When Rags Became Grace

“Ebedmelech from Ethiopia was an official at the palace, and he heard what they had done to me. So he went to speak with King Zedekiah, who was holding court at Benjamin Gate. 9Ebedmelech said, “Your Majesty, Jeremiah is a prophet, and those men were wrong to throw him into a well. And when Jerusalem runs out of food, Jeremiah will starve to death down there.” 10Zedekiah answered, “Take thirty of my soldiers and pull Jeremiah out before he dies.”

11Ebedmelech and the soldiers went to the palace and got some rags from the room under the treasury. He used ropes to lower them into the well. 12Then he said, “Put these rags under your arms so the ropes won’t hurt you.” After I did, 13the men pulled me out. And from then on, I was kept in the courtyard of the palace guards.”

Jeremiah 38:8-13, CEV

At the very last, there was just one remaining.  A single man, Ebedmelech.  He was a Ethiopian; made a eunuch by the will of the king.  The situation in Jerusalem has gotten very difficult.  In an action of revenge and reprisal, certain men intend to kill the prophet Jeremiah.  They take a certain satisfaction in this, and Jeremiah is thrown into a very deep cistern.  They intend for him to starve to death, which is a terrible way to die.

The king in these last pathetic days is being manipulated by the surviving leadership of the city.  Zedekiah gives tacit approval for the destruction of Jeremiah.  He just lets it happen without a good reason.  The prophet is lowered in the muddy cistern.  Without food, he will soon starve.  In the minds of this evil mob, they have taken care of the any last vestiges of a godly ‘righteousness.’

But there is one, he is a wild card.  And no man would have guessed it.  Ebedmelech, the Ethiopian eunuch steps forward and decides to change history.  Not only his ethnicity, but his state as a castrated man are definite issues.  This mob never recognized him as someone who would intervene.  He was a non-entity, a non-factor. He was black, and a eunuch, a nobody.

But Ebedmelech is intervening, in the face of terrible risk, he steps out boldly to make an intercession.  He doesn’t appear to be intimidated, and makes a cry for the truth.  He becomes an intense and strong advocate for the release of Jeremiah from the deep mud.

Ebedmelech is given the ‘green-light’ by king Zedekiah. Ebedmelech rounds up thirty men to assist him as he delivers the prophet.  Ropes are brought out, and out comes Ebedmelech with a big armload of rags.  They shout down to Jeremiah.  The instructions are called down to him of what needs to take place for the extraction.

It’s interesting, but the rags are the most interesting. 

They are really an extra touch, not a necessity.  The rags become essentially, a form of grace.  They would pad the ropes, providing a degree of comfort as the prophet is pulled up out of the mud.  Ebedmelech showed the heart of God in what he did.  There was his desire to somehow make the prophet comfortable.  In doing so he communicated a kindness and concern that was saturated with God’s own enveloping presence.

Our illnesses– physical or mental, have moved us to a lonely place on the edge. 

We are those on the so-called ‘margins.’ Ebedmelech has now become a carrier of God’s grace.  Jeremiah could have been lifted up by just the ropes.  It would’ve been more difficult, granted.  But the rags sent down by Ebedmelech provided the prophet an extra gentleness.  And I am certain it did not pass by without notice.  Their mention in this Book of Jeremiah is significant, and shows Jeremiah’s deep appreciation of kindness.

We can gather up much from what has been written.  We will sometimes find ourselves in parallel situations.  But our kindness and concern can make the difference.  Admittedly, they are quite insignificant–quite minor. Call it ‘icing on the cake.’ But when you show the kindness of our Father, you will infuse the situation with love, and grace.  

So be an  Ebedmelech,—  an outcast perhaps– but in a position of kindness.

 

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Forgive, and Forgiven

“Man has two great spiritual needs. One is for forgiveness. The other is for goodness.”

–Billy Graham

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

–Henry Ward Beecher

“If you take care of yourself and walk with integrity, you may be confident that God will deal with those who sin against you. Above all, don’t give birth to sin yourself; rather, pray for those who persecute you. God will one day turn your persecution into praise.”

–Warren Wiersbe

“bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive.”

Colossians 3:13, CSB

 

 

Thanksgiving Starts in Our Hearts

The First Thanksgiving

“Let us thank God heartily as often as we pray that we have His Spirit in us to teach us to pray. Thanksgiving will draw our hearts out to God and keep us engaged with Him; it will take our attention from ourselves and give the Spirit room in our hearts.”

–Andrew Murray

“Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.”

Psalm 30:4

 

 

 

On Being Loved

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“The human heart is the most deceitful of all thingsand desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”

Jeremiah 17:9

For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.”

Romans 8:7-8

The reality is that we are in a real fix. The grim news isn’t changed simply because we graduated from a ‘charm school’ or become Eagle Scouts. We are fundamentally flawed, our hearts throughly contaminated. Any good we try to do is a ‘freak of nature,’ and astronomically beyond our ability. The race of men has failed. (Maybe that’s why history keeps repeating itself.) Without the presence of God, we would destroy ourselves. And each other.

