When Truth Meets Love

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“You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’

And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”

Rev. 3:17, NLT

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If you would come to me and speak this boldly, I’d run you off.  “You have no right speaking to me in this way!”  Our personal relationships are essentially based on “boundaries.”  My continuing friendship with you is based to a large degree on your respecting these social rules and restrictions. We look to social protocol to guide us.

God is the only one we would allow to speak to us so boldly and directly (and even then it’s still unwelcome).

Self-sufficiency has become the specific goal of the speaker, it is how he measures a respectable Christian life.  Respectability however, is a disturbing development for simple believers.  “I don’t need a thing.”  Within our hearts there is a hunger to be independent.  Self-sufficiency and pride are disturbing thought processes for simple disciples.

There is a delusion that is quite prevalent– we may feel that we have arrived.  We finally are capable of something important.  We have done all the necessary things, we have jumped through all the hoops, and have “made it.”  It somehow feels like we have accelerated the sanctification process.  Much of this comes from a feeling of being ‘spiritually exceptional.’

Jesus is confrontive.  He will not diminish the truth, to spare our feelings.  I think that that is quite remarkable.  We esteem and value honesty, but when it is focused on us it seems difficult.

“You don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17).

None of these five words would we use to describe ourselves. Let’s consider them anyway:

  1. wretched– terrible, very bad
  2. miserable– unhappy, depressed
  3. poor– lacking sufficient resources
  4. blind– sightless, without vision
  5. naked– bare, without covering

These five words that describe the “real” position of the believer in pride.  These five words dismantle us, stripping us of our lies.  We have evaluated ourselves and discovered that we must be exceptional believers. (Perhaps my innate specialness is true after all!)

Twenty years ago my wife and I took an evaluation for placement in a language school.  I assumed I was quite exceptional, but two hours later I was told that I failed the test and would be assigned to the lowest level for the rest of the semester.  I was shocked!  And my dear wife, was put into the highest. What a blow to my pride!

“We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ.”

Eph. 4:15

He reaches out to us because He loves us profoundly.  It is a love that is not based on any kind moral performance.  However, it is quite necessary for us to step into the piercing light, and an intense desire to enter reality.  It is difficult for us to slough off the lies, and to understand what is true.  Trust me, Jesus speaks nothing but the truth, and He loves us while He does it.

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When Rags Became Grace

“Ebedmelech from Ethiopia was an official at the palace, and he heard what they had done to me. So he went to speak with King Zedekiah, who was holding court at Benjamin Gate. 9Ebedmelech said, “Your Majesty, Jeremiah is a prophet, and those men were wrong to throw him into a well. And when Jerusalem runs out of food, Jeremiah will starve to death down there.” 10Zedekiah answered, “Take thirty of my soldiers and pull Jeremiah out before he dies.”

11Ebedmelech and the soldiers went to the palace and got some rags from the room under the treasury. He used ropes to lower them into the well. 12Then he said, “Put these rags under your arms so the ropes won’t hurt you.” After I did, 13the men pulled me out. And from then on, I was kept in the courtyard of the palace guards.”

Jeremiah 38:8-13, CEV

At the very last, there was just one remaining.  A single man, Ebedmelech.  He was a Ethiopian; made a eunuch by the will of the king.  The situation in Jerusalem has gotten very difficult.  In an action of revenge and reprisal, certain men intend to kill the prophet Jeremiah.  They take a certain satisfaction in this, and Jeremiah is thrown into a very deep cistern.  They intend for him to starve to death, which is a terrible way to die.

The king in these last pathetic days is being manipulated by the surviving leadership of the city.  Zedekiah gives tacit approval for the destruction of Jeremiah.  He just lets it happen without a good reason.  The prophet is lowered in the muddy cistern.  Without food, he will soon starve.  In the minds of this evil mob, they have taken care of the any last vestiges of a godly ‘righteousness.’

