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

Mechanisms of the Spirit

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Especially for the Leaders and Pastors who Guide the Ministry of the Church:

 

“Unless the Lord builds a house,
 the work of the builders is wasted.
Unless the Lord protects a city,
guarding it with sentries will do no good.”

Psalm 127:1

O my son, give me your heart.
May your eyes take delight in following my ways.”

Proverbs 23:27

———————-

“The highest expression of the will of God in this age is the church which He purchased with His own blood.  To be scripturally valid any religious activity must be part of the church.  Let it be clearly stated that there can be no service acceptable to God in this age that does not center in and spring out of the church.  Bible schools, tract societies, Christian business men’s committees, seminaries and the many independent groups working at one or another phase of religion need to check themselves reverently and courageously, for they have no true spiritual significance outside of or apart from the church.”

–A.W. Tozer

As believers we sometimes lose the sight of what is going on around us. We get attached to a structure or a mechanism and view it as why we are here. Ministries, churches, retreats, conventions, even websites (!): every “structure” and every effort of man— however good and noble is not the Church of Jesus Christ.

The Church is a fluid and dynamic thing. It supersedes anything we can do or plan. Our efforts are always secondary, and even at there best are minuscule. We are gifted so that we might serve others, that is true. But wisdom always realizes the “big picture” even while serving in a “para-church” context.

The Church is the bride of Christ himself. It really is the only authorized work of God in the world today. It is what the Spirit is doing in our midst. Our personal efforts (like this website) are not really the full expression of truth in this world. That privilege belongs to the body.

I’m not trying to demean your ministry or work for the Lord. I won’t advocate that we shut-down our separate efforts. But I do suggest we restore our focus on the Church of Jesus above anything we can do. Paul cared deeply for the churches; he labored, toiled, travelled, was persecuted and despised all for the Church. Paul saw Jesus as its head, and he saw it as “the bride of Christ.” No sacrifice was too high or hard for the Bride.

“Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.”

2 Corinthians 11:28, NASB

We are to be servants of the Church first. We dare not be side-tracked or led in a subtly different direction. Perhaps a good way to think of this subject is that there are:

  • mechanisms, and
  • organisms.

Sometimes we’re somewhat mechanical and something living. I suggest that we restore to the living Church the honor and glory it deserves. Our individual ministries can be good— fruit may even be seen. But we dare not minimize the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. She is his bride. She will rule and reign with him forever and ever.

“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.”

Revelation 21:2

It will not be brokenbelievers.com that “descends” from heaven, but the Church. As important as I think I am, this website will not be in that place. This privilege belongs to Christ’s own bride– the Church. Perhaps it is this fact that we who are in ministry should consider from time-to-time: Let the church be the Church.

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The Real Battle

Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem.
Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance. So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her; and when she had purified herself from her uncleanness, she returned to her house.

2 Samuel 11:1-4, NASB

Where was the real battle being fought? David walks the rooftop and engages the enemy; it was within his own heart. He puts himself right into sin.

Perhaps he couldn’t sleep. It was a warm spring night, and he needed air and to stretch his legs. His troops and his generals were out to war. Maybe he was anxious about how things were progressing. Perhaps he was not where he should be.

Little did he know but he would face his own battle up on his roof.

David was a seasoned veteran; a trained warrior with skill on the battlefield. But he was also king– with kingly perks. He had wives and concubines at his ‘beck and call.’ His “appetites” were sufficiently met. That is the prerogative of kings.

She was naked– and more beautiful than he had ever seen. A servant was near, and he wanted to know more about her. He began to plan how he could have this exceptionally beautiful woman.

She was also the wife of Uriah, one of his elite warriors and one of his “mighty men,” (2 Sam. 23:39).

But he burned for her, and wanted her now. He had lost the battle.

Even kings “reap what they sow,” (Galatians 6:7-8).

“Father, keep us in the battle and protect us from sin. We want to please you. Don’t let us walk in sin and disobedience. Amen.”

[Suggested reading: Proverbs 4]

 

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Handling a Diagnosis of Tardive Dyskinesia

 

Tardive Dyskinesia (TD) is a condition of involuntary, repetitive movements of the jaw, tongue or other body movements. It frequently is a side effect of the long-term use of antipsychotic drugs used to treat schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. It is almost always permanent. I’ve been told Vitamin E might help a bit.  Benzodiazepines have also been used with mixed results on a short-term basis.

Some examples of these types of involuntary movements include:[3]

  • Grimacing
  • Tongue movements
  • Lip smacking
  • Lip puckering
  • Pursing of the lips
  • Excessive eye blinking

(Wikipedia)

I recently was diagnosed as having TD after the use of Zyprexa. My version is my lower jaw moves from side-to-side, unless I concentrate on not doing it. I quickly revert to this involuntary movement when I’m not aware of it. I recently saw a video of myself (with my family) and sure enough there I was, doing the ‘jaw thing.’ It was very obvious. It was also very embarrassing. (I have the ‘lithium jitters’— where my hands always shake, but TD is different.)

There are a couple of things I might mention:generics7

1) I’ve discovered that there is a real social isolation with this TD stuff. To be doing this in public is “not acceptable.” I have had people come up to me wanting to know what’s my problem. Since I can’t control the movement I just say, “It’s my meds— they affect me this way.” In a way it’s like wearing a neon sign saying, “I’m a fruit cake.” Having a mental illness is stigma enough, but the TD just puts a new edge on it.

2) As a natural introvert the isolation has only deepened. (I avoid crowds and most social engagements.) I guess if the truth be told, I’m uncomfortable when others look at me strangely or whisper to each other. My standard ‘paranoia level’ has taken a new twist. I feel like I’m always compelled to explain. I guess I’m embarrassed when others are embarrassed.

