The Kingdom is a Family on Their Way to a Party

Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

 Mark 3:35

There is a hidden mechanism lying in wait for us in this verse.  The fact that it is there at all borders on our sense of reason and the fantastic.  To be a brother, or a sister to Jesus is almost absurd.  (And to be a mother is really pushing the envelope.)  This verse is a true wonder! Too good to be true for a rascal like me.

But it’s not how we see ourselves, it is how Jesus Christ sees us.  He sees us promoted and “and raised us up with him and seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:6). Ideally, family– as it’s designed to be– is in a level of intimacy exceeding all others.  I have two younger brothers and in spite of not communicating for months we just ‘tune-in” to each other.  When we do meet, it is on the same wavelength.

I’m going to shift gears on you now.  I devoutly believe that the Kingdom of God, which includes the Church, “flows” through relationships between people.  Some believe it flows through a denomination, or other structure.  But it doesn’t.

The Kingdom connects and grows when believers have personal contact with each other.  The Church is not chiefly an organization– but it is an “organism.” I value my relationships, because they have life in them!  Are you trying hard to do God’s will in an area?  Try moving towards personal contact with another.  (I find that is often the way God leads me.)

Back to Mark 3:35.  “Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”  This verse is not for everyone.  One doesn’t relate to Jesus on this illustrious level automatically.  The promise can only be triggered through obedience.  What we do is the evidence of what we believe.  (I told you it was too good to be true! 🙂 )  We ascend into family when we do God’s will.  There are no short-cuts to intimacy like this.

But there is no other way to a closer and intimate relation to Him.  And He has no favorites among His children, only intimates.

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Forgiven First

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This evening I got tired of the TV. Or maybe tired of the control it emits over me. I picked up one of the many Bibles I have in my loft. I do think it is ‘funny/sinister’ of the real pressure it takes to open its pages. I have no doubt it is the darkness of my flesh and the wickedness of demons. Melodramatic? I think not.

But this is what I read and thought.

“Jesus climbed into a boat and went back across the lake to his own town. Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man,“Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.”

Matthew 9:1-2, NLT

Jesus is mobile. He moves and goes where His Father goes. At this moment He is needed in Capernaum. He is to meet a small crowd– and a paralyzed man on a mat. Jesus travels, but this man can only be carried. So Jesus Christ the Son of God, comes to him.

The Lord’s eyes alertly move over these people. People are the reason He came. This crippled man has been waiting. Jesus looks, and all He sees is “faith.” And He knows that the Father has led Him here.

The Word says that He could see their faith. Funny. What does faith look like? It seems like that is the first thing He saw, and noted. I’m not sure about the man on the mat. Did he have faith? Or had it been ‘burned out of him’ by too many doctors, and too many ‘treatments’? It is good to surround yourself with others who will believe when you can’t.

Jesus finally spoke, and its worth noting His first utterance was to proclaim forgiveness. Not healing. Forgiveness! What did this man’s friends think? I see them feel tenative, and maybe a bit shocked about this. What evil did their friend commit? What had he hidden from them, the way we try to hide things from each other?

The healing is going to come. This man will stand. He will carry his mat and go home. (V. 6). But perhaps the paralysis wasn’t the main reason he was there.

Maybe, his biggest need was to be forgiven?

Man has two basic needs.

  • One, to be forgiven of awful sin. Washed and cleansed. Forgivemess.
  • Two, to become a good person. Kind and humble. Healing.

There will always be those looking on who will condemn and challenge what is taking place. For them, it has nothing at all to do with the hearts of people. That means nothing to them. Rather for these, it has to do with a rigid and lifeless religion– with its 613 laws, and tithing of dill and mint.

What do you really need? Forgiveness? Or something else? Psalm 103:3-4, are verses for the redeemed.

“He forgives all my sins
    and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
    and crowns me with love and tender mercies.”

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“God pardons like a mother, who kisses the offense into everlasting forgiveness.”  

Henry Ward Beecher

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Loyalty to Our Friends

Completely Loyal

“Loyalty and truth preserve the king,
         And he upholds his throne by righteousness.” 

Prov. 20:28

 “Through these fields of destruction, baptism of fire
I’ve watched all your suffering, as the battles raged higher
And though they did hurt me so bad, in the fear and alarm
You did not desert me, my brothers in arms”

Dire Straits, ’84

Loyalty, and our deep committment to our “brothers” and our “sisters” should be growing in your life right now.  It should be “escorting” you to a deeper sense of intimacy with each other.  About 20 years ago, I visited a Lutheran church on a Sunday service.  There was a point in the liturgy when you were to greet the people around you.  I remember grabbing a guy in the pew in front of me.  I gave him a massive bear hug, squeezing the air from him.  He was my brother, even though he was a stranger!  I hung on tight to him.  He was my brother.

In Bible times David and Jonathan had a friendship that defied political reasoning.  Jonathan was supposed to be the next king of Judah, everything had been arranged by his father, Saul.  But when David came into Jonathan’s life, everything was changed.  An instant friendship changed everything.  They would remain loyal to each other for the rest of their lives. I believe they are a model of what we are to each other, in the church.

