There are some who may not understand the term, but back on the farm in Wisconsin, “barnburning” meant one of two things:
1. A person who burns down a barn, (obviously literal.)
2. Something amazing or noteworthy. To be strong, impressive, or of interest, (metaphorical.)
The following verses have made a tremendous influence on me. Here are five “barn burners” — incendiary verses that have directed me and given me support in challenging times. I hope at least one will fire up your heart.
It is a challenge to limit myself to just these five, so much has blessed me over 40 years–I should have at least 500. Scraping up five was really not the problem, there could be so many more.
So here are five which have made a definite impact on my thinking. (I reserve the right to change my mind as necessary, LOL.) All verses are from the English Standard Version (ESV), such as it is. Get ready for some “spiritual napalm.”
ONE: “Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22
This is a very precise chapter in my mind. A great deal of attention is given to Paul and Barnabas’ relationship to the people. At first, they are deified, but moments later the crowds pick up rocks to stone him. However Paul’s message to the local church was impressive. He strengthens, and he encourages. The reality of difficulty and tribulation has become the very doorway for them to come into the kingdom. This encourages me, and helps me in the conflicts I deal with.
TWO: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32
This verse tells me of God’s commitment to me. First, I’m part of a little flock. Nothing of any significance. The world evaluates me, but I’m just a simple guy involved with a simple group of people, nothing more. However in this verse, fear is the primary issue. “Fear not, little flock.” Our fear is supposed to be eradicated and extracted.
The word “pleasure” is an interesting choice of words. We understand pleasure, or at least we think we do. This verse implies that the Father has put into play His intensity. Pleasure is often a way of doing intensity. God is “ultra-involved” and is exceptionally extravagant in His treatment of us. We are brought into this place of grace, by His kindness and grace. He can’t wait to pour out his love on us.
THREE: “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.” Phil. 1:6
What confidence! That is a vital ingredient in our lives, this confidence and boldness. Our God is active in bringing us to a deeper place of maturity. Paul understands this, and uses God’s diligence as the basis for his growth. This verse is a real confidence builder for me. A promise that He will continue His work in me, no matter what. This is a great promise for young Christians. I often look at my own issues, and I give up after I accrue a certain frequency–a certain “sin-ratio.”
Shortly before I became a Christian, I spent a lot of time with Fred Tsholl who was the night-shift announcer at a nearby Christian radio station. He was so patient and kind to me. I would sit with him in the studio, all night long. When it was time for me to leave he would quote this verse to me. Looking back, this verse became quite significant. I would take it as a promise from the Lord Himself.
FOUR: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 2 Cor. 4:7
‘Jars of clay,’ really nothing more than this. We are weak and vulnerable, we so easily can be broken. But a treasure, I don’t think we grasp the value of treasure. But, if it resides in us, we become a repository of great significance. This magnificent work is not of our own effort. It belongs to God. It is nothing we can claim from any working on our part.
FIVE: “Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved?” Song of Sol. 8:5
This world is a tangled place, it is a dense and difficult wilderness. There doesn’t seem to be a smooth road anywhere. We make our way slowly, through much suffering and personal doubt. This particular verse gives me an assurance of His presence, even in the middle of hardship and challenge. He is present with me.
We come up out of this ugliness, precisely because of that close presence. We lean on the Lord, as we traverse this hard place. His dear presence will bring us through this darkness, He gives me the amazing strength to do this journey.
In thinking about this final installment about how God can bring much good out of our protracted struggle with sin, weakness, or a problem, it dawned on me how important it is to see the Big Picture. In some ways this post reiterates truths in part 2 of this series, but also adds important new dimensions to those truths and explores new territory.
When a soldier goes through boot camp, it’s crucial for him or her to see the overall purpose of his training–the Big Picture. He or she is being pushed and tested in different ways to the extreme so that they will be prepared for any situation on the battlefield, won’t crack under pressure, and will be a team player.
In the conquest of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership, the nation of Israel experienced many victories over different hostile nations. However, Judges 3:1–4 says that God did not allow the Israelites to completely triumph but left certain enemies in the land (e.g., the Philistines) so that his chosen people would learn warfare.
When we became Christians, God could have put us in a cocoon of protective grace where we would be insulated from our three primary enemies–the world, the flesh, and the devil–but he didn’t so that we would also learn warfare.
