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Thanksgiving Starts in Our Hearts

The First Thanksgiving

“Let us thank God heartily as often as we pray that we have His Spirit in us to teach us to pray. Thanksgiving will draw our hearts out to God and keep us engaged with Him; it will take our attention from ourselves and give the Spirit room in our hearts.”

–Andrew Murray

“Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.”

Psalm 30:4

 

 

 

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Simple Discipleship, [Understanding]

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Each of us who are broken believers will take the following steps. This is simple discipleship. These four will be at the root of everything we do. Our mental illness may influence this walk, but it can’t derail the process. Because it is a supernatural one, everyone starts at the same spot— whether we’ve an illness or not. Each of us must take these four steps and engage them:

  1. Come to Me

  2. Learn of Me

  3. Follow Me

  4. Remain in Me

Disciples will build their lives on these. They are solidly basic but extrapolated out into different unique variations. Each one will be uniquely yours.


COME TO ME:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28, ESV

The source is Jesus, and his presence is sought. Our heavy issues are relieved by his nearness.

 

LEARN OF ME:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29

Jesus shares his yoke with every disciple. We are to learn at his feet, and it’s there we learn of his humility. Rest is your evidence of his proximity.

 

FOLLOW ME:

 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

A cross awaits every disciple. Self-denial is critical for every believing disciple. Jesus will show us how it’s to be done.

 

REMAIN IN ME:

“Remain [abide] in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” John 15:4

This involves drawing and extracting life from him. We are a branch that pulls its life essence from its core, he is our vitality and our strength.

“Whatsoever one would understand what he hears must hasten to put into practice what he has heard.” –Gregory the Great

 

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Making Pain Work for You, [Trials]

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“Then they went back to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch in Pisidia. 22They encouraged the followers and begged them to remain faithful. They told them, “We have to suffer a lot before we can get into God’s kingdom.”

Acts 14:21-22, CEV

Paul and Barnabas, together are perhaps the most gifted men ever to minister the Gospel.  They have an amazing love for the Church.  They operate out of great difficulty, but the deep work they do, proceeds out of encouragement.  I looked at a dozen or so translations of the Bible–all of them translate this, “encouraged.”  Every single one!

Earlier in chapter 14, we can read about the brutality and ugliness they had to walk through.  It was very bad, beyond belief.  But these two never ever lose their love for the Lord, and for His people.  Their ministry continued to be full of optimism and comfort.  They simply can’t be poisoned by the nastiness and bitterness just days before.

They understand something.  What they have to say (as they minister that comfort) kind of boggles everyone’s thinking.

They said, “We must suffer many things to enter God’s kingdom.”

Comforting and strengthening, isn’t it?  Sometimes when I read this passage I can’t believe what they are saying!  It doesn’t make any sense at all.   I believe there are three things we must process to fully understand these verses.

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1)  What comforts us is not always comfortable.

 I’m slowly coming to the place of accepting pain and sickness as my personal doorway into the Lord’s kingdom.  I know my mental illness has opened an entrance into something wonderful.  My months of being institutionalized in different hospitals has seemed to have filled me with grace, gentleness and love–in other words, the kingdom. At least that is what I think.

2)  What we think is the best way often is not.

No one chooses one’s particular path.  If we could we would all be driving a BMW and our homes would be palaces, we would win the lottery on a regular basis.  Our children would be little angels.  We would never be sick, or have a chronic illness.  But–we can’t enter His kingdom, unless there are trials.  They have to be there, they must.  Somewhere it says,  if we suffer, we will reign.

3)  What we need from our elders and pastors is the truth.

 Often the leadership of the Church keeps this one in the closet.  They communicate very well other subjects that are enjoyable.  And we pressure them to do this, gently and subliminally of course.  And everyone wonders why we don’t mature in our faith.  Paul and Barnabas are tremendous leaders, but they don’t roll things in sugar, and their ministry carries on the sufferings of Jesus.

Often it seems, when God chooses to bless a man or a woman greatly, He will send a trial to prepare them deeply.

