A Cross That Amuses Us

“If I see aright, the cross of popular evangelicalism is not the cross of the New Testament. It is, rather, a new bright ornament upon the bosom of a self-assured and carnal Christianity. The old cross slew men, the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it.”

–AW Tozer

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

Matthew 16:24, CSV

 

 

A Spellbound Captive of the Night

 

“We are all infected and impure with sin.
      When we display our righteous deeds,
      they are nothing but filthy rags.
   Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall,
      and our sins sweep us away like the wind.”

Isaiah 64:6, NLT

There are bad things that happen to us— the ugly, awful and rigorous things, that only God himself can explain.  We read theology and we read our Bibles, we listen dutifully to preachers but we still approach the throne of Jesus more mystified than anything else.

We are seem to be playing ‘ping-pong’ with the most challenging  issues.  We come to Him, because there is no one left who can answer things that have perplexed everyone else.  Why do we suffer?  Why does evil exist?  Why do people who live in blatant sin, succeed?  Why am I sick all the time?

If God is really God, why doesn’t he just give us an explanation about these questions?  Our title talks about being “spellbound.”  Are we really that inured, or attached with a sinister evil?  To be spellbound means we are being confused, drugged or hypnotised by something quite awful.  A cobra rises up, and opens its “hood.”  Its victim is entranced by what it sees in front-of-it.  He soon becomes supper.

Being held captive is a ordinary occurance for human beings.  Captivity brings us imprisonment.  Usually in a dark, dirty and unpleasant place.  But yet, it intrigues us so much, and the “light” is such a boring and dull thing.  We feel great as we trade the truth for lies.  But what a deal we reason; “step right up, and exchange it for the lie!”

 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

Ephesians 2:1-3, ESV

From this new and fresh influence we come under the control and will of ‘the dark side’.  (And this is not merely “Star Wars‘ mythos.  It is very much real.)  We gradually give ourselves over, in a reasonably predictable pattern.  We think we are pretty much unique in this, but the truth is that we are pretty much ordinary. Sin never enhances us. Don’t believe the lie.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”

John 3:19

There comes a point when there is enough momentum and weight, that it creates an avalanche. At this point things have gotten desperately grim.  From a human standpoint, there will be no way to avert the inevitable.  Sin will roll over you, blasting into your life, and worst of all into the hearts of your family.  In a stark way— things get very dark, very fast.

Sin will always enslave.  It will turn on you and rock your world. 

But we are so entranced by what it wants to give us.  It looks so good…one could call it “self-actualizing.”  (Maybe even “liberating!”)  But in one of the many purposes of the Old Testament, is to clarify what happens in people’s hearts when we step down and let the sin and confusion take over.  You could say, that there will be pleasure for a brief season, but  it will always have a very savagely grim and a black conclusion. ”For the wages of sin is death.”

“If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will then we may take that it is worth paying.”  

–C.S. Lewis

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To Be, Rather Than Seem to Be

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“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”

Genesis 3:6-7

The broken believer survives because he or she is constantly having to move toward “authenticity.” There exists a credibility and a realness about them. Talking you’ll suddenly realize that you’re talking with someone who is real. They’ve stepped out of the wreckage and have survived their personal catastrophes. This doesn’t come easy; it is a rarity and a gift.

On the other hand, we see those wrapped up in so much self-imposed deception that can’t admit anything is wrong. Like the problem drinker who denies he has a problem, we can’t handle the reality and drink to alter it. The addicted are compelled to live a delusion of their own choices, (for the most part anyway) and discover they are hopelessly trapped. And so we hide under our favorite bush. (Euphoria was my favorite.)

“When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:8

It really is a matter of esse quam videri (“to be rather than seem to be”– Saint Gregory.) We would rather be “seeming to be” than actually just “be.” The sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve are still using “fig leaves.” We don’t want to deal with the truth about ourselves and face the sin of our lives. But it seems to be more than that.

The struggler and the broken believer may try to conceal themselves. They may hold up an image that deflects the curious onlooker from seeing the real them. We won’t deal with the truth, and we choose to hide ourselves. We want to be seen as “together” even if we are not. It is all about looking good. This is pretense and sham. We dodge and deflect.

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”

John 3:19

 This was Jesus’ indictment of the human heart. I wish it was otherwise.

Each day I must put to death my old self. Take my meds, and ask the Lord for strength to become real. No more pretense, and no more projecting a false self to others (and myself.) I choose reality over fantasy.

