Alterations (Bring it On!)

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“So Naomi and Ruth went on until they came to the town of Bethlehem. When they entered Bethlehem, all the people became very excited. The women of the town said, “Is this really Naomi?”

“Naomi answered the people, “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very sad.”

“When I left, I had all I wanted, but now, the Lord has brought me home with nothing. Why should you call me Naomi when the Lord has spoken against me and the Almighty has given me so much trouble?”

Ruth 1:19-21

Naomi has traveled from Moab to her hometown of Bethlehem. People were pretty excited and her arrival must’ve brought out the crowds. It’s great for her  to be around happy people who were genuinely pleased to see her again.

But a new Naomi returns. She makes it clear that something has happened. She has been fundamentally changed by the Lord. She can no longer be called Naomi (“Pleasant”) but insists she is now “Mara”. Her reasoning is painfully clear, she grasps the reality of her condition. “I am now Mara (“Bitter”), that is my new name. It’s what I’ve become.”

“Call me by this new name, because the Almighty has acted “bitterly” against me. I am not the same person I was went I left here. I am different, when I left here I was prosperous, everything was going very well. But now, its different, and I come home with absolutely nothing. And it’s all because the LORD has hurt me deeply.”

I read Ruth the other day, and something intrigued me by her perception, and of her theology that recognized God’s handprints on her life. I believe she was a broken person, and therefore essentially changed. I believe she had a measure of peace in seeing the Lord was in control of her life. She was becoming aware. Ruth was now attuned to the deep purposes of God.

It wasn’t fate, karma, or destiny after all. It was God! 

With my many, many issues, I find a comfort in this. God has touched me, and I am not the same person I was five years ago. I know hard things, even bitter things, about myself and the world around me. I went out healthy and strong and have returned weak and empty. Bipolar disorder will do that. Pain will do that. God’s dealings will do this. He loves us far too much to allow us to go unchanged.

God is not malicious, but He is very thorough. And all that He does is for our good.            

There are distinct times when the Lord works to bring us to Christlikeness. That involves a refining and the smelting process. Crisis becomes the ‘new normal’. This is never “pleasant” and it’s almost always “bitter.” Naomi was finding this out first-hand, to the point of even changing her name.

“I have refined you, but not as silver is refined.
 Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.”

Isaiah 48:10

I’d like to encourage you to recognize (and announce) your weakness and your brokenness to the Lord in prayer. See God’s hand in your bitterness. You’ll be surprised at the release that will come to you. It shouldn’t engender anger, but surprisingly it can bring you healing and salvation. It helps to understand. Consider the following:

  • There often two sides of living–the life we’ve lived and the life we’re becoming.  Both are filled with grace and they’re as different as ‘night-and-day’
  • God is stealthily working good on our behalf, even when things are awful. He has full authority to do so.
  • He’s always (lovingly and passionately) trying us; probing to see if we draw closer to Him when we’re tested. He is patient when we fail our tests. Every test will be repeated until we overcome it
  • We can’t escape Jesus’ work in our lives. He is the Master Carpenter. He is building a cathedral!

“God  rescues us by Breaking us, by shattering our strength and wiping out our resistance.”

–A. W. Tozer

Don’t Waste Your Sorrows

 

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“You have given me many troubles and bad times, but you will give me life again. 
When I am almost dead, 
You will keep me alive.”

Psalm 71:20, NCV

“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

Isaiah 53:3, NASB

Everyone hurts sometimes. We all will face our sorrows. But there are times, when our pain pounds us intensely, and it turns into a deep problem. The darkness rolls in on our souls like a caustic fog. It can get awful.

Sorrow is the effects of a hammering emotional or spiritual pain. I have never spoken out like this, but my wife and I had a daughter who died— stillborn. She was doing great, up to a week before her due date. We knew that in seven days, we would be able to see her– face-to-face.

But that was not to be. Elizabeth Grace Lowe died from strangulation (from her own umbilical cord.) Nothing could have been done. My wife had noticed a moment of very frantic activity, as Elizabeth fought for her life. We plummeted from ecstatic joy to a devastating sorrow in minutes. It came “out-of-the-blue,” totally unexpected. We both were completely undone.

