Blood in the Water

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It’s a fact. Biologists tell us that sharks can smell blood from 2-3 miles away. They follow their noses to the place where they sense it. They have an ‘attack mechanism’ to anything that is vulnerable. Blood acts as a trigger inside their brains. Occasionally dozens of sharks attack in a feeding frenzy that is pretty horrific.

Almost 40 years in the Church has taught me that sharks aren’t the only ones that turn on the wounded.

The Church was supposed to be a safe and a healing place. This is what the Holy Spirit wants. That isn’t always the case. As believers in Jrsus we should of done better.

Someone fails, another falters. Sin is uncovered and everyone takes cover. Many people who could have been restored are instead trampled down.   There are many who would rather ‘kick’ than pray. Unfortunately there is always a sharp escalation and personal attack  that often creates even more blood in the water.

There are many who bleed. Those with a mental illness, or confined to a wheelchair, or with Downs Syndrome are the first that come to mind. The developmentally disabled, the drunk, the addict, the divorced, the adulterer, the homosexual, and the poor, the ex-con are just several kinds of people that regularly get hurt in our churches.

“God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.”

Matthew 5:7, NLT

Mercy is what God extends to people who don’t deserve any. Failure to understand God’s deep penchant for mercy is the first step into religious confusion. Keep in mind that the Prodigal’s older brother refused to party with the forgiven son. How terribly sad.

In theory, we agree. We find tremendous inspiration when this verse is read. But the noble feelings do not always translate well into dedicated action. I have come to see that I must consciously press this into action. I must actively show mercy for the healing of others– and to protect my own heart.

The Kingdom of God is specifically designed for losers; it exists for the sick, the stumbler and the sinner.

The Great Physician has come for the sick– and not so much for the healthy. He loves each of us, but cares in different ways. He tailors His grace to fit our sin.

If there is blood in the water, let’s turn it up a notch, and show special mercy for those who are struggling. Let us be kinder than we have to be. If we err— let us always err on the side of mercy and kindness.

Father, please help me be full of mercy as I touch those who are in pain. I ask that you would make me sensitive and alert to each one on this path. –Amen.

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Especially Peter

“And now go and tell his disciples, and especially Peter, that he will go ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.”

Mark 16:7, CEV

Poor Peter. Despairing over his personal darkness he has become completely undone.  His wound is beyond any human remedy.  No one can help him at this point. We do well to mark the fall of the ‘Rock.’

Jesus had called him, the ‘Rock.’  This would become  a bestowed nickname of a future transformation.  We use granite and marble when we want something to last for ages.  It is as permanent as we can make it. Peter is definitely ‘a work-in-progress.’ His character is sand.

Visiting a working quarry, you will find large machinery.  Men scale the walls with heavy drills.  At just the right spot they begin to bore a hole.  It is hard and intense work, but they are persistent.  The rock is unyielding, but they work relentlessly. Dynamite is used to move rock fast.

Soon they take the hole to the proper depth.  Explosives are hauled up, And the hole is carefully packed with dynamite.  The word used in the New Testament is the word “dunamis.”  It is translated from the Greek into English as “power.”  Our word for “dynamite” is also a translation of that word.

Peter needs the dynamite power of the Holy Spirit. It is explosive.  It breaks and blasts, moving many tons of rock in just seconds. These particular verses read differently when translated like this:

  •  “But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the dynamite of God.” Matthew 22:29
  • “And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory with dynamite and great glory.” Matthew 24:30
  • “Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the dynamite proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” Mark 5:30
  • “And King Herod heard of it, for His name had become well known; and people were saying, “John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous dynamite are at work in Him.” Mark 6:14
  • “And Jesus was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with dynamite.” Mark 9:1
  • “But you will receive dynamite when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Acts 1:8

Jesus looks after each disciple before his resurrection.  He kindly gazes at Peter. Especially Peter.  He will need this new power to overcome his weaknesses. The dynamite of the Spirit will explode all over the Upper Room. Shifty Peter us about to become a rock.

His disciples, in just 50 days are going to meet the Holy Spirit.  All of them will find that explosive power that moves mountains.  And the world is about to change forever.

Peter was so transformed on Pentecost he would preach and 3,000 would believe and be baptised. He went from cowardly denier to bold preacher. The dunamis of God changed him that day (Acts 2).

As a broken believer I see the image of Peter morphing into my own face. I have denied Him before others. I am ashamed at what I have done. My depression flares up and my heart goes down in a downward spiral. I must have the Holy Spirit’s authority to be free.

Where is the ‘dynamite’ of God?  Oh come Spirit of God to our broken hearts. Fill us, change us today.


