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Hey! It’s Christmas Day!

“This Gospel anticipates a world far different from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia,where it is “always winter, and never Christmas.” But the promise of the Gospel is that it is always Christmas. To be “in Christ” is to enjoy each morning as a Christmas morning with the family of God, celebrating the gift of God around the tree of life.”

–Kevin Van Hoozer

Christmas can be a torment and tribulation for so many. I have no doubt it brings grief. Family, friends, finances– mixed liberally with heavy doses of materialism and manipulation will always bring us issues.  The music and decorations are mostly mere Novocaine (which doesn’t always work). Stress builds up. And we want none of that.

Being mentally or physically ill often accentuates these issues. I’m not sure why exactly, but suicide increases during this season. Perhaps the challenges Christmas brings just overwhelm a person who is struggling hard just to make it.

“Christmas is for children. But it is for grown-ups too. Even if it is a headache, a chore, and a nightmare, it is a period of necessary defrosting of chilled hidebound hearts.”  

–Lenora Mattingly Weber

As I think about Christmas, it is helpful for me to see it as a “mirror.” It is my reflection back to me. What we see, is who we are. If we have issues in our own life, the Season will just magnify them.  But this doesn’t mean its bad, far from it. There is always conflict, but this spiritual combat can bring us success. Some things must be fought for.

I’m convinced that in all of this, there is opportunity.  The chance to connect to “Christmas”. The very idea is quite strange.  But Christmas can be an exquisite treat.  It is made by mixing love and truth in generous portions. As we look hard for it, there is something that moves us to a place far beyond us. Grace makes us to stand and look, perhaps for the first time.

When we truly process this, we’ll find “Christmas”. And honestly, it is more than a holiday. For the Christian, it is special time. And yes, there will be times when it may be trying, but I cannot think Christmas has become a time of great joy and anticipation.

It won’t take much, maybe a little imagination on your part. But those things you do may ignite and become a blaze that will direct them through their lives. Be kinder then you need to.

“The universal joy of Christmas is certainly wonderful. We ring the bells when princes are born, or toll a mournful dirge when great men pass away. Nations have their red-letter days, their carnivals and festivals, but once in the year and only once, the whole world stands still to celebrate the advent of a life. Only Jesus of Nazareth claims this world-wide, undying remembrance. You cannot cut Christmas out of the Calendar, nor out of the heart of the world.”   

Anonymous

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A Simple Gospel for Really Simple People

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The gospel is a profound mystery that has been made quite simple. A little child could grasp it. We have the deep sense that it is quite complicated, but it is really straightforward. For years, day after day after day, I have tried to jump high enough to attain a semblance of peace, but to no avail. After a long period I finally realized I couldn’t make it work. If God was going to save me, He was going to have to personally intervene. I just didn’t have it in me. The simplicity of our faith needs to be declared; too many believe it is unattainable. C.S. Lewis once wrote about this simple gospel:

“We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. … That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed.”

–C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Over time I realized, (actually it was more like a lightning bolt) that it wasn’t how high I could jump— but how low I could go. The ‘good news’ is designed for the simple; not for the spiritual athlete. We must become as “little children to enter the kingdom of God.” There is no other way. Jesus has made it clear. I simply can not attain salvation by my own merits, rather it is given out to those who can’t arrive at some vague legal standard.

“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 18:3

We are a people who are engineered for achievement. We value those who have ‘arrived.’ But what if the opposite was true? What if it wasn’t greatness, but ‘smallness’ that opened heaven’s doors? Would you qualify? I ask these questions not to demean you, but to reassure you. I would only suggest that you reexamine your faith. It is only prudent after all.

Adopting the world’s attitudes is not surprising. We are saturated by her presence. She makes her presence known by everything we perceive. It is the basic environment that surrounds all that we do or think. Jesus’ gospel asks us to rethink some basic things:

  • Do I belong here?
  • Is this my real home?
  • What am I living for?
  • Am I a loving person?
  • What am I living for?

We ask these questions, not because they are somewhat profound; we ask them because they are basic. Yet so much rests on each. We must clear away the world’s confusion, in order to grasp each question. We must become like little children, again. When we start to ask these questions— we are on our way.

 

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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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A Finder’s Fee of Joy

New Testament 3 Production Still Photography Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!” (Luke 15:1)

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? ” (v. 4)

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one.” (v. 8)

“For this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.” (v. 24)

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The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the ‘lost son’ tell us that this is a time for recovery. This is a unique period for the Church. It is a season of special grace that allows us to seek and find things that are valuable to us. It is a time of finding out things about ourselves as well.