“For the Lord will not reject forever,
For if He causes grief,
Then He will have compassion
According to His abundant lovingkindness.
For He does not afflict willingly
Or grieve the sons of men.”

Lamentations 3:32-33, NASB

There is pain, but there are promises. There is sadness, but there are psalms. There is a blessing on all those who grieve. This topic deserves far more attention than this simple post. (But they say, every fool wants to play “Hamlet,” so I guess I’m not immune.)

There is such sorrow in this life, much more than the human heart can possibly contain. But our Savior has a title (one of many.) He is the “Man of Sorrows.” He is the one “on point.” He leads us through such intense hostility. He guides us when things get very dark.

There are a few things that I want to communicate to you. These have come out of great darkness.

  1. God takes the full blame for our pain and sorrow. He doesn’t shift the blame, or deny His presence in our sufferings. Sometimes you need to adjust your theology.
  2. Jesus has fully shared our sorrow. All that you are feeling right now, He feels. If you feel you are at a minus 10, then He does as well. As you suffer, He is your shadow.
  3. Nothing is ever wasted. We really shouldn’t treat these moments of sorrow as a waste. Have you ever wondered at Jesus’ ‘economy’ after the 5000 were fed?  He assigns value to the leftovers. The disciples pick up their baskets and collect everything up again. Nothing will go to waste.
  4. This pain, this sorrow is the “intensive crash course” in becoming a person of mercy. You now will always walk with a limp. At times the scars will be quite visible to those who can really see. This will become forever a healed wound (but a wound nevertheless.) It helps to seek out others who have walked this same path. I don’t think I will ever fully trust a person who doesn’t walk with a limp.
  5. You will need (but maybe not accept) the transformation of your suffering into glory. This will take some time, and it almost feels like your not progressing at all. I encourage you to re-think each of these simple points. The Holy Spirit maybe working, perhaps behind the scenes.
  6. Finally remember this: God is not a monster, stomping on us like a boy crushes ants. He carries our pain and illness. He clearly comes along side every suffering believer. It is Satan who would suggest to you that God is a Celestial Menace, not worthy of our love.

*“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

Psalm 147:3, NLT

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.”

Isaiah 61:1, NLT

He heals the wounds of every shattered heart.
Psalm 147:3, TPT

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Is He Your Friend, or a Doctrine?

“A rule I have had for years is: to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. His is not a creed, a mere doctrine, but it is He Himself we have.”

  ~D.L. Moody

Friendship with God can be a liberating secret. It releases us from the terrible bondage of religion and ritual with all its negative connotations. Intimacy with our Lord will carry us beyond creed or doctrine to the place of true communion.

It’s not that the Law is bad, but in the intense light of God’s grace it’s a poor substitute. We value legalism, and that is precisely what we believe when we bypass the relationship. Doctrine is a good servant, but a poor master. Grace always trumps legalism.

We evangelicals talk big about “a personal relationship.” That is indeed crucial. But few be the believers that walk in a daily friendship with their Savior. That is truly a tragedy.

“I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.”

John 15:15, NLT

Friendship with Jesus will bring true guidance. He shares secrets and wisdom to his friends. We are brought into a true knowledge of the Kingdom through the relationship of friendship with the King. We are not slaves– or drones, slavishly serving out of slavish fear.

We are His friends.

Jesus wants to confide in us; sharing mysteries hidden by time and sin. And his kingdom is full of amazing perplexities! He is looking to bring us into a willingness of a daily communion.

He will heal our wounds, and forgive all our sins. He is truly our savior as well as our friend.

Friendship comes with a price. It means we are now tethered to the Lord. That can get old, especially when I want to do my own thing. I will continually have to lay things down, and choose to accept tether and follow Him.

But my soul now has a best friend.

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Frederick, [Handling Giftedness]

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Frederick, the ‘prophetic’ mouse

I have always loved to read. I was given books by my mother, and these books were like gold. I had been a avid patron of the library, but terrible at returning books. I had pretty much been branded as “persona non grata” by the librarians of my hometown library at the ripe old age of 12.

