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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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Meeting C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite Christian authors. It can take some thought to get the point he is making in some of his writings, but the effort is well worth the understanding that I gain. Some time ago I bought a journal that consisted of various C.S. Lewis quotes followed by about a page and a half to write my own thoughts about the quote. This blog entry is a quote and journal entry from that journal.

In “Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer,” Lewis wrote:

I come back to St. John: “if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart.” And equally,”if our heart flatter us, God is greater than our heart.” I sometimes pray not for self-knowledge in general but for just so much self-knowledge at the moment as I can bear and use at the moment; the little daily dose.

Have we any reason to suppose that total self-knowlege, if it were given us, would be for our good? Children and fools, we are told, should never look at half-done work; and we are not yet, I trust, even half-done. You and I wouldn’t, at all stages, think it wise to tell a pupil exactly what we thought of his quality. It is much more important that he should know what to do next.

I like Lewis’ prayer, for just so much knowledge of my own failings and successes as God deems to be appropriate for my spiritual growth today. If I was aware of all that God must do to complete the good work that He has begun in me, then I would be overwhelmed and feel completely hopeless at the enormity of my need. On the other hand, if I were in one single moment to be aware of all the good that He has accomplished in me, then I might become vain and think myself better than others whose canvas is still bare.

I am like an unfinished painting, more than just the bare canvas, but not a finished work fit for hanging in God’s art gallery. I feel as though my underlying sketch has been completed with Christ as its foundation, and some of the paint has been applied, but all the colors and the detail are not there.

What I need and hope is for God to help me see myself as He deems appropriate, not as He sees me (for He sees all that was, is, and is yet to be in me). If I saw myself as God sees me, that would be too much for me to bear. But I am thankful He knows what is best for me, and allows me to see just what I need.

You, dear broken believer, are also an unfinished painting – a masterpiece in the making. I pray He shows you just so much of your failures and successes, your weaknesses and strengths, as is beneficial to you this day so that the next brush strokes may be perfectly applied by the Master Painter.

You can find Linda’s own website at http://lindakruschke.wordpress.com/

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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

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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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Simply Golden

by Norman Rockwell, 1961

“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

Luke 6:31, ESV — The Golden Rule

 “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that.” 

Luke 6:31-32, MSG

Sometimes it seems, I hit the switch, and shut it all down. Essentially, I get wrapped up with one of my favorite sins and soon I turn off my faith, unplugging myself from the wall.  I have a desire to escape from what I see as restrictions that I believe faith brings me.  I want to have fun–I don’t want to pray, or read the Bible.

Actually I can do this subtly.  I just raise the volume of my sinful desires, and try to drown out that still small voice.  I can maintain a holy life for my Christian friends, while I enjoy the pleasures of my favorite sins.  Sins or holiness, I want to go for both– but the reality is I just get one.

There is still a voice that is speaking profoundly. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”  Our particular concepts of Christianity so rarely include this–“the golden rule.”  In my own mind, I diminish this as a little bit antiquated.  I will rarely feel its pinch or pull.  It is never a topic of serious thought or meditation.  It seems that it has become what I call–“an optional truth.”  It is very much real, but it is not connected to me in my daily walk.

Treating others, the very way you want to be treated—do this!  Love other people outrageously and deeply; because you like it when they do this to you.  There is reciprocal action here, a sort of spiritual circle of kindness.  Our vernacular says, “What goes around, comes around.”  And it certainly has a ring of truth in it.

All too often we have a version of Christianity that has had its teeth pulled. We have tamed it, and brought the sharp teeth of the faith under our personal decision-making process.  The wildness of a true faith is domesticated and ‘house-broken.’  And we start the rush to unplug things.  The golden rule gets detached right away.

As I struggle as a mentally ill Christian, it is mandatory that the truth be lifted up in my life.  I can become quite disturbed and manipulated by life’s dealings.  My issues of paranoia and delusion cripple me, or they could become the step-stool for those wonderous things on the shelf of grace.

Dear ones, use your illness to reach for the best, live this and change your world.

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Calibrating Your Heart to His

Calibration is necessary.

“May the patience and encouragement that come from God allow you to live in harmony with each other the way Christ Jesus wants.”

Romans 15:5

“Now make me completely happy! Live in harmony by showing love for each other. Be united in what you think, as if you were only one person.”

Philippians 2:2

The science and method of calibration provides us with a way to bring two, or more things into harmony.  It is done frequently on diverse things as scientific instruments, avionics, or music.  Without ‘this quest for harmony’ readings and things degrade into a thing of futile confusion.

A piano is tuned, and the worship leader then tunes into that piano.    The worship team is blending simultaneous sounds of different pitch or quality, making chords. This takes practice, and a gift. This principle is enhanced when we think of several gears that mesh and turn together.  There is a certain congruity, or a symmetry that makes it successful.

We need a “calibration of our spirits” with God’s Holy Spirit.  We tune in to Him.  His word is a little bit like a “tech manual”, showing us, and helping us.  He helps us adjust so that we are harmoniously flowing with Him and with others.

Have you ever met a believer not in harmony?  I bet you have. They may have a belief that is out-of-balance.  It may be health, or sickness.  That is quite common today.  Finances are also an issue, or politics.  I lived in San Francisco in the ’80s.  There was a small church down in Pacifica who would drive up to ‘worship on the street’ with us.  They were incredible!  They had a sensitivity and anointing that other groups didn’t have.  They loved Jesus very much, and it showed.

Within six months they disbanded, and went their own ways.  I was told that their meetings were essentially ‘gutted out’.  They became fanatical about the’anti-abortion’ message to such an extreme they didn’t even have a church service anymore.  It was now nothing more than a political rally, and they were not even reading the Word.  They were no longer calibrated to the Spirit or the Church.  They were no longer aligned to the truth.

I have to be regularly adjusted into a harmony with the promises of God.  I need my gauges to be consistent with the Word.  Not to be ‘heavy’ on certain things. I realize that my illness causes me to be very inconsistent.  I suppose I am God’s ‘ping-pong ball.’  I wish I was different, but the promises given are that He intends to change me.  I bet He can do this remarkable thing.

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