What is precious to you? With the woman, it was a lost coin (probably a part of her dowry) and she made a substantial effort to get it back. With the shepherd, what was valuable was a lost sheep, and he would take a calculated risk to find it, and rejoin the flock. And the father lost his son, and he had to wait for him to return to his senses.

These three parables were directed to the different issues that effected the “notorious sinners.” But they also spoke to the pharisees who were present. Both groups understood and there were plenty of implications for everyone.

It’s a funny thing, Jesus never minced words. No one could be neutral around him. That is still the case today. I think God is seeking His lost children. This is what He is up to, this is His passion. Understanding this salient fact should enlighten us,

  1. to His will,
  2. to know His passion and love, (His pleasure in finding what was lost)
  3. and the true purpose of His Church.

As the Parable of the Prodigal Son develops, we see the pharisees equated to the ‘grouchy’ older brother. He begrudges his newly returned brother, and he really can’t see what is happening all around him. The idea of grace eludes him. Perhaps that is far more common than we think. Whenever ‘religion’ exerts control over a person or group, duty is almost always elevated over joy.

The Church is only as relevant as when it’s seeking out the lost.

The Church is meant to extend to the lost ‘sons’ of Adam, and the ‘daughters’ of Eve. This is God’s passion, and we must find out what He wants us to do to share His heart. It’s almost as if He wants to give us a chance to taste His joy.

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Brokenness, Depression and Brennan Manning

I’ve put together a collection of quotes by my favorite author, Brennan Manning.  I have found that when he writes, he penetrates.  What he writes goes deep into the soul of this ex-junkie, loser, and mentally ill person—he tells me of God’s love like few have ever done. 

To Manning, every person is redeemable, none are too far gone.  Brennan Manning was a strong voice to the weak, the lame, the mentally challenged, and for the prodigal.


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“There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.”

My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”

 “To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.”

“To be alive is to be broken; to be broken is to stand in need of grace.”

“Christianity doesn’t deny the reality of suffering and evil… Our hope… is not based on the idea that we are going to be free of pain and suffering. Rather, it is based on the conviction that we will triumph over suffering.”

“I am what I am in the sight of Jesus and nothing more. It is His approval that counts.”

“[Be] daring enough to be different, humble enough to make mistakes, wild enough to be burnt in the fire of love, real enough to make others see how phony [you] are.”

“The blood of the Lamb points to the truth of grace: what we cannot do for ourselves, God has done for us. On the cross, somehow, someway, Christ bore our sins, took our place, died for us. At the cross, Jesus unmasks the sinner not only as a beggar but as a criminal before God.”

“Do the truth quietly without display.”

“It is for the inconsistent, the unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker.”

“The dominant characteristic of an authentic spiritual life is the gratitude that flows from trust—not only for all the gifts that I receive from God, but gratitude for all the suffering. Because in that purifying experience, suffering has often been the shortest path to intimacy with God.”

“I am deeply distressed by what I only can call in our Christian culture the idolatry of the Scriptures. For many Christians, the Bible is not a pointer to God but God himself… God cannot be confined within the covers of a leather-bound book. I develop a nasty rash around people who speak as if mere scrutiny of its pages will reveal precisely how God thinks and precisely what God wants.”

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him with their life style. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

“The saved sinner is prostrate in adoration, lost in wonder and praise. He knows repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven. It serves as an expression of gratitude rather than an effort to earn forgiveness.”

“In essence, there is only one thing God asks of us–that we be men and women of prayer, people who live close to God, people for whom God is everything and for whom God is enough. That is the root of peace.”

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I really hope some of these quotes have connected.  Brennan Manning has authored several books all of which I can heartily recommend. 

I blame him for this blog’s theme–that brokenness is our path out of depression: Bipolar, Schizophrenia, OCD, PTSD, Schizoaffective disorder, and addictions.

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Little Sin, Little Love— Much Sin, Much Love

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

Luke 7:47 

I have been a disciple of Jesus for almost 35 years.  But it seems that I really haven’t been a desperate lover of Jesus until recently.

I have seen a lot of stuff, so I made a quick list–

  • the charismatic movement
  • the Imperials
  • New Wine Magazine
  • “I Found It”
  • Larry Lea‘s Prayer Program
  • the PTL Club
  • the Shack
  • Jesus’ festivals, Festival of the Son
  • Promise Keepers
  • Anita Bryant
  • the Living Bible, youth edition
  • YWAM teams, the Candle– SF
  • Four Spiritual Laws
  • ’88 Reasons Why
  • “Honk if You Love Jesus”
  • street preaching in Haight Ashbury, SF
  • Don Francisco
  • carrying the cross, Arthur Blessit
  • the Hiding Place
  • Watchman Nee
  • Outdoor baptisms in city parks

I’ve been exposed to a lot of winds blowing through, and moving on.  You learn to separate the chaff from the grain.  Much of my life has been spent winnowing out to get to the good stuff.  God, through his word describes a coming “trial by fire” over each person’s works.  Romans 14:12 says, “Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God.”    

