A Stone’s Throw Away

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“He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed”

Luke 22:41

Who knows what Jesus is thinking at this precise moment as he entered the Garden? His disciples waited for Jesus and scripture states that he proceeded ahead of them— “a stone’s throw.”

We often share in the sorrows of the people closest to us, and Jesus wants has disciples to follow him. And they do, but not all the way. They came close, but were oblivious to the full nature of the pain that was beginning for Jesus. They slept while he agonized. He was for the first time, needing someone close.

Many of us will make the same trip to the garden. Soon every believer makes the trip to ‘Gethsemane,’ but not as mere observers. It is a distinct place of testing and of sorrow. And each will experience it for themselves. “The servant is not above his master.”

But Jesus is close— he completely understands what it means to be alone with sorrow. The believer can lean on Jesus as the pain continues. He sends his “Comforter” to each, as he escorts us through this time. He comes in grace, and is completely kind. He truly is just a stone’s throw away.

“God is our refuge and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.”

Psalm 46:1

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Through Difficult Times

“Even though our problems may have been brought upon us because of something done against our will, we have no excuse for allowing the problem to persist, grow and even take control over our entire life.”

–Joyce Meyer

“Do not fear the conflict, and do not flee from it; where there is no struggle, there is no virtue.”

–John of Kronstadt

“No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.”

Hebrews 12:11, NLT

 

 

 

Dying is Part of Living

Photo by Diane Loft
Photo by Diane Loft

“We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.”

Romans 6:6, NLT

“There are two things which the Church needs: more death and more life— more death in order to live; more life in order to die.”

C.A. Fox

The need of this moment is critical. Many believers have never came to this point of ‘knowing.’ Maturity comes when one realizes that crucifixion has dealt with the old man. We died when He died, we were there when He died, we were part of that event. Romans 6 is all about a believers ‘co-crucifixion’ with Jesus Christ. Calvary was far more than a religious event— it was where our sin was terminated. It was more than just a penalty carried— it was where our old nature put to death.

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Galatians 2:20

Sin has no power to sway a dead man. A man who is dead doesn’t respond to a girl in a leopard skin bikini. (It doesn’t matter if she is insanely gorgeous.) He no longer can be tempted to sin. Why?  Because he is dead. This is not an issue of semantics, it is not poetic interpretation of a metaphor. It rings true in heaven.

Sin should no longer remain in power of a believer’s life. We believe that our sins have been dealt with on the cross, that Jesus took our sins from us, bearing them as a ‘sacrificial lamb.’ But the same is true to say, “My sinful nature was also crucified with him.”

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.”

John 12:24

The principle is from farming. A kernel of wheat will bring an abundance. But it must be buried first. The dead seed miraculously sprouts. At the moment of death it suddenly receives a new life. The dead seed grows into a bountiful harvest. This is the New Testament principle of dying to self. A few things:

  • we are not sinless— we must deal daily with the sinful part of us,
  • this must be taken by faith, much like anything else from God,
  • discipline aids our quest for holiness, 1 Tim. 4:8
  • fulfills the sacrament of water baptism, it’s a daily reckoning, Rom. 6:4,
  • temptations can be really strong, but He enables us,
  • this is a God honoring way to live.

Crucifixion should always be taken by faith in God’s Word and it will lead to resurrection. Crucifixion weakness is necessary for resurrection power. Jesus shares his life with us— his power is given to his people. He shares all that he is so we might become like him.

“Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. 13 Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God.”

Romans 6:12-13

I’m convinced that as people with issues: physical and mental, we are given a gracious teacher in the person of the Holy Spirit. He will never condemn our feeble efforts to be holy. Be encouraged: God makes the weakest of us strong.

 

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Killing My Sin, Before It Kills Me

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We are for the most part anyway, eager to please God. We are Jesus’ people with the occasional brush with sin. But hey, who doesn’t? But that attitude must be questioned.

“My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin.”

1 John 2:1

John hopes that his readers would make a choice— not to commit sin. After all, what soldier goes into battle with the intent of getting just a little wounded? Often we will sin just because it seems so inevitable, and we feel we can’t help ourselves. (But the reality is that we can.)

But the Holy Spirit now lives inside. Cooperation with Him is needed. Often we will work ourselves into a ‘no win scenario’ where we believe that sin rules. We can’t beat it, so we stop trying. That is common, and sad.

‘Passivity’ is defined as not participating readily or actively; inactive. When we are passive spiritually, we disengage ourselves from any effort of living holy and pure lives. Not being ‘hot’, but content to be lukewarm. At this point sin becomes, reluctantly, tolerated. “After all, I’m a sinner, what else can I do?”