I have fond memories of some fine books. But perhaps the most influential of them all was a title called, “Frederick” by Leo Lionni.  It won the ’68 Caldecott ‘back in the olden days.’ It very well could be one of best children’s books ever written. ( I realize now that many of these books that shaped me were prophetic in their own way.)

We see Frederick, who is a young field mouse, off on excursion to find food with his four brothers. They must fill their pantry for the cold winter that’s coming. They are quite successful (it appears) and all seems well.

However, there is a bit of a problem with Frederick. While the other mice are ‘busting their mouse-butts’ he sits quietly thinking. They question him repeatedly, trying to motivate him (or shame him perhaps?)  There seems to be a general consensus against him, which is verging on open warfare.

But Frederick insists that he is needed to do this. He says that he is ‘working’. He is collecting sunlight, absorbing it until it’s needed.  He takes in colors, and then words. He just seems soak up these really wonderful experiences, and he seems a bit “clueless” (that’s not the right word), maybe a bit “preoccupied.”

FrederickFinally in the dead of winter, sheltered deep underground, their supplies are running low. One of the mice turns to Frederick, and asks him to share what he has collected. And he does precisely that. They sit in a circle and Frederick shares the sunlight, and the rich colors and the beautiful words he has stored up for them. Their little ‘mouse-hearts’ are deeply touched by Frederick’s contribution.

In so many ways, this has become a parable, or metaphor of my life. As a eight year old, I could hardly have foreseen how my life would unfold. I do however had a deep sense of being different, even then. My mental illness, mixed with being “gifted”, and then combined with being isolated and dirt-poor, worked in me.

Essentially, we all are products of our personal history.  What we have experienced good or bad develops us.  It did me.  I think what “Frederick” wants to do for us is to process uniqueness, gifting and steadfastness.  One of the things that the Holy Spirit has been speaking to me for the last few years is this, “Bryan, can you receive from the giftedness of other believers?”

We really must make room for “Fredericks” and what they can bring to us.  We will be drastically weakened if we won’t– or can’t.  Jesus faced a ton of resistance as He began to minister.  There is nothing new about that.  But it didn’t touch His spirit.

“Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more.”

Genesis 37:5

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We Are Mere Servants

7–8 Jesus continued, “After a servant has finished his work in the field or with the livestock, he doesn’t immediately sit down to relax and eat. No, a true servant prepares the food for his master and makes sure his master is served his meal before he sits down to eat his own.Does the true servant expect to be thanked for doing what is required of him? 10 So learn this lesson: After doing all that is commanded of you, simply say, ‘We are mere servants, undeserving of special praise, for we are just doing what is expected of us and fulfilling our duties.’”

Luke 17, TPT

Selfishness is endemic to men of all stripes. It’s in our bloodstream  It taints the most noble of actions and the most wonderful of efforts.

There is an exception for the empowered Christian. The ability to live unselfishly is the believer’s option. We can live above the issues of the worldling. To us is given the joy of obedience. Obeying God’s will is the privilege of redeemed men and women. We have the Holy Spirit’s abilities to meet the situation around us.

We serve because we’ve been served.

But we still are ”mere servants” and we shouldn’t make a big deal of our efforts. Within our most noble efforts is the possibility of falling short of the Lord’s wishes for us.

The only safe place for us is found  in a sacred humility. It is the posture of obedience which generates an enduring obedience. You might say that humility is the wiring that keeps us from ‘shorting out.’ Being a humble person will insulate us from the holy power of an obedient action. 

I’m afraid that is the only way it’ll work.

We had long known the Lord without realizing that meekness and lowliness of heart should be the distinguishing feature of the disciple.

–Andrew Murray

 

Mechanisms of the Spirit

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Especially for the Leaders and Pastors who Guide the Ministry of the Church:

 

“Unless the Lord builds a house,
 the work of the builders is wasted.
Unless the Lord protects a city,
guarding it with sentries will do no good.”

Psalm 127:1

O my son, give me your heart.
May your eyes take delight in following my ways.”

