How Close Can I Get?

“Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” 

Psalm 34:5

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.

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The Two-Minute Bible School

Found this recently and felt it might bless you.  It is almost a Bible survey course, and as about as brief as you can go without losing any kind of comprehension at all.  I so hope  you like this, if just for the novelty of it. I wish I could attribute it to someone. I have no idea.

 

 

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“Darkness is My Only Companion”

“Lord Jesus Christ, you are for me medicine when I am sick; you are my strength when I need help; you are life itself when I fear death; you are the way when I long for heaven; you are light when all is dark; you are my food when I need nourishment.”

—Ambrose of Milan (340-397)

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Our theology makes all the difference in fighting depression, writes Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Author of “Darkness, Is My Only Companion” and Episcopal priest. Here is an excerpt where she introduces the depression of Christians.

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In his Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis says that suffering is uniquely difficult for the Christian, for the one who believes in a good God. If there were no good God to factor into the equation, suffering would still be painful, but ultimately meaningless, because random.

For the Christian, who believes in the crucified and risen Messiah, suffering is always meaningful. It is meaningful because of the one in whose suffering we participate, Jesus. This is neither to say, of course, that suffering will be pleasant, nor that it should be sought. Rather, in the personal suffering of the Christian, one finds a correlate in Christ’s suffering, which gathers up our tears and calms our sorrows and points us toward his resurrection.

In the midst of a major mental illness, we are often unable to sense the presence of God at all. Sometimes all we can feel is the complete absence of God, utter abandonment by God, the sheer ridiculousness of the very notion of a loving and merciful God. This cuts to the very heart of the Christian and challenges everything we believe about the world and ourselves.

I have a chronic mental illness, a brain disorder that used to be called manic depression, but now is less offensively called bipolar disorder. I have sought help from psychiatrists, social workers, and mental health professionals; one is a Christian, but most of my helpers are not. I have been in active therapy with a succession of therapists over many years, and have been prescribed many psychiatric medications, most of which brought quite unpleasant side effects, and only a few of which relieved my symptoms. I have been hospitalized during the worst times and given electroconvulsive therapy treatments.

All of this has helped, I must say, despite my disinclination toward medicine and hospitals. They have helped me to rebuild some of “myself,” so that I can continue to be the kind of mother, priest, and writer I believe God wants me to be.

During these bouts of illness, I would often ask myself: How could I, as a faithful Christian, be undergoing such torture of the soul? And how could I say that such torture has nothing to do with God? This is, of course, the assumption of the psychiatric guild in general, where faith in God is often viewed at best as a crutch, and at worst as a symptom of disease.

bad-times-333-300x250How could I, as a Christian, indeed as a theologian of the church, understand anything in my life as though it were separate from God? This is clearly impossible. And yet how could I confess my faith in that God who was “an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1) when I felt entirely abandoned by that God? And if this torture did have something to do with God, was it punishment, wrath, or chastisement? Was I, to use a phrase of Jonathan Edwards’s, simply a “sinner in the hands of an angry God”?

I started my journey into the world of mental illness with a postpartum depression after the birth of our second child. News outlets are rife with stories of women who destroy their own children soon after giving birth. It is absolutely tragic. Usually every instinct in the mother pushes toward preserving the life of the infant. Most mothers would give their own lives to protect their babies. But in postpartum depression, reality is so bent that that instinct is blocked. Women who would otherwise be loving mothers have their confidence shaken by painful thoughts and feelings.

Depression is not just sadness or sorrow. Depression is not just negative thinking. Depression is not just being “down.” It’s walking barefoot on broken glass; the weight of one’s body grinds the glass in further with every movement. So, the weight of my very existence grinds the shards of grief deeper into my soul. When I am depressed, every thought, every breath, every conscious moment hurts.

And often the opposite is the case when I am hypomanic: I am scintillating both to myself, and, in my imagination, to the whole world. But mania is more than speeding mentally, more than euphoria, more than creative genius at work. Sometimes, when it tips into full-blown psychosis, it can be terrifying. The sick individual cannot simply shrug it off or pull out of it: there is no pulling oneself “up by the bootstraps.”

And yet the Christian faith has a word of real hope, especially for those who suffer mentally. Hope is found in the risen Christ. Suffering is not eliminated by his resurrection, but transformed by it. Christ’s resurrection kills even the power of death, and promises that God will wipe away every tear on that final day.

But we still have tears in the present. We still die. In God’s future, however, death itself will die. The tree from which Adam and Eve took the fruit of their sin and death becomes the cross that gives us life.

The hope of the Resurrection is not just optimism, but keeps the Christian facing ever toward the future, not merely dwelling in the present. But the Christian hope is not only for the individual Christian, nor for the church itself, but for all of Creation, bound in decay by that first sin: Cursed is the ground because of you … It will produce thorns and thistles for you …” (Gen. 3:17-18).

This curse of the very ground and its increase will be turned around at the Resurrection. All Creation will be redeemed from pain and woe. In my bouts with mental illness, this understanding of Christian hope gives comfort and encouragement, even if no relief from symptoms. Sorrowing and sighing will be no more. Tears will be wiped away. Even fractious [unruly, irritable] brains will be restored.

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“Darkness: My Only Companion”

Kathryn Greene-McCreight is assistant priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in New Haven, Connecticut, and author of Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness (Brazos Press, 2006).

On the web:  http://www.hopeandhealing.org/contentPage.aspx?resource_id=311

 

 

 

 

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Despondency and David’s Theology

For those on the mat and wrestling, things can move very fast.  Our adversary is strong, and he knows us too well.  He is counterintuitive and quite aware of the sequence of moves needed to pin us to the floor.  He is dangerous.  And he also despises us.

