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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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Leaving a Wilderness [w/ A Lot of Help]

Stranded by Snow
The bitter cold was intense in the car.

“Who is this coming up from the wilderness,
      Leaning upon her beloved?”  

Song of Solomon 8:5

 _________________

Once while stranded in the Alaskan wilderness I almost froze to death.  It was cold, 20 F below zero.

About 30 years ago, a friend and I felt directed to bring in Bibles and discipleship materials into the village of Minto, very near the Arctic Circle.  We were driving in a little red Datsun through about eight inches of snow late at night. Suddenly, the car just quit running.  We looked at each other, and we started to assess our situation. No cell phone, on a very remote road with no heat.  We both knew that unless God made a direct intervention, we would never survive the intense cold.  We prayed, and waited and thought. We had to fight the panic.

There is a wilderness we all must traverse.  It can be as difficult and extreme as an Arctic landscape.  The Shulamite girl in Song of Solomon knew this terrain.  It is a desperate place to be.  This world is a bitter place, and provides little in the way of solace and comfort.  We are called to be “pilgrims and strangers,” making this journey of faith to a heavenly city.

The opening verse has witnesses or observers making a declaration.  They seem to be shocked, and amazed by what they see.  The Shulamite girl was spotted, making her way, slowly threading her way up from the wastelands.  The path has been difficult, it would’ve been easier to quit.  It has taken everything she could muster up.

But the crescendo in this verse is the declaration, “she is coming up…leaning on her beloved.”  She found the help she had to have, at the side of One who loved and beloved.  He had come, at just the right time to lift her up and lead her out her extremity.  She has found that He is her strength.  It is He who has come to deliver her.  The verse suggests that it is the bridegroom that is the determining factor.

His presence changes everything.

We were miraculously rescued after about 20 hours.  How we survived in that frigid isolation is beyond me.  Freezing to death was truly imminent.  I remember squeezing through the car window when it became first light.  The snow had completely covered the car, and as I surveyed our surroundings, I remember thinking how desolate it was.  We had stalled on a high ridge, and it seemed like the loneliest and most isolated place on Earth.

This afternoon I sat out on my deck, looking and thinking.  This verse entered my brain like a bullet.  Walking with Jesus through my wilderness has challenged and wearied.  I have fallen more times then I can count.  Each time I have picked myself up.  Do you know why? Because when I’m with Jesus, I know I will be fine.

aabryplain

 

 

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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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You’ve Been Already Punished

“If one believes in the death of the Lord Jesus as his substitute he already has been united with the Lord Jesus in His death. For me to believe that in the substitutionary work of the Lord Jesus is to believe that I already have been punished in the Lord Jesus. The penalty of my sin is death; yet the Lord Jesus suffered death for me; therefore I have died in Him.”

–Watchman Nee

“The salvation of the righteous is from  the Lord; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.”

Psalm 37:39

 

 

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Quotes on Being a Disciple

Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Take the words of Jesus and let them become the Supreme Court of the Gospel to you. –John G. Lake

Some wish to hear the word of God, others wish to receive it.–Anonymous

Understanding is the reward of obedience. Obedience is the key to every door. –George MacDonald

In the spiritual life only one thing produces genuine joy and that is obedience. –Richard Foster

The level of our obedience is most often determined by the behavior standard of other Christians around us. –Jerry Bridges

Many Christians have what we might call a “cultural holiness”. They adapt to the character and behavior pattern of Christians around them. As the Christian culture around them is more or less holy, so these Christians are more or less holy. But God has not called us to be like those around us. He has called us to be like himself. Holiness is nothing less than conformity to the character of God. –Jerry Bridges

Holiness has never been the driving force of the majority. It is, however, mandatory for anyone who wants to enter the kingdom. –Elisabeth Elliot

The dullness that overshadows a passive person is increased by the mounting number of times one doesn’t respond to the promptings of God. –Greg Manalli

Whatsoever one would understand what he hears must hasten to put into practice what he has heard. –Gregory the Great

I know the power obedience has of making things easy which seem impossible. –Teresa of Avila

Let this be thy whole endeavor, this thy prayer, this thy desire,–that thou mayest be stripped of all selfishness, and with entire simplicity follow Jesus only. –Thomas à Kempis

No man has the mind of Christ, except him who makes it his business to obey him.—George MacDonald

One can believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ and feel no personal loyalty to Him at all – indeed, pay no attention whatever to His commandments and His will for one’s life. –Catherine Marshall

I defy you to read the life of any saint that has ever adorned the life of the Church without seeing at once that the greatest characteristic in the life of that saint was discipline and order. Invariably it is the universal characteristic of all the outstanding men and women of God.—Unknown

The strength of a man’s virtue should not be measured by his special exertions, but by his habitual acts.–Blaise Pascal

He who is faithful in little will be faithful in much. –Jesus Christ

If Christ does not reign over the mundane events in our lives, He does not reign at all. –Paul Tripp

Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself. –Abraham Joshua Heschel

Maturity doesn’t come with age; it comes with acceptance of responsibility. –Ed Cole

To be converted to faith in Jesus Christ is to return to the worship of the true God, and to dethrone all rivals to his authority. –Graham Kendrick

We must assess our thoughts and beliefs and reckon whether they are moving us closer to conformity to Christ or farther away from it. –John Ortberg

Jesus tapped me on the shoulder and said, Bob, why are you resisting me? I said, I’m not resisting you! He said, You gonna follow me? I said, I’ve never thought about that before! He said, When you’re not following me, you’re resisting me. –Bob Dylan

There is no peace in the border lands. The halfway Christian is a torment to himself and of no benefit to others. –Earnest Worker

The characteristic of holiness, which is the outcome of the indwelling of God, is blazing truthfulness with regard to God’s word and an amazing tenderness in personal dealings. –Oswald Chambers

Christianity does not consist in any partial amendment of our lives, any particular moral virtues, but in an entire change of our natural temper, a life wholly devoted to God. –William Law

Those who teach by their doctrine must teach by their life, or else they pull down with one hand what they build up with the other. –Matthew Henry

…Christ did not appoint professors, but followers. If Christianity … is not reduplicated in the life of the person expounding it, then he does not expound Christianity, for Christianity is a message about living and can only be expounded by being realized in men’s lives. –Soren Kierkegaard

A holy life has a voice. It speaks when the tongue is silent, and is either a constant attraction or a perpetual reproof. –Hinton

Preaching is to much avail, but practice is far more effective. A godly life is the strongest argument you can offer the skeptic. –Hosea Ballou

No one can sum up all God is able to accomplish through one solitary life, wholly yielded, adjusted, and obedient to Him. –D.L.Moody

I surrendered unto Him all there was of me; everything! Then for the first time I realized what it meant to have real power. –Kathryn Kuhlman

I dare not say with Paul that I am the slave of Christ, but my highest aspiration and desire is to be the slave of Christ. –George MacDonald

Nothing is really lost by a life of sacrifice; everything is lost by failure to obey God’s call. –Henry P Liddon

Nothing disciplines the inordinate desires of the flesh like service, and nothing transforms the desires of the flesh like serving in hiddenness. The flesh whines against service but it screams against hidden service. It strains and pulls for honor and recognition. –Richard Foster

Today, even amongst Christians, there can be found much of that spirit that wants to give as little as possible to the Lord, and yet to get as much as possible from Him. The prevailing thought today is of being used, as though that were the one thing that mattered. That my little rubber band should be stretched to the very limit seems all important. But this is not the Lord’s mind. The Lord wants us to be used, yes; but what He is after is that we pour all we have, ourselves, to Him, and if that be all, that is enough. –Watchman Nee

The decision to grow always involves a choice between risk and comfort. This means that to be a follower of Jesus you must renounce comfort as the ultimate value of your life. –John Ortberg

The Christian ideal has not been found tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried. — GK Chesterton

If thou art willing to suffer no adversity, how wilt thou be the friend of Christ? –Thomas à Kempis

There is no success without sacrifice. If you succeed without sacrifice it is because someone has suffered before you. If you sacrifice without success it is because someone will succeed after. –Rick Joyner

The Bible parable says that while men slept, the enemy sowed tares among the wheat. A boy who rises at 4:30 to deliver papers is considered a go-getter, but to urge our young people to rise at 5:30 to pray is considered fanaticism. We must once again wear the harness of discipline. There is no other way. –Leonard Ravenhill

To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul. –Simone Weil

Knowing that we are fulfilling God’s purpose is the only thing that really gives rest to the restless human heart. –Chuck Colson

The invitation is not, “Give Me thine head.” The invitation is, “My Son, give Me thine heart.” –John G. Lake

At the back of it there lies the central citadel of obstinacy: I will not give up my right to myself–the thing God intends you to give up if ever you are going to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.–Oswald Chambers

Whatever God’s dream about man may be, it seems certain it cannot come true unless man cooperates. –Stella Terrill Mann

Let no one imagine that he will lose anything of human dignity by this voluntary sell-out of his all to his God. He does not by this degrade himself as a man; rather he finds his right place of high honor as one made in the image of his Creator. His deep disgrace lay in his moral derangement, his unnatural usurpation of the place of God. His honor will be proved by restoring again that stolen throne. In exalting God over all, he finds his own highest honor upheld. –A.W Tozer

It is the Father’s life, and the Father’s life alone, that ever lives the Christian life. It is the Father’s life, and Father’s life alone, which will live the Christian life in you. Embrace a formula or a list in order to “live the Christian life,” and you are doomed to frustration. –Gene Edwards

If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead. –William Law

Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self… –C.S. Lewis

It is only by a total death to self we can be lost in God. –Jeanne Guyon

All we have—ourselves–to Him, and if that be all, that is enough. –Watchman Nee

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A Spellbound Captive of the Night

 

“We are all infected and impure with sin.
      When we display our righteous deeds,
      they are nothing but filthy rags.
   Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall,
      and our sins sweep us away like the wind.”

