“Most of the grand truths of God have to be learned by trouble; they must be burned into us with the hot iron of affliction, otherwise we shall not truly receive them.”
“Remember that if you are a child of God, you will never be happy in sin. You are spoiled for the world, the flesh, and the devil. When you were regenerated there was put into you a vital principle, which can never be content to dwell in the dead world. You will have to come back, if indeed you belong to the family.”
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.38 This is the great and first commandment.39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love is the ultimate response God is looking for from us. It is the currency of Heaven. The Kingdom’s economy is ‘the gold standard’ of love. It’s the way business gets done in eternity. Love! Without love ruling our lives now, we will arrive there as paupers and beggars. We will disobey Jesus.
God is our primary target to love. And the quality of it can be appreciated from its ‘source point’. Heart. Soul. Mind. These are the starting places for our affection. The caliber of our worship is summed up by the word, “all.” That word has a totality, and a significance to it. It further intensifies love to the only acceptable place. Love indeed is the perfect “make-up.” We’re never more beautiful then when we love God or another person.
As disciples who are indeed flawed and broken, we can still find a place where we can minister from. I can’t do a lot anymore, but I can love. Loving God is something I can do, even with my issues. I can always love. I can always give my all, my heart to someone else. I can always love!
And actually, this disability strips my discipleship to a simpler and basic level. At the “lowest common denominator” my faith is still valid and vital. I love Jesus, even when I can’t be a senior pastor or teach at my Bible School anymore. I accept this. I can even rejoice in this new “inadequacy.”
Loving Him and following Him can be done, even with a limp.
Several years ago I sat waiting for my bus at King’s Cross in London, England. I was all alone, and felt it. There was a strong sense of brokenness and I was aware of my disability. I was coming a bit unglued by the enormity of my mental illness. I sat staring at the floor just in front of me. I could do nothing else.
But in my field of vision, just in front of me, hopped a bird with a crippled foot. Something had damaged him. The thing that profoundly spoke to me was that bird was not at all devastated, not at all. And the Lord spoke to me about that bird, and His comfort pumped through my veins. I felt I was right where I was supposed to be. I had become the ‘broken’ sparrow, and I could still follow. Maybe, even better now, because of my ‘limp’.
“One of His disciples, whom Jesus loved [whom He esteemed and delighted in], was reclining [next to Him] on Jesus’ bosom.”
John 13:23, Amplified
“One of the disciples, the one Jesus loved dearly, was reclining against him, his head on his shoulder.”
John 13:23, The Message
(Two translations of the same verse.)
Good posture is one of those intangibles that parents are always trying to influence. “Sit up straight” or the classic, “stop slouching”. I’m convinced that this is purely genetics at work. The apostle, traditionally John, is found sitting at the table with the rest of the disciples. It is an intimate and relaxing affair as they eat and talk and rest in a cool, quiet room.
John sits next to Jesus, an informal place of honor. The scripture says that he just rests his head on Jesus’ shoulder. And Jesus did nothing to stifle such behavior. Often, with men it would be very uncomfortable and distracting. I remember in Mexico watching men holding hands, as good friends. I have heard that this is true in other cultures as well.
The intimacy between Jesus and John strikes us as a little weird. But for Jesus it was encouraging. He felt John’s love and perhaps confidence. There certainly was no impropriety or anything suggestive. It was an immensely precious moment, especially for the apostle John. Artists always paint John with a sincere and peaceful countenance. This moment most likely contributed to his serenity.
It was getting dark. Jesus had just hours before the nightmare would begin. When the black rolls in, and it begins to get scary, resting your head on Jesus’ shoulder is a wonderful place to be. We may not look at it like this, but I believe Jesus is comforted. He is encouraged by our affection.
We can make Him happy and content by our simple tokens of affection.
The ‘arm of the Lord’ is spoken of repeatedly by the prophets. They had a prophetic insight into the strength of God. We call it, ‘omnipotence’, and our understanding is that He has all strength, and all power– all of the time. I think that John was leaning on that omnipotence. But it still was motivated by his affection and love for Jesus. Our Savior is strong enough to carry our immense burdens and all of our loads.
“He who masters his passions is a king even if he is in chains. He who is ruled by his passions is a slave even while sitting on a throne.”
