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The Fellowship of This Misery

Severe case of Leprosy
“In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Luke 5:12, NLT

Let’s jump right into this passage from Luke 5.  A very sick man desires to become well.  The Bible text reveals that his condition is agonizingly desperate.  His leprosy has advanced; he is covered with it from ‘head-to-toe.’  He is completely infected; he is ‘unclean’ and without hope. There is no treatment for what he has, doctors can do nothing, so he comes to Jesus.

We must emphasize this, the leper has no illusions of wholeness.  He knows it; he doesn’t need to be convinced, or persuaded by anyone else.  It occurs to him, that Jesus the healer (of lepers, and the like) may provide healing, or at the least a morsel of comfort.  This leper approaches the presence of Jesus, with such humility it is almost painful to witness. This man is completely broken; he has no hope, except Jesus.

There is a fellowship of misery–some of us are “card-carrying” members.

Our diseases differ, but they have affected us completely.  Our pain, and our darkness vary.  Some have physical pain, others have a mental illness.  When we meet, there should be a secret handshake or a password. We share a comradeship— we are all part of the same community.  We are a broken club of tired and decidedly unclean misfits.

How do we measure our pain and desperate darkness?  What do we use to measure it? For the most part, our lives have been destroyed. I think we can understand it by looking up at Jesus.  Lying in the dirt, we believe the unbelievable.  Our faith doesn’t activate his healing as much it guides it to our greatest need.  The presence of Jesus drives away the pain.  His love for us echoes into our emptiness. And he wants to do this!  He has come for us. He carries us through this.

I struggle with deep depression and despondency.  I have been on meds for a long time.  But when I come into Jesus’ presence, all this melancholy is driven out. He comes and injects a true hope into my spirit.  Am I a stellar example of perfect discipleship?  I think not.  (My wife could tell you this.)  But isn’t about us becoming “angels”, it’s about us becoming intimate with Jesus.

“The power of the Church is not a parade of flawless people, but of a flawless Christ who embraces our flaws. The Church is not made up of whole people, rather of the broken people who find wholeness in a Christ who was broken for us.”   

–Mike Yaconelli

The leper would be healed by the authority (and touch) of Jesus Christ. What is impossible with men, is possible with God.

“Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared.” (v. 13)

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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

 

 

 

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Melancholy in Amber

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Edgar Degas, Melancholy/ c. 1874, oil on canvas, Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

The sadness flows from this painting. Degas caught the dark despondency of his model. Her inertia becomes something we can gaze on carefully and at leisure.

This is one of my favorite paintings. For me, it captures an essence of what depression “looks” like. The anguish and the whole sense of being is seen in the expression of her face. She is frozen in her despair.

Depression immobilizes and then lays waste all that it touches. It is a vicious blight on the human soul.

amberI remember as a boy seeing a prehistoric bug caught in amber. It struck me as a bit macabre. This poor insect frozen for all to see.

Little did I realize that this was going to happen to me.

For almost 20 years I’ve tangled with clinical depression. It was initiated by a brain tumor in 2002 and has been evident since then.

Depression to me is like being frozen in a deep sadness that clings to my soul. It shows me no mercy when it is active, but I can go several weeks at a time without it being an issue.

There is a dual aspect to this. My experience is like a complete suppression of the good and optimistic, combined with an increase of despair and despondency. I despair of any future good that might occur. Everything becomes bleak and black.

My life becomes a meltdown; a cascading effect of worsening feelings.

A few points that have helped me:

  • A main point for me is to doubt the “certainties of despair.” I believe that God’s promises to me contain a “future and a hope.” This is vital. At times I feel too far gone, and completely irredeemable. I must doubt the lies of the enemy.
  • Freedom come through a real faith in God’s grace. I believe that His Holy Spirit empowers the weak. He holds my hand as I stumble in the path. My confidence is in His promises to this “weak lamb.”
  • Scripture tells me that Jesus’ present ministry is one of intercession for my soul.Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34.)
  • Jesus has the power to keep His flock. He also gives me a few select companions. I meet with some of “my fellow sheep” at my local church. These know me, and their friendship encourages me. They don’t condemn.

I hope that some of this helps, if anything I hope you have a window into my convoluted faith. I don’t want pretend to have all the answers. I’m not a guru. I’m a “work in progress,” and some ways far behind you, the reader.

“Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”

Hebrews 7:25

ybic, Bryan

 

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Leaving a Wilderness [w/ A Lot of Help]

Stranded by Snow
The bitter cold was intense in the car.

“Who is this coming up from the wilderness,
      Leaning upon her beloved?”  

Song of Solomon 8:5

 _________________

Once while stranded in the Alaskan wilderness I almost froze to death.  It was cold, 20 F below zero.

