A Friend of Sinners and the Ungodly

Anthony van Dyck – Christ Healing the Paralytic, 1619

“No matter how low down you are; no matter what your disposition has been; you may be low in your thoughts, words, and actions; you may be selfish; your heart may be overflowing with corruption and wickedness; yet Jesus will have compassion upon you. He will speak comforting words to you; not treat you coldly or spurn you, as perhaps those of earth would, but will speak tender words, and words of love and affection and kindness. Just come at once. He is a faithful friend – a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”

–D.L. Moody

“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”

Luke 7:34

 

 

A Stone’s Throw Away

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“He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed”

Luke 22:41

Who knows what Jesus is thinking at this precise moment as he entered the Garden? His disciples waited for Jesus and scripture states that he proceeded ahead of them— “a stone’s throw.”

We often share in the sorrows of the people closest to us, and Jesus wants has disciples to follow him. And they do, but not all the way. They came close, but were oblivious to the full nature of the pain that was beginning for Jesus. They slept while he agonized. He was for the first time, needing someone close.

Many of us will make the same trip to the garden. Soon every believer makes the trip to ‘Gethsemane,’ but not as mere observers. It is a distinct place of testing and of sorrow. And each will experience it for themselves. “The servant is not above his master.”

But Jesus is close— he completely understands what it means to be alone with sorrow. The believer can lean on Jesus as the pain continues. He sends his “Comforter” to each, as he escorts us through this time. He comes in grace, and is completely kind. He truly is just a stone’s throw away.

“God is our refuge and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.”

Psalm 46:1

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Restore the Sparkle: Psalm 13

For the choir director: A psalm of David.

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
    Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

Psalm 13, NLT

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Life can get complicated really fast. David finds that sometimes there are no easy answers. If we look objectively at his life, we see the frayed ends where confusion rules. It was never meant to turn out this way.

Commentary

V. 1-2, David believes that he has been forgotten. A phrase is repeated an astounding four times, “How long?”  It does seem that impatience is a significant issue for him. Often when it gets this bad, we find ourselves turning to surrogates to fill the gap.

V. 2, “Anguish…sorrow, everyday.” Somehow David is alert enough to recognize the evil one. Everyday=no relief– constant, gnawing pain, which can be physical, emotional, or spiritual (or all three).

V. 3,  Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.” (I love this version–“sparkle”). David knew that life was exceptional. And there is much more than breathing to life. He speaks of being restored. He seeks a reason to keep living.

V. 4, Also, he is quite aware that his life is being threatened. The word, “gloat” is interesting translation. It has the idea of boasting, or relishing someone else’s failure. The dark prince savors your defeat. He has been looking forward to this desperate moment.

V. 5,  But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me.” The Lord has covered David with His hand. His life has been saved by a love that never falters or weakens. Never, Never!

V. 6,  Tremendous verse; it is really wonderful. When we finally get to this last verse, we see that we have “run-the-gauntlet” with David. Often good jewelers display their diamond necklaces on a black background. The darkness intensifies the brightness of the jewels. They become even more beautiful. David is singing and praising the Lord in His nearness. It really is what we were made to do.

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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

 

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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

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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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Mother Teresa Explains Humility

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“But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.”

Luke 22:26, NLT

Jesus Christ turned everything upside down. I know of no other teaching that might disturb his disciples as “humility.” I’m sure that they shook their heads and replayed what Jesus had said. (Maybe looking for a loophole?) This is not something you just “click into place,” rather it’s a complete overhaul of living as a disciple. Humility is a process, not an event.

“So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Matthew 18:4

We may think children are wonderful, but hardly the stuff of the Spirit. And then Jesus shows and as we listen to him we are schooled further. Generally the attitude of a child can be seen as: innocent, simple, kind, eager, curious, relying on others, and of course–humble.

As a bona-fide broken believer I find I’m quite consumed with “me.” Life can revolve around “me.” The awful nature of my mental illness is I get absorbed with it, and it is all I think about. And I  hate this. It isn’t right. It isn’t healthy.

Mother Teresa, 1910-1997

I came across this list written by Mother Teresa that sheds further light for us. Her discipleship was radically different than mine, and I have much– very much to learn. Perhaps you might commiserate our mutual lack.

“These are the few ways we can practice humility:

To speak as little as possible of one’s self.

To mind one’s own business.

Not to want to manage other people’s affairs.

To avoid curiosity.

To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.

To pass over the mistakes of others.

To accept insults and injuries.

To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked.

To be kind and gentle even under provocation.

Never to stand on one’s dignity.

To choose always the hardest.”

Mother Teresa (The Joy in Loving: A Guide to Daily Living)

Once my church gave me a gold medal for humility. The elders took it back because I wanted to wear it all the time. Anyway, I like most of this list, with one/two questions— and I’ll let you find them.

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