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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More Bumble Than Believer, [Aging]

A Bumble with a tender heart

It’s strange to be in the position of being older.  A whirlwind of days and nights swirl from this human drama, and I think I may be starting thinking about my exit— Lord willing, stage right.

I’m supposed to be a ‘veteran’ now– a mature believer.  I’m not supposed to get stressed.  However, age is a brutal teacher– and it seems we have to learn so dang fast, it’s like trying to drink from a fire hose. (Just the other day three teeth almost came out from the blast.)

Getting old is great in some ways. I only wish I could do it more gracefully.

On top of it all, it seems to me like my sin has poisoned the air that others must breathe.  I have contaminated so much. You might just say, I have ‘soured’ everyone’s milk.  “Learning to live with the  regrets” is a class that we should add to the local high school’s curriculum. It certainly would be useful.

A old friend is celebrating her birthday so I volleyed a semi serious “tongue and cheek” regret at her.  But then, I suddenly realized that there is a point when we realize that behind every older person, is someone else wondering what the hell has happened, and how did it get this way so fast? It would be funny if it weren’t so serious.

As a Christian, I tentatively believe that this world I’m in, has folded open for me, and God has specified a direction.  I do contend though, unbelief is easier on a certain level, but I do not intend to take any detours.  Perhaps the real trick about reading a map in the car is that you most likely won’t get it folded back the same way ever again.  You must learn to accept this. And as a rule, maps seldom reveal the best detours.

“I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
    until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
    I will carry you along and save you.”

Isaiah 46:4, NLT

I must admit to having a connection to “Bumble”, that crazy, loveable, abominable snowman in one of those schlocky, animated children TV classics from my youth.  I guess I identify with that ‘misfit’ yeti– someone who finally sees the light, but only when all his teeth are pulled!  Somewhere in that show he seemed almost good,  but didn’t we all wonder for a while if he would come around or not?

I  also wonder about the thief on the cross who got his ticket punched by Jesus at the last possible moment.  When we finally make it to heaven, we will find him there laughing and celebrating like everyone else, just like he belonged.  I guess grace does that to a person.

“What does it matter?  All is Grace”

— Georges Bernanos. Diary of a Country Priest

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Surviving the Daily Grind

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“I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit;
I have become like a man without strength,

Psalm 88:4

In May 2011, this is what I wrote–

“I feel like I am going through a meat grinder. Pushed against my will (and desire) I’m finding myself in a place I’d rather not be. My therapist confirmed today that I’m in a “mixed state” where bipolar mania and depression come together.  I compare it to two massive ocean currents smashing into each other.  (please Google, “mixed state”).

I’ve been into this state for just two weeks and the urge to commit suicide is starting to become surprisingly strong. For my own safety, I’m almost thinking that it maybe time to go to the hospital again.  I must tell you that these are places that you really don’t want to go if you don’t have to.  (FYI, my particular choice is Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage. It’s actually a somewhat “nicer” degree of miserable, and they have cooler art.)

I also get paranoid that people are attacking me and are plotting to ruin me. I am quite  suspicious of Facebook and my depression chat. I believe that the people that I encounter there are trying to get at me behind my back. Social networking with these type of services can be a nightmare.

But, then there is also the grandiosity. I believe that I think clearer, better, and faster than other people. It’s like I have superpowers.  I will think of myself as extremely gifted, superior to others.  I paint and write poetry and do “noble” things.

But I also have tremendous anxiety, with racing thoughts, and even heart palpitations esp. when I am sitting trying to relax. I don’t sleep well at all, in spite of the sleeping pill, the Klonopin and the melatonin, and the Benadryl, (to make sure I do sleep).

I continue to take my psych meds like a good boy. But they don’t seem to work like they used to. I think they can’t handle this particular concoction of depression/mania.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m getting better, but I never seem to get well.

The endless cycle of feeling really good and then feeling really bad is a challenging thing.  It is difficult to have a stable walk of discipleship under these circumstances.  I think being starkly honest and broken over my own fallenness is the key for me. (Now if I can only remember this.)

