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. Try reading this verse and emphasise the “you.”

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’.  The writer  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.”

A.W. Tozer

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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Living Psalm 23, [He is a True Shepherd]

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The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Psalm 23, KJV

The Lord wants to escort you to someplace wonderful, it’s where there is a rich rest and a sweet intimacy– in spite, of conflict.  It is revealed in Psalm 23; it is more than poetry. It is a way of life.

There is a preciousness just beyond our ‘status quo.’  It is an abundant life for eternity.  When you have apprehended it, you will understand what I am talking about, and wonder why you’ve missed it for so long. Eternal life has already begun even though many of us don’t walk as if it did. We have eternal life, here end now!

There is a place which we can enter into where Jesus is all there is.  His dear presence pervades everything, and there is no doubt about His lordship.  He rules completely, and He is “all-in-all.”

There is real evidence when you have appropriated this deeper life. There will be a surrender of all you have, and you will fully understand what it truly means to be His follower.  There will be a complete renunciation of all rights to yourself.  You will give it all up, with an insurmountable joy, just to walk with Him.

Live on earth as if you’ve already died, and are now living in heaven with Him.

There must be a definite place where you turn your rights over to Him. Perhaps His love has already pressed you into this.  Often there will be a disillusionment and cynicism with this planet and its ugly ways.  You want to escape all its dullness and jadedness.  You will step into ‘life-effervescent.’  He intends to walk you through many issues, but if He is close I will suggest you trust Him fully.

If you struggle with a mental illness: clinical depression, bipolar, anxiety issues, or schizophrenia, I want to reassure you, you are not a “lesser” Christian.  And my comments include you.  You are not on the ‘scrap heap’ of the Spirit.  In so many ways, you can enter in while normal people will struggle.  And you do need to step into this, and discover a life worth living.

A “Psalm 23 life” is yours for the asking. Take it up, humbly and true. It’s your birthright to be with your Shepherd forever.

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From a Mental Hospital Ward, [Crushed]

3 For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.”

Psalm 143:3

Some time ago,  I was hospitalized for my mental illness. (Actually seven times.) And though each time was bitter, but the Lord carried me.  They would take from me my shoelaces, and belts, and fingernail clippers.  Basically, I was stripped of everything, anything that I might use to harm myself. But I was creative, I took a clock off the wall and rolled it in a blanket,  I smashed it and used the shards of glass to cut my wrists.The nurses were exceptionally observant, and within moments they intervened.

I had already been stripped, searched, and then brought into a ward full of very sick people.  Much of all of this is a terrible glazed blur.  There was a real awareness of unreality.  I was quite confused, and it would take several weeks before I could reconnect.  Things were no longer ‘reasonable’ and I could discern nothing.  But I didn’t know I was so confused (but I did suspect it). The staff were quite aware and accommodating.  They let me be, so time could take care of the rest. I needed to unravel things  

Besides, Jesus knew exactly where I was if I didn’t.

Days rolled by, quite slowly.  The tedium of a mental hospital is the worst— much more difficult than jail or prison.  You walk in a very limited corridor, back and forth.  You wait for your shrink, and wait, and wait.  You pace, and pace. You pray, stupidly.  The other patients were equally disturbed.  There was a great variety among them.  One guy would urinate in any corner. Once he jumped up on the nurses station, and took a “whizz.” It was hysterical.  He almost shorted out their computer.

In all of this, there was a very bleak and strange awareness, of being incredibly ‘detached,’ and only remotely aware that something was not right with me.  I tried to get well, but I was mentally lost.  I paced, and I remained confused.  I was most definitely in an ugly place.  Desperate and increasingly bewildered, I knew I had no place to go.  A fine place for someone who used to pastor, and teach at a Bible college.

If you have been in this place, you will recognize the ‘lostness’ of being on a ward of a mental hospital. It is confusion mixed with despair,  and without a part of very strong drugs, and there is nothing you can do to be released.  And really until you come to this fact, they will never let you go.  They wait for you to snap out of your confusion, unfortunately that takes time. Sometimes many weeks and whole months. Sometimes never.

It’s worse when you have a family.  In my case it was my wife, and two small children.  This at times, would twist my heart.  I would get a very short phone call, once a week.  But this was quite difficult.  I gained very little from those calls, and I found myself quite disturbed after each call.  Being on this ward tinged me completely. It was like being dipped into darkness.  I was very much affected.  Now on the outside, I admit I was quite disturbed, but at the time I honestly did not understand a way out.

