A Friend of Sinners and the Ungodly

Anthony van Dyck – Christ Healing the Paralytic, 1619

“No matter how low down you are; no matter what your disposition has been; you may be low in your thoughts, words, and actions; you may be selfish; your heart may be overflowing with corruption and wickedness; yet Jesus will have compassion upon you. He will speak comforting words to you; not treat you coldly or spurn you, as perhaps those of earth would, but will speak tender words, and words of love and affection and kindness. Just come at once. He is a faithful friend – a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”

–D.L. Moody

“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”

Luke 7:34

 

 

More Bumble Than Believer, [Aging]

A Bumble with a tender heart

It’s strange to be in the position of being older.  A whirlwind of days and nights swirl from this human drama, and I think I may be starting thinking about my exit— Lord willing, stage right.

I’m supposed to be a ‘veteran’ now– a mature believer.  I’m not supposed to get stressed.  However, age is a brutal teacher– and it seems we have to learn so dang fast, it’s like trying to drink from a fire hose. (Just the other day three teeth almost came out from the blast.)

Getting old is great in some ways. I only wish I could do it more gracefully.

On top of it all, it seems to me like my sin has poisoned the air that others must breathe.  I have contaminated so much. You might just say, I have ‘soured’ everyone’s milk.  “Learning to live with the  regrets” is a class that we should add to the local high school’s curriculum. It certainly would be useful.

A old friend is celebrating her birthday so I volleyed a semi serious “tongue and cheek” regret at her.  But then, I suddenly realized that there is a point when we realize that behind every older person, is someone else wondering what the hell has happened, and how did it get this way so fast? It would be funny if it weren’t so serious.

As a Christian, I tentatively believe that this world I’m in, has folded open for me, and God has specified a direction.  I do contend though, unbelief is easier on a certain level, but I do not intend to take any detours.  Perhaps the real trick about reading a map in the car is that you most likely won’t get it folded back the same way ever again.  You must learn to accept this. And as a rule, maps seldom reveal the best detours.

“I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
    until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
    I will carry you along and save you.”

Isaiah 46:4, NLT

I must admit to having a connection to “Bumble”, that crazy, loveable, abominable snowman in one of those schlocky, animated children TV classics from my youth.  I guess I identify with that ‘misfit’ yeti– someone who finally sees the light, but only when all his teeth are pulled!  Somewhere in that show he seemed almost good,  but didn’t we all wonder for a while if he would come around or not?

I  also wonder about the thief on the cross who got his ticket punched by Jesus at the last possible moment.  When we finally make it to heaven, we will find him there laughing and celebrating like everyone else, just like he belonged.  I guess grace does that to a person.

“What does it matter?  All is Grace”

— Georges Bernanos. Diary of a Country Priest

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Surviving the Daily Grind

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“I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit;
I have become like a man without strength,

Psalm 88:4

In May 2011, this is what I wrote–

“I feel like I am going through a meat grinder. Pushed against my will (and desire) I’m finding myself in a place I’d rather not be. My therapist confirmed today that I’m in a “mixed state” where bipolar mania and depression come together.  I compare it to two massive ocean currents smashing into each other.  (please Google, “mixed state”).

I’ve been into this state for just two weeks and the urge to commit suicide is starting to become surprisingly strong. For my own safety, I’m almost thinking that it maybe time to go to the hospital again.  I must tell you that these are places that you really don’t want to go if you don’t have to.  (FYI, my particular choice is Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage. It’s actually a somewhat “nicer” degree of miserable, and they have cooler art.)

I also get paranoid that people are attacking me and are plotting to ruin me. I am quite  suspicious of Facebook and my depression chat. I believe that the people that I encounter there are trying to get at me behind my back. Social networking with these type of services can be a nightmare.

But, then there is also the grandiosity. I believe that I think clearer, better, and faster than other people. It’s like I have superpowers.  I will think of myself as extremely gifted, superior to others.  I paint and write poetry and do “noble” things.

But I also have tremendous anxiety, with racing thoughts, and even heart palpitations esp. when I am sitting trying to relax. I don’t sleep well at all, in spite of the sleeping pill, the Klonopin and the melatonin, and the Benadryl, (to make sure I do sleep).

I continue to take my psych meds like a good boy. But they don’t seem to work like they used to. I think they can’t handle this particular concoction of depression/mania.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m getting better, but I never seem to get well.

The endless cycle of feeling really good and then feeling really bad is a challenging thing.  It is difficult to have a stable walk of discipleship under these circumstances.  I think being starkly honest and broken over my own fallenness is the key for me. (Now if I can only remember this.)

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I know that I’m being very blunt here. Tact has never been an easy thing. As I read I remember the struggle, and how I couldn’t see a way out. I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit who led me when no one else could. I wrote this post some time ag0. I’ve been reasonably stable, but I’m certain that putting it up now maybe timely for some. I’m in a better frame of mind the last several months.

 “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.”

Romans 5:6

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When the Storms Rage On and On

He takes charge

 “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

Deut. 31:8, NLT

You can go to the British Museum in London, England and view old nautical charts that were made in the early 1500s. Written on them are things like, “Here be fiery scorpions” and “Here be giants” or the classic, “Here be dragons.” These notations were written I suppose, to discourage any kind of exploration.

At this early point a man named, Sir John Franklin wrote on each map, “Here is God.” His sincerity was well noted– and it strengthened the sailors, and helped them to trust in a discovery that would lead to salvation for many.

35 “As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.”

Mark 4:35-37

Jesus, all of a sudden stands up. He declares we must go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. (He says, “Lake.” But this is not a lake.) It is the storm. It rips over the disciples. It confuses them, and causes fear.

