Being Obscure Just Like Jesus

I am processing something right now. I suppose its implications have the potential of turning everything ‘upside down’ for me at least. Some scientists have postulated that our planet is due for a complete magnetic switchover. This is when north becomes south, and vice versa. My issues at this moment are not quite that cosmic, but nevertheless my own world is being ‘rocked.’

There are seven billion people now alive on this planet. They wouldn’t know me from any other person. Sometimes I wonder if many of my issues come from not seeing this, and putting far too much emphasis on my own self-esteem. It seems it is an intoxication of success. We become self-deluded. We think it’s about our effort, our giftedness, what we do with the opportunities God gives us. We desire to attain and ascend. Finding an eminence among our peers (or trying anyway). Pride drives us, even among believers.

3 “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”

Jesus was not driven like we seem to be. We truly think we need to be assertive, (at least the Christian version of it.)  Jesus’ message and teaching were all about emptying Himself of being God, and becoming a servant of servants. And this is the salient factor we so blithely fail to consider. Jesus wore a foot-washers towel, not a tiara. 

6 “Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

Can we avoid doing this? Does our discipleship include emptying ourself of self daily? Can I find a peace and fulfillment by becoming an unknown (except to God?)

“Humility is perfect quietness of heart, It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble.”   

Andrew Murray

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(All verses are from Philippians 2, NLT.)

 

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Ministry & the Mentally Ill

“Turning Your Back,” Russian Folk Art

Religious people love to hide behind religion. They love the rules of religion more than they love Jesus. With practice, the Condemners let rules become more important than the spiritual life. “

— Michael Yaconelli

Mentally ill people are rarely seen in our Churches.  We are pushed into hiding our true identity;  we can come out into the open, but only if we agree to play according to the rules–their rules.  We are expected to censor ourselves, and say proper things at the right time.  Pharisees [who are alive and well] insist on a level of purity that all must maintain. [Hey, I am not picking on anyone, it’s just a generality.]

If I say that I am depressed, paranoid, manic or desperate, I will upset the apple cart and muddle up everything.  “Truth?  You can’t handle the truth?”, [from the movie, “A Few Good Men”.] 

But– if we use our shortcomings as credentials– we have the ability to speak about grace, love and of self-acceptance, with real authority.

Christians with mental illnesses, have been given a gift that we are to share with the Church.  The Holy Spirit has sprinkled us into each fellowship of believers.  He places us who are presently afflicted and suffering into strategic places.

We are “sprinkled” throughout the Body. Our “gifts” are to speak to the Body, spiritually about a lot of things, but especially grace. We are bearers of grace. We’re the audio/visual department of the church.

If our fellowships become religious, it might be because we in our weaknesses, have allowed ourselves to be silenced into submission by the “interpreters” of scripture.  If we don’t like the rules, we are told to go elsewhere.  We are not welcome, they say with a thin smile.

But don’t you see, that is our moment to shine!  Our “unsightly” presence shouts out to the “wonderful” people, proclaiming grace in weakness.  Those who receive us, in a way, receive Him.  Those who turn from us, muffling us, are doing that to Jesus. Frightening, isn’t it?

I would strongly suggest that we take our illnesses into the open. 

That we become transparent before others.  As we do this, we can ‘oh-so-gently’ guide our fellowships into true grace and love.  They look at me and they see Jesus.  And that is our ministry as mentally ill people to the Church.  Our weaknesses are really our strengths.

9″ But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power  is perfected in weakness.”  Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.” 

10 “So because of Christ,  I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

                               2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NLT

 

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[This is a re-blog of one of our core teachings, originally posted 11/20/2009. I felt it was time to bring out of our musty old closet and set it before you again. I hope that it resounds deep within, and that it encourages those who must mix their discipleship with disability.]

 

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Tightrope Theology

As a person with a mental illness, it seems my issues are a matter of extremes.  Life seems uncontrollable; the wheels seem to always ready to come off of the wagon.  It strikes me as a semi-crazed place to be.  I look at the “norms” with envy, as their lives are crisp, healthy, and strong.

I once met a man that had a prophetic ministry who was speaking at a local church here in Alaska.  When I met with him, he looked at me intently.  He said many things, but the most significant was this. “You are an unstable man; you are like water.”  This was almost 30 years ago.  It has been an accurate prophecy and assessment since I heard it.  At first it stung, I hated it; but now, all these years later, I find a certain comfort in it.  God knows me; He understands.  I haven’t found any reason to be condemned for being Bipolar.

Those of us who walk the tightrope of sanity and insanity have One in heaven who not only knows us, but is on our side.  Hebrews 7:25 declares:

“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

I must realize that I am not the “bad apple in the barrel,” nor am I cursed.  Rather the opposite is true.  I am the richest of all men, because of His radical grace that gets extended to the weakest. Those who “touch” my life are blessed by their contact with me, and since I have been so unnaturally “graced,” they become blessed by His presence through me. WOW! I simply need to be me, and they are drawn to you.

The issues that a mentally ill person (and those who are often a struggler and a rascal) faces are formidable.  But without His promises they are impossible.  The secular view is just to create a “zero sum” game.  It is to bring a person to some stupefied place of stasis.  Not exactly up–but not down either.  Stable, sort of.

