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

Don’t Waste Your Sorrows

 

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“You have given me many troubles and bad times, but you will give me life again. 
When I am almost dead, 
You will keep me alive.”

Psalm 71:20, NCV

“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

Isaiah 53:3, NASB

Everyone hurts sometimes. We all will face our sorrows. But there are times, when our pain pounds us intensely, and it turns into a deep problem. The darkness rolls in on our souls like a caustic fog. It can get awful.

Sorrow is the effects of a hammering emotional or spiritual pain. I have never spoken out like this, but my wife and I had a daughter who died— stillborn. She was doing great, up to a week before her due date. We knew that in seven days, we would be able to see her– face-to-face.

But that was not to be. Elizabeth Grace Lowe died from strangulation (from her own umbilical cord.) Nothing could have been done. My wife had noticed a moment of very frantic activity, as Elizabeth fought for her life. We plummeted from ecstatic joy to a devastating sorrow in minutes. It came “out-of-the-blue,” totally unexpected. We both were completely undone.

“For the Lord will not reject forever,
For if He causes grief,
Then He will have compassion
According to His abundant lovingkindness.
For He does not afflict willingly
Or grieve the sons of men.”

Lamentations 3:32-33, NASB

There is pain, but there are promises. There is sadness, but there are psalms. There is a blessing on all those who grieve. This topic deserves far more attention than this simple post. (But they say, every fool wants to play “Hamlet,” so I guess I’m not immune.)

There is such sorrow in this life, much more than the human heart can possibly contain. But our Savior has a title (one of many.) He is the “Man of Sorrows.” He is the one “on point.” He leads us through such intense hostility. He guides us when things get very dark.

There are a few things that I want to communicate to you. These have come out of great darkness.

  1. God takes the full blame for our pain and sorrow. He doesn’t shift the blame, or deny His presence in our sufferings. Sometimes you need to adjust your theology.
  2. Jesus has fully shared our sorrow. All that you are feeling right now, He feels. If you feel you are at a minus 10, then He does as well. As you suffer, He is your shadow.
  3. Nothing is ever wasted. We really shouldn’t treat these moments of sorrow as a waste. Have you ever wondered at Jesus’ ‘economy’ after the 5000 were fed?  He assigns value to the leftovers. The disciples pick up their baskets and collect everything up again. Nothing will go to waste.
  4. This pain, this sorrow is the “intensive crash course” in becoming a person of mercy. You now will always walk with a limp. At times the scars will be quite visible to those who can really see. This will become forever a healed wound (but a wound nevertheless.) It helps to seek out others who have walked this same path. I don’t think I will ever fully trust a person who doesn’t walk with a limp.
  5. You will need (but maybe not accept) the transformation of your suffering into glory. This will take some time, and it almost feels like your not progressing at all. I encourage you to re-think each of these simple points. The Holy Spirit maybe working, perhaps behind the scenes.
  6. Finally remember this: God is not a monster, stomping on us like a boy crushes ants. He carries our pain and illness. He clearly comes along side every suffering believer. It is Satan who would suggest to you that God is a Celestial Menace, not worthy of our love.

*“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

Psalm 147:3, NLT

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.”

Isaiah 61:1, NLT

He heals the wounds of every shattered heart.
Psalm 147:3, TPT

*

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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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Is He Your Friend, or a Doctrine?

“A rule I have had for years is: to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. His is not a creed, a mere doctrine, but it is He Himself we have.”

  ~D.L. Moody

Friendship with God can be a liberating secret. It releases us from the terrible bondage of religion and ritual with all its negative connotations. Intimacy with our Lord will carry us beyond creed or doctrine to the place of true communion.

It’s not that the Law is bad, but in the intense light of God’s grace it’s a poor substitute. We value legalism, and that is precisely what we believe when we bypass the relationship. Doctrine is a good servant, but a poor master. Grace always trumps legalism.

We evangelicals talk big about “a personal relationship.” That is indeed crucial. But few be the believers that walk in a daily friendship with their Savior. That is truly a tragedy.

“I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.”

John 15:15, NLT

Friendship with Jesus will bring true guidance. He shares secrets and wisdom to his friends. We are brought into a true knowledge of the Kingdom through the relationship of friendship with the King. We are not slaves– or drones, slavishly serving out of slavish fear.

We are His friends.

Jesus wants to confide in us; sharing mysteries hidden by time and sin. And his kingdom is full of amazing perplexities! He is looking to bring us into a willingness of a daily communion.

He will heal our wounds, and forgive all our sins. He is truly our savior as well as our friend.

Friendship comes with a price. It means we are now tethered to the Lord. That can get old, especially when I want to do my own thing. I will continually have to lay things down, and choose to accept tether and follow Him.

But my soul now has a best friend.