But there is one, he is a wild card.  And no man would have guessed it.  Ebedmelech, the Ethiopian eunuch steps forward and decides to change history.  Not only his ethnicity, but his state as a castrated man are definite issues.  This mob never recognized him as someone who would intervene.  He was a non-entity, a non-factor. He was black, and a eunuch, a nobody.

But Ebedmelech is intervening, in the face of terrible risk, he steps out boldly to make an intercession.  He doesn’t appear to be intimidated, and makes a cry for the truth.  He becomes an intense and strong advocate for the release of Jeremiah from the deep mud.

Ebedmelech is given the ‘green-light’ by king Zedekiah. Ebedmelech rounds up thirty men to assist him as he delivers the prophet.  Ropes are brought out, and out comes Ebedmelech with a big armload of rags.  They shout down to Jeremiah.  The instructions are called down to him of what needs to take place for the extraction.

It’s interesting, but the rags are the most interesting. 

They are really an extra touch, not a necessity.  The rags become essentially, a form of grace.  They would pad the ropes, providing a degree of comfort as the prophet is pulled up out of the mud.  Ebedmelech showed the heart of God in what he did.  There was his desire to somehow make the prophet comfortable.  In doing so he communicated a kindness and concern that was saturated with God’s own enveloping presence.

Our illnesses– physical or mental, have moved us to a lonely place on the edge. 

We are those on the so-called ‘margins.’ Ebedmelech has now become a carrier of God’s grace.  Jeremiah could have been lifted up by just the ropes.  It would’ve been more difficult, granted.  But the rags sent down by Ebedmelech provided the prophet an extra gentleness.  And I am certain it did not pass by without notice.  Their mention in this Book of Jeremiah is significant, and shows Jeremiah’s deep appreciation of kindness.

We can gather up much from what has been written.  We will sometimes find ourselves in parallel situations.  But our kindness and concern can make the difference.  Admittedly, they are quite insignificant–quite minor. Call it ‘icing on the cake.’ But when you show the kindness of our Father, you will infuse the situation with love, and grace.  

So be an  Ebedmelech,—  an outcast perhaps– but in a position of kindness.

 

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The Mystery of His Face, Psalm 131

AA A Psalms Study (Just three verses)

Childlike Trust in the Lord

A song for going up to worship. Of David.

1 Lord, my heart is not proud;
I don’t look down on others.
I don’t do great things,
and I can’t do miracles.
2 But I am calm and quiet,
like a baby with its mother.
I am at peace, like a baby with its mother.

3 People of Israel, put your hope in the Lord
now and forever.

Psalm 131,  New Century Version (NCV)

The Christian, the struggler, and the mentally ill should become prolific readers of the Psalms. 

Some of us will need to take meds, that is true.  But the Psalms are pretty much required as well.  We diligently need to take a physical dose of our daily medication.  For believers, Psalm 131 is a spiritual dose that is just as mandatory, and just as necessary.

This particular Psalm is unique, and deeply insightful.  It begins its work in us right at the start; the superscription.  “A song for going up to worship,” and it strikes me that a work must happen inside of my heart.  It is a preparation that will take me higher, and help me see God more clearly.  I need to worship.

Verse 1 states the certain issue we have; it is called ‘pride.’  What David says seems to be a very arrogant and audacious thing to say.  There is a truism that you think you’re humble, you’re not.  A church once gave an elder a medal for humility.  But they had to take it away, because he wore it everywhere. To claim you are suddenly liberated from pride, knowing ears perk up.  It is almost always a sign of danger.

Take it at face value, King David states that he has a real contentment with limitations and weakness.  It appears that he has been freed from the vicious cycle of needing to be the center of everything, ‘in the mix,’ and very significant.  He admits ignorance, and something quite significant works its way into us through this psalm.  There exists a definite place where we must renounce “ambition.”

Are you content to be the simple servant now, and delay the accolades and praise until you get to heaven?