3) I settle myself down in my faith to cope. I know I’m not alone in this– the Lord Jesus is always with me. He holds me tight through all these twists and turns. Since I isolate myself so much, I savor the connection I have with a few friends who have become inured to my condition. Social media helps out— Facebook is a gift.

4) One of the things I try to remember are the issues of selfishness and pride. I keep reminding myself it’s not about me all the time. One of the significant areas mentally ill people deal with is self-absorbed thinking. It seems it comes with the illness.

5) I try to keep a sense of humor everyday. It breaks down the mental pain to tolerable levels. We can take ourselves too seriously sometimes. Be more patient with yourself.

I certainly ask that you remember me in prayer. I’m in ‘uncharted waters’ (it seems) and I sometimes feel all alone with my mental illness and all its tangents. I want good to come out of this. (An instantaneous healing would be o.k. too.)

 

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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.

 *

Jonathan

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

 

The Blessings of a Long Battle, part 2

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 “Do not fear the conflict, and do not flee from it; where there is no struggle, there is no virtue.”   John of Kronstadt

Part 1 of this post highlighted how God can bring good out of a long struggle with a sin, weakness, and/or problem by helping the Christian make the transition from putting their faith in formulas (e.g., “Do these three things and your problem will go away”) to a restful trust in Christ. Again, no sane Christian advocates habitual sin but the benefits of a protracted battle are numerous:

(1)  After a long battle, in making the transition from formulas to faith in God, a new brokenness develops in the believer. They’ve come to the end of themselves, run out of “self–effort fuel”, and are beginning to learn what Christ meant when he said, “…apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

(2) During a long battle with sin or weakness, there is a pattern of falling down and getting up. Proverbs 24:16 says that a righteous man falls seven times but keeps rising again. In this process many Christians report that a new intimacy has emerged in their relationship to God. They’ve come to know the God of mercy and compassion as never before because they’ve been repeatedly forgiven after their many stumbles.

(3) “He who is forgiven much loves much.” Along with a new intimacy, a greater love for God can also develop, after a long battle, because we’ve been forgiven over and over.

(4) And since God has extended his tender mercies to us over and over, we then can extend his mercy and compassion to others who have a protracted struggle with some issue. If our heart is right, a long battle can inoculate us from self–righteousness and judgmentalism in relation to others who fall over and over. How can we not extend to them the same grace that God extended to us?

In extending this grace to others, we may become a wounded healer to them. The healing we received from Christ during our struggle is graciously passed on those often struggling with similar issues. Healing emerges from your wounds just as resurrection emerges from death.

(5) After a war, the soldier of Christ often emerges battle–tested and wise to the schemes of the enemy. If a person has been pulled down into the dust 27 different ways by the devil, then, if he or she is paying attention, they’ve learned 27 strategies the enemy of our soul uses to try to destroy us.

In Twelve Step programs, one often hears the acronym H.A.L.T. mentioned in discussing relapse back into addiction. These four letters stand for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired and emphasize how these conditions create fertile soil for relapse.

If you frame the issue a different way, these are four strategies the devil uses to bring us back into bondage. How was this acronym learned? By people relapsing over and over when these conditions were present. Recovering people became wise through their failures in their long battle with addiction.

*

Jonathan

posted from http://www.openheavensblog.com/

Rembrandt’s Meditation on the Younger Son

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Painting by Renbrandt, 1606-1669
“And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to  one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
Luke 15:11-24, ESV

Three hundred and twenty-nine words– these describe the life of every man, woman, and child who has ever lived. These 329 words reveal to us a God who forgives much, and loves easily; the Father loves far too much, way too easy— and far too extravagantly for human beings to understand. Perhaps we sort of expect that he will ‘appropriately’ punish his son— at least put him on probation at least. It only makes sense.

“Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” Many of us have lived in prodigality, some  of us for a very long time. We have spent our inheritance like ‘drunken sailors’ and have nothing at all to show for it. The prodigal, completely destitute, takes the only work he can find. (Imagine a good Jewish boy feeding hogs.) He is so far gone that he starts inspecting the slop pails for something to eat.

Many of us will understand his despair. But there comes this crystalline moment of amazing clarity. The prodigal—filthy and impoverished, has  a memory of the Father’s house. The servants there had far more than him. Sometimes in our captivity we instinctively want to go home, if only to be a slave.

The Father has dreamed of this moment. The parable says, “He saw him–felt compassion–ran out to him–embraced him–and kissed him.” In moments we see a swirl of servants who completely overwhelm an already overwhelmed son. I’ve read the Parable of the Prodigal Son a hundred times or more . It never loses its punch. I simply want to bring you for just a few moments back into its light. I expect that the Holy Spirit may have business with you. rembrandt-prodigal3 (1)

We see that his father receives him with a tender gesture. His hands seem to suggest mothering and fathering at once; the left appears larger and more masculine, set on the son’s shoulder, while the right is softer and more receptive in gesture. His head is downy, almost like a newborn’s. Standing at the right is the prodigal son’s older brother, who crosses his hands in stoic judgment; we read in the parable that he objects to the father’s compassion for the sinful son.

Rembrandt had painted the Prodigal once before, when he was considerable younger. And it is a very good painting. The prodigal is happy and gay; there is absolutely no indication of the consequences of sin. He is charming young man at a happy party. But Rembrandt chooses at the end of his life to re-paint it to reflect reality. This is one of the last paintings he will do, and it is the Prodigal Son–destitute and repenting. I can only imagine; the years have taken a toll and he doesn’t really feel his first painting is enough. He wants to paint what is true. He is painting us.

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