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I know that I’m being very blunt here. Tact has never been an easy thing. As I read I remember the struggle, and how I couldn’t see a way out. I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit who led me when no one else could. I wrote this post some time ag0. I’ve been reasonably stable, but I’m certain that putting it up now maybe timely for some. I’m in a better frame of mind the last several months.

 “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.”

Romans 5:6

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‘Sunning Ourselves in the Smiles of God’

A boy stood on a windy hillside, flying a kite. He continued to release the string of the kite and it went higher and higher until it was completely out of sight. One of his friends walked up and asked how he knew there was still a kite on the other end. He replied. “I know it’s there I feel it tugging on the line.” Like the kite, we can’t see heaven with our eyes, but we feel it tugging at our souls!

As a person with Bipolar its easier in some ways to think about that place I am journeying to.  Through many cycles of mania and depression I find this present life gets old, and the more I hear about heaven, the more excited I get.  I imagine a life without meds, and the constant monitoring of my moods.

 Heaven is described as:

  1. a great reward, Mt 5:11
  2. present suffering not worthy to be compared with future glory, Rom 8:18, 
  3. eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 2 Cor 4:17,18,
  4. surpassing riches of His grace towards us, Eph 2:7, 
  5. beyond all we could ask for or even think, Eph 3:20.

I think of my infirmities and pain.  I can’t wait to “shed” this mental illness. 

To be free from it will be one of best thing I can think of.  To take off my depression, like a heavy coat on a warm day. To sit with Jesus in a garden with living water, that’s more refreshing than any iced tea. Eternity is my favorite thing to think about–

“Where the unveile’d glories of the Deity shall beat full upon us, and we forever sun ourselves in the smiles of God.

—Ezekiel Hopkins 

I want to encourage you who are struggling now, with depression, anger,  schizophrenia, paranoia, abuse, OCD, addictions, PTSD or Bipolar, etc.  There is a day coming for us, when we will forget the agonizing battles that have gone on within us.  I boldly tell you with all the strength I can muster–there is coming the day.  So take hope and journey one more day, thinking of heaven.

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I Still Grieve (But I Now I’m at Peace)

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‘Who gathered this flower?’ The gardener answered, ‘The Master.’ And his fellow servant held his peace.”

It was November 13th, in the year of our Lord 1999, was unlike any day I have ever experienced. A beating with a baseball bat would seem more preferable. On this cold afternoon, hell was unleashed on my wife and myself. What we encountered was soul-wrenching and profoundly tragic.

Perhaps a parent’s worst nightmare is the loss of a child. On this day we lost Elizabeth Grace. She was stillborn, which is rare these days– or so I have been told. She entered this world fully formed, a beautiful baby girl. Today, she would of been 16 years old, and thinking about the prom.

But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

2 Samuel 12:23, (When David’s newborn son died.)

Our loss was grievous, but we are not unique. Plenty of families have suddenly lost a child. I can truly commiserate with them. Somehow we are connected in a perverse way. It seems like an exclusive club, that requires a secret handshake, or something. Suddenly without warning, you are thrown into personal chaos, and very little is remotely decipherable, even to a believer.

The book of Ecclesiastes that there is a definite “time to mourn.”  Matthew tells us, “Blessed are those who mourn.” He does go on to say. “for they shall be comforted.” This comfort is available for any who choose to take it, but you can refuse it, if you really want to.

Grief unites us, but Jesus liberates us. Seriously. I can’t imagine meeting life without his care and comfort. He has been outstandingly gracious to this family. Sure there was pain, but there was also tenderness and a kind grace. Still, sometimes it felt like a “kick in the head.” (But I assure you– it was grace.)

What I still can’t understand is simply this. What would it have cost God to allow Elisabeth to live? I mean, what ‘skin off His nose’ would’ve it taken to let her live? I still to this day have questions, but I have decided to trust. (I trust Him after all, to save my soul.)

