Proximity is Your Choice

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23″Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
   you hold my right hand.
24You guide me with your counsel,
   and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
   And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
   but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Psalm 73, ESV

Continuity is a medicine for us who are always on the edge of losing control.  One patriarch in the Book of Genesis was told that “he was unstable as water.”  And this pretty much describes me as I struggle with Bipolar Disorder.  But the promise from Psalm 73 is for a continuous presence.  There is no flickering, no jumping about.  He is steady.  He does not flit or fluctuate.  He is always, and forever, constantly focused with you.

He provides guidance, ‘free of charge’.  We can experience many confusing days.  We make the attempt to walk through them, but we quickly grasp our ineptitude.  It goes very much better when He is speaking into our hearts.  Since He is present with us on a continuous basis anyway, let us turn to Him for direction.

There is a realization in verse 25. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”  This statement declares “point blank” who and what is real. Try reading this verse and emphasise the “you.”

The psalmist has an ‘umbilical cord’ attached to heavenly places.  This feeds him and gives him a radical strength to stand up and ‘to be’.  The writer  is completely over with the things of this earth.  He desires only heavenly things, that which really matters after looking down the long corridors of eternity.

In verse 26 he admits a desperate weakness.  He understands the foolishness of his flesh.  He knows that it is pathetic  and feeble.  There is absolutely nothing he can do about this.  He has tried and tried repeatedly.  His heart is like a colander that drains away all the grace and mercy that comes.  He can hold nothing. He must stay under the faucet.

But still, there is a profound realization that God is strengthening his heart.  He has done this on an eternal level.  What this means is this:  He has touched me and by that touch has made me eternal, like Him.  The rest of this Psalm extends and states certain things that the Psalmist has learned himself.

 27″For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
   you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28But for me it is good to be near God;
   I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
   that I may tell of all your works.”

Psalm 73, ESV

Proximity determines everything.  Some will bounce to the other end of the spectrum.  Being close to Him confers life.  Moving away from Him brings nothing but certain death.  The issue in this Psalm is of ‘unfaithfulness’.  This is a biggie.  Being unfaithful means treachery, and a wagon load of deception, and nothing good will ever come from it.

“Every man is as holy as  he wants to be.”

A.W. Tozer

God draws a person, but coming near is always your choice. The Psalmist sees that his “nearness to God is my good.”  He realizes that by taking refuge in God there is something that will be quite wonderful.  There is some effort that must happen.  So he makes God his refuge.  The Lord God is now a ‘bomb shelter’ or a covering for our souls.  He continues this process with the deep commitment to sharing ‘the works of God’.

 

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His Eyes On Us, [The Ministry of Jesus]

 “When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?”

Mark 6:2-3, NIV

 Jesus amazed people.  When He is brought to the front of the synagogue, He begins to speak.  His listeners are driven to silence and an awareness of something else.  They attempt to try to decipher these things.  It seems they cannot make the connection between the Holy Spirit and their traditions.  But as they listened their hair stood up.  What is going on? Something isn’t quite right. Too many things are being threatened.

But they remain astonished.  The situation is getting out of control.  This young man is one of their own.  They don’t expect this type of intensity from Him.  He says things that very closely approaches a definition of blasphemy.  Who is this man, and why is He speaking to us in such a manner or attitude?

And on top of all these pronouncements, He begins to perform miracles! 

He does what no one can do, or has done before.  And He does it so easy– no theatrics or gyrations.  There is no effort.  Those who observe Him, are brought into even more astonishment.  Jesus is doing things that are unreasonable, and amazing.  I can just imagine their thinking.  Who invited this guy to speak and why was He invited in the first place?  Has He been brought here to mock and shame us?

Our tendency is to consider miracles to be fantastic interventions in our lives; when in fact they’re better understood as revelations of the nature of a Covenant keeping God.

Jesus simply reveals the heart of the Father.  He is the son of God. And at this particular junction, no one can compare.  As He stands behind that pulpit, He reveals an intimacy with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus clearly stands as the ultimate deliverer of the human race.  We will find no hope by looking somewhere else.  He has established Himself as the only way to the Father.  And He sees us clearly.  We may twist, and we may squirm.  But Jesus remains our only salvation.

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Please, Don’t Find Fault

Without grace, this is what we are

“You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.”

Romans 2:1, NLT

One of the spiritual diseases endemic to the Christian believer is “fault finding”. For some reason, (and I’m still trying to figure out why), is we have a strong inclination to pass a judgement on people (those whom Christ died for!)  We don’t throw stones (far be it from me)– however, we certainly do and will point fingers. And perhaps we feel that its our religious duty, or maybe even our ministry (!).

