Alterations (Bring it On!)

Naomi and Ruth, artist unknown

“So Naomi and Ruth went on until they came to the town of Bethlehem. When they entered Bethlehem, all the people became very excited. The women of the town said, “Is this really Naomi?”

“Naomi answered the people, “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very sad.”

“When I left, I had all I wanted, but now, the Lord has brought me home with nothing. Why should you call me Naomi when the Lord has spoken against me and the Almighty has given me so much trouble?”

Ruth 1:19-21

Naomi has traveled from Moab to her hometown of Bethlehem. People were pretty excited and her arrival must’ve brought out the crowds. It’s great for her  to be around happy people who were genuinely pleased to see her again.

But a new Naomi returns. She makes it clear that something has happened. She has been fundamentally changed by the Lord. She can no longer be called Naomi (“Pleasant”) but insists she is now “Mara”. Her reasoning is painfully clear, she grasps the reality of her condition. “I am now Mara (“Bitter”), that is my new name. It’s what I’ve become.”

“Call me by this new name, because the Almighty has acted “bitterly” against me. I am not the same person I was went I left here. I am different, when I left here I was prosperous, everything was going very well. But now, its different, and I come home with absolutely nothing. And it’s all because the LORD has hurt me deeply.”

I read Ruth the other day, and something intrigued me by her perception, and of her theology that recognized God’s handprints on her life. I believe she was a broken person, and therefore essentially changed. I believe she had a measure of peace in seeing the Lord was in control of her life. She was becoming aware. Ruth was now attuned to the deep purposes of God.

It wasn’t fate, karma, or destiny after all. It was God! 

With my many, many issues, I find a comfort in this. God has touched me, and I am not the same person I was five years ago. I know hard things, even bitter things, about myself and the world around me. I went out healthy and strong and have returned weak and empty. Bipolar disorder will do that. Pain will do that. God’s dealings will do this. He loves us far too much to allow us to go unchanged.

God is not malicious, but He is very thorough. And all that He does is for our good.            

There are distinct times when the Lord works to bring us to Christlikeness. That involves a refining and the smelting process. Crisis becomes the ‘new normal’. This is never “pleasant” and it’s almost always “bitter.” Naomi was finding this out first-hand, to the point of even changing her name.

“I have refined you, but not as silver is refined.
 Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.”

Isaiah 48:10

I’d like to encourage you to recognize (and announce) your weakness and your brokenness to the Lord in prayer. See God’s hand in your bitterness. You’ll be surprised at the release that will come to you. It shouldn’t engender anger, but surprisingly it can bring you healing and salvation. It helps to understand. Consider the following:

  • There often two sides of living–the life we’ve lived and the life we’re becoming.  Both are filled with grace and they’re as different as ‘night-and-day’
  • God is stealthily working good on our behalf, even when things are awful. He has full authority to do so.
  • He’s always (lovingly and passionately) trying us; probing to see if we draw closer to Him when we’re tested. He is patient when we fail our tests. Every test will be repeated until we overcome it
  • We can’t escape Jesus’ work in our lives. He is the Master Carpenter. He is building a cathedral!

“God  rescues us by Breaking us, by shattering our strength and wiping out our resistance.”

–A. W. Tozer

Bring Down Those Walls! [Victory]

Bring Down Those Walls
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.”

Hebrews 11:30, NIV

Cemented into our walk as believers is the powerful presence of Jesus Christ.  The scriptures, which are our supreme directive, show to us our spiritual imperative.  That mandate is victory, and we begin freedom with ourselves.  The Israelites have shown us a realistic understanding of overcoming by faith alone.

So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.”

Joshua 6:20, NKJV

The stone walls of Jericho crumbled in when God’s covenant people believed the Word of the Lord for an astonishing victory.  Our Lord intends we walk around our obstacles by faith, our confidence is in His power to defeat all that resists Him. We can’t do this by copying their formula, but by having God’s presence.

Instead, our spiritual weapons are energized with divine power to effectively dismantle the defenses behind which people hide.We can demolish every deceptive fantasy that opposes God and break through every arrogant attitude that is raised up in defiance of the true knowledge of God. We capture, like prisoners of war, every thought and insist that it bow in obedience to the Anointed One. 

2 Corinthians 10:4-5, TPT

 Spiritual power is always present when Jesus is near.

When we’re united with him, we’ll see every obstacle fall prostate at His feet. In Christ, by faith, we can expect to see some pretty awesome things! We follow our High Priest as we face our own walls. We are no longer defenseless.

With you as my strength I can crush an enemy horde, advancing through every stronghold that stands in front of me.

