The Blessings of a Long Battle, part 4

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In thinking about this final installment about how God can bring much good out of our protracted struggle with sin, weakness, or a problem, it dawned on me how important it is to see the Big Picture. In some ways this post reiterates truths in part 2 of this series, but also adds important new dimensions to those truths and explores new territory.

When a soldier goes through boot camp, it’s crucial for him or her to see the overall purpose of his training–the Big Picture. He or she is being pushed and tested in different ways to the extreme so that they will be prepared for any situation on the battlefield, won’t crack under pressure, and will be a team player.

In the conquest of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership, the nation of Israel experienced many victories over different hostile nations. However, Judges 3:1–4 says that God did not allow the Israelites to completely triumph but left certain enemies in the land (e.g., the Philistines) so that his chosen people would learn warfare.

When we became Christians, God could have put us in a cocoon of protective grace where we would be insulated from our three primary enemies–the world, the flesh, and the devil–but he didn’t so that we would also learn warfare.

If he would’ve sheltered us from the battle, we would end up like many “trust fund babies,” who, because of their vast inherited wealth, never have to work a day in their lives. They’re protected from the toil and struggle of life and never have to worry about paying the rent or the electric bill.

Often there is something profoundly missing in their lives: many are spoiled, shallow, and have not been battle–tested. Perhaps God designed an existence where we battled the world, the flesh, and the devil so that we would not end up becoming spiritual trust fund babies.

Macarius was a great monk who composed the Macarian Homilies in the 4th century. He was convinced that, if after becoming Christians, we were protected in a cocoon of grace from the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, many of us would soon become conceited and fall as Satan fell. Instead of a three steps forward, two steps back grind that life often is, we would have a series of unbroken successes and become lifted up in pride and fall like Lucifer did.

In seeing the big picture, nothing is more important than understanding that God the Father through the Holy Spirit has been preparing a Bride for his Son in a Marriage that will span eternity. He wants you to be a part of that Bride. The Father wants the Bride to fervently love the Groom.

There is no love without free choice. If we would’ve been protected from the enemies of our soul, and choosing the Groom was exquisitely easy or even automatic, where’s the love that has been tested in the furnace of affliction? Like any spouse, Christ wants to be chosen. If we were automatons or even semi–automatons, where’s the love in that?

When we are in a long struggle with sin or weakness, it is because we have become over–attached to some created thing. Addiction is over–attachment in the extreme (e.g., overeating, alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex, power, work, shopping, etc.)

Christ the Uncreated One wants to be chosen over all the created things. Christ the Groom wants to stand in the midst of all his competitors–i.e. created things–and have the Bride choose him. One of the blessings then of a long battle is this: it’s the vehicle whereby we choose Christ as our Groom, as our only lover.

Does that love somehow go away if you’re a Christian who is up to your eyeballs in sin, addiction, and weakness? If anything God loves you more after you fall, because where sin abounds, grace abounds more. And as the old religious cliché tells us, he loves us in our sin and loves us too much to leave us there.

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Jonathan

Check out Jonathan’s own site at http://www.openheavensblog.com/.

 

How Things Happen

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31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

Matthew 13:31-33, ESV

These are perhaps the three most potent verses in the entire Bible. And whenever you find “potency” you will find a strong possibility of exponential growth. It may be a steady synergy, or an explosive fission. Either way, it’s going to grow!

Both the seed and the yeast have so much in common. They are two sides of the same proverbial coin. And they represent explosive growth. If they are unleashed, watch out! They are both “pep and power” and now set loose they will take off.

The seed is put in the ground and the yeast in the flour. And the farmer and the baker both do their initial work of planting or kneading, and then they just stand back, their work is pretty much done. They now just let “nature” take its course.

These parables Jesus taught here are small— but hardly less significant because of their brevity. These two can bury you with all they imply and mean. When we think clearly about yeast in your cupboard and that single seed in its package, we should see the “life” that resides in them, and the potential that waits.

I think much about the Church. At times, I admit I get frustrated with it. I get judgmental, and fearful that it won’t survive into the next century.  I truly understand that I can be critical. At times my friends must deal with my “ugliness,” but still they put up with me. (They are true friends.)

The kingdom is growing, and advancing. I love the wonderful promise in Isaiah 9:6, (usually read at Christmas time only. A mistake.) But Isaiah 9:7 is also pretty amazing too,

“His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen!”

Let it grow, let it grow! 

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ybic, Bryan

kyrie elesion.

Prepare for Flames and Floods

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“But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.
O Israel, the one who formed you says,
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.

2 When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.”

Isaiah 43:1-2, NLT

“YARNELL, Ariz. (AP) — July 1, an Arizona forest fire into an out-of-control inferno that trapped and killed 19 firefighters, nearly all of them members of an elite crew of “hotshots,” authorities said Monday. It was the nation’s biggest loss of firefighters in a wildfire in 80 years.”