One time I walked as a backslidden Christian. I remember once waking up from a drunken stupor with my t-shirt soaked in blood. That blood was someone elses.  I sobered up really quick.  There was this shadowy awareness of beating someone to the point of death.  I still catch myself wondering what exactly happened.  There is so much stuff that will be revealed, and I have done many despicable things.

The judgment seat of Christ, therefore, involves believers giving an account of their lives to Christ. The judgment seat of Christ does not determine salvation; that was determined by Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf and our faith in Him. All of our sins are forgiven, and we will never be condemned for them. We should not look at the judgment seat of Christ as God judging our sins, but rather as God rewarding us for our lives. Yes, as the Bible says, we will have to give an account of ourselves. Part of this is surely answering for the sins we committed.    

The word used is “bema seat”, it was where the judge sat during athletic contests.  Think of the high chair on which a court official sits during a tennis match.  His word is not to be debated or ignored.  Jesus fully intends to judge us.

The issue will not be our salvation, but our faithfulness.    

Loving Jesus must become your critical objective for the rest of your days, 1 Peter 4:8, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”  We also read of the sinful woman who washed Jesus feet, “therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47)

My dear one, practice loving him– starting today.  Many are the doers, few be the lovers.  The demanding weight of evangelism and world missions has quadrupled in the last 10 years.  Now is our time!  We love much!  Time is becoming short.

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Allowing Yourself to Be Weak

Warning: This post might step on some toes!

Our society has pretty much embraced the American cultural icon of the cowboy.  We revere those who ride alone and hard. We are rugged individualists and hardened men making our own way.  Our society reflects this in subdued ways.  No matter what happens, we are fiercely free and independent.  We are ‘desperadoes’–we do whatever we think is best.

This is distinctive to the American sense of being.  We are instilled with a pride and a freedom as our birthright.  John Wayne, the ‘Alamo,’ and the biker with his Harley-Davidson on Route 66 have been our inspiration.  Each are distinctly heroic and carry our hopes and dreams.

But the Bible is not an American book.  A cowboy did not die for our sins (which are many).  The way of discipleship does not take us through Dallas, Texas.  Rather, His Words to us are bold and entirely challenging in an amazingly fresh and different direction.  We are told to wash feet, to repeatedly turn the other cheek, to surrender all our rights, and then take the lowest place there is in every situation.

Jesus is positioned as the Lord over us.  Humility is to become  the way we think and how we act.  We have become slaves to righteousness.  Our vaunted independence has been toppled. The crown has slipped. My wilfulness still wants to stand instead of kneeling. We discover this has been the truth all along.  We have never ever been in control.  He has been the King since before time, and will always be, for an eternity.

“Many Christians have what we might call a “cultural holiness”. They adapt to the character and behavior pattern of Christians around them. As the Christian culture around them is more or less holy, so these Christians are more or less holy. But God has not called us to be like those around us. He has called us to be like himself. Holiness is nothing less than conformity to the character of God”.

Jerry Bridges

I want to pose the following questions.  Are we honestly in a condition of being weak?  Can you serve with a basin and towel?  Is your heart that of a child? Do we see the world through the ‘lens’ of a soft and broken spirit?

Our churches often struggle often over issues of pride and stubbornness.  There is often little gentleness and brokenness to be seen.  We still see ourselves as independent, and we call our own shots.  I wonder if the lordship of Christ is even considered.  We may consider it noble to be a Christian, but our lives are not discipled.  (And they are not likely to be until God breaks us of our independence.)  It’s called, ‘the spirit of the age.’

“Holiness has never been the driving force of the majority. It is, however, mandatory for anyone who wants to enter the kingdom.”

Elisabeth Elliot

 

I write these things surveying my own life.  Self will and my hard heart fit ‘hand-and-glove’ with being that desperado.  I ride alone, making my own way, and I don’t make any disciples. I jettison my cross— my cross of discipleship.  I serve no one, unless it suits me.  Am I His disciple, or am I a man of my own?  Is He my lord, or have I decided to claim that right for myself? We must decide these things.

I only hope I have spoken the truth today. Forgive me if I offended.

“Lord, I am willing to receive what You give, to lack what You withhold, to relinquish what You take, to suffer what You inflict, to be what You require.”  Amen.

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