Some make themselves, literally sick by the deep dark quest to be important.  In verse 2, we connect with some astonishing imagery.  A baby!  I am like a little baby being held by my mom. It’s not an issue of sophistication, but simplicity .  Of having limits, but not applause. How can this be?!

The word in Hebrew, isn’t “baby,” (as in newborn) but baby, but more like a small toddler.  A “weaned” child more is a better translation.  A weaned child no longer needs his mom’s milk. You can guess that it makes the child more content.  He doesn’t fuss, or nuzzle his mothers breast, demanding his food.  The child no longer receives his nourishment this way.  There is a contentment, a simple desire just to be with mom, just because he wants to. This is a significant step into maturity.

To me, verse 2 is the centerpiece of Psalm 131.  OK, let’s apply this spiritually.  There was a time when it was necessary for me to have my mother’s milk. I screamed and would throw a terrible tantrum if she didn’t feed me from her breast.  I would starve if she didn’t give me her milk. For all practical purposes, it seems we use God to get what we need.  But we grow, and become mature.

David is saying that we need to emulate his example. 

Now we can come into God’s presence– just to be with Him.

That’s all.  So simple.  As a child, we just want to be where He is at.  We have no ulterior motives, there is no manipulation.  We seek His face, and not what is in His hands.

If we rightly connect the dots, we find that we land right back to the opening superscription.  This is an amazing concept of worship– the real kind.  As a struggler, a rascal and mentally disabled, I must start at the beginning– again and again and again.  I have to worship.  I can only do this if I become a little boy again.  I finally realize I must throw ambition and pride overboard.

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Forgiven First

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This evening I got tired of the TV. Or maybe tired of the control it emits over me. I picked up one of the many Bibles I have in my loft. I do think it is ‘funny/sinister’ of the real pressure it takes to open its pages. I have no doubt it is the darkness of my flesh and the wickedness of demons. Melodramatic? I think not.

But this is what I read and thought.

“Jesus climbed into a boat and went back across the lake to his own town. Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man,“Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.”

Matthew 9:1-2, NLT

Jesus is mobile. He moves and goes where His Father goes. At this moment He is needed in Capernaum. He is to meet a small crowd– and a paralyzed man on a mat. Jesus travels, but this man can only be carried. So Jesus Christ the Son of God, comes to him.

The Lord’s eyes alertly move over these people. People are the reason He came. This crippled man has been waiting. Jesus looks, and all He sees is “faith.” And He knows that the Father has led Him here.

The Word says that He could see their faith. Funny. What does faith look like? It seems like that is the first thing He saw, and noted. I’m not sure about the man on the mat. Did he have faith? Or had it been ‘burned out of him’ by too many doctors, and too many ‘treatments’? It is good to surround yourself with others who will believe when you can’t.

Jesus finally spoke, and its worth noting His first utterance was to proclaim forgiveness. Not healing. Forgiveness! What did this man’s friends think? I see them feel tenative, and maybe a bit shocked about this. What evil did their friend commit? What had he hidden from them, the way we try to hide things from each other?

The healing is going to come. This man will stand. He will carry his mat and go home. (V. 6). But perhaps the paralysis wasn’t the main reason he was there.

Maybe, his biggest need was to be forgiven?

Man has two basic needs.

  • One, to be forgiven of awful sin. Washed and cleansed. Forgivemess.
  • Two, to become a good person. Kind and humble. Healing.

There will always be those looking on who will condemn and challenge what is taking place. For them, it has nothing at all to do with the hearts of people. That means nothing to them. Rather for these, it has to do with a rigid and lifeless religion– with its 613 laws, and tithing of dill and mint.

What do you really need? Forgiveness? Or something else? Psalm 103:3-4, are verses for the redeemed.

“He forgives all my sins
    and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
    and crowns me with love and tender mercies.”

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“God pardons like a mother, who kisses the offense into everlasting forgiveness.”  