If he would’ve sheltered us from the battle, we would end up like many “trust fund babies,” who, because of their vast inherited wealth, never have to work a day in their lives. They’re protected from the toil and struggle of life and never have to worry about paying the rent or the electric bill.
Often there is something profoundly missing in their lives: many are spoiled, shallow, and have not been battle–tested. Perhaps God designed an existence where we battled the world, the flesh, and the devil so that we would not end up becoming spiritual trust fund babies.
Macarius was a great monk who composed the Macarian Homilies in the 4th century. He was convinced that, if after becoming Christians, we were protected in a cocoon of grace from the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, many of us would soon become conceited and fall as Satan fell. Instead of a three steps forward, two steps back grind that life often is, we would have a series of unbroken successes and become lifted up in pride and fall like Lucifer did.
In seeing the big picture, nothing is more important than understanding that God the Father through the Holy Spirit has been preparing a Bride for his Son in a Marriage that will span eternity. He wants you to be a part of that Bride. The Father wants the Bride to fervently love the Groom.
There is no love without free choice. If we would’ve been protected from the enemies of our soul, and choosing the Groom was exquisitely easy or even automatic, where’s the love that has been tested in the furnace of affliction? Like any spouse, Christ wants to be chosen. If we were automatons or even semi–automatons, where’s the love in that?
When we are in a long struggle with sin or weakness, it is because we have become over–attached to some created thing. Addiction is over–attachment in the extreme (e.g., overeating, alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex, power, work, shopping, etc.)
Christ the Uncreated One wants to be chosen over all the created things. Christ the Groom wants to stand in the midst of all his competitors–i.e. created things–and have the Bride choose him. One of the blessings then of a long battle is this: it’s the vehicle whereby we choose Christ as our Groom, as our only lover.
Does that love somehow go away if you’re a Christian who is up to your eyeballs in sin, addiction, and weakness? If anything God loves you more after you fall, because where sin abounds, grace abounds more. And as the old religious cliché tells us, he loves us in our sin and loves us too much to leave us there.
“Do not fear the conflict, and do not flee from it; where there is no struggle, there is no virtue.”John of Kronstadt
Part 1 of this post highlighted how God can bring good out of a long struggle with a sin, weakness, and/or problem by helping the Christian make the transition from putting their faith in formulas (e.g., “Do these three things and your problem will go away”) to a restful trust in Christ. Again, no sane Christian advocates habitual sin but the benefits of a protracted battle are numerous:
(1) After a long battle, in making the transition from formulas to faith in God, a new brokenness develops in the believer. They’ve come to the end of themselves, run out of “self–effort fuel”, and are beginning to learn what Christ meant when he said, “…apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
(2) During a long battle with sin or weakness, there is a pattern of falling down and getting up. Proverbs 24:16 says that a righteous man falls seven times but keeps rising again. In this process many Christians report that a new intimacy has emerged in their relationship to God. They’ve come to know the God of mercy and compassion as never before because they’ve been repeatedly forgiven after their many stumbles.
(3) “He who is forgiven much loves much.” Along with a new intimacy, a greater love for God can also develop, after a long battle, because we’ve been forgiven over and over.
(4) And since God has extended his tender mercies to us over and over, we then can extend his mercy and compassion to others who have a protracted struggle with some issue. If our heart is right, a long battle can inoculate us from self–righteousness and judgmentalism in relation to others who fall over and over.How can we not extend to them the same grace that God extended to us?
In extending this grace to others, we may become a wounded healer to them. The healing we received from Christ during our struggle is graciously passed on those often struggling with similar issues. Healing emerges from your wounds just as resurrection emerges from death.
(5) After a war, the soldier of Christ often emerges battle–tested and wise to the schemes of the enemy. If a person has been pulled down into the dust 27 different ways by the devil, then, if he or she is paying attention, they’ve learned 27 strategies the enemy of our soul uses to try to destroy us.
In Twelve Step programs, one often hears the acronym H.A.L.T. mentioned in discussing relapse back into addiction. These four letters stand for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired and emphasize how these conditions create fertile soil for relapse.
If you frame the issue a different way, these are four strategies the devil uses to bring us back into bondage. How was this acronym learned? By people relapsing over and over when these conditions were present. Recovering people became wise through their failures in their long battle with addiction.