The Holy Spirit is eagerly waiting to fill me. In this I discover I can live well with the strength and joy He gives me.

______________________

“The God who can change a sinner into a Christian by giving him His life can equally transform the fleshly Christian into a spiritual one by giving him His life more abundantly.”

—Watchman Nee

“Lord Jesus, may it be that the real me meets the real you. Make me real and authentic. Amen.”

 

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The Inertia, [Apathy]

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“Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings.”

Helen Keller

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As I suffer with manic depression I have come to see that much grief comes not from mania, and not from the debilitating depression. These are both substantial, but my biggest issue has to do with the inertia that lies between these two poles. There is a paralysis– an apathy that immobilizes me. And this is as bad as any other state of mind.

“And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people answered him not a word.”

1 Kings 18:21

My passivity is disturbing, and bipolar disorder is as much of “detachment” as it is of extremes. I sit and stare, not able to motivate myself to get up and do something. I’m not really depressed, but nor am I manic– I’m just “there” unable to find energy to do anything. Life just rolls over me.

Perhaps the most deadly sin is this “faltering between two opinions?” We are content to just sit and watch with no commitment. We’re content to let things just roll on by as we sit in our inertia and passiveness. This is the part of my BP that scares me the most (or at least it should.)

If you suddenly went up in flames I wouldn’t stir. Yes, it would get my attention, but I probably wouldn’t do anything, (I’d probably just take notes for my book.)

Inertia is not just a part of a mental illness. It effects normal people as well, and there are degrees of it. The average person it seems will avoid making a real decisive decision at all costs. Inertia can be encountered in any church (ask a pastor who tries to get volunteers) or workplace.

In his day, Elijah cried out for a decision from the Israelite people. I have to believe he was disturbed not only by the idolatry– but by the passiveness of the bystanders. Their neutrality was a big issue.

Joshua would call out to a passive people these words:

“But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua 24:15

I know my own heart, and I know my own spiritual paralysis. Rather than commit myself, I would rather settle down on a sofa and just let things happen. I’m quick to point out how those in the arena are doing it all wrong. I’m ready to criticize, but unwilling to volunteer.

Mental illness is filled with ordinary things, but often in the wrong proportions. When we do things it is extreme or not at all. My own apathy is just a mirror of what happens in the hearts of normal people.

I may be excessive, but my own issues have made me aware of what is happening in others.

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“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

–Theodore Roosevelt

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When You Need to Cover Nakedness

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“And don’t build an altar that requires steps; you might expose yourself when you climb up”.

Exodus 20:26

“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.”

1 Peter 4:8

While I lived in the SOS Ministry house in the Mission District of San Francisco a dear brother taught me this principle.  Living in Christian community is a really wonderful thing.  But it also could be a challenge at times.  What Michael shared, allowed my understanding to grow to meet the need of the moment.

The principle is this:  

We are called to cover up our brother’s nakedness.

 Throughout the scripture “being naked, or nakedness” is always a shame.  It comes welded to the concept of being vulnerable or exposed to the sight of everyone else.  It also carries the idea of sin; it is sin that everyone can see; it is very obvious.

For those of us who often sin, we evolve the idea of keeping a lid on it, and being secretive with it.  There will be people who will never know.  Often sex sin, drug and alcohol sin, both are kept hidden from view of family and friends, and the Church.

Noah and His Nakedness, Genesis 9

“Noah became a farmer and planted a vineyard. When he drank wine made from his grapes, he became drunk and lay naked in his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, looked at his naked father and told his brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth got a coat and, carrying it on both their shoulders, they walked backwards into the tent and covered their father. They turned their faces away so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.”  

Genesis 9:20-24

It’s hard to process this patriarch’s gross sin.  But in all fairness Noah had lost everything in the flood, so perhaps we should be gentle with him. On the other hand, people who cover up the nakedness of others seem to be gentle and humble.  They would never, ever dream of making a scandal.  They are trustworthy and understand to a great degree the things that make a man or woman of God.

Leviticus 18 is the “magnum opus” of nakedness. We are pretty much told over and over in this chapter, not to ever uncover another. Actually is pretty emphatic and somewhat redundant. But I think the Lord wanted it repeated this way.