I will confess to you, I have neglected so much in my spiritual walk.  There is a lot I am ashamed of. I have sinned more as a Christian, than I ever did before I came to Christ.   As a Christian, I have sinned quite vigorously.  But one thing, I have held to beyond all else.  I loved my brothers.  They all know who they are!  I can list them if you want.  But in the final analysis, I have been faithful to them.  I’m pretty stupid, in so many ways.  But it seems that at this particular level, things are simplified.  “Do you love, Allen?  Of course I do, Father: even if he is in a strange and difficult place, I love my brother; always, and forever.”

Loyalty to those who have been brought into our lives, should not ever be diminished or explained away for what we call “logical reasons.”  There should be a connection that should never, ever be terminated.  Some of the brothers who I connected to in the ’80s, are no longer serving the Lord.  But as I think of them, there is a relationship that can’t be broken, even by their disobedience.  I still love them deeply.

Being loyal to someone, does not mean you honor their choices, or their sin.  It seems that the issues they grapple with, can’t ever really erode or diminish your love for them.  When I was a boy, on occasion we declared a “blood” oath with each other.  It was almost “ceremonial,” we would cut our thumbs and meld with each other, mixing blood with blood.  If only commitment and loyalty were that easy.  But this is the definition of an “agape love.”

I believe the Holy Spirit sees, and honors loyalty.  But I admit, I’m not doing this things for His blessing.  Rather it is a compulsion, something I know is right; something I will do until they bury me.  And I honestly can’t explain it. But they will always be  my “brothers in arms.”

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Interruptions: A Litmus Test for Disciples

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”

1 Thessalonians 3:12

“Our love to God is measured by our everyday fellowship with others and the love it displays.”

Andrew Murray

There is an awesome need for Christians who can be interrupted.  They have learned that their personal plans and agendas should be set aside for the acute need of the moment.  People like that are becoming receptive people–people who have learned to submit their wills to the Lordship of Christ.

There seems to be a lot of believers who have isolated themselves in order to avoid ‘complications’ of the Spirit.  Over the years they have cultivated a life without entanglements from others (at least, greatly reduced).  The basic root of this is not sin, but it quickly slides into an isolation that is not just threatening, but dangerous.

We are built for fellowship.  We need it— like my goldfish needs its water.  

Our brothers and sisters need us, and we most definitely need them.  In the Apostle’s Creed we read, ‘I believe in the Communion of the Saints’.  This takes a supernatural faith.  This dynamic of the Body calls us to fellowship with other believers, which is our desperate need of the moment.  Deep within, we crave human contact.  We need to touch someone else.

Being interruptible establishes several things. I think these questions are a simple starting point.

  • First, I have become approachable and tractable?
  • Second, is Jesus really Lord over my life?  (Or do I have my ‘own thing’ going?)
  • Third, do I really believe ‘something’ is going to happen when I begin to fellowship?
  • Fourth, is it really worth it?
  • Fifth, what is more important: People or my schedule?

Years ago I learned that every servant who really excelled had become a man or woman that could be interrupted.  And they respond in grace and kindness to every issue that came.  You’ll never hear them get frustrated or even irritable over being disturbed.  They simply have surrounded themselves in the will of God, and are His servants.

What is more important: a schedule or people?

There are ‘skills’ we need to learn for Christian community.  We have touched on some as we have matured.  We have practiced with this holy concept, and caught glimpses, many which translate into our present spiritual lives.

“Some Christians try to go to heaven alone, in solitude. But believers are not compared to bears or lions or other animals that wander alone. Those who belong to Christ are sheep in this respect, that they love to get together. Sheep go in flocks, and so do God’s people.”

Charles Spurgeon

God’s great quest is to make those who have been redeemed into a cohesive body.  He takes a special delight in the harmony of His Church.  He is very passionate about this.  His proclivity to unity must be noted.  We must adjust and do all that is necessary to make it happen.  This dear one, is His will.

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The Gentile Woman, Matthew 15:21-28

This is a chapter from my book, “They Met Jesus: Stories from the Gospels.” Hope you like it!

Chapter 6

The Gentile Woman, Matthew 15:21-28

Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Gentile woman who lived there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.”

23 But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. “Tell her to go away,” they said. “She is bothering us with all her begging.”

24 Then Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.”

25 But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!”

26 Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

27 She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.”

28 “Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed.

I grew up watching the sea, it always brought me peace. I loved its serene beauty. My girl loved flowers. As a little child, I remember her making daisy chains, and the way she laughed. When the darkness came she was never was the same. I stood by and helplessly watched Satan consume my daughter.

She was sick. Sick with something evil and dark. Somebody said it was demons, but she was possessed by something I didn’t fully understand, and I had immense hatred for it. I was angry for what it had done to my precious little girl. I hated the darkness that stole her heart.

That’s when a neighbor told me about the Jewish healer that might help us. That gave me hope. We already wearing out our welcome at the local temples. We had recently returned from nearby Eshmun, a pagan temple specializing in healing. The priests knew us by name. But my daughter’s condition seemed to worsen.