Today I realized that I was sick and very tired of myself. It’s really not disgust, or even loathing. It’s more like a weariness, an exhaustion. I’ve never felt this way. In a strange way it intrigues me. Could this definite disenchantment mean something spiritual? Does it have value, or am I just feeling self-absorbed or conceited?
There is a real rigidity to evil. As I have seen it– sin hardens all who touch it, plain and simple. My growing immobility disturbs me, as I know I’m developing a “hardness of heart.” Atherosclerosis is a condition of a sick heart where arteries become blocked. It’s also known as “hardening of the heart, or arteries.” It is a patient killer, slowly and surely making hard deposits that block the flow of blood.
The Bible speaks about having a hard heart. It also uses the metaphor of fallow ground that must be plowed up. Jesus used the same image in His “Parable of the Sower” in Matthew 13.
“A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain.”
There are only four real options.
The first is seed that never arrives.
The second lands on hard stones.
The third possibility is landing on thorns and thistles.
Only the fourth flourishes.
The question I have is this, can the hard soil become soft, and can the good soil become overgrown with thistles? Is this a static, set experience? Or could it be far more fluid? I seem to move from one soil condition to another.
I have found that my own heart drifts. Manic Depression is a mental illness where emotions fluctuate constantly. They gallivant around, floating here and than there. I maybe depressed and suicidal in the morning, and then I can be euphoric in the evening. It’s having the identity of a “wandering star.”
I want my heart to soften. I want to sit with Jesus and hear His words. I need Him to share what He is thinking about. Any sin I entertain has a hardening effect in my spiritual heart. This really scares me. *
24 “But my people would not listen to me. They kept doing whatever they wanted, following the stubborn desires of their evil hearts. They went backward instead of forward.”
–Jeremiah 7:24, NLT
I seldom seek out things like this to write about. In my 30 years following the Lord Jesus, I have been bludgeoned more than a few times by people wielding Jeremiah like a cudgel. Mostly, these are good people who I liked and honored. (But maybe they had too much coffee that day, IDK.)
But there is a real issue here. Many who start out strong and brave end up on the scrap heap. Somehow, I suppose they were never able to tune their “ear” to His voice. But to be really honest– this can be a hard thing. And many of these dear ones end up with a retrograde walk in the Spirit. They would deny this, but if we look for a passion, we will see that a “first love” it will be absent.
That passion is the pulse, the blood pressure of a walk that is so vital and so authentic. We can measure our own walk by this singular means– “first-love.” Rev. 2:4-5 shouts to us,
“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.”
A retrograde faith may not deny Him, but it can often draw us into the place where our denial isn’t necessary. And that I suppose may be the scariest part of becoming apostate. We just slip; we slip right off of the map into an “almost-discipleship.” We would never dream of speaking an outright denial (never, ever) but we end up in this grey zone, nevertheless.
I have no desire to manipulate you through nice sounding words and phrases. But I feel duty bound to tell you up-front. Having a “first-love” will protect you. A “first-love” will cover you and lead you through many diverse issues. Revelation 2 was the Father’s plea to a Church that had seemingly advanced in every way. (As a pastor I would have loved to oversee this Church.) But the Father spoke a clear word of correction to them. And I’m sure that it was hard to accept.
The “retrograde Church” exists. Unfortunately, it is alive and well, but we must share with these dear ones about the true freedom which comes from the “first-love” relationship with the Lord Jesus. Our love for Him, and His love for us will protect us from something that goes “backward” and not forward. I can only say, love Jesus, and make Him your “first-love.”
“Whom should we love, if not Him who loved us, and gave himself for us?“ –Unknown
31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
Matthew 13:31-33, ESV
These are perhaps the three most potent verses in the entire Bible. And whenever you find “potency” you will find a strong possibility of exponential growth. It may be a steady synergy, or an explosive fission. Either way, it’s going to grow!
Both the seed and the yeast have so much in common. They are two sides of the same proverbial coin. And they represent explosive growth. If they are unleashed, watch out! They are both “pep and power” and now set loose they will take off.
The seed is put in the ground and the yeast in the flour. And the farmer and the baker both do their initial work of planting or kneading, and then they just stand back, their work is pretty much done. They now just let “nature” take its course.
