Proximity is Your Choice

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23″Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
   you hold my right hand.
24You guide me with your counsel,
   and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
   And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
   but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Psalm 73, ESV

Continuity is a medicine for us who are always on the edge of losing control.  One patriarch in the Book of Genesis was told that “he was unstable as water.”  And this pretty much describes me as I struggle with Bipolar Disorder.  But the promise from Psalm 73 is for a continuous presence.  There is no flickering, no jumping about.  He is steady.  He does not flit or fluctuate.  He is always, and forever, constantly focused with you.

He provides guidance, ‘free of charge’.  We can experience many confusing days.  We make the attempt to walk through them, but we quickly grasp our ineptitude.  It goes very much better when He is speaking into our hearts.  Since He is present with us on a continuous basis anyway, let us turn to Him for direction.

There is a realization in verse 25. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”  This statement declares “point blank” who and what is real.

The psalmist has an ‘umbilical cord’ attached to heavenly places.  This feeds him and gives him a radical strength to stand up and ‘to be’.  He is completely over with the things of this earth.  He desires only heavenly things, that which really matters after looking down the long corridors of eternity.

In verse 26 he admits a desperate weakness.  He understands the foolishness of his flesh.  He knows that it is pathetic  and feeble.  There is absolutely nothing he can do about this.  He has tried and tried repeatedly.  His heart is like a colander that drains away all the grace and mercy that comes.  He can hold nothing. He must stay under the faucet.

But still, there is a profound realization that God is strengthening his heart.  He has done this on an eternal level.  What this means is this:  He has touched me and by that touch has made me eternal, like Him.  The rest of this Psalm extends and states certain things that the Psalmist has learned himself.

 27″For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
   you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28But for me it is good to be near God;
   I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
   that I may tell of all your works.”

Psalm 73, ESV

 Proximity determines everything.  Some will bounce to the other end of the spectrum.  Being close to Him confers life.  Moving away from Him brings nothing but certain death.  The issue in this Psalm is of ‘unfaithfulness’.  This is a biggie.  Being unfaithful means treachery, and a wagon load of deception, and nothing good will ever come from it.

“Every man is as holy as  he wants to be.”

AW Tozer

The Psalmist again deals with proximity.  God draws a person, but coming near is always your choice. The Psalmist sees that his “nearness to God is my good.”  He realizes that by taking refuge in God there is something that will be quite wonderful.  There is some effort that must happen.  So he makes God his refuge.  The Lord God is now a ‘bomb shelter’ or a covering for our souls.  He continues this process with the deep commitment to sharing ‘the works of God’.

 

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Discipleship is Intimacy

Intimacy with Jesus

There is so much good about any emphasis the Church puts on discipleship.  We pray, fast, and study the Bible better than any other generation.  We have as our pastors and teachers men and women equipped in our seminaries in Greek and Hebrew, educated in counseling and Church growth.  We are doing missions with the best of them.

But there is something amiss.  I believe we have misplaced intimacy.  Our worship services seem mechanical.  We are no longer in a wild love affair with the One who really matters.  We no longer just spontaneously think of Him, crying out for His mercy and love.

It could be that the evangelical Church in America has passed its expiration date.  We have grown confused, and have struggled with an emptiness that is at the core of a legalistic and a works dominated life.  We do not cry out with a passionate love for Him who desperately wants to hold us close.

The Book of Song of Solomon is the love story between a shepherdess and her beloved.  This love is a love that envelops and controls a person’s entire being.  Her love is intense as well as thirsty.  She needs her shepherd.  There is an element of being ‘lovesick’ and never settling for a second best relationship with her beloved.

Biblical discipleship must always be intimacy with Jesus.

In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul writes about his deep concern for that particular Church,

2 “For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ. But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent.”

There is jealousy involved here (which is suspect by us) and a foolishness (which is embarrassing) and is emotional.  This passage suggests a higher and purer following of Jesus that Satan wants to corrupt.  Paul was concerned that these Corinthians would not be a pure bride.  He got jealous over their vulnerability. He believed that they would miss the bridal love that they possessed.

I want to challenge you to keep the innocence of your relationship with Jesus. Guard it and refuse to be led away from its simple devotion.  Love with a white hot love.  Learn the language of romance again and remember that your discipleship is not an end in itself.  Biblical discipleship is intimacy with Jesus. We must settle on this in our hearts. The true foundation of discipleship can only be a kind of ‘first love’.

“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!”

Revelation 2:4

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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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Quarantined, for His Purposes

 

quarantine

Quarantines are a real possibility, even in this day. A quarantine is imposed when disease is contagious enough that it would harm a society: Measles, Smallpox, and the recent Ebola Virus  are just a few physical diseases where strict isolation must be imposed. It can be severe— an epidemic, with desperate consequences if not adhered to; in some rare cases, the use of deadly force have been authorized to maintain a quarantine until the disease is no longer communicable.

This may surprise you, but there are examples of ‘quarantines’ in the Bible. The term ‘unclean’ was used for ‘leprosy.’ Those afflicted must isolate themselves; they had to ‘announce’ their presence when in contact with society. Lepers lived in groups away from the general populace as a result of their disease.

In Paul’s epistle to the Corinthian he addresses another kind of ‘quarantine.’ The situation was dire; the church had advocated a Christian living with his father’s wife.

“I have already passed judgment on this man in the name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church. I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus. Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns.”

1 Corinthians 5:3-5, NLT

Understanding the Principal of Usefulness

20 “Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor.”