“This is as dark a day as I can remember,” Gov. Jan Brewer said in a statement. Firefighters have a dangerous job. They put their lives on the line.

The promises here in Isaiah 43 meant to prepare us, and promise us. Fires burn and consume. Floods keep growing and multiplying. Yet in this world full of fires and floods, we have these promises of His presence in the middle of it all. He intends to be right there when things are going very, very wrong.

And dear broken believer, trials and tribulations are a fact of life for us. Life is often full of badness, but my God, we learn. (Oh, how we learn.) You may be struggling now, but we are being made into something wonderful.

“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.” –1 Peter 4:12

No surprises– burning trials– something strange? Hardly, it’s just the life of a saint, as he travels home to heaven. And isn’t heaven is worth just a little temporary pain? (I walk with a cane, so I’ll be behind you a bit.) 

The reality is this, the Isaiah verses declare that there will be floods, and rivers to cross, and fires and flames. These are going to happen. But, the Lord does promise that He will walk with you, as your Companion, and Protector.

“It is quite useless knocking at the door of heaven for earthly comfort. It’s not the sort of comfort they supply there.” –C.S. Lewis

We are looking to be given comfortable things, naturally easy things. Like lots of money in our bank accounts, bills paid off. A redesigned kitchen would be nice. And one of those huge refrigerators (big enough to hang a cow in.) A new VW Jetta, maybe. But this is not the comfort that God is supplying us.

You may have to shift things in your thinking. But maybe you have already learned this, and might just need a tiny reminder. There is a definite upside to this– the presence of the Holy Spirit. He is standing at your side, and you will know his true comfort and assistance. It is a promise. And it is yours. (But not the VW, most likely).

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ybic, Bryan

Kyrie elesion. (Lord, have mercy)
 
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Rainy Day People

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“Rainy day people always seem to know when it’s time to call,
Rainy day people don’t talk, they just listen till they’ve heard it all.
Rainy day lovers don’t lie when they tell ‘ya they’ve been down like you.
Rainy day people don’t mind if you’re cryin’ a tear or two.”

Gordon Lightfoot, 1975

“The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.”

Proverbs 27:9, NLT

“Wise words are more valuable than much gold and many rubies.”

Proverbs 20:15

I’ve discovered that good counsel invariably comes from a good person. 

But its more then that, not everyone can do it.  At one time I thought any mature Christian believer had a right to give guidance, but that really wasn’t the case.  I also believe that every believer will receive a minimum of a ‘spiritual semester’ in counseling. The Holy Spirit will come to teach you. We have to learn there is wisdom, and there is counseling. And at times, “wise counseling.” Choose your rainy day people carefully. Mark them out beforehand; before things get out of hand.

“From a wise mind comes wise speech;
    the words of the wise are persuasive.”

Proverbs 16:23

Proverbs tells us that giving good advice is as rare as gold or silver.  I have met so many people who have an opinion about my problems, but few want to listen.  And listening skills are what my counselors need.  Job’s friends were the best counselors when they sat quietly in the ashes with him. They were sterling silver until… well, you know what happened next.

I need to unload my issues.  Personally, I need someone who has been profoundly depressed and finally stumbled out into the light.  It’s not that I don’t love certain believers, but they haven’t been “checked out” on this particular problem.  It’s like flying a plane, or operating heavy equipment.  If they haven’t suffered, then leave me alone–but, please do pray for me.

I read this somewhere, “Unless you have been lost in this particular section of hell– just shut up!”  I don’t want to be rude, or ungrateful, but I really need someone who has visited hell on occasion. And especially down this specific corridor. People who have been damaged by life know what I mean.

Often counselors are offering a very small part of the needed wisdom. They must accept this. I place a premium on the counsel of a few dear friends, even though I have hundreds of Christian relationships.  I don’t diminish those relationships, but I do know that certain people are not tested on certain problems.  This may be simplistic, or a little harsh.  But when I had my brain tumor, I did not want my car mechanic to fix me, I wanted a neurosurgeon. And both are wonderful people. I’m fortunate to have them.

If you’re reading this, and you have a mental illness issue that’s starting to escalate, you need to reach out.  Realize, that 1 in 70 people, [more or less] are qualified to deal with mental illness.  Ask the Holy Spirit for his help in this.  He is the Comforter and the Wonderful Counselor.  He will direct you, and help you.  That is what He does.

