Being Sick

Potter shaping a ceramic plate on a pottery wheel

Potter shaping a ceramic plate on a pottery wheel

“So Miriam was kept outside the camp for seven days, and the people waited until she was brought back before they traveled again.”

Numbers 12:15

To be numbered among the chronically ill often can mean a transition into frustration. We can not do what we want, we are ‘trapped’ by a disease we never asked for, and held hostage by our minds and bodies. It seems apart, from the management of our symptoms, we have little time to do anything else. We once had a job– a career… and our time was occupied by that. We were accustomed to something more than this illness.

I once was a pastor of a small church here in Homer, Alaska. I also taught Gospels for many years at the Alaska Bible Institute. I loved both. They defined my identity and gave me purpose. I loved helping people and teaching the Word. I strived to be faithful in the ministry. My wife and two children were also significant and all of these things led me to think they would always be there. I was living my dream (in a good way.)

With the sudden onset of a brain tumor, followed up by a diagnosis of Bipolar disorder (BP), I knew I had to step out of the ministry. I simply could not function. My depression grew more profound with the stillborn death of our third child. Things suddenly ground to a stand-still as we tried to process what has happening to us. I guess I just couldn’t understand and more or less just shut down. I spent months in bed, unable to function.

Some people were jewels. Others were mean and uncaring. (I had to learn to take the good with the bad.) I suppose I should have been more forth-coming, but things were so tangled up inside I couldn’t verbalize a thing. The post-op surgery was an ordeal, as I had to learn many things all over again. Years later I ended up on disability; I was unable to work, and no one would hire me. My symptoms were so unpredictable, and things were too erratic. The BP was giving me it’s customary depression, as well as paranoia and hallucinations.

Sometimes, like Miriam, we are quarantined by the Lord for his purposes. The isolation is worse that the pain it seems. We wonder why this is happening, and fabricate lies about our worthiness or God’s goodness. In our isolation things seem polarized to extremes. Our value seems to be ripped apart by our illness. We can feel cursed, or worse.

I have been slow to learn this: God brings good out of the dark. I’m embarrassed by my lack of acquiring this truth.

“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

2 Corinthians 4:7

This light must shine. The treasure is found in clay vessels. Brokenness only means the treasure is now seen clearly. It’s important to note: treasure loses none of its value by being surrounded by broken clay.

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.”

2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Troubles of various ilk come to us. They are variegated and unplanned. No matter what their nature, God holds his people in place while everything else is falling apart. But there is no magic wand; the pain will probably continue. But for the broken believer, there comes another dimension; a new supernatural layer of grace to bolster our beleaguered faith. We will triumph through this thing, and we will stand– because He makes us stand.

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The Praise of Men

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“…but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.”

1 Thessalonians 2:4

At a prayer service at a local church an elderly man came forward to the microphone, “I praise God that I don’t have anything to repent of today.”  I suppose what he meant was he was not a murderer, an idolater, a thief, or an adulterer. He was not engaged in any of the biggies. (Needless to say, his wife could be heard groaning.)

We like to make spiritual progress. Holiness is the desired state we Christians desire to attain. We surmise that anything less than that is lethal. We fully intend to become outstanding Christian people. However, it seems our righteousness so easily becomes an “achieved commodity.”

We want to be looked up to, to be honorable men and women. Something inside us desires to receive honor from others. We become slowly addicted to “the praise of men.” In time, it’s all we want. Unfortunately it becomes a requirement to become successful “Christians.”

“…for they loved human praise more than praise from God.”

John 12:43

John is describing men who became secret believers, but not open followers. They believed, but they feared the Pharisees and being excommunicated from the Temple. They were “men-pleasers” rather than God-fearers.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,” 

Colossians 3:23

As a broken believer I must steel myself against the praise of people. I should realize the seductiveness of this, and my desire to please other Christians. Sometimes this blog is a challenge for me; I like to be liked. But all of “this” is for the Lord, and His own glory.

I find I have to make constant adjustments. I have to put to death my flesh repeatedly. I want any praise to be redirected to Him. This mindset needs to be worked over and over in my heart. The hook of man-pleasing digs deep.

It seems that God’s whole employment is to lift up the humble and cast down the proud.

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Five Barn Burners

 

“Barnburning for Dummies”

There are some who may not understand the term, but back on the farm in Wisconsin, “barnburning” meant one of two things:

1. A person who burns down a barn, (obviously literal.)
2. Something amazing or noteworthy. To be strong, impressive, or of interest, (metaphorical.)

The following verses have made a tremendous influence on me. Here are five “barn burners” — incendiary verses that have directed me and given me support in challenging times.  I hope at least one will fire up your heart.

It is a challenge to limit myself to just these five, so much has blessed me over 40 years–I should have at least 500.  Scraping up five was really not the problem, there could be so many more.