It is very good to be stable.  But my goal can not be stability, but an obedience to a supernatural God who loves me supernaturally.  I simply can’t live without knowing that.  However, when I know it, I can handle the tightrope.  I will start to walk a “supernatural” walk.

You could say that God has a hobby, or a specialty.  It is weak and handicapped people.

He loves working with us and in us.  And I have become very much convinced that He pours out special favor on those of us who struggle so difficulty, those of us who will never fit in or be ‘normal.’

We need to come to that real and authentically holy place where we see God. But also in that place, and at the same time, we need to see ourselves as well.  And actually, both are most critical.  They are done imperfectly— but both must happen, nevertheless.

I exhort you to take on your tightrope.  You will only stay upright and cross it if you are aware of His grand love and presence.  It is an amazing thing to balance and walk, and if we fall?  Well, we drop into His net.  Get back up, and get in line again.  Secure your heart into the love of God for your soul.

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God’s Authentic Artisans

photo: aalmarkllc.com

Sculpture is 3-D art. It can be made with marble, glass, metal, wood, plastics. It can be carved or cast, welded or painted. There can be sculpture using light, sound, water, kinetic (moving), land art, and environmental enhancements. It’s just one way to be creative, with many applications.

Sometimes we can define and confine sculpture far too simply or narrowly, but there are so many ways to communicate visual art. There are so many ‘cutting edge’ efforts, showing the creativity of people who are themselves created in the image of God. When we create, we emulate the Creator. It’s something worth pondering: God creates beautiful snowflakes, and we make ‘Styrofoam’ cups. (Hardly creative.)

There are over thirty uses of “skillful” people in the Old Testament alone. The Hebrew word used is carries with it the idea of “excelling at a task– an artisan.” When both the tabernacle and the temple were constructed, the Holy Spirit directly commanded the selection of artists and artisans to design beauty right into their work. There was nothing that was prefab or shoddy. The work done was meticulous and took patience.

13 And King Solomon sent and brought Hiram from Tyre. 14 He was the son of a widow of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in bronze. And he was full of wisdom, understanding, and skill for making any work in bronze. He came to King Solomon and did all his work.

1 Kings 7:13-14, ESV

I’ve come to the place where I see talented people, with enhanced skills in many places: they are mothers, fathers, mechanics, plumbers. They are teachers and nurses, lawyers and accountants. They all excel at what they do, and it’s great when they are acknowledged and honored. They are creative in their work, “and full of understanding.”

When they go to work, they will carry out their duties with a flair. Some will have an awareness of God’s presence– some may not be aware. I was hospitalized a few years ago, I remember quite clearly a lady who came in and mopped my floor. She was skilled at her task, thorough and even artful. Tears came as I thought about her working. I felt humbled by her kindness. She was truly a minister of God’s grace on that day.

There is a line from Bernandos novel, “A Diary of a Country Priest.” It’s at the very end of the book, and the protagonist is dying. His attendant was disturbed by his inability to get a priest to come and minister the Sacrament of Last Rites. The dying man, looked at his friend, “What does it matter? Grace is everywhere.” Looking at the housekeeper, that same line came to my mind– grace is everywhere!


The man who carved the flourish above is a master carver. He is also a pastor and lives in Florida. His website is at http://www.aalmarkllc.com/ and he has posted a short video on YouTube,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTIuxKz5joc&w=640&h=360. He is a true example of a great woodworker.

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Brokenness, Depression and Brennan Manning

I’ve put together a collection of quotes by my favorite author, Brennan Manning.  I have found that when he writes, he penetrates.  What he writes goes deep into the soul of this ex-junkie, loser, and mentally ill person—he tells me of God’s love like few have ever done. 

To Manning, every person is redeemable, none are too far gone.  Brennan Manning was a strong voice to the weak, the lame, the mentally challenged, and for the prodigal.


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“There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.”

My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”

 “To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.”

“To be alive is to be broken; to be broken is to stand in need of grace.”

“Christianity doesn’t deny the reality of suffering and evil… Our hope… is not based on the idea that we are going to be free of pain and suffering. Rather, it is based on the conviction that we will triumph over suffering.”

“I am what I am in the sight of Jesus and nothing more. It is His approval that counts.”

“[Be] daring enough to be different, humble enough to make mistakes, wild enough to be burnt in the fire of love, real enough to make others see how phony [you] are.”

“The blood of the Lamb points to the truth of grace: what we cannot do for ourselves, God has done for us. On the cross, somehow, someway, Christ bore our sins, took our place, died for us. At the cross, Jesus unmasks the sinner not only as a beggar but as a criminal before God.”

“Do the truth quietly without display.”

“It is for the inconsistent, the unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker.”

“The dominant characteristic of an authentic spiritual life is the gratitude that flows from trust—not only for all the gifts that I receive from God, but gratitude for all the suffering. Because in that purifying experience, suffering has often been the shortest path to intimacy with God.”