I get bewildered and rattled by his attacks.  He knows how to pressure me at just the right time, and he refuses to follow the rules. He is no gentleman, you might say that he is both a cheater and a bully.

Of course I am talking about Satan and his team of demons.  I will not dispute their reality with you.  There is almost as much scriptural support for his existence as there is for Jesus’.  His hostility is  toward God and His people, and his viciousness cannot be camouflaged.  Evil is real, and believe this– Satan has a terrible, and ugly plan for your life.

As a mentally ill Christian, my depression quickly morphs into despondency.  When I sink to that level I start to abandon hope.  It’s like I’m in a lifeboat and decide that I should abandon it and tread water on my own.  Despondency is not rational and just a little bit is deadly.

David knew all about desperation and disheartenment.  He had been chased by his enemies, and maneuvered into the most difficult of situations.  To observe him at a distance we would say that “there is no hope for him in God.” Even God can’t save him, he is reprobate.  We would be convinced that there is nothing for him in God’s thinking.  Nothing.

It would be so easy to make this judgement.  For David was a moral failure; he was an adulterer and a brazen killer.  David had sinned deeper and more intensely than Saul ever had.  Join with the crowd, “There is no hope for him in God!”  No hope, none, nada, zero.

“Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.” 

–Psalm 73

David defied the theology of his day.  He embraced the Lord God with a desperate passion.  It was not orthodox or logical.  You could say it was disturbing.  But David would not let go of God!  He hung on, and continued to sing in faith.

I encourage you besieged brother, and embattled sister.  Hold on to Him, even if it defies logic or theology.  Seek His promises with a fervency, open your heart to Him with a passion.  Remember that sin can and will destroy you.  It is part of Satan’s stratagem.  Sing in the cave, and never lose hope. Never.

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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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The Treasure Hidden Inside the Church

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As Christians, often our Church and our theology tell us that mental illness, depression, and bipolar disorder have no place in a believer’s life.

As a result, we end up hiding and sneaking  into sessions with our therapists, and direct the conversation to minimize our exposure to any direct questions. In one way, we are the new “lepers of the Church.”   But I would like to suggest to you that it is we who may be closest to the Kingdom of God.

From a certain viewpoint, it is easier for us to approach the Father– in our brokenness, humility, and lostness.  And yes we have needs– a sound mind, a healthy body and we know it. But we have no illusions of wellness– nothing can convince us that we are well.  We know we are not.  We know we are broken and only our loving creator can mend us.  

You should think and say that the Church needs us.  An Archbishop was given an ultimatum by the Huns who surrounded his cathedral. “You have 24 hours to bring your wealth to these steps”, the war-leader declared.   The next morning the Archbishop came out leading the poor, the blind, the lame, and the lunatics.  “Where is your treasure?  Why have you brought out these, people?”  The Archbishop said this, “These are the treasures of the Church, these who are weak are our valuables.  They make us rich.”

I’m afraid the the Western Church no longer sees its “treasures” or wealth like it should.  We have let the ‘government’ pick-up the burdens of health care.  We have tried to operate our churches like successful businesses and definitely have no room for the desperately weak. The mind-set is routine and predictable–that “they only take, and never give.”

But the handicapped have much to teach the Church.

We the weak are ‘sprinkled’ by the Lord into each local church (each church has one or two.)  We are not victims of our illness or addiction.  We admit we are the ones so broken that everyone has given up on us. But we have reached out, and touched the hem of His garment. “And in love’s service, only the wounded can serve.”

 My plea is directed to the local churches, and their leadership. You must decide what you are going to do with us, the handicapped. Will you accept us– and we are many? But we do admit and insist that we should not trivialized or diminished. We often have discovered grace in a way you haven’t, we have been loved in a way that you can only dream.

“It’s not about perfection; it’s about our intimacy with God, or our connection, our relationship with God. Once we get through that, once we realize that we can be imperfect, flawed, broken; those kinds of things are the ingredients of spirituality.”

–Mike Yaconelli

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Reign in Me, Again

“I will serve my King with a true heart.”

The Lord will reign forever and ever.”

Exodus 15:18

” Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
    in heaven and on earth,
    in the seas and all deeps.”

Psalm 135:6

I am persuaded that Americans simply do not “process” this concept of sovereignty, especially when it’s endowed in a person.  A recent trip to London I observed a deep commitment to the royal crown.  Some people are said to be ‘lactose intolerant;’ I think we are ‘lordship intolerant.’

America is a broad, an open and friendly nation, characteristics worthy of emulation.  But we are also rebellious and arrogant people. Our nation was born out of revolution to a sovereign king.

“O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.”

2 Chronicles 20:6

Jesus reigns and rules the Universe.  There are no competing gods trying to take his place, no competition for his job.  He is the ultimate Sovereign. He is a King (with a capital K,) and he is worshipped as ‘the King of kings.’ Imagine a universe, out of control, without laws, without a ruler. It would be pure anarchy; it would be like hell itself.

Without any apology, the Bible proclaims that God is totally sovereign, ordaining, ruling, and disposing of all things as He will. If He has no control over the universe, then our faith in Him becomes an utter absurdity. It matters if God is in control, or not. It effects everything.

  • Nothing surprises God
  • Nothing is a setback to His plans
  • Nothing can thwart His purposes, and
  • Nothing is beyond His control

“His sovereignty is absolute. Everything that happens is uniquely ordained by God. Sovereignty is a weighty thing to ascribe to the nature and character of God. Yet if He were not sovereign, He would not be God. The Bible is clear that God is in control of everything that happens.”

Joni Eareckson Tada

My heart must change.  I must set aside those American attributes of rebellion and pride. There isn’t room for them. You see, I belong to a new kingdom now, a new King.  He is not in danger of losing His throne– but I am.  And He rules everything in His universe, not with an iron fist, but with an open hand with nail prints for all to see.

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