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Change (for the Unchangeable)

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I stagger over the patience of God for my soul. Sometimes repeated forays into sin become all I can see. I am the prototypical sinner, and it’s hard to believe anyone else could be as stubborn as me. But grace is always found, when I return to Him.

I do know that growing up has much to do with time spent with Him. Coming into Jesus’ presence, by faith, is my ‘life task.’ I know this to be true.

“I will bless those who have humble and contrite hearts,
    who tremble at my word.”

Isaiah 66:2

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Quarantined, for His Purposes

 

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Quarantines are a real possibility, even in this day. A quarantine is imposed when disease is contagious enough that it would harm a society: Measles, Smallpox, and the recent Ebola Virus  are just a few physical diseases where strict isolation must be imposed. It can be severe— an epidemic, with desperate consequences if not adhered to; in some rare cases, the use of deadly force have been authorized to maintain a quarantine until the disease is no longer communicable.

This may surprise you, but there are examples of ‘quarantines’ in the Bible. The term ‘unclean’ was used for ‘leprosy.’ Those afflicted must isolate themselves; they had to ‘announce’ their presence when in contact with society. Lepers lived in groups away from the general populace as a result of their disease.

In Paul’s epistle to the Corinthian he addresses another kind of ‘quarantine.’ The situation was dire; the church had advocated a Christian living with his father’s wife.

“I have already passed judgment on this man in the name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church. I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus. Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns.”

1 Corinthians 5:3-5, NLT

Understanding the Principal of Usefulness

20 “Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor.”

2 Timothy 2:20, NASB

Found in God’s pantry are many things. Paul writes Timothy about the ‘large house’ which is the Church inclusive. Look around Timothy, there are gold ones, and there are silver ones. They have a noble purpose fitting for such a great house. These are the ones the guests will use; they befit the significance of the Lord himself. These vessels have great value for they are made of precious metals.

There are vessels of a different category. These are the ones made of wood, and of clay. These are part of the household, make no mistake about it. But their use is one of function, they’re used in common ways. (A clay ‘bed-pan’ perhaps?!)

21 “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.”

2 Timothy 2:21

Paul, the author of New Testament doctrine of grace emphasizes the place of personal holiness. We are to ‘cleanse’ ourselves to become a vessel of honor. There is good news here:

  • All are vessels in the Father’s house. Each of us belong to Him. He determines their use.
  • Things are not yet in their final state. Change in status can be experienced. Clay pots can become ‘golden.’ Silver can become ‘wood.’

Some sin is contagious. It effects other believers and the Church. Sometimes we are quarantined by the Holy Spirit until the contagion passes. I have experienced this several times in my own discipleship. These are not pleasant times. But there is no condemnation. I’m still His servant, His love for me stays outrageously constant. God waits for me.

Yes I am His servant, and I must wait out in the hall. I haven’t been faithful. So I sit in His waiting room, waiting for His call. This is for my good, and for the Church. And Father knows best.

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Ministry & the Mentally Ill

“Turning Your Back,” Russian Folk Art

Religious people love to hide behind religion. They love the rules of religion more than they love Jesus. With practice, the Condemners let rules become more important than the spiritual life. “

— Michael Yaconelli

Mentally ill people are rarely seen in our Churches.  We are pushed into hiding our true identity;  we can come out into the open, but only if we agree to play according to the rules–their rules.  We are expected to censor ourselves, and say proper things at the right time.  Pharisees [who are alive and well] insist on a level of purity that all must maintain. [Hey, I am not picking on anyone, it’s just a generality.]

If I say that I am depressed, paranoid, manic or desperate, I will upset the apple cart and muddle up everything.  “Truth?  You can’t handle the truth?”, [from the movie, “A Few Good Men”.] 

But– if we use our shortcomings as credentials– we have the ability to speak about grace, love and of self-acceptance, with real authority.

Christians with mental illnesses, have been given a gift that we are to share with the Church.  The Holy Spirit has sprinkled us into each fellowship of believers.  He places us who are presently afflicted and suffering into strategic places.

We are “sprinkled” throughout the Body. Our “gifts” are to speak to the Body, spiritually about a lot of things, but especially grace. We are bearers of grace. We’re the audio/visual department of the church.

If our fellowships become religious, it might be because we in our weaknesses, have allowed ourselves to be silenced into submission by the “interpreters” of scripture.  If we don’t like the rules, we are told to go elsewhere.  We are not welcome, they say with a thin smile.

But don’t you see, that is our moment to shine!  Our “unsightly” presence shouts out to the “wonderful” people, proclaiming grace in weakness.  Those who receive us, in a way, receive Him.  Those who turn from us, muffling us, are doing that to Jesus. Frightening, isn’t it?

