A Spellbound Captive of the Night

 

“We are all infected and impure with sin.
      When we display our righteous deeds,
      they are nothing but filthy rags.
   Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall,
      and our sins sweep us away like the wind.”

Isaiah 64:6, NLT

There are bad things that happen to us— the ugly, awful and rigorous things, that only God himself can explain.  We read theology and we read our Bibles, we listen dutifully to preachers but we still approach the throne of Jesus more mystified than anything else.

We are seem to be playing ‘ping-pong’ with the most challenging  issues.  We come to Him, because there is no one left who can answer things that have perplexed everyone else.  Why do we suffer?  Why does evil exist?  Why do people who live in blatant sin, succeed?  Why am I sick all the time?

If God is really God, why doesn’t he just give us an explanation about these questions?  Our title talks about being “spellbound.”  Are we really that inured, or attached with a sinister evil?  To be spellbound means we are being confused, drugged or hypnotised by something quite awful.  A cobra rises up, and opens its “hood.”  Its victim is entranced by what it sees in front-of-it.  He soon becomes supper.

Being held captive is a ordinary occurance for human beings.  Captivity brings us imprisonment.  Usually in a dark, dirty and unpleasant place.  But yet, it intrigues us so much, and the “light” is such a boring and dull thing.  We feel great as we trade the truth for lies.  But what a deal we reason; “step right up, and exchange it for the lie!”

 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

Ephesians 2:1-3, ESV

From this new and fresh influence we come under the control and will of ‘the dark side’.  (And this is not merely “Star Wars‘ mythos.  It is very much real.)  We gradually give ourselves over, in a reasonably predictable pattern.  We think we are pretty much unique in this, but the truth is that we are pretty much ordinary. Sin never enhances us. Don’t believe the lie.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”

John 3:19

There comes a point when there is enough momentum and weight, that it creates an avalanche. At this point things have gotten desperately grim.  From a human standpoint, there will be no way to avert the inevitable.  Sin will roll over you, blasting into your life, and worst of all into the hearts of your family.  In a stark way— things get very dark, very fast.

Sin will always enslave.  It will turn on you and rock your world. 

But we are so entranced by what it wants to give us.  It looks so good…one could call it “self-actualizing.”  (Maybe even “liberating!”)  But in one of the many purposes of the Old Testament, is to clarify what happens in people’s hearts when we step down and let the sin and confusion take over.  You could say, that there will be pleasure for a brief season, but  it will always have a very savagely grim and a black conclusion. ”For the wages of sin is death.”

“If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will then we may take that it is worth paying.”  

–C.S. Lewis

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Is Jesus Enough?

 

Is Jesus enough? This is a penetrating question which begs for a response.    The world would dismiss this as religious fervor run amok. But the whole Bible still asks this vital question. Jesus desires us to have Him as our first love.

Is heaven enough?   Sometimes I don’t think about eternity for months at a time.  Older saints remind me that they are getting prepared for eternity.  A strong belief in heaven should uproot “besetting sins.”  Heaven is my ultimate destination.

Will I be willing to forego the things of this world now?  It seems I live for this present moment with no urge to “store up riches in heaven.” There isn’t room for my things in God’s kingdom. You ‘ll never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer. (At least I haven’t.)

These three questions may seem harsh and fanatical, but they are questions that beg a response. Positively put they are as follows:

  1. Jesus deserves my love and the totality of my being.
  2. Heaven and all its glory awaits me (and my family and friends).
  3. I want to renounce the things of this world and replace them with the things of the next.

Perhaps these are the starting point. Maybe they are kind of necessary for today’s discipleship.  I simply submit them for your consideration.  I certainly share this out of love for you to think about.

“The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

2 Timothy 4:18

“My home is in Heaven. I’m just traveling through this world.”

    –Billy Graham

 

What Price Vigilance?

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There are times in every believer when things become crystal clear. The comes an awareness of things that are real and true. We see in detail the world as it really is; we suddenly understand.

We are specifically called to be watchful.

What that suggests to me is that we have an awareness of “each hour’ of the day. We choose to know the time, no matter our circumstances. We are made alert in hope though the world spins around us.

About 30 years ago I was ‘hitch-hiking’ in Alaska. I was not in the best place spiritually, and wasn’t really listening to the Lord. I had walked a bit and was about a mile from my cabin when I saw a ‘3×5’ card laying off the ground. Picking it up, I turned it over, and read the simple message written on it– “Stay Alert.” Weird. I walked further and saw another. I went and picked up, the same simple message. “Stay Alert.” That same day I was notified of a family emergency. My mother had been diagnosed with cancer. I was not prepared.