Psalm 18:29, TPT

For those of us who struggle with depression or other illness, we need a God of power who can work in our lives. There is a battle and victory will always contested. But for those of us who are downtrodden, we set our gaze on He who wants us free. Don’t give up. Follow the Lord Jesus to freedom.

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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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How Does Your Church See Mental Illness?

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This should supply direction and dialogue on the issues faced by every church member. It is a great opportunity we have been given— to minister to every person in the Body of Christ. —Bryan
by Ken Camp, Associated Baptist Press  —

Living with depression — or any other form of mental illness — is like viewing life “through a glass darkly,” according to Jessy Grondin, a student in Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School. “It distorts how you see things.”

Like one in four Americans, Grondin wrestles with mental illness, having struggled with severe bouts of depression since her elementary-school days. Depression is one of the most common types of mental illness, along with bipolar disorder, another mood-altering malady. Other forms of mental illness include schizophrenia and disorders related to anxiety, eating, substance abuse and attention deficit/hyperactivity.

Like many Americans with mental illness, Grondin and her family looked to the church for help. And she found the response generally less-than-helpful. “When I was in the ninth grade and hospitalized for depression, only a couple of people even visited me, and that was kind of awkward. I guess they didn’t know what to say,” said Grondin, who grew up in a Southern Baptist church in Alabama.

Generally, most Christians she knew dealt with her mood disorder by ignoring it, she said. “It was just nonexistent, like it never happened,” she said. “They never acknowledged it.” When she was an adolescent, many church members just thought of her as a troublemaker, not a person dealing with an illness, she recalled. A few who acknowledged her diagnosed mood disorder responded with comments Grondin still finds hurtful. “When dealing with people in the church … some see mental illness as a weakness — a sign you don’t have enough faith,” she said. “They said: ‘It’s a problem of the heart. You need to straighten things out with God.’ They make depression out to be a sin, because you don’t have the joy in your life a Christian is supposed to have.”

A Baylor University study revealed that among Christians who approached their local church for help in response to a personal or family member’s diagnosed mental illness, more than 30 percent were told by a minister that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness. And 57 percent of the Christians who were told by a minister that they were not mentally ill quit taking their medication.

That troubles neuroscientist Matthew Stanford. “It’s not a sin to be sick,” he insists. Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the doctoral program in psychology at Baylor, acknowledges religion’s longstanding tense relationship with behavioral science. And he believes that conflict destroys lives. “Men and women with diagnosed mental illness are told they need to pray more and turn from their sin. Mental illness is equated with demon possession, weak faith and generational sin,”

Stanford writes in his recently released book, Grace for the Afflicted. “The underlying cause of this stain on the church is a lack of knowledge, both of basic brain function and of scriptural truth.” As an evangelical Christian who attends Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, Stanford understands underlying reasons why many Christians view psychology and psychiatry with suspicion. “When it comes to the behavioral sciences, many of the early fathers were no friends of religion. That’s certainly true of Freud and Jung,” he noted in an interview.

Many conservative Christians also believe the behavioral sciences tend to justify sin, he added, pointing particularly to homosexual behavior. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association famously removed homosexuality from its revised edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. As a theologically conservative Christian, Stanford stressed that scripture, not the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, constitutes the highest authority.

But that doesn’t mean the Bible is an encyclopedia of knowledge in all areas, and all people benefit from scientific insights into brain chemistry and the interplay of biological and environmental factors that shape personality. Furthermore, while he does not presume to diagnose with certainty cases of mental illness millennia after the fact, Stanford believes biblical figures — Job, King Saul of Israel and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, among others — demonstrated symptoms of some types of mental illness. “Mental disorders do not discriminate according to faith,” he said.

Regardless of their feelings about some psychological or psychiatric approaches, Christians need to recognize mental illnesses are genuine disorders that originate in faulty biological processes, Stanford insisted. “It’s appropriate for Christians to be careful about approaches to treatment, but they need to understand these are real people dealing with real suffering,” he said. Richard Brake, director of counseling and psychological services for Texas Baptist Child & Family Services, agrees. “The personal connection is important. Church leaders need to be open to the idea that there are some real mental-health issues in their congregation,” Brake said.

Ministers often have training in pastoral counseling to help people successfully work through normal grief after a loss, but may lack the expertise to recognize persistent mental-health problems stemming from deeper life issues or biochemical imbalances, he noted. Internet resources are available through national mental-health organizations and associations of Christian mental-health providers. But the best way to learn about available mental health treatment — and to determine whether ministers would be comfortable referring people to them — is through personal contact, Brake and Stanford agreed. “Get to know counselors in the community,” Brake suggested. “Find out how they work, what their belief systems are and how they integrate them into their practices.”