Henry Ward Beecher

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Learning to Lean [Intimacy]

 

jesus-with-a-disciple“One of His disciples, whom Jesus loved [whom He esteemed and delighted in], was reclining [next to Him] on Jesus’ bosom.”  

John 13:23, Amplified

 

“One of the disciples, the one Jesus loved dearly, was reclining against him, his head on his shoulder.”  

John 13:23, The Message

(Two translations of the same verse.)

 Good posture is one of those intangibles that parents are always trying to influence.  “Sit up straight” or the classic, “stop slouching”.  I’m convinced that this is purely genetics at work.  The apostle, traditionally John, is found sitting at the table with the rest of the disciples.  It is an intimate and relaxing affair as they eat and talk and rest in a cool, quiet room.

John sits next to Jesus, an informal place of honor.  The scripture says that he just rests his head on Jesus’ shoulder.  And Jesus did nothing to stifle such behavior.  Often, with men it would be very uncomfortable and distracting.  I remember in Mexico watching men holding hands, as good friends.  I have heard that this is true in other cultures as well.

The intimacy between Jesus and John strikes us as a little weird.  But for Jesus it was encouraging.  He felt John’s love and perhaps confidence.  There certainly was no impropriety or anything suggestive.  It was an immensely precious moment, especially for the apostle John.  Artists always paint John with a sincere and peaceful countenance.  This moment most likely contributed to his serenity.

It was getting dark.  Jesus had just hours before the nightmare would begin. When the black rolls in, and it begins to get scary, resting your head on Jesus’ shoulder is a wonderful place to be.  We may not look at it like this, but I believe Jesus is comforted.  He is encouraged by our affection.

We can make Him happy and content by our simple tokens of affection.

The ‘arm of the Lord’ is spoken of repeatedly by the prophets.  They had a prophetic insight into the strength of God.  We call it, ‘omnipotence’, and our understanding is that He has all strength, and all power– all of the time.  I think that John was leaning on that omnipotence.  But it still was motivated by his affection and love for Jesus.  Our Savior is strong enough to carry our immense burdens and all of our loads.

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Becoming Intimate With Jesus

Being intimate with God is how we get a headstart on heaven.  It is the beginning of so much for the Christian.  Along the way, it is much like the tide, our affections ebb and flow.  Patience then becomes the rule. In many ways, this is a ‘seasonal’ walk. We experience all four seasons.

Here are some simple quotes on the topic of Christian intimacy.  I so want you to be blessed by these.

This is the place the Holy Spirit is taking us as believers. Honestly, I find that life has no meaning without His incredible presence.

Open your hearts to the love God instills… God loves you tenderly. What He gives you is not to be kept under lock and key but to be shared.  — Mother Teresa

Did you never run for shelter in a storm, and find fruit which you expected not? Did you never go to God for safeguard, driven by outward storms, and there find unexpected fruit? –John Owen

I long to be filled with divine knowledge, divine wisdom, divine love, divine holiness, to the utmost extent of my capacity. I want to feel that all the currents of my soul are interfused in one channel deep and wide, and all flowing towards the heart of Christ.
–Griffith John

A man who is intimate with God will never be intimidated by men.
— Leonard Ravenhill

God sometimes shuts the door and shuts us in, that He may speak, perchance through grief or pain, and softly, heart to heart, above the din, may tell some precious thought to us again.
— Anonymous

We should go into His presence as a child goes to his father. We do it with reverence and godly fear, of course, but we should go with a childlike confidence and simplicity.
— Martyn Lloyd-Jones

How do you approach the thirst of Jesus? Only one secret – the closer you come to Jesus, the better you will know His thirst. Jesus thirsts even now, in your heart and in the poor – He knows your weakness, He wants only your love, wants only the chance to love you. — Mother Teresa

Jesus, within you I lose myself, without You, I find myself searching to be lost again. — Anonymous