Our vulnerabilities are there for all to see.  But there are also men and women who go out of their way to protect and shield.  They are safe people, in the classic sense of the word.  They cover-up, but never in negative or criminal way, but in love and blessing. (If it is a serious crime, the police should be involved.)

Mature believers will step forward and protect the open areas of others. 

Quite often we are exposed, open to attack on our weaknesses.  Mature believers will step forward and protect the open areas of others.  They will refuse to judge or point out sins.  But they will stand in the gap, shielding and protecting.

God’s final word on nakedness is in Revelation 3:18, and this is a good place to conclude this post,

“So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see.”

*

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Has God Given Up on You?

 

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13 “If we are unfaithful,
    he remains faithful,
    for he cannot deny who he is.” 

2 Timothy 2:13, NLT

There can be times of a great despair; when sin or sickness is definitely in the spotlight. Losing hope is an easy response for mere mortals like us. There can be a place where the darkness won’t lift; and it’s at that point you realize that you’re simply in over your head.

I know that feeling quite well. I have bipolar disorder and I tend to camp out at the margins where it seems like the grace of God evaporates in the heat of the moment. Whether it is my sin or circumstances, I occasionally feel pretty much abandoned, and it usually is something self-inflicted. We have this glaring tendency to put ourselves in where we should not have been. And condemnation means no comfort can get through to us.

We wonder if God has finally given up on us, throwing us on the trash heap of lost souls. We might feel that is what we deserve.

“Many are saying about me, “God won’t rescue him.” 

Psalm 3:2

In Psalm 3, David has come to the realization that his sins have “tainted” him. He talks of many enemies that have suddenly gathered, and they are claiming that David was now outside of God’s grace and favor. The theology of this seemed logical. David had sinned greatly. And just perhaps he had. David’s sin of adultery and murder was heinous and depraved. His enemies suggested that God would now abandon him.

Our own sin may be excessive, but God’s faithfulness is extreme.

”Lord, your love reaches to the heavens, your loyalty to the skies.’

Psalm 36:5

The grace of God is limitless. It is beyond human comprehension or reasoning. When he committed himself it was for forever. King David understood this, and would survive the devastating fall-out from his sins. Indeed he would reap all that he sowed (Gal. 6:7-8).

You see, Jesus has taken all your sin upon himself,  and that includes your faithlessness. He has done this astonishing thing out of the deep depths of His love and mercy. We don’t deserve it and we can’t pretend it is something else. A heart welded to His knows this. We are “saved by grace through faith.”

Do you still feel God has abandoned you forever? Dear one, there is an unholy war on the saints that Satan is waging. He hates your simple trust in God and will shake it anyway he can. He blisters believers hoping to discourage them. And he doesn’t fight fair.

“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:“I have  loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”

Jeremiah 31:3

Christ will always accept the faith that puts its trust in Him. You must only rest in His kindness and love.  He will not abandon anyone who puts even a feeble trust in Him. When we turn from our sin, God will always turn to us. Always believe it, for it is true.

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Having a Nervous Breakdown

nervous-breakdownThe phrase “nervous breakdown” is a common term used to describe any sort of severe mental distress. It can mean a variety of things: clinical depression, to manic episodes, to hearing voices (or schizophrenia). It is a broad term which can describe many different issues, but especially the most flagrant and public ones.

People who have had a nervous breakdown are very often considered flawed or weak. Their weakness has become public. And so often there is the need for secrecy. At all times and in all places, a solidity must be projected (even if it is unreal). So many don’t realize how much effort it takes some people to act normal.

We are what we are. And Jesus wants us to walk in the truth. Certainly we should never indulge in exhibitionism nor to flaunter our issues before others purposefully. Rather we “are to have the mind of Christ.” All we are is what he wants us to be, (Read Romans 8, and be encouraged).

I think “brokenness” is the only way to handle this spiritually.

We must see ourselves as broken people being made whole be the blood of Christ. We are twisted and torn with many issues and concerns. Perhaps genetically or socially flawed, yet we each stand open to God. It’s necessary is to see that his power and grace can never be restricted, no matter how complicated we are.

Just perhaps we are the modern equivalent of the biblical version of the leper. We are “unclean,” and must make it known publicly. But as lepers we are close to the heart of Jesus. He has always had mercy on such as we. And on the margins we find he is seeking us out. We will stand, because he makes us stand.

“Spirituality is not about being fixed; it is about God’s being present in the mess of our unfixedness.”

Mike Yaconelli

6 “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 1:6

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