Isaiah 64:6, NLT

There are bad things that happen to us— the ugly, awful and rigorous things, that only God himself can explain.  We read theology and we read our Bibles, we listen dutifully to preachers but we still approach the throne of Jesus more mystified than anything else.

We are seem to be playing ‘ping-pong’ with the most challenging  issues.  We come to Him, because there is no one left who can answer things that have perplexed everyone else.  Why do we suffer?  Why does evil exist?  Why do people who live in blatant sin, succeed?  Why am I sick all the time?

If God is really God, why doesn’t he just give us an explanation about these questions?  Our title talks about being “spellbound.”  Are we really that inured, or attached with a sinister evil?  To be spellbound means we are being confused, drugged or hypnotised by something quite awful.  A cobra rises up, and opens its “hood.”  Its victim is entranced by what it sees in front-of-it.  He soon becomes supper.

Being held captive is a ordinary occurance for human beings.  Captivity brings us imprisonment.  Usually in a dark, dirty and unpleasant place.  But yet, it intrigues us so much, and the “light” is such a boring and dull thing.  We feel great as we trade the truth for lies.  But what a deal we reason; “step right up, and exchange it for the lie!”

 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

Ephesians 2:1-3, ESV

From this new and fresh influence we come under the control and will of ‘the dark side’.  (And this is not merely “Star Wars‘ mythos.  It is very much real.)  We gradually give ourselves over, in a reasonably predictable pattern.  We think we are pretty much unique in this, but the truth is that we are pretty much ordinary. Sin never enhances us. Don’t believe the lie.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”

John 3:19

There comes a point when there is enough momentum and weight, that it creates an avalanche. At this point things have gotten desperately grim.  From a human standpoint, there will be no way to avert the inevitable.  Sin will roll over you, blasting into your life, and worst of all into the hearts of your family.  In a stark way— things get very dark, very fast.

Sin will always enslave.  It will turn on you and rock your world. 

But we are so entranced by what it wants to give us.  It looks so good…one could call it “self-actualizing.”  (Maybe even “liberating!”)  But in one of the many purposes of the Old Testament, is to clarify what happens in people’s hearts when we step down and let the sin and confusion take over.  You could say, that there will be pleasure for a brief season, but  it will always have a very savagely grim and a black conclusion. ”For the wages of sin is death.”

“If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will then we may take that it is worth paying.”  

–C.S. Lewis

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I Still Grieve (But I Now I’m at Peace)

Loss_of_Child

‘Who gathered this flower?’ The gardener answered, ‘The Master.’ And his fellow servant held his peace.”

It was November 13th, in the year of our Lord 1999, was unlike any day I have ever experienced. A beating with a baseball bat would seem more preferable. On this cold afternoon, hell was unleashed on my wife and myself. What we encountered was soul-wrenching and profoundly tragic.

Perhaps a parent’s worst nightmare is the loss of a child. On this day we lost Elizabeth Grace. She was stillborn, which is rare these days– or so I have been told. She entered this world fully formed, a beautiful baby girl. Today, she would of been 16 years old, and thinking about the prom.

But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

2 Samuel 12:23, (When David’s newborn son died.)

Our loss was grievous, but we are not unique. Plenty of families have suddenly lost a child. I can truly commiserate with them. Somehow we are connected in a perverse way. It seems like an exclusive club, that requires a secret handshake, or something. Suddenly without warning, you are thrown into personal chaos, and very little is remotely decipherable, even to a believer.

The book of Ecclesiastes that there is a definite “time to mourn.”  Matthew tells us, “Blessed are those who mourn.” He does go on to say. “for they shall be comforted.” This comfort is available for any who choose to take it, but you can refuse it, if you really want to.

Grief unites us, but Jesus liberates us. Seriously. I can’t imagine meeting life without his care and comfort. He has been outstandingly gracious to this family. Sure there was pain, but there was also tenderness and a kind grace. Still, sometimes it felt like a “kick in the head.” (But I assure you– it was grace.)

What I still can’t understand is simply this. What would it have cost God to allow Elisabeth to live? I mean, what ‘skin off His nose’ would’ve it taken to let her live? I still to this day have questions, but I have decided to trust. (I trust Him after all, to save my soul.)

Those who have suffered like me will comprehend and grasp, the noxious environment of grief and loss. But we can only take what we are dealt. The sadness is there, but so is His comfort. Make no mistake, His love matches (or even exceeds) the pain and the loss of a child. Truly, God is a wonder and He is good.

I do know that He loves me, a weirdly rascalish, mentally ill epileptic. He holds me close to His precious heart, and I will have no other gods except Him. I will not take up umbrage with Him on this. But I must believe that someday soon, I will truly and completely understand this.

ybic, Bryan

 

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