to know Christian therapists in their communities so they can knowledgeably refer people with persistent emotional problems.

 

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