Sometimes, I absolutely need a spiritual ‘wake-up call.’ The last few days for me have been taking on the general theme of freedom. It’s very easy for me to accept being a slave. The bait that’s used is very desirable and attractive. It’s hard to let such wonderful morsel go by without a taste. I will sin– and repent later. But hidden deep inside me there is something very small, but very potent. It is a desire to be free from sin. God has placed that within.
Freedom, or that characteristic of walking unencumbered, doesn’t seem incredibly important, at times. But it is a question of identity.
As a Christian believer, am I really a child of the King, a prince in a spiritual world?
Royal blood was spilled to set me free. Is choosing to sin really in my calling?
There are many things that ‘trigger’ my Bipolar depression. Triggers are those things which set off symptoms, ‘kindling’ a sequence of events that leads to total catastrophe. All it takes is one–a lie perhaps, or a delusion that gets ‘airplay.’ I just slide right into the ‘paranoid’ trap set just for me. I essentially experience a total collapse of mood and emotion. Life will crash in all around me. I am left sitting in ashes, in a heap. I have become a ‘king in chains.’
My hospitalizations all have come as a result of giving myself over to ‘twisted thinking.’ My suicidal tendencies are intensified, in part due to becoming enslaved. I become chained and held captive to these dark forces. Meds and ‘talk therapy’ can really help. They are limited though to what they can do to push back the inky darkness. But when I use these things, and add to them:
prayer, as intimate as I can make it
reading the Word, searching for insights
and fellowship, anything more than a handshake
I have a ‘recipe’ for freedom. But, I must initiate a believer ‘s response. I would like to suggest that “freedom” and “intimacy” are synonyms. You can’t have one without the other. Is Jesus real to you? Is His presence ‘more-than-life’ itself?
Whoever you are–it’s time to get free. Really free. Fall in love with Jesus again and the chains will fall off. Unless you do they will remain.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
“Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”
Thirty-three years ago I became a believer in Jesus. There were a number of things that connected with me. One of those most influential of those was believers who radiated a presence of our Lord Jesus. This was as meaningful to me as any dazzling apologetics or astute Bible study.
These Christians seemed to “glow in the dark.” They “shined” with Him, and were ‘exhibit A’ of the reality of Christ in the real life of the believer. I couldn’t shake their peace and their transparency. Witnessing their countenances, I knew that Jesus was real and that He could transform us in a profound way.
In Psalm 34, there is an indication that believers should be radiant. We cheapen the Gospel when we turn our “dimmer switch” down. I live in Alaska, and the winters here are gray in the most incredible ways. I once tried to count the different hues of gray. I counted at least 20, but I’m sure that there was more. Walking later I came across a child’s sled, it was florescent orange, and it was incredibly bright and very obvious.
We are called to be ‘fluorescent.’ We are to shine like stars in the night sky. We stand out to all who are honest enough to observe. I think of Moses when he descended Mt. Sinai. He had been in God’s presence, and his face glowed. Moses attempted to hide this phenomenon by wearing a ski mask on his face.
Those who move close to Him will be altered. Touching Him will forever change you.
Christians who draw close to the Lord today, become ‘fluorescent believers.’ God’s glory descends on them. They receive this touch, without seeking it directly. The fellowship they have with “the Light” impacts them, and they are changed on a fundamental level.
“Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever.”
Daniel 12:3, NLT
We really shouldn’t be surprised when this process takes place. (Perhaps we should be more amazed when it doesn’t happen.) It’s critical for us to note this–being a Christian is a supernatural activity. It’s not just changing your mind about certain facts or presuppositions. It just so happens that my favorite activity as a 6 year old boy was sticking nails into wall outlets. I loved the jolt. The resulting shock would hurl me across the room (as you can imagine.) I guess I loved smelling the ozone. (God preserved me even after several experiences.)
Contacting the Holy Spirit is a profound thing. His voltage just lights us up. We are changed as we connect with Him. Supernaturally.
“So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”
2 Cor. 3:18
We really should make the decision to seek the Lord more intentionally. As we do that, we are given a key that will open up Jesus’ presence to us, in ways we only have begun to really understand. Reflecting His glory is our real purpose.
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.”
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.
“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.”
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 foundin 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.”