I would strongly suggest that we take our illnesses into the open. 

That we become transparent before others.  As we do this, we can ‘oh-so-gently’ guide our fellowships into true grace and love.  They look at me and they see Jesus.  And that is our ministry as mentally ill people to the Church.  Our weaknesses are really our strengths.

9″ But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power  is perfected in weakness.”  Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.” 

10 “So because of Christ,  I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

                               2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NLT

 

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[This is a re-blog of one of our core teachings, originally posted 11/20/2009. I felt it was time to bring out of our musty old closet and set it before you again. I hope that it resounds deep within, and that it encourages those who must mix their discipleship with disability.]

 

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Bridges to Burn

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As a rambunctious kid I’d be told by my mom, “This is going on your permanent record!” At the time I didn’t know what that was, but it sounded really scary. I remember debating myself of whether or not such a record existed– and if it did, well, I was in deep trouble.

There is the adult version of this permanent record. It is called the conscience. And it can be a ‘hell on wheels.’ Each of us have:

  • murky attitudes
  • lousy circumstances
  • edgy emotions
  • broken reactions
  • screwy perceptions
  • subtle influences
  • sneaky prejudices

They don’t all have to be negative. As a matter of fact we have positive implications as well.

But like it or not, things get etched and colors become fast. Everything we are is a collection of past experiences. Some are godly, while others– not so much. Every decision you make determines your tomorrow. For some, this is a good thing, but a real terror for others.

“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.”

Isaiah 1:18

The consequences and implications are staggering. Few can live with this kind of truth. But many do come to God for forgiveness.

There is provision for our permanent record. The Word of God (the Bible) has a built-in filtering system that pulls out all the nasty stuff. Sin can build up, even in the blazing light of the Holy Spirit.

Another issue is having the guilt removed from your record by a sovereign act of God. The death of Jesus Christ wasn’t a noble act of a ‘religious teacher.’ Rather it was an atonement for our sin. At this point ‘amnesty’ is given to everyone who believes in Him.

Our permanent record has been expunged— erased, if you will. In a meaningful way, our record has been changed by God.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

1 John 1:9

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

Psalm 32:1-2

To have a clear record is a life-changing thing. To have the slate wiped clean is such a joy. God now shares His life with us, and enables us to redeem our yesterdays. Our past gets fixed by the only one who can fix it for us. Sin was never supposed to be permanent.

(Study scriptures: Ps. 32:5; 130:3-4; Acts 10:43; Eph. 2:8-9)

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Dismayed by My Own Fallenness

“As the Scriptures say,

“No one is righteous—
    not even one.
11 No one is truly wise;
    no one is seeking God.
12 All have turned away;
    all have become useless.
No one does good,
    not a single one.”

Romans 3:10-12

Scripture never, ever flatters the human ego.  It acts on us directly, “dividing the spirit from the soul.”  I find no glowing review of our “noble” humanity. The opposite is true.

At our deepest core, the Bible teaches that we are depraved—separated from truth and goodness.  In theology this is called, “original sin.”  (I don’t think there is really anything original about it.) There is also a concept called “contrition.”   It means, “having sorrow or sadness over sin involving making steps to amend your ways.”  Notice the definition instills a sense of action.  Perhaps the idea of penitence need a new emphasis?

Does your discipleship include the reality of you?

There are broad, generalized teachings that are woven into the Word— the iniquity and fallenness of men.  It consistently talks a seemless truth, without fail. ( That’s one of the reasons why I know the Bible is true.)  Yet the Father has made provision for our falseness and weakness, he sweeps nothing under a cosmic rug.  You might say the Scripture completely understands us, as us.  Our illusions and deceptions, blatant or subtle, do not confuse or mislead him.

Our discipleship must be “walked out” in brokenness. That is the only way it will work.

We have absolutely nothing to boast about.  I cannot point to this blog— or having been a missionary, a teacher and a pastor as my “good things.”  Today, I sat and became very aware of my inner wickedness. But because He directly intervenes in my life, I will not die in my sins like I deserve.

I am sad.  You see, I am fallen, a complete failure.  It’s easier to find water in the Sahara Desert than to find goodness in my heart.  As a matter of fact, I’ve taken evil to a new level.  I excel, and then I keep practicing it trying to squeeze out more and more power— pride— pleasure.

Those who mourn their contagiously evil hearts (Matthew 5:3-4) are the ones who God can comfort.  Our sadness over our sin (and the sin of the world)—is evidence of the Spirit’s action over our depravity. Look for it, and rest in the Spirit’s work.

