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.”

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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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Joy in This Madness, [Troubles]

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“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.” 

2 Corinthians 4:8-9, NLT

The issues we face can be hard and formidable. Our relationships, our circumstances can present daunting obstacles to joyful Christlike living. We live out at times from unpleasant realities and less than ideal situations. We are broken believers who follow Jesus through our minefields.

Struggling with mental illness is a challenge as with any other handicap. The young man struggling with bipolar disorder or someone else who faces a clinical depression, may seem to be tangled up in something quite brutal and very hopeless. “Will I ever find normal again?

I know that struggle, at times it has ripped me apart. I suppose the grinding hopelessness is the worst part of that.

I want to encourage you in this. The issues you face on a daily basis are hard. Don’t minimize their complexity or diminish their bitterness. But the Holy Spirit is with you in the midst of your issues.

I believe that their constant presence produces a faith and tenderness that can’t be just prayed for. The work is being completed even as you read this post. There is a wisdom emanating from the fire.

We walk through the trials, not around them.

I did not choose this path I’m on. But I’ve discovered a joy in them— more precisely a joy because of them. But alternatively, our illness is not meant to destroy us. That is not why God has allowed you to be afflicted.

“And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight.”

Luke 7:21

Jesus has special spot for the afflicted, we see him repeated touching them. He drew them like a magnet draws iron. And he is the same today in our time. It is comforting to know that he cares and that we are understood so. Let him draw you into his caring presence. Disabilities do not trouble him.

Yes, the issues are formidable. But your obedience is an exquisitely special commodity. It is precious in his sight and will hold its value for all eternity. Understanding this should be a cause for joy for the broken believer. Having the lightness of heart, right in the middle of our disability, often transforms it into a lighter burden. “We are  beaten but not totalled. Incredibly challenged but not completely devastated.”

Bless a thing and it will bless you. Curse it and it will curse you. If you bless a situation, it has no power to hurt you, and even if it is troublesome for a time, it will gradually fade out, if you sincerely bless it.  There is a deep joy waiting in these ashes for those who choose to do this.

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An Eternity With God, [Get Ready]

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18″ So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

2 Corinthians 4:18, (NLT)

This dear ones, is an awesome verse with some pretty profound implications. The more I marinade in it, the better it gets.

But more importantly, it refuses to give in to the temporary. The earthly reality that swirls around us is brief. Its provisional purpose is an exclusive one; it exists to prepare us for an eternity with God. That hope ‘rewires’ us. We must be prepared for this encounter, we must be changed.

The spiritual realities are the ones that are truly real,

And the ‘Bible truths’ are the ones that are really authentic.

Issues must be settled in the temporary ‘here-and-now.’ You might say, without being too audacious, that we’re being groomed to be royals. And maybe we truly are. Perhaps this is the fuller implication of having eternal life? We seem to be destined for a throne. And God is eager enough to make it happen.

C.S. Lewis writes: “We are so little reconciled to time that we are even astonished at it. ‘How he’s grown!’ we exclaim, ‘How time flies!’ It’s as strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the wetness of water. And that would be strange indeed; unless of course, the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal.”

Eternity is the real world. It is quite unlike anything else. Our present situation is one of preparation: a new ‘language,’ new attitudes, new relationships– in short, a new life. Someday we will shine like a newly minted penny! And some, are starting to shine already.

C.S. Lewis also wrote, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water.  If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”

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Having a Resurrected Heart, [Brand New]

“You have been raised to life with Christ. Now set your heart on what is in heaven, where Christ rules at God’s right side.”

Colossians 3:1, CEV

Paul’s explanation is given that is meant to clarify things for us.  Perhaps it is too simple, too straight-forward.  We seem to prefer the complex; ideally a 12 point plan, on ‘PowerPoint’, that makes us feel holy and strong, and even ‘spiritual.’ We’d feel much better if it was just a question of intelligence, rational mind and ‘practical thinking.’ Paul shares with this young Church of the Colossians. By the time he gets to chapter 3, he is ready to communicate an essential truth, which is meant to challenge our weak and faulty understanding.

“You have been raised to life with Christ.” The truth is this; the real world starts for you when you understand your resurrection as already taken place.  You were once dead, and now you are alive!  The life that you live is a resurgent life.  You have awakened from death. Essentially, you entered ‘piggyback’ on Jesus.  He has carried you into the deepest place in heaven.

It all can make sense if, set your heart on what is in heaven.”  This is the first mention of us taking action. Up to now, Jesus has did everything.  But at this precise moment, we must act– to set our heart on the deep priority of eternity.  To commence becoming who you really are.  You’re now a spiritual man, or woman, who just so happens (at this point) to have a physical body.

It is a place of triumph and power, “where Christ rules at God’s right side.” This is no inconsequential place. This is the ‘very center of the center.’  The presence of God is all-powerful, and all-knowing.  And it is accurate to say that we have been brought into that same atmosphere, where we breathe in the ‘shekinah’—  that is God’s glory.

Embedded in this single verse in Col. 3:1 is a vigorously rich sense of how and what is the spiritual life.  It should never be formulaic or mechanical.  (We will not find our intellect charging the way into God’s presence.)  Simply, we must believe in our hearts what has happened already.  We enter by faith. It is so easy, but can be quite challenging. You are now a ‘citizen’ of heaven.