These parables Jesus taught here are small— but hardly less significant because of their brevity. These two can bury you with all they imply and mean. When we think clearly about yeast in your cupboard and that single seed in its package, we should see the “life” that resides in them, and the potential that waits.
I think much about the Church. At times, I admit I get frustrated with it. I get judgmental, and fearful that it won’t survive into the next century. I truly understand that I can be critical. At times my friends must deal with my “ugliness,” but still they put up with me. (They are true friends.)
The kingdom is growing, and advancing. I love the wonderful promise in Isaiah 9:6, (usually read at Christmas time only. A mistake.) But Isaiah 9:7 is also pretty amazing too,
“His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!”
NAMI’s Interviews With Danielle Steel & Kay Jamison
Last year, Steel published His Bright Light, a memoir of her son, Nick Traina, who committed suicide at age 19 after a life-long battle with bipolar disorder (manic depression). More recently, Jamison has published Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, combining research, clinical expertise and personal experience to explore one of the world’s leading causes of death.On February 8, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Resources, Education & Related Agencies will hold a hearing on suicide prevention that will include testimony from best-selling author Danielle Steel and Professor Kay Redfield Jamison, author of several academic and popular books on mental illness.
Interviews with Steel and Jamison have appeared in “Spotlight,” a special supplement to The Advocate, the quarterly publication of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). Conducted by NAMI executive director Laurie Flynn, they offer a possible preview of Steel and Jamison’s testimony on Tuesday. Excerpts follow below.
NAMI’s Interview with Kay Jamison
Spotlight (Winter 1999/2000)
NAMI: What do we know about the linkage between suicide and mental illness?
Jamison: The most important thing to know is that 90 to 95 percent of suicides are associated with one of several major psychiatric illnesses: depression, bipolar illness, schizophrenia, drug and alcohol abuse, and personality disorders. These are obviously treatable illnesses. Another thing people don’t think about enough or emphasize enough is that because cancer and heart disease hit older people, they are seen as lethal illnesses. Because the age of onset for mental illnesses is very, very young, people don’t tend to think of mental illnesses as the potentially lethal illnesses they are. It’s important for people to understand that they have an illness to begin with and then that they get good treatment for it.
NAMI: You have spoken specifically of suicide and college students.
Jamison: Yes. Suicide is the second major killer of college aged kids. It’s the second leading killer of young people generally.
NAMI: You also have pointed out that, worldwide, suicide is the second leading killer of women between ages 15 and 45. These statistics are staggering, yet most people don’t seem to be aware of it.
Jamison: Absolutely. Across the world. There are almost two million suicides a year worldwide. I think people just don’t have any sense of the enormity of it. Suicide unfortunately has been so individualized and, because of the early suicide movement in this country, so separated from mental illness. People working in the field of suicide concentrated on existential factors and vague sorts of things, when in fact the underlying science is very clear that they’re associated with a few mental illnesses.
NAMI: Knowing what we do about illness and its treatability allows us to be able to discuss preventing suicide.
Jamison: Right. [U.S. Surgeon General] Dr. David Satcher’s emphasis has been very strong on three fronts. One is public awareness. Secondly, intervention and all that’s involved in making doctors and others more able to ask the kinds of questions needed to uncover mental illness. And then, thirdly, to support the science that’s necessary to study suicide.
NAMI: What else can policy makers and public officials do?
Jamison: I think we have to have public officials talking about it. When you have someone like Jesse Ventura out there saying these outrageous things-I think it’s really beyond the pale-we’ve got to have the president of the United States saying look we’ve got a real epidemic here, and there’s something we can do about it. People are dying from not gaining access to treatment-or from having three days in the hospital, and then going out and dying.
NAMI’s Interview with Danielle Steel
Spotlight (Winter 1999)
NAMI: “His Bright Light” is a very personal story about a very painful subject, the mental illness and death of a child. What did you hope people would learn by sharing your story?
Steel: I hoped first of all that people would come to know my son, and learn what an extraordinary person he was. I wrote the book to honor him, and to share with people what a remarkable person he was, in spite of his illness. I also wrote it to share with people the challenges we faced, so that they feel less alone and less isolated with their pain, in similar situations. I wrote it to give people hope and strength as they follow a similar path to ours.
NAMI: What did you learn from this painful tragedy?
Steel: I’m not sure yet what I learned from the tragedy, except that one can and must survive. But from his life, I learned a great deal about courage and perseverance, and love.