So here are five which have made a definite impact on my thinking. (I reserve the right to change my mind as necessary, LOL.) All verses are from the English Standard Version (ESV), such as it is. Get ready for some “spiritual napalm.”

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ONE: “Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22

This is a very precise chapter in my mind.  A great deal of attention is given to Paul and Barnabas’ relationship to the people.  At first, they are deified, but moments later the crowds pick up rocks to stone him.  However Paul’s message to the local church was impressive.  He strengthens, and he encourages.  The reality of difficulty and tribulation has become the very doorway for them to come into the kingdom.  This encourages me, and helps me in the conflicts I deal with.

 


 

TWO: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32

This verse tells me of God’s commitment to me.  First, I’m part of a little flock.  Nothing of any significance.  The world evaluates me, but I’m just a simple guy involved with a simple group of people, nothing more.  However in this verse, fear is the primary issue.  “Fear not, little flock.”  Our fear is supposed to be eradicated and extracted.

The word “pleasure” is an interesting choice of words.  We understand pleasure, or at least we think we do.  This verse implies that the Father has put into play His intensity. Pleasure is often a way of doing intensity.  God is “ultra-involved” and is exceptionally extravagant in His treatment of us.  We are brought into this place of grace, by His kindness and grace.  He can’t wait to pour out his love on us.

 


 

THREE:   “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  Phil. 1:6

What confidence!  That is a vital ingredient in our lives,  this confidence and boldness.  Our God is active in bringing us to a deeper place of  maturity.  Paul understands this, and uses God’s diligence as the basis for his growth.  This verse is a real confidence builder for me.  A promise that He will continue His work in me, no matter what.  This is a great promise for young Christians.  I often look at my own issues, and I give up after I accrue a certain frequency–a certain “sin-ratio.”

Shortly before I became a Christian, I spent a lot of time with Fred Tsholl who was the night-shift announcer at a nearby Christian radio station.  He was so patient and kind to me.  I would sit with him in the studio, all night long.  When it was time for me to leave he would quote this verse to me.  Looking back, this verse became quite significant.  I would take it as a promise from the Lord Himself.

 


 

FOUR:  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 2 Cor. 4:7

‘Jars of clay,’ really nothing more than this.  We are weak and vulnerable, we so easily can be broken.  But a treasure, I don’t think we grasp the value of treasure.  But, if it resides in us, we become a repository of great significance.  This magnificent work is not of our own effort.  It belongs to God.  It is nothing we can claim from any working on our part.

 


 

FIVE: “Who is that coming up from the wilderness,
   leaning on her beloved?” Song of Sol. 8:5

This world is a tangled place, it is a dense and difficult wilderness. There doesn’t seem to be a smooth road anywhere.  We make our way slowly, through much suffering and personal doubt.  This particular verse gives me an assurance of His presence, even in the middle of hardship and challenge.  He is present with me.

We come up out of this ugliness, precisely because of that close presence.  We lean on the Lord, as we traverse this hard place.  His dear presence will bring us through this darkness, He gives me the amazing strength to do this journey.

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How Things Happen

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31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

Matthew 13:31-33, ESV

These are perhaps the three most potent verses in the entire Bible. And whenever you find “potency” you will find a strong possibility of exponential growth. It may be a steady synergy, or an explosive fission. Either way, it’s going to grow!

Both the seed and the yeast have so much in common. They are two sides of the same proverbial coin. And they represent explosive growth. If they are unleashed, watch out! They are both “pep and power” and now set loose they will take off.

The seed is put in the ground and the yeast in the flour. And the farmer and the baker both do their initial work of planting or kneading, and then they just stand back, their work is pretty much done. They now just let “nature” take its course.

These parables Jesus taught here are small— but hardly less significant because of their brevity. These two can bury you with all they imply and mean. When we think clearly about yeast in your cupboard and that single seed in its package, we should see the “life” that resides in them, and the potential that waits.

I think much about the Church. At times, I admit I get frustrated with it. I get judgmental, and fearful that it won’t survive into the next century.  I truly understand that I can be critical. At times my friends must deal with my “ugliness,” but still they put up with me. (They are true friends.)

The kingdom is growing, and advancing. I love the wonderful promise in Isaiah 9:6, (usually read at Christmas time only. A mistake.) But Isaiah 9:7 is also pretty amazing too,

“His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen!”

Let it grow, let it grow! 

*

ybic, Bryan

kyrie elesion.

Faith: Make Me Thy Fuel

“Give me the love that leads the way, The faith that nothing can dismay, The hope no disappointments tire, The passion that will burn like fire, Let me not sink to be a clod: Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.”

– Amy Carmichael

“Seek not to understand that thou mayest believe, but believe that thou mayest understand.”