2 Timothy 2:20, NASB

Found in God’s pantry are many things. Paul writes Timothy about the ‘large house’ which is the Church inclusive. Look around Timothy, there are gold ones, and there are silver ones. They have a noble purpose fitting for such a great house. These are the ones the guests will use; they befit the significance of the Lord himself. These vessels have great value for they are made of precious metals.

There are vessels of a different category. These are the ones made of wood, and of clay. These are part of the household, make no mistake about it. But their use is one of function, they’re used in common ways. (A clay ‘bed-pan’ perhaps?!)

21 “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.”

2 Timothy 2:21

Paul, the author of New Testament doctrine of grace emphasizes the place of personal holiness. We are to ‘cleanse’ ourselves to become a vessel of honor. There is good news here:

  • All are vessels in the Father’s house. Each of us belong to Him. He determines their use.
  • Things are not yet in their final state. Change in status can be experienced. Clay pots can become ‘golden.’ Silver can become ‘wood.’

Some sin is contagious. It effects other believers and the Church. Sometimes we are quarantined by the Holy Spirit until the contagion passes. I have experienced this several times in my own discipleship. These are not pleasant times. But there is no condemnation. I’m still His servant, His love for me stays outrageously constant. God waits for me.

Yes I am His servant, and I must wait out in the hall. I haven’t been faithful. So I sit in His waiting room, waiting for His call. This is for my good, and for the Church. And Father knows best.

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On Being Loved

risk-being-loved

“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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Loving Others (Like Jesus Loved Us)

 

““A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.””

– John 13:34-35

What is “love” like?  How do we consistently understand love when we fall short of it all the time?

We understand love by coming to know Jesus.  He not only explains it, but He also exhibits it–He puts it out in the public eye for all to see.  His explanation of what love is will mean a cruel death in order to save us.  When Jesus dies, I am saved.  My salvation has absolutely nothing to do with me– and everything to do with Him, and all that He has done.

Jesus helps us to see others.  He makes a definitive statement, that we are to love others.  We are to use what He has done for me, as an example.  What Jesus did is the pattern, the prototype.  We are to be the photostat or mimeograph.  As believers we are to be captured and drawn into this approach.

We are to find someone, and then, in some sense, ‘die’ for them. That is the way God’s love is.

That very strong word, must in verse 34 cannot escape our attention.  It implies a deep and a very definite commitment to doing that is beyond us.  We ‘must’ connect and receive all that moves through our life.  We love the unlovely, and this is irrational. God says that people are worth crucifixion. We’re the criminals, and the judge has sentenced us. And then He Himself has decided to pay our penalty. This is ‘agape’ love.

We must love accurately. We should love the way He loves us.  We cannot do anything less. 

But the love of Jesus is tracking each wanderer.  He is working to connect with every person on this planet.  No one escapes His view, or His love.  Everyone who belongs to Him, is required to know this.  Our Lord is definitely not going to move if there are still “seekers” still out there.  He leaves no one behind.

Loving others will require a significant broadening of the way we see things.  We purposefully lift up Jesus because He lifted us.  We exalt Him because we have discovered we are so pitiful.  We must be convinced, that His way, is the way of the cross.

We must love more accurately —the same way He loves us.  We cannot do anything less.  For many of us, love is just a concept–a way of feeling ‘warm and fuzzy’ inside.  But it is far more than feeling nice thoughts. It is all about “the extra mile” and we honestly can’t make that trip if we haven’t been willing to die ourselves.

 

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Plunging the Depths of Grace

“One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”

Luke 7:36-39, ESV

A woman of the city, that explains so much.  She comes with a lot of baggage; she has seen all the world at its worst.  Her life has been hard, she has made poor decisions. Enough to pull her into the presence of Jesus.

She may be a stripper, an addict, a porn star. It doesn’t matter, she is a sinner, and scripture does not elaborate beyond this.  All we know is she is ‘a woman of the city,” and that she is referred to as “a sinner.” The sin has made her a desperate person. She steps forward, and does not care about what the crowds are saying about her. She has heard it all before. She comes with her flawed and inadequate heart, to anoint him with an ointment that is somewhat susceptible because of her past.

She pushes forward, pressing past the inner ring of disciples who are ‘protecting’ Jesus.  She takes what she has, and pours it on Jesus’ feet.  It is a concentrate of a perfume that is intense, and very much a declaration of what her heart is wants to do. The scent of this ointment undoubtedly very strong, and lingers, being a concentrate. It probably comforted Jesus while he was being nailed to the cross. He would remember what she had done to him. Her love would comfort him as he was dying.

Jesus acknowledges her decision to bless him in this unique way.  She pushes to him with a single mindedness that we can only marvel at.  She falls at his feet, and Jesus allows himself to be touched by a women that has such a difficult and dark past.  I truly believe He takes everyone whoever comes to him. He passes no judgement on her, and people who are like her— like me.

He has no issues, and accepts all who the Father brings to him.

This sinful woman has shown the way for sinners like us to connect.  Her action establishes for us a precedent— a sure way to advance into his presence.  We start by admitting that we are in a very desperate state.  Her example focuses everyone to all  what is truly important, and we dare not slip past her example. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” We know that this is true.

We must come, as she has come, in faith that only He can forgive us.  We should come with a radically intense intention to be with him.  There must be a real decision (on our part) to follow after him.  When we actually fall at his feet, we will find ourselves to be completely forgiven.

“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Luke 7:47-48

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