Proverbs 23:27

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“The highest expression of the will of God in this age is the church which He purchased with His own blood.  To be scripturally valid any religious activity must be part of the church.  Let it be clearly stated that there can be no service acceptable to God in this age that does not center in and spring out of the church.  Bible schools, tract societies, Christian business men’s committees, seminaries and the many independent groups working at one or another phase of religion need to check themselves reverently and courageously, for they have no true spiritual significance outside of or apart from the church.”

–A.W. Tozer

As believers we sometimes lose the sight of what is going on around us. We get attached to a structure or a mechanism and view it as why we are here. Ministries, churches, retreats, conventions, even websites (!): every “structure” and every effort of man— however good and noble is not the Church of Jesus Christ.

The Church is a fluid and dynamic thing. It supersedes anything we can do or plan. Our efforts are always secondary, and even at there best are minuscule. We are gifted so that we might serve others, that is true. But wisdom always realizes the “big picture” even while serving in a “para-church” context.

The Church is the bride of Christ himself. It really is the only authorized work of God in the world today. It is what the Spirit is doing in our midst. Our personal efforts (like this website) are not really the full expression of truth in this world. That privilege belongs to the body.

I’m not trying to demean your ministry or work for the Lord. I won’t advocate that we shut-down our separate efforts. But I do suggest we restore our focus on the Church of Jesus above anything we can do. Paul cared deeply for the churches; he labored, toiled, travelled, was persecuted and despised all for the Church. Paul saw Jesus as its head, and he saw it as “the bride of Christ.” No sacrifice was too high or hard for the Bride.

“Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.”

2 Corinthians 11:28, NASB

We are to be servants of the Church first. We dare not be side-tracked or led in a subtly different direction. Perhaps a good way to think of this subject is that there are:

  • mechanisms, and
  • organisms.

Sometimes we’re somewhat mechanical and something living. I suggest that we restore to the living Church the honor and glory it deserves. Our individual ministries can be good— fruit may even be seen. But we dare not minimize the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. She is his bride. She will rule and reign with him forever and ever.

“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.”

Revelation 21:2

It will not be brokenbelievers.com that “descends” from heaven, but the Church. As important as I think I am, this website will not be in that place. This privilege belongs to Christ’s own bride– the Church. Perhaps it is this fact that we who are in ministry should consider from time-to-time: Let the church be the Church.

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The Lord of My Darkest Fear

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“And you will feel secure, because there is hope;
you will look around and take your 
rest in security.”

 Job 11:18

“If you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” 

Prov. 3:24

Bedding down in the ruins of an old adobe church gave me a great deal of apprehension.  I was anxious because at night all the scorpions, snakes and tarantulas do most of their exploring.  Now I have an uncommon fear of tarantulas, at night I have seen them come out and the ground was churning.  But as a missionary in rural Mexico and I guess I figured that I ought not shirk my expected routine.  But I was spooked. I am a true arachnophobiac.

Job and the Book of Proverbs combine to correctly identify the personal security issues for the believer.  We’re most vulnerable when we lie down to sleep.  When you think about it, that’s when we are most accessible and open to assault.

But there are promises that are given to believers that reassure us and secure us.  It is a remarkably basic promise, that we can lay down and God will stand watch over us as we rest.  But I contend that there other times, times when He watches us and guides us through a myriad of unseen difficult things.  He secures us, and then keeps us.

My time in the Mexican desert taught me some incredible lessons.  I must admit though, that sleeping on the ground was an ordeal.  I had to trust that the Lord would take special care over me as I lay defenseless.  I could not defend myself, so I trusted Him and slept. I ‘shut down’ my imagination and trusted Him who I could not see.  (I didn’t even bother to look for tarantula ‘tracks’ around my bedroll in the morning.)

We live in a time of complex danger.  Bad things have become increasingly routine and we have come to the point were we just can’t protect ourselves, or those we love.  Jesus warned us that this would happen.

Paul writes of this intensification of evil things.

We must trust Him who is unseen.  We are to be people that move toward ‘the wings’ to find shelter.  I believe this is a volitional decision.  We make a verbal commitment to our protecting One, that He will shield us from those who are evil and perhaps even deranged.

He loves us so much.  We can trust Him completely and fully. Even in the face of very big spiders.

“The only known antidote to fear is faith.”

Woodrow Kroll

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