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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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One Strange Trip, [Honesty]

Pastor Bryan Lowe

I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 1:6, CEB

I was ‘saved’ in my early twenties.  With that salvation came a sense of what really was true.  And perhaps a real hope of what life could become.  I’m  now 55, I can only shake my head.  It certainly has not been as rosy as I first thought.  I blame myself, and go on to understand that maybe this is the way it was supposed to turn out.

But my walk with Jesus has been real.  I haven’t given up on my pitiful faith and I haven’t apostatized.  And yet I am aware of a confusion, and  a disconnectedness that is a bit odd.  I sort of realize that my soul has been hunted, and that I’m vulnerable.

But I can’t let go of Him who I call Savior.  It certainly has not been easy.  Sometimes it seems that I am perhaps the most troubled of all His followers. I’m sure some of you might understand.

You see, I have a disease called “loving Jesus” from which know I will never recover.

The promises that have been given to me can’t be diminished or revoked.  He has dedicated Himself to reaching me.  I’ve been told that He not only plucks me out of my darkness, but His intention is to heal and balance me.  My confusion is not enough to sidetrack His will.

I don’t know what my future holds.  But to be honest, I don’t anticipate anything magical,  or some fantastically creative spirituality.  I do not think things will suddenly get bright all of a sudden.  But I can tell you this much, that I will never turn from His grace or goodness.  I hang on them as a shipwrecked man clings to a log, out in the middle of the ocean.

I am most unorthodox, I know.  I do not fit the mold of the average believer.  I am too blunt, direct and disconnected. I have considerable issues, compounded by my mental illness. But I do know Jesus.  He has come to save the broken-hearted, and come as a physician to a very sick soul.  I trust Him to fix me. In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul writes us:

 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

It seems we stand on the threshold of a real and authentic life.  For some, we must work especially hard to understand  this walk of authentic discipleship.   Unquestionably, we must trust in His love.  But being stable and established will not save us. (Although, it would be nice). Salvation has always been by grace through faith.

My dysfunctional life doesn’t incur His rejection, the opposite is true.  He loves losers, and looks especially on losers who know they are very lost.

I especially want to encourage my brothers and sisters who struggle with a mental illness.  You’ve been dealt a severe blow.  Others will never understand your “limp.”  But Jesus does. You have a gift to bring to the table.  He can pour much more grace into you.  Don’t be discouraged by the resistance coming out of your thinking.  You are especially His.  He holds you with a transforming love.

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How Does Your Church See Mental Illness?

Going my way?
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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Speaking Out of Our Pain, [True Authority]

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In “Letters to a Young Poet“, the author deals with the subject of weakness, difficulty and trouble.  As a person who struggles with depression on a substantial scale and yet can try to speak the Word of God to his brothers this is remarkably good news.
-Rainer Maria Rilke

“Do not believe that he who seeks to comfort you lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good.

His life has much difficulty and remains far behind yours. Were it not otherwise he would never been able to find these words.”

*-Rainer Maria Rilke

@Inevitably, as Christians we  find ourselves helping other disabled people that have somehow worked  themselves into our lives.  The irony is that our illness has taught  us something, but somehow we don’t communicate well. Inevitably, we miss the point and speak even more confusion into their hearts. That is frustrating.

When we are finally work up the courage to speak, we seem to only deliver pious platitudes and inane ‘babblings.’ We know we can help them, but alas, we can’t do it. This is when we must meet the Holy Spirit first. Hearing Him will guide us and direct us. We will be able to speak something, that will really mean something.

We so want to be mature and wise.  We want to be in a position of strength. We aspire to that.  But the truth is, life doesn’t work that way. We are always sabotaged by our weakness. We discover that we have no place to go.

I believe life is constructed so that we’ll learn the reality of desperately humble prayer.

A child plays with two colors of “Play-Doh”.  After a while separating them is no longer possible.  The colors blend and become a completely different color.  As simple believers in Jesus this “mixing” can cause despair and frustration. We must live with the realities of being seriously weak and unconditionally loved, simultaneously. We must blend the two.

St. Paul would come to the conclusion that he “would boast in his weaknesses, that the power of God would be revealed in his life”.  It seems to us that “boasting” is a bit of exaggeration or hyperbole.  And “weaknesses”, are those terrible flaws that need to be painted over or ignored.  But we can’t seem to see them as the starting point of the spiritual life.  (Oh God, please teach us to boast in our flaws, to let You use our weaknesses.)

Strength comes in a frustratingly weird way.  It’s the very opposite of our heart’s inclination.  Admitting that I am weak is my starting point.  I suppose you might say that as a physically and mentally ill person,  I may have a step on the average person.  I can be strong because I am so pathetic.  I can speak something that may bring life and hope to someone else.

But I am distinctively flawed, and I can’t pretend that I am otherwise.  I now have the liberty to speak without pretense to my wounded brothers and sisters.  But let us have no foolish talk that I’ve been able to fix myself somehow.  That is not going to happen.

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