“So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”

1 Thessalonians 5:6

 There are three distinct areas that demand and require every believer’s watchful attention:

  1. The Second Coming, Jesus’ return and the signs signaling
  2. Spiritual warfare, against temptation and oppression
  3. the Fellowship of the Saints, others in the Church

“Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: ”Stay awake.”

Mark 13:33-37

‘The Parable of the Ten Virgins’ is Jesus’ cry for awareness for the waiting believer. The verses in Matthew 25 is a description of wise and foolish behavior and the terrible consequences of spiritual inattention.

We know that we must sleep, it is a physical need we all have. I think Jesus is warning us of a spiritual awareness. Vigilance– being watchful can be a challenge. The World offers plenty of “narcotics” that lull the heart. Satan is quite proficient at what he does.

In the Book of Song of Solomon we see the beloved waiting for her lover. She makes the observation–

“I slept, but my heart was awake.
A sound! My beloved is knocking.”

Song of Solomon 5:2

Even sleeping we can be awake. That is a luxury given to those whom the Father loves. We can be ‘cued in’ even as we physically rest. Our hearts are very much awake, even in our pajamas!

In the sport of fencing two opponents face off with foils. The come together with the cry, ‘on guard’ and both become intensely aware of the other. I suggest we become as focused as believers. There is so much at stake. Jesus warns his disciples, and we had best listen.

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God of Wonders

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“Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also.

Genesis 1:16

“Wonder is retained by wise pondering.” –Ravi Zacharias

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” —Unknown

“We wake, if ever at all, to mystery. ”  –Annie Dillard

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It strikes me this morning that we live in a ‘coarse’ age. I meet so many who don’t seem to enjoy life at all. They seem to view things without ‘seeing’ them. There is mystery all around, and yet we seem to lack the faculties to perceive it. We probably would rather play X-box than write a poem, paint a portrait, or gaze through a telescope.

The older I get, the more life astonishes me. There is so much mystery saturating my life: nature, the night sky, a tiny baby, and my hands– all just ‘skimming the surface.’ When I consider the multi-layered complexity of life, I tend to ‘short-out.’

“We wake, if ever at all, to mystery.” –Annie Dillard

God reveals Himself as, ‘the God of wonders.’ When I consider our phenomenal universe with more than a million, billion galaxies I start to lose it. Once I camped on a remote beach in Mexico. There wasn’t any electrical, so at night it really got dark. Lying on my back I saw the ‘Milky Way’ for perhaps the first time. It was magnificent! But I also got somewhat scared as I looked into it’s depths. I actually ran back to my tent terrified. I guess I got ‘overloaded.’

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?”

Psalm 8:3-4, NKJV

For the freshly awakened believer, it is almost beyond belief to see so many people ‘sleepwalking’ through life. The somnambulistic masses move through life with nary an inkling of what it is all about. They are completely oblivious it would seem; they are unable to see the wonders of creation, much less the Creator. The enemy blinds so many to God’s presence and His redemption. The darkness is almost palpable.

“Declare His glory among the nations,
His wonders among all peoples.”

Psalm 96:3

“I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.” — Harry Emerson Fosdick

“You are the God who does wonders;
You have declared Your strength among the peoples.”

Psalm 77:14

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Comprehensive Protection

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The Book of Daniel contains the acts and welfare of the Jewish people in Babylon. They are captives and so much of the stories shared here are accounts of spirituality under duress. King Nebuchadnezzar, in an attempt to unify his kingdom, proclaims himself to be a god. He commissions a 90 foot statue to be erected; he orders that, on a prearranged moment, that all would fall down and worship.

Thgold statueere are three Jewish men: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who are brought to the king with the charge of ‘failure to worship.’ They refused to bow at the statue at the signal. They were observed standing when everyone else was kneeling. Non-compliance to the king meant the death penalty; but that doesn’t deter the three. Their faith will not allow them to sin in this way.

They are resolute. The first, second and third commandments clearly forbid the worship of all idols. There was no other options. Perhaps they valued their souls more than they valued their lives. In some things there can be no accommodation– no compromise. Standing before the king and threatened with death, they declare their allegiance to the living God. Dan. 3:16-18:

 “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

The king is enraged. Few have ever spoken and defied him like this (and lived). He orders the furnace to be heated up like never before.  Here the king is making a statement. He will not tolerate this kind of ‘rebellion’ in his kingdom. All of his governing leaders will witness what he does to ‘traitors.’ These Hebrews must be made an example.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” 25 He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (v.v. 24-25).