Mental-health providers include school counselors and case managers with state agencies, as well as psychiatrists and psychologists in private practice or associated with secular or faith-related treatment facilities, he noted. Stanford and Brake emphasized the vital importance of making referrals to qualified mental-health professionals, but they also stressed the role of churches in creating a supportive and spiritually nurturing environment for people with mental-health disorders. Mental illness does not illustrate lack of faith, but it does have spiritual effects, they agreed. “Research indicates people with an active faith life who are involved in congregational life get through these problems more smoothly,” Brake said.

Churches cannot “fix” people with mental illness, but they can offer support to help them cope. “The church has a tremendous role to play. Research shows the benefits of a religious social support system,” Stanford said. They stressed the importance of creating a climate of unconditional love and acceptance for mentally ill people in church — a need Grondin echoed. “There needs to be an unconditional sense of community and relationships,” she said. She emphasized the importance of establishing relationships that may not be reciprocally satisfying all the time.

People with mental-health issues may not be as responsive or appreciative as some Christians would like them to be, she noted. “Others need to take the initiative and keep the relationship established. People don’t realize how hard it can be (for a person with a mood disorder) to summon the courage just to get out of bed,” Grondin said. Christians who seek to reach out to people with mental illness need to recognize “they are not able to see things clearly, and it’s not their fault,” Grondin added.

Mostly, Christians need to offer acceptance to people with mental illness — even if they don’t fully understand, she insisted. “Just be present. Offer support and love,” Grondin concluded. “You won’t always know what to say. Just speak words of support into a life of serious struggles. That means more than anything.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.)
 

A great book:

“Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness” [Paperback] can be found at www.Amazon.com, by Matthew S. Stanford Ph.D

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For more information: National Alliance on Mental Illness (800) 950-6264 Anxiety Disorders Association of America (240) 485-1001  Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (800) 826-3632  American Association of Christian Counselors (800) 526-8673 Stephen Ministries (314) 428-2600

 

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Counseling Others

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Ruth and Naomi

In the last several years, I have grown very skeptical of my own ability to give out sound counsel.  For the most part I have refrained from doing so, and rather have attempted to introduce them to the wisdom and love of Jesus.  Its like a triangle– Jesus, them, and myself occupying each corner.  All I do when I counsel someone is to help them see the Lord.  Hopefully, once a dialogue has taken place I step back and let the supernatural happen.

Much of counseling is facilitating or creating an environment that you can gather information.  Your friend feels that you and your surroundings are “safe” and he/she opens up in that situation.  Almost all of the the time, a certain level of confidentiality must exist and be understood as being “in place”.  A key fact is getting your “permission to counsel.” This must happen in order for the counselee to really receive.

Job and his Three Friends

Usually when I meet with someone, I do not attempt to sound profound, or wise.  Far from it! Instead, I am wary of myself.  I think I’m like a flare shot up in the inky darkness, I  just want to give a few brief moments of illumination before the moment passes. But when God speaks he will enlighten fully and bring understanding. “In his light, we see light”, (Ps. 36:9).

Remember that Job’s friends were at their best when silently sitting with him in the ash and rubble. At that moment, they were very effective counselors.  The problem came when they began to verbally explain why Job’s personal disaster took place.  Very often I find that people have a need to be needed.  They give counsel so they can feel good about themselves.  There is a lot of Christian counseling out there that is sabotaged by this inherent flaw.

Part of speaking wisely to a friend must include the option that I might be totally off-the-wall.  Whatever I say must not be “ex cathedra“, or as truth unchallenged.  Just because I’m giving you counsel does not make me superior, wiser or more authoritative.  It really should take as much humility to counsel, as it takes to be counseled. I can think of an easy dozen encounters that I’m embarrassed by– and will never be able to retract. Yes, mistakes will be made, but we should trust the Holy Spirit to use those missteps. He is sovereign.

“Peer-to-peer” counseling is very much a blessing.  A great need exists in the church for this particular ministry.  But to be a source of wisdom to another should be both a sobering, and a clarifying experience.  We should beware of the pitfalls, and wary of our flesh and its desire for greatness, glory and fame.  To be a counselor can be quite dangerous and I should not seek this place unless its thrust on me. A good counselor is almost always reluctant.

“If you young fellows were wise, the devil couldn’t do anything to you, but since you aren’t wise, you need us who are old.”  Martin Luther

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

ybic, Bryan

 

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Don’t Waste Your Sorrows

 

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These little troubles are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing.”