“I am deeply distressed by what I only can call in our Christian culture the idolatry of the Scriptures. For many Christians, the Bible is not a pointer to God but God himself… God cannot be confined within the covers of a leather-bound book. I develop a nasty rash around people who speak as if mere scrutiny of its pages will reveal precisely how God thinks and precisely what God wants.”

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him with their life style. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

“The saved sinner is prostrate in adoration, lost in wonder and praise. He knows repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven. It serves as an expression of gratitude rather than an effort to earn forgiveness.”

“In essence, there is only one thing God asks of us–that we be men and women of prayer, people who live close to God, people for whom God is everything and for whom God is enough. That is the root of peace.”

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I really hope some of these quotes have connected.  Brennan Manning has authored several books all of which I can heartily recommend. 

I blame him for this blog’s theme–that brokenness is our path out of depression: Bipolar, Schizophrenia, OCD, PTSD, Schizoaffective disorder, and addictions.

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Walking With the Lord Jesus, [Humility]

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The subject and emphasis on is becoming obscure— “just like Jesus.” I suppose my main contention is this– our understanding of discipleship has too much “me, and not enough Him.” This can be a gentle error of a young believer.

When Jesus who was the fullness of God in bodily form came, He came as a lowly slave. We see Him stripping down, filling a basin, and scrubbing dirty feet. He actively made Himself a broken and humble servant. It was deliberate and conscious.

Read Philippians 2. It will blow you away!

I think we learn this from Him. The disciple never exceeds his master. He made it very clear that we were to follow Him in this. It’s processed by us when we are very firmly aware that the One who knows us. To be loved by Him is enough (or is it?)

Exceptional effort is made by the Holy Spirit to help us understand. There is a repeated thought given to us in various permutations. In one of my favorite verses King David, standing in front of God, and his people, declared,

“But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us! 15 We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace.”

1 Chronicles 29:14-15, NLT

“We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.” This is the cheery assessment found in Ecclesiastes 1. This view irks us big time. Especially if we have invested so much in our wealth, gifts, experiences and accomplishments.

“Our days on earth are like grass;  like wildflowers, we bloom and die.  The wind blows, and we are gone— as though we had never been here.”

Psalm 103:15-16, NLT

In the New Testament, the emphasis is only stronger. Remember when James and John tried to get the corner on the authority and honor of being on “the right and left?” (My, but they were ambitious lads!)

“When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. 42 So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 43 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:41-45, NLT

There are two certain issues here:

  • The first is authentic discipleship.
  • The second is a decided and eager servanthood.

Both ideas are often missing in our churches, and in our teaching. Somehow we are not communicating the real transferable concepts. Their simplicity evades us.

I intend to return to this fairly soon. Again, I appreciate any constructive criticism, your own thinking on this, and your prayers.

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Creativity– Coloring Outside the Lines

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“So God created human beings in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.”

Genesis 1:27

“Christianity is not about learning how to live within the lines; Christianity is about the joy of coloring.”

— Mike Yaconelli (Dangerous Wonder)

I know that this is not Bible, I have thought a lot about this and I can see no direct biblical correlation.  But my topical Bible lists dozens of occupations requiring giftedness.  And I know deep down that our Father is full of creativity.  He has done things that are exceptionally innovative, he reveals imagination in everything he has created.  Think about a butterfly, or the color purple, or, wonder about a giraffe.  And your house cat is a work of intense beauty and motion that rivals anything found in the Louvre.

When we first begin to color with crayons, we are told that we must color in the boundaries.  Our picture will get taped up on the classroom wall if we can manage this feat.  We become aware that this ability is extrapolated into the different areas of living life.  The desire to be accepted and appreciated squashes anything creative we might do.

Perhaps, these issues that involve us being creative, do need to be stifled or shut down.  I suppose we could make a case out of this.  We definitely as believers should avoid these theatrics, and conform into a homogeneous place of acceptability.  The Japanese have a phrase, “The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.”  But I wonder, why then do we desire to create and imagine things? Why do I want to write, paint, dance, sculpt, sing, and play the guitar?

Each of us carries a deep sense of aesthetics  or what is beautiful.  We instantly understand beauty when we see it.  We stand in front of a Van Gogh in a museum, or before Michelangelo’s’ statue of David.  They collectively undo us.  We step back and take a deep breath.  One becomes gentle in the face of such wonder and beauty. And after all, we create really for “an audience of One.”

Dance of the Joyful Bride
Dance of the Joyful Bride

We were built for creativity and beauty.  It is part of our DNA.  It also means that we have been created in God’s image.  When we pick up our crayons, we are revealing his presence.  When we color, our Father notes what we have done.  Some may see a scrawling.  But they honestly do not matter.  The Father completely understands and is thrilled.

“It’s like you come onto this planet with a crayon box. Now, you may get the 8-pak, or you may get the 16-pak, but it’s all in what you do with the crayons–the colors– that you’re given. Now don’t worry about coloring inside the lines or outside the lines. I say, color outside the lines! Color right off the page!”

Waking Life

I’m of the firm opinion that we need to communicate to our children the wonderful gift of being creative.  We must release them, to imagine and be inspired.  We need to encourage them to use their crayons, even if they color outside the lines.

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