“But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.”

Philippians 3:20

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The Hiding Place– Corrie ten Boom Learns to Forgive

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“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

Ephesians 4:32, NLT

Great hearts are often shuttled through experiences with intense forgiving. The Father tutors us through out our earthly lives, with many visits to this classroom. It is here we get our learning. It will happen several times in our walk, and we carry different nuances, or slants. Each time we are required to forgive authentically. The course is set for us. We can’t choose to skip these lessons without injuring ourselves, and harming others.

We are learning to love– it is our calling and destiny. There are no “accidents” or misaligned ‘drop-outs’ here. We step into our classroom, and the Teacher and Comforter begins His instruction. Many things will strike you as diabolical. Deep inside us we have simply no idea of how “this” will turn out for good. And you’d be right. But the power of God steps in, and “all is well”.

Corrie ten Boom-- Writer, speaker, Christian
Corrie ten Boom– Writer, speaker, Christian

Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian. After her release from a Nazi concentration camp, she began traveling the world and speaking to any who would have her. The needs of postwar Europe were desperate. She traveled as an evangelist telling people who Jesus is and spoke about His redemption. She gave many people hope.

Through her travels she came in contact with a few of the guards that had been a part of the Nazi regime and had to practice forgiveness that only Jesus can bring. The first encounter with one of her previous jailers proved to be most difficult.

Here is an excerpt from her book, “The Hiding Place”.

“It was a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

She then took his hand and the most incredible thing happened.

From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

Corrie’s Wisdom for Us

  1. There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.
  2. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
  3. It is not my ability, but my response to God’s ability, that counts.
  4. When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.
  5. Faith is like radar that sees through the fog-the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see.
  6. Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.

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Thoughts from Other Believers

Forgiveness is me giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.    Author Unknown

To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.   C.S. Lewis

There is such a big difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. It takes two to reconcile, so it is not always possible to be reconciled. But it takes only one to forgive. So if people do you wrong, forgive them, whether or not they ask for forgiveness. You cannot cancel their sin. Only God can do that, and He will only do it if they repent. But what you can do is set aside your own anger, bitterness, and resentment towards them.   Philip Graham Ryken

Forgiveness may be described as a decision to make four promises:

  1. “I will not dwell on this incident.”
  2. “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”
  3. “I will not talk to others about this incident.”
  4. “I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”  Ken Sande

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For her efforts to hide Jews from arrest and deportation during the German occupation of the Netherlands, Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983) received recognition from the Yad Vashem Remembrance Authority as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” on December 12, 1967.

“The Hiding Place” and her many other books can be purchased at Amazon.com. It really must be read and there is a movie out with the same name.

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A Pastor’s Transformation

Pastor-homeless-peoplePastor Jeremiah Steepek (pictured left) transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service, only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food – NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit n the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.

As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation.

The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him. He walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited– Matthew 25:31-46.

 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?”

He then dismissed service until next week.

Being a Christian is more than something you claim. It’s something you live by and share with others.

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Bryan’s Note: Some have made this account to be nothing more than a “urban myth,” kind of a good piece of  Christian “schlock” that never happened. I personally can’t say for sure. I simply can’t vouch for its veracity. But all I really know is that it speaks to me in many ways about following Jesus. For that alone, I am thankful.

More of Jesus, less of Bryan.

ybic, Bryan

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The Transfiguration, (Or “Let’s Get It Right, This Time”)

“Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light.” 

Matt. 17:1-2

We observe that Jesus ‘picked and choosed’ three men to go with Him to this incredible place.  Nothing is fabricated, nothing is manipulated.  The three are given a backstage pass into the supernatural, where things are more real than they seem, not less so.

They were led with the pretext of loneliness and separation.  It was critical that they step into this quiet place, with no distraction or disturbance.  The entire situation was based exclusively on the person of Jesus.  He would be the ‘canvas’ on which everything would happen.  Jesus would display and exhibit the spiritual reality of what was about to happen.

All the men could do is observe, and from our text this was their fundamental purpose.  They watched, and Jesus did not disappoint them.  He commenced to radiate from within, an intense light.  It says, ‘He was transformed’.  We don’t have the freedom to make any conjecture of what this entailed.  We can only understand that what was happening was purely and entirely supernatural.

I think that we often we get a little confused about the transforming presence of Jesus in our own lives.  It seems that it happens apart from His presence.  We somehow get changed apart from the direct intervention of Him.  We inexplicably think that this is the way it works, that somehow I will start radiating peace, wisdom and godliness on my own.  Kind of a ‘self -glowing in the dark’ Christian.

But Jesus Christ is the exclusive initiator and upholder of the Christian life.  Jesus is not a by-product, but the entire ‘kit and kaboodle’.  He is at the center of our salvation, both the justifier and sancifier of our being.  We cannot trust Him to justify us, unless we believe that He will also make us holy people.  He takes it all. And all that He takes He will transform.

I guess I’m advocating the return of Jesus to His walk of transfiguration in our lives.  We make Him the center, and let Him shine.  This is not heretical; it is fundamental.  It is also critical.  Only when we arrive at this point can we say “Jesus, why, He is my Lord and King!  He is the Center of the entire universe, and He is my all, in all.”

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ybic, Bryan