Mentally ill people are often passive. We are told that we have an uncontrolled illness which dictates that we act ‘irresponsible.’ Our depression often escalates and we feel victimized by it. My experience has taught me that there are three kinds of depression:

  • organic depression, or the ‘biochemistry’ of the disease,
  • guilty depression, the kind that feels bad because of what we’ve done (or didn’t do),
  • reactionary depression, the type we feel when experiencing a loss, a loved one, or a job

Depression will almost always fall in these three categories. And passivity plays a part in all three. We  frequently feel victimized and ‘acted upon.’ When it comes to our discipleship we don’t act, we react. We are utterly convinced of the Bible— God’s truth, but we are so sporadic we can’t seem to get it to work for any length of time.

Yes, we are believers. And yes, we have issues. We’re waiting for a miracle, and hope we get a breakthrough soon.

At the base point of our lives, quite often, there is a passive attitude. Passivity aggravates our depression or mental illness. It deepens, spreading through our lives like a contagious illness. Our discipleship sputters and stalls. We no longer act on God’s Word, but we find ourselves fabricating a faith that makes allowances for our situation.

But we must ‘act the miracle.’ Everything God gives… everything… must be received by a convinced faith. We must be persuaded to give up our flawed ideas, and believe God for the real thing. I opened up this with 1 John 2:1. But there’s much more to this verse:

“My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin.  And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

I don’t want you to sin. Avoid sin. But even if you do— we have someone who will plead our case before God. He stands and argues our plight. He loves us that much.

 

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What Could Have Been

What do you regret? As a believer it is already forgiven.

“Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future.”  

~Fulton Oursler

Regret is an ugly thing. Dictionary.com describes “regret” as, to feel remorse for, or to feel sorrow over. It is a difficult emotion for us, as there can be a dissatisfaction, or sorrow or remorse over, it can be a paralysis of sorts. It is the kind of personal sorrow about ones behavior in a certain situation, that can be overwhelming.

There will always be a deep sense of loss for “what could have been.”

I regret many things, my mind works as an active recorder. Future life continues its relentless advance, and there is from the past a constant awareness of darkness, failure and sin.

There are some who have no idea what I’m talking about. I might as well be speaking Chinese. But there are others who will “spark” on what I have just stated. Regret for many of us, is savage and bitter.

Not a day goes by when the voice of darkness doesn’t speak to us. My thinking is that it may be more reasonable to take a baseball bat across your femurs, and dealing with broken legs, than handling regret gone viral.

We think “about what could have been.” We imagine life without regret, of things we might have done not having this dark burden. However, these possible choices are things we can never be sure of.

In my younger days I dreamed of attending college, and then going to seminary. I really thought that I wanted to be a pastor, in some small Lutheran church in the Midwest. But this would never happen. It was just an aspiration, a dream. And it wasn’t reality (even though I wish it had been).

I assure you there are much nastier and blacker regrets, there are things of which I am profoundly ashamed. But my point is this, they exist, they do unsettle us, and the present moment is corrupted by my past behavior.

You are not unique or alone. There are millions of sincere Christian believers who face what you are facing.

“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”

1 Cor. 10:13, NLT

I must tell you that there is a spiritual war. Satan is the enemy of our souls. He will bring to your mind fear and confusion. In scripture, he is called “the accuser of the brethren.” He has a diabolical ministry is to bring you down. He operates out of pure hatred, and he will never show you mercy.

We must develop a more scriptural method of wrapping up our minds in God’s Word. It stops and then alters the spiritual radiation from the enemy. The Word has tremendous power to halt the enemies attack. Ephesians 6:10ff tells of spiritual armor that must be utilized and worn.

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

Ephesian 6:13

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Learning to Walk, Again

“You will keep in perfect peace
all who trust in you,
all whose thoughts are fixed on you!
4 Trust in the Lord always,
for the Lord God is the eternal Rock.”

Isaiah 26:3-4, NLT

Life is chock full of mysteries, so much is unknown.  Early in my walk, over 40 years ago, I concluded that I would be able to acquire all the knowledge that I could ever want.  I was on the short track, going up of course.  It was a glorious thing, it took me some time to realize I was very ignorant of so much.

I think we need to work through this, for most it is a minor tweak.  For others who still think that their life consists in how smart they can become, it is trouble.  I believe that the Word of God, read and meditated on is an exceptional thing.  All scripture is God-breathed…”  The Bible communicates truth, not facts.