Dear friend, having a mental illness is cruel and disturbing.  And being committed to a mental hospital is a desperate thing.  Having passed through its locked doors is something you will never forget.  The way I figure these seven hospitalizations have stolen over six months of my life. Its work is irrevocable, its fingerprints will be on your life, for as long as you live.  But God will bring good out of this. This I know.

“Do not gloat over me, my enemy!
    Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be my light.”

Micah 7:8

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A Giraffe On Roller Skates, [Mental Illness]

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People will sometimes ask me, “What its like to be a Christian and to have a mental illness?” I’m not entirely sure I can really answer, but I do try. It seems almost always there are misconceptions, or even a stigma attached to their curiosity. But here goes.

It’s like I’m a ‘giraffe on roller skates’, It seems like I’m always lurching and tottering— always on the verge of total collapse. (It’s a wonder I’m even ‘standing.’) Careening from one side to another, I’m aware that I’m becoming quite the spectacle, and I imagine I hear whispers about the ‘splash’ I’m making today.

I’m uneasy and unsure. (Am I being inappropriate?) I seem to speak too loud and pressured, I feel conspicuous; like I’m slightly inebriated at a party of Mormons. I’m aware of nervous glances and uneasy whispers.

Welcome to the world of bipolar mania.

I have a mental illness. ‘Rapid cycling’ bipolar disorder is my particular ‘flavor.’ I’m on meds (and have been for some time) but it only seems to do is to take of edge off— but I’m grateful for even that small mercy. Over time I’ve been able to accrue some coping mechanisms.  Identifying my paranoia and random delusions is simple ‘Bipolar 101’. It has become the present state of my world.  I don’t always do it well— but I do ”do it’. (And I take my lithium daily.)

There is a learning curve to all of this. It must be discovered. I have tried ‘avoidance tactics’, and I suppose most of the time they seem prudent. But life can’t really be lived cloistered in your room. That is safe, but also very dull. The isolation becomes more toxic than ‘the spectacle.’

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ, and having bipolar disorder creates some problems. I’m aware of the incongruity. But my faith often uses these issues I face; they propel me closer to Him.

Being ‘broken’ has become a real blessing.

28 “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Matthew 11:28-29, NLT

The promise of Jesus is for those who carry extra weights (like mental or physical illness). It’s for those whose ‘cheese has slipped off their cracker.’ It’s for giraffes on roller skates. Anything we bear is endurable, and easy. He carries us far beyond every weight and every burden. He alone gives rest to the troubled, and real peace to those troubled by their souls.

30″ For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

(verse 30).

What Jesus actively does is to puncture my pride, and then release His spirit and grace over me. But He also makes things ‘light’. The reality is that I bear nothing. All that He does is ‘light’. My blundering is seen and never belittled. But His grace only gets revealed in my weakness.

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Nowhere Man

Meaninglessness

“The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
    vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”

Ecclesiastes 1:1-2

Sometimes it takes us a long time to learn what life is all about. Like a fish making the step to seeing the water, or the bird determining that air exists. Both fish and bird are in their element whether they have conscious awareness of these real things.

But we are different. We are driven to know why we exist, and how is it so. Some of us determine that there is nothing– a deep and compelling vacancy in our universe. Simply, there is no meaning to be found, anywhere. In October 1965, the Beatles recorded, “Nowhere Man” which captured the angst of that generation.

He’s a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

Doesn’t have a point of view
Knows not where he’s going to
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?

It’s funny, but we wrestle with the ‘spirit of this age’ as we are trying to learn the obvious. It seems that our most profound struggles have to do with what is real and what is true. We are compelled to find meaning somehow, and our frustration is often intensified by the passing of time.

Simply– we are running out of time, and we all know it. The dread we have is that we are wasting our lives. Every second that ticks by is irrevocably lost; wasted time is lost time. My generation has dealt with this in hedonistic ways. We often cover our lostness and anguish, with ‘sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.’ Others go out and make as much money as they can, or seek power over others.

But our odd quest for meaning is often like putting a mere band-aid on a broken arm. It not remotely good enough. So much is clumsy and so ridiculous it begs the question, “Has the quest for the cure become just another way of self destruction.” Our hospitals and prisons are bursting, and our mental health industry is making billions of dollars.