2 Cor. 4:17, CEV

“Before God could bring me to this place He has broken me a thousand times.”                                   

Smith Wigglesworth

 

As we move toward maturity, over time and through circumstance, we will start to develop exciting new ways of thinking.  We engage the Word and combined with our relationships with people we start the work of God.  We soon learn that the Kingdom of God flows through relationships, almost exclusively.

Pain and sorrow are some of the more intense ways the Lord reaches down and into our lives.

Rick Warren has written, “God intentionally allows you to go through painful experiences to equip you for ministry to others.” 

 

I think that as we dwell on this we will start to see the hand of God, moving things around in our complicated lives.  As we attend class in this school of the Spirit, we learn things that will change our life and ministry.

But we must consider that we can waste our pain and sorrows by not engaging the issues properly.  Will I submit, or will I grow sullen and cynical? Will I worship through my tears?  Surrendering to Christ is not a once-in-a-lifetime event.  It is a daily, and even hourly process.  I regard any kind of cynicism though, as a hungry predator who is hunting me.  Very dangerous, and I am highly suspectable.

Pain is the way the Father reaches me, he isn’t too concerned about our comfort (it isn’t the real issue, after all.)  When I hurt, I invaribly look for Jesus.  And that cannot be all bad.  Through the trials and pain I begin to reconnect with my Father.  Without the trials, I doubt we would ever call out for His help.

“Don’t waste your sorrows.”  It is easily said but seldom done.  We start to stagger by the weight of our personal issues.  Overwhelmed by the pain we start to panic and grab things, and throw them overboard, to lighten the load.  We can be confused, and will do whatever we must do to stay afloat.  But unless we take these sorrows well, we are just short-circuiting God’s intentions.

C.S. Lewis once commented on our issues,

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn—my God do you learn.”

The darkness intends to absorb us.  Satan uses our own bitterness and frustration to do this.  Our discipleship is no longer valid if we commence doing our own will and desires.  Even though we get “flaky” the Father will always love us. But we dare not waste our pain, it comes at too big of a price.

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Being Sick

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Potter shaping a ceramic plate on a pottery wheel
“So Miriam was kept outside the camp for seven days, and the people waited until she was brought back before they traveled again.”

Numbers 12:15

To be numbered among the chronically ill often can mean a transition into frustration. We can not do what we want, we are ‘trapped’ by a disease we never asked for, and held hostage by our minds and bodies. It seems apart, from the management of our symptoms, we have little time to do anything else. We once had a job– a career… and our time was occupied by that. We were accustomed to something more than this illness.

I once was a pastor of a small church here in Homer, Alaska. I also taught Gospels for many years at the Alaska Bible Institute. I loved both. They defined my identity and gave me purpose. I loved helping people and teaching the Word. I strived to be faithful in the ministry. My wife and two children were also significant and all of these things led me to think they would always be there. I was living my dream (in a good way.)

With the sudden onset of a brain tumor, followed up by a diagnosis of Bipolar disorder (BP), I knew I had to step out of the ministry. I simply could not function. My depression grew more profound with the stillborn death of our third child. Things suddenly ground to a stand-still as we tried to process what has happening to us. I guess I just couldn’t understand and more or less just shut down. I spent months in bed, unable to function.

Some people were jewels. Others were mean and uncaring. (I had to learn to take the good with the bad.) I suppose I should have been more forth-coming, but things were so tangled up inside I couldn’t verbalize a thing. The post-op surgery was an ordeal, as I had to learn many things all over again. Years later I ended up on disability; I was unable to work, and no one would hire me. My symptoms were so unpredictable, and things were too erratic. The BP was giving me it’s customary depression, as well as paranoia and hallucinations.

Sometimes, like Miriam, we are quarantined by the Lord for his purposes. The isolation is worse that the pain it seems. We wonder why this is happening, and fabricate lies about our worthiness or God’s goodness. In our isolation things seem polarized to extremes. Our value seems to be ripped apart by our illness. We can feel cursed, or worse.

I have been slow to learn this: God brings good out of the dark. I’m embarrassed by my lack of acquiring this truth.

“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

2 Corinthians 4:7

This light must shine. The treasure is found in clay vessels. Brokenness only means the treasure is now seen clearly. It’s important to note: treasure loses none of its value by being surrounded by broken clay.

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.”

2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Troubles of various ilk come to us. They are variegated and unplanned. No matter what their nature, God holds his people in place while everything else is falling apart. But there is no magic wand; the pain will probably continue. But for the broken believer, there comes another dimension; a new supernatural layer of grace to bolster our beleaguered faith. We will triumph through this thing, and we will stand– because He makes us stand.

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