 –Augustine

“Faith, as Paul saw it, was a living, flaming thing leading to surrender and obedience to the commandments of Christ.”

  –A.W. Tozer

“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.”

Hebrews 11:1

 

 

 

The Art of Denying Jesus

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Peter weeps

“Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly.”

Matthew 26:75, NLT

Three denials are followed by three reaffirmations.

A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”

John 21:17

The apostle Peter was a fervent disciple. He knew who Jesus was before most. He was always included in special times (e.g. the transfiguration, Gethsemane). He was favored by Jesus throughout times of ministry. I also believe that he was Jesus’ friend. Peter is known for:

  • being called on the shores of Galilee, Matt 4:18-19
  • ‘almost’ walking on water, Matt 14:29-30
  • finding the tax money in a fishes mouth, Matt 17:24-27
  • having his feet washed, John 13:6-7
  • in Gethsemane– cutting off an ear, John 18:10-11
  • his remorse at denying Jesus, Matt 26:75
  • at the empty tomb with John, John 20:3-8

Peter’s own denials were of a serious nature effecting who he was, and who he was to become. Jesus astutely intervenes as they ‘breakfasted’on the seashore. There would be three affirmations; one for each denial. Peter needed to meet the resurrected Jesus, and speak with him about what he had done. Peter needed this.

Out of our own confusion, we realize that we deny Jesus. Perhaps frequently. A denial has different intensities and different situations. And none of us have an immunity as of yet. We deny the Lord when we refuse to speak of him to others. We deny the Lord when we fail to do what is right. Sometimes we deny him flagrantly, other times it is a more subtle attitude. At best, we’re still inconsistent, and at worst, apostate.

We’re not punished or abandoned for this behavior. Human logic would suggest that we should be. But instead we are gently restored. Given the opportunity, Peter the fisherman, would eventually become a wise shepherd to the young Church. I would also suggest that Peter’s personal weakness would serve him well as a gentle, and caring pastor.

Peter, near the end of his life, goes ‘full circle’ and uses a very precise Greek word found in only two places in the New Testament. It is the specific form of the word “shepherd.” It is only used in John 21:16-17 in Peter’s restoration, and in 1 Peter 5:2. Peter encourages the Church with the same words Jesus himself spoke to him on the beach so long ago! Peter wrote:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing.”

1 Peter 5:2, NIV

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I Love This House! Psalm 84:1-4

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 1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
2 I long, yes, I faint with longing
to enter the courts of the Lord.
With my whole being, body and soul,
I will shout joyfully to the living God.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young
at a place near your altar,
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God!
4 What joy for those who can live in your house,
always singing your praises.

 Psalm 84:1-4

There are some things that leave an indelible mark inside, deep on our souls.  For me, one instance I remember staying at Simpson College on Silver Ave. in San Francisco in June 1986.  The dorms were empty and I had a whole floor to myself.  The campus was gorgeous.  I found a little “mom and pop” corner market nearby which had a awesome deli. Here I could buy cold cuts, braunschweiger  and fresh sourdough bread.   I returned to my room to build my sandwich.  I remember the windows were open and a beautiful breeze was there.   Food, warm sun, flowers in bloom and the Holy Spirit are just about ready to intersect in my life.

It was simply a moment I captured and savored.  Everything seemed to coincide, it was magical in the best sense of the word.  It was beautiful, that is all I can say.  That time in that dorm room has become a crystalline moment that I will never forget.  Right there, it seemed I fell in love, not with a girl, but with a moment in time and place.

That nostalgia is thick on the shoulders of the writer of Psalm 84.  He remembers and savors the memories of his visit to the temple.  He was given something in that particular moment that  would haunt him for the rest of his life.  In his thinking, the beauty of the temple could never ever be the same again.  The beauty of that experience was inviolable and true and could never be duplicated.  But it was his, and he would never forget._ho2

God gives moments, wrapped in wonder and awe.  His presence is very likely the tipping point in these.  When He is present, a connecting link is made and we receive grace.  We will longingly look back on these moments when grace was so close.  The psalmist has the same hunger .  These moments in the temple which are so blessed have also ruined him.   Special times of God’s presence have resulted in a sanctified dissatisfaction with the present.

When we finally make our way to Jesus, life takes on a curious wonder.  When the rain finally comes to the barren desert, an explosion of life bursts out.  In the exact same way, our lives get very green and lush.  This is in contrast to our dry and desperate life without His presence.

I am hungry for His presence.  I want to be in the center of wherever He is at.  I admit that His grace and love has spoiled me.  But the love of Jesus does this.  Normal life seems to be in black & white, He turns it into a vibrant color.  The psalmist begs to be returned to the temple.  He wants to be there, more then anything.

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