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Mental Illness Concerns, [Illness]

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As with anything, those of us with mental illness have much to consider. I believe that God will direct us through these issues. And these are not static things. It isn’t “one and your done”– these are ongoing. They never get completely resolved; you must get used to this. The following list is not meant to be exhaustive.

  • Stigma— One of the basic hazards that comes with a mental illness.
  • Medications– This will be a stretching time as you must determine what  is best for you, your family and basic functionality. There will be many opinions and many issues that will arise. Your patience will be required (but isn’t it always?) Oh, and vodka is not considered a med.
  • Church“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” should be our mantra, we need fellowship.  It is easy to just go it alone, but we will suffer a barrenness which we will see in our hearts. (I’ve chafed at this from time to time.)
  • Therapy— To go or not to go? A good therapist is worth their weight in gold doubloons, but a bad one can be hard to tolerate. Also, a  Christian may not always be the best for you personally. My current is a unbeliever, but is very respectful regarding my faith.
  • Marriage—  A faithful spouse/friend is key to managing your mental illness.
  • Family— They will feel the brunt of your issues. It is good to be aware of this and adjust to their needs. Above all, don’t flog yourself for your failings. Trust in the Lord to redeem things.
  • Work— Surprisingly, some employers have little tolerance for your issues, but the law is they can’t discriminate against a mental illness. I hope it won’t come down to that.
  • Social/friend-– Finding other mentally ill believers is priceless. When I meet someone who also struggled with severe depression I give them a big hug.

We have the joy of combining our discipleship with our illness. This is a formidable task. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit stands ready to give you wisdom. You will discover that it really isn’t the big things that you will struggle with the most, but the littler issues that can ‘rock your world.’ (I’m beginning to wonder if “grittiness” should be added to the fruits of the Holy Spirit?)

The Lord truly will accommodate your illness with His power and grace. He always does this for His children.

“There is no circumstance, no trouble, no testing, that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose.” 

— Alan Redpath

These are only some of the areas that are effected by a mental illness. A good pastor, or a therapist can do wonders when things are out of whack. The spiritual disciplines of prayer, scripture, and the Word will assist you. Having people pray for you will be a necessity and may provide you relief and restore your sanity. Just remember, when you feel like all is dark and you are buried, actually you’ve been planted.

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Philippians 1:6, NLT

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Roadside Assistance, [Word]

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A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

I look up to the mountains—
    does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble;
    the one who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
    never slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord himself watches over you!
    The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm
    and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
    both now and forever.

Psalm 121, New Living Translation

“A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.”

Travelling in biblical times was not easy, everyone walked. Pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem (three times a year) would travel in large groups for safety and companionship. For many the journey would take five or six days, and it meant about 20 miles a day. This ‘song’ was sung corporately as the people walked; it contained truths that would encourage them. Perhaps these are lessons are still living for us today.


 I look up to the mountains—
    does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth!”

The hills or ‘high places’ are centers for pagan worship, so a singular question is asked. “Is this where help will come?” Verse 2 gives an affirming answer and declares a confidence in the Almighty God.


3 “He will not let you stumble;
    the one who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
    never slumbers or sleeps.”

God is very protective, He is hyper-vigilant over those who call on His name. There is never been a time when He is caught off guard. It is good for our souls to meditate on this constant security. He doesn’t sleep, ever.


5 “The Lord himself watches over you!
    The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon at night.”

 

I once had the ‘joy’ of sacking bags of rock in the blistering sun in August. I caught myself scanning the sky, wishing for just one cloud to block out the baking heat. In the tropics, an umbrella is commonly used to shield oneself from the sun in the middle of the day. The reference to the moon is the idea that over exposure to it was as harmful as the sun could be.


 7 “The Lord keeps you from all harm
    and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
    both now and forever.”

One of the most common images of God is that of a diligent shepherd watching over his sheep. The metaphor is used frequently and carries the connotation of continual care and attention. When I think on this it gives me great comfort.