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are thrown into the fire. The men who escorted them are killed by the heat. Ironically, Nebuchadnezzer can’t protect his own men from death while the three Jews are not touched, not even a little. They are joined by a fourth man and they walk around in the midst of the flames.

Suddenly, Nebuchadnezzer realizes that the God of Israel is not only a real God, but a force to be reckoned with. The men’s faith has saved them. (And his men are dead.)

The complete story is quite compelling. The king orders all that the real God be worshipped. Henceforth, no one shall ever speak against this God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are promoted in the kingdom.

The lessons for today are many,

  1. God’s Word is to be obeyed no matter what it costs,

  2. When confronted, we must never hedge over our beliefs

  3. God is present with us in our furnace, we’re never alone

  4. In the fire, our faith will ultimately triumph.

We may be standing in similar times. Faith will be tested. The Word must be believed and trusted. It is ‘comprehensive protection’ for our lives. Obedience to God will lead us into difficult places, but faith will triumph.

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A Broken System

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Sixty million Americans – that’s one in five adults – will experience a mental illness in the coming year. That means every one of us knows someone who is living with a mental illness – depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, an eating disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and some additionally have a substance abuse.”

The stats are staggering. They are also easily forgotten. (It seems that we approach life not as it is, but as we want it to be.) But consider this:

• Half of all adults will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime.
• Half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14.
• One in five children will have a mental illness by age 18.
• Ninety percent of people who die by suicide also had mental illness.

Brokenbelievers is not just a “niche” site– we’re dealing with hardcore issues that are significant for far too many. Mental illness is a pervasive and terrible issue in our society. Christians must witness to what Jesus can do in the midst of this. We are his witnesses.

Accentuating this, our mental health care system is broken. Jails and prisons have become “dumping grounds” for afflicted people. I guess that this is considered “routine” for us. Imagine the outcry if, instead of doing this to the mentally ill, we did incarcerated those with diabetes? Yet we do so because that’s the way the system works.

There are many beautifully competent people who toil in the mental health field. Some of the kindest and caring can be found working in these places. They deserved to be commended, not vilified.

The landscape is strewn with casualties. Mental illness will affect half of adults in their lifetimes, and the collateral damage can’t even begin to be quantified. Our therapists, nurses and doctors have a grisly job security. Money can never fix our system of dealing with those with a mental illness.

Many of us will disagree about what to do.

Perhaps we should advocate a multi-prong approach. Brokenbelievers exists for Christian believers that are having to work out their faith in the presence of a tenacious illness. It’s good to have someone that understands depression or other issues in the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ.

We must think differently– and do differently. With God’s help we can.

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Sources:

https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kay-warren/hope-for-mental-illness_b_8045810.html

To Be, Rather Than Seem to Be

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“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”

Genesis 3:6-7

The broken believer survives because he or she is constantly having to move toward “authenticity.” There exists a credibility and a realness about them. Talking you’ll suddenly realize that you’re talking with someone who is real. They’ve stepped out of the wreckage and have survived their personal catastrophes. This doesn’t come easy; it is a rarity and a gift.

On the other hand, we see those wrapped up in so much self-imposed deception that can’t admit anything is wrong. Like the problem drinker who denies he has a problem, we can’t handle the reality and drink to alter it. The addicted are compelled to live a delusion of their own choices, (for the most part anyway) and discover they are hopelessly trapped. And so we hide under our favorite bush. (Euphoria was my favorite.)

“When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:8

It really is a matter of esse quam videri (“to be rather than seem to be”– Saint Gregory.) We would rather be “seeming to be” than actually just “be.” The sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve are still using “fig leaves.” We don’t want to deal with the truth about ourselves and face the sin of our lives. But it seems to be more than that.

The struggler and the broken believer may try to conceal themselves. They may hold up an image that deflects the curious onlooker from seeing the real them. We won’t deal with the truth, and we choose to hide ourselves. We want to be seen as “together” even if we are not. It is all about looking good. This is pretense and sham. We dodge and deflect.

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”

John 3:19

 This was Jesus’ indictment of the human heart. I wish it was otherwise.

Each day I must put to death my old self. Take my meds, and ask the Lord for strength to become real. No more pretense, and no more projecting a false self to others (and myself.) I choose reality over fantasy.

The Holy Spirit is eagerly waiting to fill me. In this I discover I can live well with the strength and joy He gives me.

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“The God who can change a sinner into a Christian by giving him His life can equally transform the fleshly Christian into a spiritual one by giving him His life more abundantly.”

—Watchman Nee

“Lord Jesus, may it be that the real me meets the real you. Make me real and authentic. Amen.”

 

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