But there are two keys that open every lock.
  1. There is a God.
  2. You are not Him.

You must start with a simple mental assent, then progress to faith in a very real God. We Christians believe Jesus Christ came and died for us, building a bridge to God. Since you really haven’t found meaning your way, won’t you try His?

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

St. Augustine

“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.”

– Blaise Pascal, Pensees

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The Stigma of Mental Illness, (we found dog poop in the living room!)

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Robin Williams’ recent suicide has risen the awareness of many people. Over 70% who commit suicide are mentally ill.

One out of five Americans will experience a mental disorder during their lifetime.  But, people can get better.  With proper treatment, most people with a mental illness recover quickly, and the majority do not need hospital care, or have only brief admissions.

Mental illness has traditionally been surrounded by community misunderstanding, fear, and stigma.  Stigma towards people with a mental illness has a detrimental effect on their ability to obtain services, their recovery, the type of treatment and support they receive, and their acceptance in the community.

Exactly what is stigma?  Stigma means a mark or sign of shame, disgrace or disapproval, of being shunned or rejected by others.  It emerges when people feel uneasy or embarrassed to talk about behavior they perceive as different.  The stigma surrounding mental illness is so strong that it places a wall of silence around this issue.

It is like hiding the “pile” instead of dealing with it properly.

The effects are damaging to the community as well as to the person will the illness and his/her family and friends.  But at Mental Health agencies and groups all over are working hard to erase the stigma associated with having a mental illness.

In-House-46638176283_xlargeThe emphasis needs to be on supporting and treating people in their own communities, close to their families, friends and familiar surroundings.

Yet discrimination and community misconceptions remain among the most significant barriers to people with a mental illness being able to actively participate in the community and gaining access to the services they need.

But it is not only people with a mental illness who experience discrimination and stigma.  Rejection of people with mental illness inevitably spills over to the caregiver and family members.

Improving community attitudes by increasing knowledge and understanding about mental illness is essential if people with a mental illness are to live in, and contribute to, the community, free from stigma and discrimination.

People with mental problems are our neighbors. They are members of our congregations, members of our families; they are everywhere in this country. If we ignore their cries for help, we will be continuing to participate in the anguish from which those cries for help come. A problem of this magnitude will not go away. Because it will not go away, and because of our spiritual commitments, we are compelled to take action.”

~Rosalynn Carter

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Assurance of Salvation for the Mentally Ill

Salvation

 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs.

Romans 8:14-17, NLT

As mentally ill Christians, we are often a mixture of good and bad things regarding our faith.

  • The Good: we don’t have to be convinced of our sin.  We live in a broken world, and we’re pretty sure that we have formidable issues. We’re needy.
  • The Bad: our consistency fluctuates from day-to-day. We never know what our state of mind will be. Some of us have problems socially that hinders us. Attendance at our local church is hard.

From one day to the next many of us struggle. The existence of this ‘flightiness’ is painfully evident. And it is hard to maintain anything, much less spiritual things. But I believe that the Holy Spirit not only makes an allowance, but even pours out extra grace on the afflicted believer. The Lord loves His misfits.

But we must put no confidence in our flesh. We do bounce around; our salvation is not of our own doing. We must seriously commit to the promises in the Word of God.

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The engine must pull the other cars. We must look to the promises of God (the Bible) to stay on track. Both faith and feelings must come behind the engine. Some struggle a great deal because they are led by their feelings. Confusion will follow if we get the proper order mixed up.

  1. First facts (the Bible),
  2. then faith,
  3. and finally feelings.

The Word of God is our only safety. Even our faith is to be connected to the promises of God. For those with a disability, we are to link up to promises that God has made to us. When you encounter the truth we’re to hook up through our faith to them.

Read the Word: Psalms or the Gospels. I also draw much strength in the Book of Romans, chapter 5 through 8, especially.

We have been adopted by the Holy Spirit as sons and daughters. We are deeply loved by God Himself. He has gone and made us ‘heirs’ without any of our effort at all (Romans 8:14-17). These are examples of taking up the promises by faith. We are a people in need of stability. What God gives us is His own constancy. Read the Word, fresh just for you.

 “And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.”

2 Peter 1:4, NLT

“In the darkest of nights cling to the assurance that God loves you, that He always has advice for you, a path that you can tread and a solution to your problem–and you will experience that which you believe. God never disappoints anyone who places his trust in Him.”

 Basilea Schlink

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