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These all are conditional promises that, although they are true, they won’t give you a pass through heartache and trial. But God promises to measure out each affliction with pain-staking carefulness. He is always, always, always present no matter what.

“What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord,
    who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.”

Psalm 84:5

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All About Flawed Lives, [Hope]

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“Accepting the reality of our broken, flawed lives is the beginning of spirituality not because the spiritual life will remove our flaws but because we let go of seeking perfection and, instead, seek God, the one who is present in the tangledness of our lives.“ 

— Michael Yaconelli

The principle is sound. We let go of our flaws, and make no effort to redeem them. Sounds easy. Although I feel no qualms in doing so, I still wonder. Can He forgive so much, and so many brazen sins?

We can so easily turn on ourselves (at least that’s the tendency) and find accusation.  We become our worst enemy, we desperately carry our guilt like some overloaded and heavy pack all throughout  our broken lives.

We must finally realize we can no longer seek perfection (or its facsimile) by our conduct. Things have gotten far beyond this. We are rascals and ragamuffins– and are likely to remain so. Unless God intervenes decisively.

But love has a way of loosening our rigorous thinking, like a rusted nut on some corroded metal bolt. He wrenches us, and wants to forgive us of everything. He has decided to love us. You must respond to find his forgiveness. Plain and simple.

Instead of seeking perfection, we should be really seeking God. I suppose this can be daunting. But God is comfortable in our difficulties. He rules over our personal confusion. We come with less then zero. He gives us everything.

We can do nothing but accept. His grace. Grace moves us beyond our personal tragedy. Finally accepting we can do nothing, he does everything.. And where does this leave us?

Our striving for a final acceptance comes down to this:  He rules over all our ‘issues,’ and we’re constantly made aware of this excessively extravagant grace. We are rich, only because he has made it so.

There is no one else who can make us worthy. There is no one else who can connect with our sin and then at the same time make us holy in his eyes. There is only God.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

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Condemnation Can’t Stay [Guilt]

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“Lord, I crawled across the barrenness to you with my empty cup uncertain in asking any small drop of refreshment. If only I had known you better I’d have come running with a bucket.”

-Nancy Spiegelberg

There can be no freedom from condemnation without submission to the saving life of Christ.  This is a definite and critical point.

Without a faith in Him, we are left with the option of carrying our own guilt.  This is a staggering possibility, and our lives turn to drinking and “drugging” and other things.  We must escape from all this pain and sin.  We are walking out condemnation, and the weight of this is immense.

Much of our life can be distilled from this viciousness.  We absorb it, adapt to it, thinking it will ease up some.  But it doesn’t, and it won’t.  We turn to all kinds of ‘pain absorbers’ looking to cope with this mindset.  There are escapes, and we try them all.  But ultimately we end up with one that is quite imperfect, and we ‘sort of’ become a little numb. Our hearts become numb and hard.

Condemnation twists us and who are in Christ. 

It deforms our spirit and destroys our confidence before our Father in Heaven.  His love is still being poured out, but we have placed a cover on our vessel.  We are blocking His mercy by our unwillingness to be forgiven.  All of our guilt seems a reasonable reaction to the heaviness of our sin.

Humans were not designed to handle guilt, and its “cousin” fear.  When we do try, we short-circuit.  Pain is always avoided, and that ends up corralling us into bondage.  From here, we can still mentally assent to the Bible; we can still have a sense of spirituality.  But it will always be filtered through our sense of condemnation.

Faith in the complete action of Jesus is enough.  Because I believe He carried the full weight of my sin, past—-present—future, I can walk out a free man.  Yes, sin does require justice, it is to be condemned.  But my faith, trust or confidence enables me to separate from the sin that would take me, straight to the bottom.

In this release, we are supposed to live. Freed from every condemnation. You must displace condemnation with grace.

We have the joy of the forgiven sinner, and that really makes no sense at all. 

It isn’t at all rational.  But it is legal, and it is binding.  And permanent.  There have been too many lies, for too long.  Grace is meant to be the most radical concept we have ever confronted.  And truly it is.

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 8:1

 

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