As I age, I start to understand that things are much more enigmatic and unfathomable than I ever dreamed they would be.  It is a step of faith to accept truth when their are still a lot of things that are still vague.  Mike Mason wrote, “You say you have faith to be healed, but what about the faith to be sick?”

That is a penetrating question, indeed.  “Why are some healed, and other are not?  Why do I have eternal life, and my friend does not?  Why should AIDS sweep through poor African villages when I live in a very comfortable suburb in the US?”  I have many other questions like this, but I won’t bore you with them.  (You probably have them too.) And there are thousands like this.

And I’m not making a whole lot of headway here.  Reasons and facts are not there. Life becomes more mysterious and inscrutable.  But there is a word we must know–it is the word “trust”.  It is a faith that assists us through the landscape of impossible questions.

As a struggling, mentally ill Christian, many (even in my own church) create more questions for me.  “Therapists, psychiatrists and daily medications are really good, but do you really need them?” or  “Did God create in you the need for lithium and Zoloft?” and ” How can you follow Jesus when you have all of these depression issues?” And here is a humdinger, “Where is your joy?”

But it is precisely these issues that help me be a disciple.  I’ve been slowly learning you see.  And my weaknesses are becoming my strengths.  They lead me to exercise my feeble faith.  I trust in Jesus; my faith helps me trust. I find it interesting to note  that the Book of Psalms for the most part, was written by “a broken believer” like David– a king and a rascal.

“People with their minds set on you,
    you keep completely whole,
Steady on their feet,
    because they keep at it and don’t quit.
Depend on God and keep at it
    because in the Lord God you have a sure thing.”

Isaiah 26:3-4, The Message

These nebulous areas have only increased, but ironically my trust has only grown.  I have more questions then ever before, but my faith in him only gets stronger. I suppose I will never, ever be a gleefully upbeat, cheery person.  But I am learning “to trust and obey, there is no other way…”  He himself has taken up the chore of teaching me to walk, again. Just one thing, keep trusting.

 

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Living Tethered to the Cross

We live in this place.
We live in this place.

St. Francis of  Assisi once wrote, “The devil never rejoices more than when he robs a servant of God of the peace of God.” Sometimes I think I’ve made the devil dance far too many times.

I confess that peace has never been real high on my list. Love, joy, kindness and even goodness are clear priorities. Peace–well… not so much. Until it’s not there. And then I get frantic by its absence, and look for it with manic bewilderment.

I’m panting for some sign that God still loves me. Anxiety eats at me. I beat myself up by my last failure. The guilt of my latest sin grows until it looms larger than the blood that saved me. Sometimes religious people have the most neurosis.

I’m afraid that we are taking “the present tense’ out of the Gospel. The past tense is far preferable to us as we manage the Christian life. We like to make check marks on our list. Repentance– check. Baptism– check. Bible study– check. I think it gives me a definite feeling of ‘maturity.’

But truth has a way of punching through. I haven’t arrived, and it seems I’m still the hideous sinner I always was. I cannot pretend otherwise, even with a truck load of cosmetics at my disposal. I know, I’ve tried. And I’m still ‘ugly.’ I do know forgiveness, and I do walk in its wonderful light (by grace.)

I read Luther 30 years ago. (And Bonhoeffer would say something similar.)  “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” – Martin Luther (this is the first of his 95 Theses.) There is a present tense here we can’t ignore. I don’t just repent over smoking, or fornication, or of hypocrisy, once and done. But my entire way of living is to be one of repenting.

Repentance is a ‘moment-by-moment’ grace.

As I read the Beatitudes I cannot evade the sense that they are present tense. Read them, they’re obviously not a spiritual checklist. Each verse seems to speak of the time being, the present moment. No list here, guys. It will never be ‘one-and-done.’

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
4 God blesses those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
5 God blesses those who are humble,
    for they will inherit the whole earth.
6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
    for they will be satisfied.
7 God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
    for they will see God.
9 God blesses those who work for peace,
    for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

Matthew 5:3-10, NLT

All of the Christian life is repentance. Turning from sin and trusting in the good news that Jesus saves sinners aren’t merely a one-time inaugural experience but the daily substance of Christianity. The gospel is for every day and every moment. Repentance is to be the Christian’s continual posture.”

–John Piper

Luther’s last words, on his deathbed wrote on a scrap of paper these words, “We are beggars! This is true.” Thirty years before, he was only echoing his first thesis. It seems dear ones, we are to live at the foot of the cross. Everyday. Because we desperately need to.

And perhaps the biggest reason is this: Jesus only comes for ‘sinners.’

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