Those who have suffered like me will comprehend and grasp, the noxious environment of grief and loss. But we can only take what we are dealt. The sadness is there, but so is His comfort. Make no mistake, His love matches (or even exceeds) the pain and the loss of a child. Truly, God is a wonder and He is good.

I do know that He loves me, a weirdly rascalish, mentally ill epileptic. He holds me close to His precious heart, and I will have no other gods except Him. I will not take up umbrage with Him on this. But I must believe that someday soon, I will truly and completely understand this.

ybic, Bryan

 

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Fire or Blackberries?

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

In some odd way, our lives seem to be always getting interrupted by God. And it can happen a lot. We need to see the invisible. When we can, it can be quite amazing. Our night sky here in Alaska is wonderful. (And I’m a “sky guy”, it means I’m always looking up.) But the most phenomenal night skies were in Mexico, while camping on the beach. As I laid there I looked and the Milky Way was on full display. It really was as good as it could be. It seemed there was 10x more stars than ever before.

Once as I gazed up, a weird sort of fear gripped me, it was almost a panic. I started to tremble and shake. I got up and ran to our tent. I just couldn’t handle the incredible universe with no buffer. I was completely undone, and reduced a quivering speck of dust. I tried to tell my wife Lynn what had just happened to me, but I couldn’t. I was too scrambled. I couldn’t speak.

Reflecting on this, I realize now what I had experienced was “awe.” It was something much more common a few generations ago. There is a kind of existential crisis which we side-step in these more modern times. We rarely contemplate the night sky. We seldom, if ever, have seen fire in a bush.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

It seems we have traded our awareness of an Almighty God, and in turn we get to pick all blackberries we can haul. We reason it out, and we feel that we have made a better bargain. But when we extricate this from our souls, don’t be surprised if we suddenly find that we have become spiritual paupers.

Maybe we should learn to see through things; each of us have the opportunity now to see the spiritual world that swirls around us. Why wait for heaven? Ask our Father to reveal His glory now in this present moment. Learn to see that which can’t be seen, but by faith.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies announce what his hands have made.”

Psalms 19:1, NCV

Crane Song and Common Grace

They sing to God

“And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe.  The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command.” 

Hebrews 1:2-3, NLT

There is an idea of an existance of a ‘common grace’ that touches every person on this rock called Earth.  What is suggested with this, is that every person has access to grace; at least on a basic level, such as nature, government, medical, education and judicial.  We all are sharing in common grace whether we are saved or not.

Common grace explains a great deal, He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:45) They both benefit from His care, whether they believe or disbelieve.

On the other pole, lies ‘special grace.’  It is different.  It is grace that is given to those who put their trust in the promises for salvation, deliverance and healing.  These promises can only be enjoyed by a Christian believer.  Special grace is grace that God gives to each one who is in a covenant relationship with Himself.

I got up early the other morning, with a cup of coffee in hand and went to sit out on my steps.  I have to tell you that mornings are truly delightful here in Alaska.  As I sat looking at the trees and watching the clouds,  the sun was caught by the trees and they began to glow.  (I always think of the burning bush of Moses and secretly wonder if trees don’t remember and try to emulate their ancestor so long ago.)  I hear the cranes from the lake.  And all of this touches me.

Just as I physically awoke 20 minutes ago, I now awaken spiritually. Common grace makes this all possible.  When I first became a believing Christian, I was quite amazed at how blue the sky was. The grass seemed greener. I remember feeling amazed that I hadn’t noticed these things before. I guess I was full of joy over the special grace that I had just been given.crane1

Common grace curbs the destructive power of sin, maintains in a measure the moral order of the universe, thus making an orderly life possible, distributes in varying degrees gifts and talents among men, promotes the development of science and art, and showers untold blessings upon the children of men.”

–Louis Berkof, Christian theologian

I love common grace.  It makes it possible to enjoy my coffee in the sunshine on the deck.  Common grace allows me to hear the crane’s special song.  People everywhere are drawing from the common well of common grace. “The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.” (John 1:4)

 

 

 

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