The word “hostile” is used. That sort of sums it all up, doesn’t it?

God’s Constant Love for You

8 “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

Romans 5:8

Although we’re in active rebellion, “God so loved the world…” His love for us is called ‘agape,’ it is a word used in the New Testament, and it’s a love marked by consistency and selflessness. God loves without any conditions or merit on our part. Agape is love undeserved. The word is full of mercy, a concept very hard for us to grasp.

God’s love for us the way the universe is run. Love is what empowers Him to save us from our sins. It is the Lord’s love that draws us to Himself. Love is like a magnet that pulls us out of darkness into the light. His love for you is infinite.

“In math, if you divide an infinite number by any number, no matter how large, you still have an infinite quotient. So Jesus’ love, being infinite, even though it is divided up for every person on earth, is still infinitely poured out on each one of us!”

  Charles Spurgeon

You can trust the Lord to be fully loving you right this minute. It is a full and constant love— there is scarcely a human parallel. The ‘prophets’ exhaust language seeking a metaphor to explain God’s love to a doubting and disobedient people. I imagine they are frustrated; they can’t explain what they’ve seen. They try, and end up explaining God’s love by type: marriage, and motherhood.

Over and over, these two metaphors are used extensively. And over and over you can see the love of God for people (flesh and blood, like you and I) for us. He loves us like a husband loves his straying wife. He loves us like a father loves his struggling child. We stray and struggle, and we will find no peace apart from His love. After all we are His, and we really can’t ‘work right” apart from His guiding presence.

Look at His heart. See His hands.

They both bear us witness of a supreme love. He loves you right now— wrecked and ravaged by your sin. I don’t know where you are at this very moment, but I do know He loves you intensely. Sin may have destroyed you, but His love never, ever vacillates. God is passionate about you— He won’t let you go. But you must risk being loved.

“See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.”

1 John 3:1

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Like Well-Watered Gardens: Isaiah 58

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Feed the hungry,
    and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
    and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
    giving you water when you are dry
    and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like an ever-flowing spring.”

Isaiah 58:10-11, NLT

This is the precise key many need for this moment. It just could be as vital as your next breath.

You see our faith was never intended to be a personal ‘spiritual make-over.’ Discipleship was not meant to be about becoming a ‘new-and-improved’ person. That simply is not the message. There can be an emphasis placed on a selfish preoccupation with becoming better (and nicer) and we miss out on God’s real intent for His redeemed people. The difference is subtle but significant. We cannot sanctify our selfishness— no matter how hard we might try. 

For years I travelled under a misconception that God wanted from me ‘a better Bryan.’ I felt like a juggler trying to keep the balls moving. But by making this my focus, and not on others, I only exacerbated my mental illness. For me, my depression is only intensified when I look inside. Often I can’t see the needs around me. All I can see are my own issues (which are formidable.)

Isaiah prophesies a spiritual ’cause-and-effect.” If a person will only reach out to others will there be a spiritual blessing. Often we struggle because we don’t realize the implications of being spent for others. We become ‘a well-watered garden’ if we will only reach out to others. If we would only learn that it is when we give out— we receive. The kingdom is reciprocal in the way blessings come.

“And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Acts 20:35

The entire chapter of Isaiah 58 makes it a vital point to the people of God. Our own healing is contingent on becoming a blessing to others. If we will pour out we will be poured on. We become ‘a well-watered garden’ when we begin to serve others. Our own ‘healing’ will come when we reach out to the desperate needs around us. After all, isn’t that what we’re supposed to be about?

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Putting It Simply

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“But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:41-42, ESV

I tend to over-think things a lot. Everything gets so darn complicated. Often there is ‘a paralysis of analysis’ that gels into something stagnant and murky. I am definitely not the decisive person I admire from a distance. My illness is such that I can easily become “immobilized” in making simple decisions.

But I am aware of my desperate need of Christ Himself. My many issues demand a ‘heavy duty’ Savior, one who is capable of handling them. I guess I have tried many ‘gods’ and I haven’t found any of them who can take the load like Jesus can.

All that He has done in the Gospels, and all that He does presently declares to me his trustworthiness and power. My admiration for Christ as my Savior and Deliverer is written on the pages of the Bible. His present day ministry to me (and many others) is consistent with what I read about him in the Word.

And it is amazingly simple, when you think it through. He lived, died, and rose again for those ‘rebels’ who deserve death. The simplicity is profound. I do not have to be a Nobel Prize winner to understand. Without cheapening ‘redemption’ He has reduced things to a straightforward idea. He dies in my place, and now gives me his life to live.

I want to listen to Him. I want to come so close that I can hear the very inflection of his voice when he does speak to me. You see, we are built as communicators, and that is the part that ‘small gods’ can’t provide. They’re merely ‘dead idols.’

I so want to please him, even if he corrects me.

I want to learn at his feet, just as Mary did at her home in Bethany. Often I feel like I will probably be ‘the least of all the disciples’, but I’m okay with that. After all, it’s all about Him.

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“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

Revelation 3:20

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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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