I made the decision to see Jesus. As a Canaanite woman I knew it wouldn’t be easy. We were not Jews and we were accustomed to being treated poorly. I knew there would be conflict. But I would do whatever it took to see him. I believed he would help us.

We came to see Jesus at the house he and his disciples were staying at. Standing outside the door I began to plead for my daughter, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is possessed by a demon.” I spoke as plainly as I knew how. I spoke from my heart.

Jesus seemed to ignore my pleas. So I kept asking. I suppose I made his disciples uncomfortable, but you have to understand, I had no place to go. He had to heal her. I couldn’t go home without seeing him.

The disciple were advising Jesus to send me away. They knew I was a Gentile woman and they could take no time with me. I felt the silent rage of racial prejudice. Still I stayed, and I continued to beg.

Then Jesus finally turned to me and said, I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.” My heart almost broke. But I knew if he would only listen to my need he still might help me.

I came and worshiped him and then I continued to plead. I must make him see, he was my only hope at that moment. “O Jesus, help me!”

Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

I cringed inside. The Jews call the Gentiles dogs. I felt the rebuke and I struggled to respond.“That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.” I firmly believed that was the proper thing to say.

Dear woman,” Jesus said to me, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And my daughter was instantly healed. In that moment she completely recovered. I saw the darkness lift and light returned to her eyes.

Yesterday my daughter and I went to the seashore together. I went to see the ocean and she picked flowers. She is completely recovered. My heart is full of praise to the Living God who hears a desperate woman’s cries. I know that he is full of mercy.

Jesus, many of the people I meet are sick inside, let me be a light for them to see by. Evil is all around, but you rule over it, Help me to see your power and grace. Amen.

 

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Together, for Each Other

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“The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.” 

–John Wesley

There isn’t really a place for the individual in our walk of discipleship.  This is a most exceptional truth.  You might say that our society here in the U.S. is expressed in the ‘Marlboro Man’ who rides alone.  “High Noon,” (my favorite Western) is based on a solitary man who stands when other won’t.  The message of individualism saturates this movie. Like Gary Cooper, I think I have to face the bad guys alone.

But I think we need to understand that we are connected to other believers.  In fact, I believe that the Holy Spirit works quite distinctly in ‘generations.’  Whether we like it or not, each of us is connected to our generation.  We are responsible for our own time and place. I’m a child of the Sixties, it’s what makes me tick.

Stellar individuals like Charles Spurgeon and D.L. Moody spoke directly to their generation.  They were voices in the late 1800s.  They connected to their particular milieu, but were surrounded by many praying believers.  Their ministries and sermons, were founded upon the prayers of many saints.  Their ministries were an extension of many people. They were surrounded by other believers.

We are connected with others who are also connected. We are organically related and that needs to be understood.  It’s funny about that, we are called a “body.”  This is a difficult concept for us to understand.  But we need to know that you are not so much solitary, but woven into the life of others. The Church is plural and it happens when believers join together.

We need to understand that the Christian life is not solitary.

If this makes you curious, check out the word “together” in New Testament.  We can reflect on this, and think out what that really means. Just a few scriptures:

“From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”  

Ephesians 4:16, ESV

“For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part.”

1 Corinthians 11:17-19

“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Hebrews 10:24-26,

And there is at least a dozen or so more.  The idea– ‘together,’ is only a start, and we need to understand that the Christian life is not solitary. The Father melts our independence, and then molds us with each other to make us into something new.  Whether we like it or not, we are “together.”

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Always Like Little Children [Always]

 

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 “About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Matthew 18:1-3, NLT

I used to think that maturity meant sophistication, something to out-grow. Applying it to spiritual matters was a natural fit. I tried hard to accelerate things and attempt to move beyond simple basics of the faith. Jesus’ cadre of disciples needed this lesson. They were given very specific and pointed instruction:

One day some parents brought their little children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But when the disciples saw this, they scolded the parents for bothering him.Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

Luke 18:15-17

“Children are the hands by which we take hold of heaven. ”  

Henry Ward Beecher

Jesus makes a special effort to get his followers to see their need. He voices the dictate that they must become children again; that they must learn that the basics are the core. Real faith remains childlike even as it gets old.  As we see the children that are in our midst, we should see in them the pattern for us as we connect with the Lord, and with each other. It’s a paradox, but we mature as children, and this doesn’t ever change. Jesus told us that the Kingdom belongs to those whose faith is childlike.

Childlike faith seems to have three focuses:

  1. Areas of intimacy, in the presence of the Lord as sons and daughters,
  2. Areas of relationships, between each other as brothers and sisters
  3. Issues of spiritual warfare,  facing the daily battle with sin and darkness.

Holding a child’s faith works its way into us in deep ways. At its essence is a humility (mixed with brokenness) that shapes how we move through our lives. There would be many embarrassed people if they were suddenly clothed in nothing but their humility. (I think we should make more of it then we do.)

Becoming a person of childlike faith will take a lifetime, that is why we should start now.

“God created the world out of nothing, and so long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us.”  

Martin Luther

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