 

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“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.” –Thomas Fuller

“A saying I heard years ago: ‘It doesn’t matter what you do. Just do something, even if it’s wrong!’ That’s the most stupid counsel I’ve ever heard. Never do what’s wrong! Do nothing until it’s right. Then do it with all your might. That’s wise counsel.”  –Chuck Swindoll

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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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I Love This House! Psalm 84:1-4

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 1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
2 I long, yes, I faint with longing
to enter the courts of the Lord.
With my whole being, body and soul,
I will shout joyfully to the living God.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young
at a place near your altar,
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God!
4 What joy for those who can live in your house,
always singing your praises.

 Psalm 84:1-4

There are some things that leave an indelible mark inside, deep on our souls.  For me, one instance I remember staying at Simpson College on Silver Ave. in San Francisco in June 1986.  The dorms were empty and I had a whole floor to myself.  The campus was gorgeous.  I found a little “mom and pop” corner market nearby which had a awesome deli. Here I could buy cold cuts, braunschweiger  and fresh sourdough bread.   I returned to my room to build my sandwich.  I remember the windows were open and a beautiful breeze was there.   Food, warm sun, flowers in bloom and the Holy Spirit are just about ready to intersect in my life.

It was simply a moment I captured and savored.  Everything seemed to coincide, it was magical in the best sense of the word.  It was beautiful, that is all I can say.  That time in that dorm room has become a crystalline moment that I will never forget.  Right there, it seemed I fell in love, not with a girl, but with a moment in time and place.

That nostalgia is thick on the shoulders of the writer of Psalm 84.  He remembers and savors the memories of his visit to the temple.  He was given something in that particular moment that  would haunt him for the rest of his life.  In his thinking, the beauty of the temple could never ever be the same again.  The beauty of that experience was inviolable and true and could never be duplicated.  But it was his, and he would never forget._ho2

God gives moments, wrapped in wonder and awe.  His presence is very likely the tipping point in these.  When He is present, a connecting link is made and we receive grace.  We will longingly look back on these moments when grace was so close.  The psalmist has the same hunger .  These moments in the temple which are so blessed have also ruined him.   Special times of God’s presence have resulted in a sanctified dissatisfaction with the present.

When we finally make our way to Jesus, life takes on a curious wonder.  When the rain finally comes to the barren desert, an explosion of life bursts out.  In the exact same way, our lives get very green and lush.  This is in contrast to our dry and desperate life without His presence.

I am hungry for His presence.  I want to be in the center of wherever He is at.  I admit that His grace and love has spoiled me.  But the love of Jesus does this.  Normal life seems to be in black & white, He turns it into a vibrant color.  The psalmist begs to be returned to the temple.  He wants to be there, more then anything.

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Make Yourselves Holy

Then Joshua told the people, “Make yourselves holy, because tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

Joshua 3:5, NCV

There must be people today standing in the place of Joshua.  They holler 0ut to us and motivate us to holiness.  I encourage you to recognize them.  They want you to come to the Father.  Pastors and elders should be like Joshua, speaking out loud to the Church again and again.

There is effort that is involved, “Make yourselves holy.”  We must decide if this is going to happen.  But holiness isn’t like the “common cold,”  you just don’t simply catch it.  Rather it is an intense decision to be something more than you are right now.  We make that effort to be his, set apart to be very different from everything around us.  Clearly, we must make it– or we will fake it!

Joshua declares the things the Father intends to do in the lives of his people.  It requires a commitment that gets out and sweats.  It gets down to work.  Jesus told the people, “to prepare the way of the Lord.”  We prepare, and he comes.  I started to think of Elijah, on Mt. Carmel.  He worked to build an altar for the Lord.  He cleared a spot, and then moved rock to create an altar.  But his effort, was not to make a monument, but to create an altar–which was expendable.

The Father comes to Carmel , blasting and blazing.  Everything comes however, by his people making a way.  We must “set-it-up.”  And that takes a forethought.  We must prepare a way for him to come, and we’ll not be disappointed.

“Tomorrow” takes us to a forward place.  We are to anticipate his coming to us, and tomorrow means we start expecting.  It’s not quite here yet, but we expect him to show, to make us and change us.  But, it is “tomorrow.”  Today we must work.  We must bring things into a definite order, to create the environment that brings him close.  We must prepare for him. Altars need to be built.

The last part of this verse, is perhaps the best.  “The Lord will do amazing things among you.”  Essentially, we can anticipate things that intervene into our tedious and mundane lives.  Something special is coming.  We can expect events that amaze us.  We can deeply appreciate his dramatic presence that changes everything.

We intend to make him supremely comfortable, in our hearts.

But are you “preparing the way of the Lord?”  You must step in the wind of the Spirit and set in place, like Elijah, the altar in which he will come.  Evil will resist you.  The darkness becomes an issue.  You have to ignore it, and press in to building that altar.  The future holds his plans, and we understand (for the most part) his supreme effort in the hearts of men.  He will change us, and we will be someone else.

ybic, Bryan