NAMI: Lots of people in America might be facing signs of a mental illness in one of their children. What about Nick’s behavior made you realize that it was more severe than just the normal growing pains of a child?
Steel: Nick was different. Always. His moods were more extreme. I sensed from early on, that despite his many wonderful qualities, there was something very wrong. I knew it in my gut, as I think many parents do.
NAMI: How long did it take for Nick to be diagnosed as manic-depressive and receive treatment for that condition?
Steel: Nick was not clearly diagnosed as manic depressive until he was 16, a good 12 years after we began the pursuit of the causes for his ‘differences’. He received no medication until he was 15, and did not receive the most effective medications until he was 16. A long and very painful wait for all concerned!
NAMI: Prior to knowing of Nick’s manic depression, what did mental illness mean to you? Did you associate stigma with mental illness?
Steel: I don’t think I realized, before Nick, that one could still be functional, or seemingly functional, if mentally ill. I thought of it as something totally incapacitating, and of people who were shut away. I don’t think I realized how intelligent and capable mentally ill people can still be. I’m not sure I did associate a stigma with mental illness. It just seemed like a sickness, and not necessarily a shameful one. I just thought of Nick as sick, whatever it was called, and wanted him to be cured.
NAMI: How did Nick deal with the knowledge that he had a mental illness?
Steel: For a long time, Nick himself was in denial about his illness. And eventually, he accepted it. In the last year, he told people he was manic-depressive. Before that, when he felt ‘normal’ on medications, he believed he was cured. He had a hard time accepting at first that he would be manic-depressive all his life.
NAMI: Are schools able to cope with the mental illness of a child?
Steel: In most cases, I don’t believe they are. It is a huge challenge for all to meet, and certainly hard on the other kids to have one child acting out. We were very lucky, in Nick’s high school years we finally found a wonderful school that understood the problem, accepted him as he was, and was willing to work with him in a framework he could cope with. They were remarkably flexible and creative. But for most schools, it’s asking a lot to expect them to adapt to a mentally ill child.
NAMI: If you could tell a family member who is caring for someone who is mentally ill one thing, what would that be?
Steel: Never give up. Get the best help you can. Keep trying, keep loving, keep giving, keep looking for the right answers, and love, love, love, love. Don’t listen to the words, just listen to your heart.
NAMI: What do you think support groups like NAMI can do for families coping with the mental illness of a loved one?
Steel: I think groups like NAMI can provide support, both emotional and practical—the knowledge that you are not alone. And resources, where to go, who to talk to, what works. You need all the information you can get, and it is just about impossible to do it alone.
NAMI: Stereotyping the mentally ill as violent and dangerous is pervasive in America. How do we change this perception?
Danielle: Information. Obviously there must be some mentally ill people who are violent and/or dangerous. But I suspect that most are not. Nick certainly wasn’t either of those, he was gentle, loving, smart, funny, compassionate, extremely perceptive about people, and very wise. I cannot conceive of Nick as ‘dangerous,’ although ultimately he was a danger to himself. But for the most part, I think the turmoils of the mentally ill are directed within and not without.
NAMI: What do you think the average American should know about mental illness?
Steel: I think most people should know how common it is…I also think people should know how serious it is when it goes untreated. And how potentially lethal it can be. It is vitally important to get good treatment, the right medication, and good support. If you let a bad cold turn into bronchitis and then pneumonia, without medication, it can kill you. If you do not treat serious diabetes, it can kill you. If mental illness goes untreated, it can kill you.
NAMI: We know that having “hope” is important to battling any disease. What hope do you see for people with mental illness?
Steel: I see a huge amount of hope. The medications today can give people whole, happy, productive lives. There are lots and lots of people with mental illness holding down good jobs, even with important careers, happy family lives, and doing great things. It is possible to lead a good and happy life if you are mentally ill. If those who are doing just that would speak up, it would give great hope to all those who are still groping their way along in the dark.
NAMI: What is Nick’s legacy?
Steel: Nick’s legacy is the love we had and have for him, the word we have spread of what a terrific person he was. In his lifetime, he touched countless lives, with his warmth, with his mind, with his music, with his words. Through his experiences, others have and will learn. Through the Nick Traina Foundation, hopefully we can bring help to others, in his name.