About 30 years ago, a friend and I felt directed to bring in Bibles and discipleship materials into the village of Minto, very near the Arctic Circle.  We were driving in a little red Datsun through about eight inches of snow late at night. Suddenly, the car just quit running.  We looked at each other, and we started to assess our situation. No cell phone, on a very remote road with no heat.  We both knew that unless God made a direct intervention, we would never survive the intense cold.  We prayed, and waited and thought. We had to fight the panic.

There is a wilderness we all must traverse.  It can be as difficult and extreme as an Arctic landscape.  The Shulamite girl in Song of Solomon knew this terrain.  It is a desperate place to be.  This world is a bitter place, and provides little in the way of solace and comfort.  We are called to be “pilgrims and strangers,” making this journey of faith to a heavenly city.

The opening verse has witnesses or observers making a declaration.  They seem to be shocked, and amazed by what they see.  The Shulamite girl was spotted, making her way, slowly threading her way up from the wastelands.  The path has been difficult, it would’ve been easier to quit.  It has taken everything she could muster up.

But the crescendo in this verse is the declaration, “she is coming up…leaning on her beloved.”  She found the help she had to have, at the side of One who loved and beloved.  He had come, at just the right time to lift her up and lead her out her extremity.  She has found that He is her strength.  It is He who has come to deliver her.  The verse suggests that it is the bridegroom that is the determining factor.

His presence changes everything.

We were miraculously rescued after about 20 hours.  How we survived in that frigid isolation is beyond me.  Freezing to death was truly imminent.  I remember squeezing through the car window when it became first light.  The snow had completely covered the car, and as I surveyed our surroundings, I remember thinking how desolate it was.  We had stalled on a high ridge, and it seemed like the loneliest and most isolated place on Earth.

This afternoon I sat out on my deck, looking and thinking.  This verse entered my brain like a bullet.  Walking with Jesus through my wilderness has challenged and wearied.  I have fallen more times then I can count.  Each time I have picked myself up.  Do you know why? Because when I’m with Jesus, I know I will be fine.

aabryplain

 

 

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Frailty Doesn’t Disqualify Us

by Terry Powell,

“God keeps a person usable by keeping him weak.”

– Ron Dunn

An incident in Jack Murray’s life showed that weakness is not a hindrance to usefulness in God’s kingdom. His son, George, told this story in chapel while he served as President of Columbia International University.

Jack, a traveling evangelist decades ago, was coming off back-to-back weeks of meetings in local churches. He boarded a plane, headed to yet another week-long engagement. The intensive delivery of messages and constant interactions with people had depleted his mental, physical, and emotional reserves. Craving a nap so he could recoup, he was delighted to hear that seating was “open” rather than assigned. Since the plane was only half-full, to signal his desire for privacy, he sat by a window, placing his coat and hat on the two adjacent seats.

Surprisingly, a sharply-dressed business woman asked to sit in the aisle seat next to him. She tried to engage Jack in conversation, but he cited the exhausting week behind him and said he needed to rest during the flight. He pushed the seat-recliner button, closed his eyes, and leaned his head against the bulkhead. That’s when someone else started talking to him.

“Jack, there’s a woman sitting next to you,” whispered God’s Spirit.

“Yea, I know. And of all the places she could have selected, she sat next to me!”

“Don’t you think that’s significant?” asked the Lord.

“But Lord, You know how tired I am!” Jack countered. He contended with the Lord for several minutes, then yielded to His wooing. After asking forgiveness for his attitude, he pushed the seat button, sat upright, and opened his eyes. Immediately the lady blurted, “Oh, are you feeling better?”

A casual conversation ensued. When she said she lived and worked in Charlotte, North Carolina, Jack mentioned a friend of his: Henderson Belk, then president of the Belk department store chain, headquartered in her city. Excitedly, she announced that she worked for Mr. Belk in the corporate office. “Have you noticed anything different about your boss lately?” Jack inquired.

“Oh, yes. Everybody is talking about him. He ‘got religion’ or something,” she said. That’s when Jack explained how Mr. Belk had recently put his faith in Christ. He shared the gospel with her, and her heart began to melt. She wept, revealing a broken heart over dysfunction in her family. She didn’t pray to receive Christ on the plane, but Jack made her promise to ask her boss about what happened to him. Within a week, Henderson Belk cultivated the soil where Jack had planted a seed, and led his employee to faith in Christ.

When Jack was at the end of himself due to physical frailty, he and the woman were at the beginning God’s grace. Instead of stemming the flow of God’s power, his weariness merely created a dependency on it.

We have the gospel message in fragile earthen vessels. But we’re still candidates for usefulness, for God puts His word in weak vessels, “so that the surprising greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Cor. 4:7).

When has God surprised you by using you in ministry when you felt weak, needy, or burdened? That’s when we’re more likely to praise Him and give Him the credit, rather than assume our experience or gifts explain the fruitfulness.

your brother,

Terry

Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical  depression and other mental issues.

 

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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

 

 

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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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