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Quotes on Being His Disciple

Fifty of the best:

  1. Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. —Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  2. Take the words of Jesus and let them become the Supreme Court of the Gospel to you. –John G. Lake
  3. Some wish to hear the word of God, others wish to receive it.–Anonymous
  4. Understanding is the reward of obedience. Obedience is the key to every door. –George MacDonald
  5. In the spiritual life only one thing produces genuine joy and that is obedience. –Richard Foster
  6. The level of our obedience is most often determined by the behavior standard of other Christians around us. –Jerry Bridges
  7. 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
  8. Holiness has never been the driving force of the majority. It is, however, mandatory for anyone who wants to enter the kingdom. –Elisabeth Elliot
  9. The reason for not going out and sinning all you like is the same as the reason for not going out and putting your nose in a slicing machine: its dumb, stupid, and no fun. Some individual sins may have pleasure still attached to them because of the residual goodness of the realities they are abusing: adultery can indeed be pleasant and tying one on can amuse. But betrayal, jealousy, love grown cold, and the gray dawn of the morning after are nobody’s idea of a good time. –Robert Farrer Capon
  10. Whatsoever one would understand what he hears must hasten to put into practice what he has heard. –Gregory the Great
  11. I know the power obedience has of making things easy which seem impossible. –Teresa of Avila
  12. 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
  13. No man has the mind of Christ, except him who makes it his business to obey him.—George MacDonald
  14. 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
  15. 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
  16. Men do not decide their future. They decide their habits and their habits decide their future.—Unknown
  17. Plant a word in the mind, and you will reap an act. Plant the act and you will reap a habit. Plant a habit and you will reap a character. Plant a character and you will reap a nature. Plant a nature and you will reap a destiny. –Unknown
  18. The strength of a man’s virtue should not be measured by his special exertions, but by his habitual acts.–Blaise Pascal
  19. He who is faithful in little will be faithful in much. –Jesus Christ
  20. If Christ does not reign over the mundane events in our lives, He does not reign at all. –Paul Tripp
  21. Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself. –Abraham Joshua Heschel
  22. The worship of the true God, and to dethrone all rivals to his authority. –Graham Kendrick
  23. 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
  24. 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
  25. There is no peace in the border lands. The halfway Christian is a torment to himself and of no benefit to others. –Earnest Worker
  26. 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
  27. 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
  28. 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
  29. …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
  30. A holy life has a voice. It speaks when the tongue is silent, and is either a constant attraction or a perpetual reproof. –Hinton
  31. 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
  32. Sometimes we don’t need another chance to express how we feel or to ask someone to understand our situation. Sometimes we just need a firm kick in the pants. An unsmiling expectation that if we mean all these wonderful things we talk about and sing about, then lets see something to prove it. –Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  33. 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
  34. 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
  35. 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
  36. Nothing is really lost by a life of sacrifice; everything is lost by failure to obey God’s call. –Henry P Liddon
  37. 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
  38. 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
  39. The Christian ideal has not been found tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried. — GK Chesterton
  40. If thou art willing to suffer no adversity, how wilt thou be the friend of Christ? –Thomas à Kempis
  41. 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
  42. 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
  43. To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul. –Simone Weil
  44. Knowing that we are fulfilling God’s purpose is the only thing that really gives rest to the restless human heart. –Chuck Colson
  45. The invitation is not, “Give Me thine head.” The invitation is, “My Son, give Me thine heart.” –John G. Lake
  46. 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
  47. Whatever God’s dream about man may be, it seems certain it cannot come true unless man cooperates. –Stella Terrill Mann
  48. … I gave as an offering my all to Him Who had won me and saved me, my property, my fame, my health, my very words… In considering all these things, I preferred Christ. And the words of God were made sweet as honeycombs to me, and I cried after knowledge and lifted up my voice for wisdom. There was moreover the moderation of anger, the curbing of the tongue, the restraint of the eyes, the discipline of the belly, and the trampling under foot of the glory which clings to the earth. –Gregory of Nazianzus
  49. 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
  50. 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

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Recalibrate Our Senses

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. “

Matt. 3:8, NIV

“Do the things that show you really have changed your hearts and lives. “  

Matt. 3:8, NCV

When we evaluate change, the Biblical definition is crisp and solid.  It has everything understood in results (or fruit) and less to with my posturing.  Just simple words or emotions aren’t enough when we consider authentic transformation.  We can’t relate to feelings, they need actions to become visible. You may feel ‘warm and fuzzy’ when you think about Jesus, and  yet somehow that’s not enough. Especially if you’re beating your wife.

Actions do matter.  Your actions will define what you believe about God.  What you decide to do, will delineate what is really real. Jesus made it clear to his congregation that their definition of repentance needed adjusting.

I struggle with many things, I seem to be a magnet for all things dark and lost.  So this proper way of evaluating reality will become a tremendous blessing those of us with ‘mood disorders.’  My feelings are definitely mercurial.  I really can’t trust them. So I won’t.

Thomas Merton once said that we’re so motivated to climb the ladder of success that when we finally get to the top we discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall all along! To waste your life to climb one more rung is incredibly tragic.

And yet, down deep, I do understand.  I don’t like it, but it truthfully seems oddly rational and real.  It seems to be something God would do to lovingly correct us. If I place my bets on what I think God wants, and behold, I discover am completely mistaken. He delights in confusing the proud in heart.

We need a basis on what is real, and important.  It may shake us, but the result is being able to realize what is the truth.  Our feelings, and idealistic ideas are like a bucket with many holes.  What we receive from Him can’t be maintained–it runs out almost as fast as it collects.

We must recalibrate our senses.  We need to rearrange many things, and completely reevaluate our momentum and focus.  These seem to be abstract and vague ways of making determinations like this, but if we get honest we realize that these things are critical.

“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

 

 

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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