There come times when I have nothing more to tell God. If I were to continue to pray in words, I would have to repeat what I have already said. At such times it is wonderful to say to God, “May I be in Thy presence, Lord? I have nothing more to say to Thee, but I do love to be in Thy presence.” — O. Hallesby

What I believe is so magnificent, so glorious, that it is beyond finite comprehension. To believe that the universe was created by a purposeful, benign Creator is one thing. To believe that this Creator took on human vesture, accepted death and mortality, was tempted, betrayed, broken, and all for love of us, defies reason. It is so wild that it terrifies some Christians who try to dogmatize their fear by lashing out at other Christians, because tidy Christianity with all answers given is easier than one which reaches out to the wild wonder of God’s love, a love we don’t even have to earn.
— Madeleine L’Engle

The love I bear Christ is but a faint and feeble spark, but it is an emanation from himself: He kindled it and he keeps it alive; and because it is his work, I trust many waters shall not quench it.
— John Newton

I lay my head upon Thy infinite heart,
I hide beneath the shelter of Thy wing;
Pursued and tempted, helpless, I must cling
To Thee, my Father; bid me not depart,
For sin and death pursue,
And Life is where Thou art!
— Anonymous

Obedience deepens our intimacy with Jesus. If we want to know the Father, we must not only love Him, but also obey Him. Scripture is clear that it is important to know the Father through His Word, and if we want to be a part of what the Father is doing and to be able to see where He is moving then it is clear that we must obey His commands. It is important to be biblically literate, but we must also be biblically obedient!  — John Wimber

There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. — Brother Lawrence

I so hope that just one of these quotes resonate something in your spirit.

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Rembrandt’s Meditation on the Younger Son

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Painting by Renbrandt, 1606-1669

“And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to  one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
Luke 15:11-24, ESV

Three hundred and twenty-nine words– these describe the life of every man, woman, and child who has ever lived. These 329 words reveal to us a God who forgives much, and loves easily; the Father loves far too much, way too easy— and far too extravagantly for human beings to understand. Perhaps we sort of expect that he will ‘appropriately’ punish his son— at least put him on probation at least. It only makes sense.

“Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” Many of us have lived in prodigality, some  of us for a very long time. We have spent our inheritance like ‘drunken sailors’ and have nothing at all to show for it. The prodigal, completely destitute, takes the only work he can find. (Imagine a good Jewish boy feeding hogs.) He is so far gone that he starts inspecting the slop pails for something to eat.

Many of us will understand his despair. But there comes this crystalline moment of amazing clarity. The prodigal—filthy and impoverished, has  a memory of the Father’s house. The servants there had far more than him. Sometimes in our captivity we instinctively want to go home, if only to be a slave.

The Father has dreamed of this moment. The parable says, “He saw him–felt compassion–ran out to him–embraced him–and kissed him.” In moments we see a swirl of servants who completely overwhelm an already overwhelmed son. I’ve read the Parable of the Prodigal Son a hundred times or more . It never loses its punch. I simply want to bring you for just a few moments back into its light. I expect that the Holy Spirit may have business with you. rembrandt-prodigal3 (1)

We see that his father receives him with a tender gesture. His hands seem to suggest mothering and fathering at once; the left appears larger and more masculine, set on the son’s shoulder, while the right is softer and more receptive in gesture. His head is downy, almost like a newborn’s. Standing at the right is the prodigal son’s older brother, who crosses his hands in stoic judgment; we read in the parable that he objects to the father’s compassion for the sinful son.

Rembrandt had painted the Prodigal once before, when he was considerable younger. And it is a very good painting. The prodigal is happy and gay; there is absolutely no indication of the consequences of sin. He is charming young man at a happy party. But Rembrandt chooses at the end of his life to re-paint it to reflect reality. This is one of the last paintings he will do, and it is the Prodigal Son–destitute and repenting. I can only imagine; the years have taken a toll and he doesn’t really feel his first painting is enough. He wants to paint what is true. He is painting us.

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