“Original sin is in us, like the beard. We are shaved today and look clean, and have a smooth chin; tomorrow our beard has grown again, nor does it cease growing while we remain on earth. In like manner original sin cannot be extirpated [completely destroyed]  from us; it springs up in us as long as we live. Nevertheless we are bound to resist it to our utmost strength, and to cut it down unceasingly.” 

 ~Martin Luther

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Almost Holy, [Almost]

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“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.”

Romans 7:18-20, NLT

I hesitate to tell you this, but I have not found any secrets to becoming a holy person.

To be sure, I wish I figured this out. I would very much like to come to you with the secret formula. Sometimes I want to just make things up, just to alleviate your trials and strivings. I would easily latch on this idea of a “magic wand.” I think it would be good; and maybe not.

But the authentic Christian life is hardly formulaic. It seems to defy any attempt to explain, and then guide anyone else into that special place of true obedience or holiness. I’m supposing that you are just like me. I truly want to be right. I would love to be holy. But it ain’t happening. I always seem to end up back in the place I started from. Always, defeat and simple failure. Rats!

I’ve always been mystified by the conundrum of Romans 7. I really want 8, but I’ll settle for 6. Romans 7 has been in limbo for a very long time. I don’t really know what to do with it. (I honestly avoid it, after all chapter 8 is so good!) But way deep down, I have a real strong sense I’m missing something very important.

I suppose it might be compared to making a really good ‘discipleship smoothie.’ Of course we must add to our blender Rom. 8. And many would add Rom. 6. However, a lot of us would hesitate to include Rom. 7, we’re not really sure why. Quite a few commentaries also hesitate. Many good teachers and preachers regard chapter 7 as parenthetical. They suggest that Paul is describing his life before coming to Christ, and certainly not in a ‘present-tense’ discipleship.

When I look at the Gospels, I see, across the board that those– the healed, forgiven, cleansed and made whole were always the desperate. They have nothing, they bring nothing– they meet no requirement, but pure poverty. They are the “zeroes.” (Maybe– even the negative numbers?)

I don’t believe, at this point anyway, that there is a singular principle of sanctification. Perhaps we can truly do nothing in precise alignment. There is no such thing as a “microwavable discipleship,” and no real instant breakfasts. We truly come with a desperate faith– and we will end up with just a desperate faith. This should be incredibly humbling to us all. It takes a long time to learn humility it seems.

“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am!”

Romans 7:21-24, NLT

Please (someone?– anyone?!) challenge me on this. I tell you, chapter 7 chafes, and then “disrupts” me. Will I always be so misaligned and “out-of-step?” Or am I just a lousy excuse for a Christian disciple? If I’m out of line and screwed up; please let me know. But whatever dear one, don’t give up– “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” (John 6:68.)

_______

“The power of the Church is not a parade of flawless people, but of a flawless Christ who embraces our flaws. The Church is not made up of whole people, rather of the broken people who find wholeness in a Christ who was broken for us.”

–Mike Yaconelli

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kyrie elesion, Bryan

(Lord, have mercy.)

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Ministering to Yourself, [Self-Encouragement]

Why are you cast down?

The Psalms are a classical example of self encouragement. The writer sometimes fell in to some moments of depression and he would write encouraging words to uplift his spirit. Today these have become encouragement verses or scriptures for us to emulate. Read Psalm 42. It is somewhat an unusual portion of scripture, in as the writer addresses his/her own soul.  That alone makes it unique. And if we think it out, we become aware of an awesome truth.

“I suggest that the main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self . . . Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul? he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: ‘Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.’ Do you know what I mean? If you do not, you have had but little experience . . . We must stand up as this man did and say: ‘Why are you cast down? Why are you disquieted within me?’ . . . instead of listening placidly to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you. For that is what he will always do if you allow him to be in control.”

D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982), pp. 20,21.

When I allow myself to indulge in anger, impatience, worry, pride, or spite, I provide an entrance for Satan to enter my life and run rampant through my mind. He doesn’t have to scheme, plan or deceive me. He can walk right in and begin chasing my self-centered emotions all over the place. My impatience breeds irritation; irritation– anger. Anger chases bitterness, and bitterness– unkindness. Satan just keeps bringing more and more situations and circumstances in my life that wreak havoc with fruit of the spirit. In my weakened state, my heart is left vulnerable to more and more assaults.

“He who has no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down and without walls.”

–Proverbs 25:28

The Bible teaches us that we are responsible for our behavior. As believers we simply do not have the option to allow depressive self-talk to go on unedited and unchallenged.  If we think about it, as we are depressives and the mentally ill, we must take a stand! This idea can help us through much anguish of soul. The concept of ‘kindling’ a depressive bout can lead us to ‘flare up,’ and get out-of-control. Remember, depression is both physical, emotional, and spiritual issue.

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