There is enough waves, that the disciples (trained fisherman) begin to wonder why their world is “falling apart.” They realize they are in deep trouble, and I suppose many “crossed” themselves and prepared to die. Everything is now lost.

The certainty of death approaching can be quite sobering. It clarifies so much. If you’ve been at this “threshold,” you will understand what I am saying.

“But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” 39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.”

Mark 4:38-39

Where is Jesus? There He is, sleeping on a pillow. How can He sleep, when the world is going to end? They wake up Jesus, and pointedly ask Him, “Don’t you even care? We are at the very point of death!

Shaking off His slumber, Jesus stands. He looks at the vicious waves, and then announces, “Be at peace, be still.” Immediately the storm ‘shuts down.’ There is no reluctance, no hesitation. The waves become calm and subdued, instantly.

Jesus turns, He focuses on His own disciples. “Why did you doubt?”  He asks. And they can say nothing. “Where is your faith?” And they can say nothing. They are overwhelmed at the authority of Jesus.  They dare not offer anything that may confuse others who will encounter Jesus.

Confusion rules when desperation is present. But yet this is not true, confusion will enter in, when everything we see is impossible. We take a look at Jesus, and we see and discover His power and significance. Rightly so, He overwhelms us, and He takes us apart.

The disciples should have realized the strength of Jesus. He was so very tired. Yet He told His followers that He would bring to the opposite side of the lake. Being in the middle of the lake is not a factor.

Our lives should be focused on Jesus leading us through. He is in our small boat, and yet we struggle with our waves. They cripple us and completely dismantles us, the intense waves are breaking over us. But we should never determine that life will work without His presence.

We won’t always travel through calm waters. There will be definite times when we approach peace and confidence. Dangers that will visit us are not in our proximity. We are His children. We must bring our souls to rest. Amazingly, He does love us. We are His property and must believe that we belong to Him, He will bring us all the way home.

Never, ever doubt His deep love for your soul.

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Drowning in Despair

 

despair (2)“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.”

   2 Corinthians 1:8

“…we should all fortify ourselves against the dark hours of depression by cultivating a deep distrust of the certainties of despair. Despair is relentless in the certainties of its pessimism. But we have seen again and again, from our own experience and others’, that absolute statements of hopelessness that we make in the dark are notoriously unreliable. Our dark certainties are not sureties.”

John Piper

It is my ‘deliberateness’, and not my impulsiveness that gives me the most concern.   I know ‘despair’.  I know what it is like to be ‘backed into a corner’ and then feel the empty desperation of being lost.  But you must understand, there can be a weird seductiveness to ‘being lost’, a ‘strange sort of nobility’, a twisted honor, when it comes to despair.

Piper talks about the ‘dark certainties’ of knowing you are lost.  Now this really seems rather bizarre, that people could do this intentionally, without duress.  But I’m afraid to tell you that it happens all the time.  Despair is chosen over the option of life. This is the ‘lostness’ of the race of Adam.

Pop culture has given us words, albeit in a simplistic form.  I just happened to think right now of an old AC/DC  song, ‘Highway to Hell‘.  The lyrics are pretty basic, very simple, but the lead singer seems to really have a chronically, decided dedication to being one of the irretrievably lost.  He formats a ‘certain glory’ to being part of the damned.  This is a simplistic approach to the next stop– a more advanced case of stark-white despair, suicide. (We can call this ‘spiritual hubris,’ or even, “drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll.”)

In examining the striated world of despair, we must come to the interesting place when our foolishness combined with our arrogance produces a decision to be lost.  Of course, our fear of God must be extracted from the situation.  But for the eager candidate for despair, this is not an insurmountable problem.

Escaping this ‘drowning despair’ we must first dethrone our right to personal sovereignty.  And secondly, we need to grab the concept that God’s grace has an ultimate power that supersedes our notions of a ‘deserved’ love.  (It is completely undeserved).  We must believe that somehow, someway God chooses us out of a pile, a pile of the worst and ugliest.  And somehow, He delights in doing this, and He is Lord.

We are meant to be the people of redemptive hope. 

Because of our problems, our addictions, we must clearly renounce our evil folly of despair.  These are the issues that make us vulnerable.  There is a seductiveness to ‘giving up’ and taking up the sin of despair.  There can be a ‘weird romance’ that lures those who ‘walk out lostness’.  We are pulled into a vortex of an exotic melancholy with a dash of fatalism, which makes it reasonable and weirdly heroic. But is it not even more heroic to live in hope?

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and 6 my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you.”

Psalm 42:5-6

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Those ‘Marginal’ People

A broken heart

“Light shines in the darkness for the godly.
    They are generous, compassionate, and righteous.”

Psalm 112:4, NLT

The Glory of Jesus lies in this: in weakness, vulnerability, and apparent failure He has called forth disciples to come after Him, willing and able to carry the cross and relive His passion with compassion.

They are marginal people, not part of the scene, irrelevant to the “action.” In their ministry or quiet presence they do not need to win or compete. They may look like losers, even to themselves.

The world ignores them. But they are building “the Kingdom of God” on earth by reaching out in vulnerability and weakness to share the suffering of  their brothers and sisters.

Where the compassionate One is, there will His servants be.”

 

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Manning-devo-coverBrennan Manning, “Reflections for Ragamuffins.” From an entry dated June 27th. From “A Stranger to Self Hatred,” by Brennan Manning. Copyright @ 1982 by Brennan Manning, reprinted by permission of Dimension Books, Inc.

Amazon ordering link: http://www.amazon.com/Reflections-Ragamuffins-Devotions-Writings-Brennan/dp/0060654570/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340915707&sr=8-1&keywords=reflections+for+ragamuffins

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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