Almost always, there a sense of certain and attainable righteousness. or our generated holiness involved. This should not be dismissed or overlooked. Because I believe I am right, and have religious grounds, I put all of the “evil sinners” on trial, and then I pronounce my verdict. (And they certainly deserve whatever I decide.)

Much of the same type of thinking was used in Romans 2.  Paul castigates those who were judging others. He goes on a scathing and sizzling rebuke directly at those who were destroying others by their overly-righteous attitude.

” And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. 3 Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things? 4 Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?.”

Romans 2:3-4

Without a doubt this whole subject is highly complex and nuanced. Hundreds of verses should be worked through. But this blog is not that place. However, I will advance this– I read this written by the Desert Fathers.

“Correct and judge justly those who are subject to you, but judge no one else. For truly it is written: ‘Is not those inside the church whom are you to judge? God judges those who are outside’.

Macarius of Alexandria, 296-393 AD



A Simple Poem of a Quiet Wisdom

Pray, don’t find fault with the man who limps
Or stumbles along the road
Unless you have worn the shoes that hurt
Or struggled beneath his load
There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt,
Though hidden away from view
Or the burden he bears, placed on your back,
Might cause you to stumble, too.
Don’t sneer at the man who’s down today
Unless you have felt the blow
That caused his fall, or felt the same
That only the fallen know.
You may be strong, but still the blows
That were his, if dealt to you
In the self same way at the self same time,
Might cause you to stagger, too.
Don’t be too harsh with the man who sins
Or pelt him with words or stones,
Unless you are sure, yea, doubly sure,
That you have no sins of your own.
For you know perhaps, if the tempters voice
Should whisper as soft to you
As it did to him when he went astray,
‘Twould cause you to falter, too.

(I found this poem– it’s unattributed, but known to God)

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This is redacted from an earlier post, but fresh, and thoroughly worked over.

On Following Jesus!

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“All of Jesus’ followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for the wonderful Life they had seen.”

Luke 19:37

I suppose that this is what broken believers do. There is an essential element of joining others in this verse. The faithful followers will inevitably flock together. There are very few solitary people following the Lord Jesus. We can’t do “Christianity” by ourselves.

They all gather to a one person.

Not a religion, creed, formula or pattern. Many will sort this out as time goes on. Jesus is our Lord and master and friend, not a “Powerpoint” presentation. It’s Jesus! We come together because we love Him, and we’ve been told that He loves us as well. That reciprocal love is why we were created.

Within this intimate assemblage we can hear spontaneous shouting. Some will sing. It will get raucous and loud. Their enthusiasm is focused on Him, “the wonderful Life.” Frankly, some who follow Jesus are not “quiet” people. I don’t know how you feel about this. (Maybe, you just need to adjust?)

Sometimes we may get moody and withdraw from others. Depression can thin out the ranks quicker than anything. It is like a communicable disease that spreads from person to person. I have become a victim, and a carrier myself. For me, as a broken believer I must seek out an inoculation for my brooding.

The verse talks about the walk. And yes, there is a definite walk! Within the rabbinical pattern of first century discipleship, the student would copy his teacher as closely as possible. If he limped so would they. He would dress like his teacher, talk like his teacher, and walk like his teacher. Imitation was the highest honor you could bestow.

The verse talks about “what they had seen.” They were observers. That means they had to get closer to the action. Seeing something, or someone up close makes you a witness, an “eye-witness.” You may need to get closer, and see for yourself this Jesus, who is the Lord and Savior of the whole world.

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When Eagles Go Bad

5 eagles, (pic, Homer News)

“I am coming soon. Continue strong in your faith so no one will take away your crown.”

Rev. 3:11, NCV

Some of you know I have lived in Alaska for almost 30 years.  It is always so beautiful, even in places you don’t expect. Admittedly it does have an “edge” as well. It can get very cold, and we can have snow piled up waist high in just a few hours. The winter nights can be excruciating long and dark. (Bad news for depressives like me.)

But my freezer is full of salmon, halibut, caribou and of course, moose meat. We pick berries in the summer, with a wary eye for bear.  We kayak, ski and snow machine for fun. My son snowboards. We get chased by moose.

I have always had a connection with eagles. You can find them throughout most of North America, from Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico. About half of the world’s 70,000 bald eagles live in Alaska.  And that is a lot.  You can see them everyday here if you want. (And you never let your small dog out, he can become dinner for the eagle. Seriously.)

I’ve been thinking about eagles. When I went to the dump recently I saw several of them working the trash heaps.  I don’t know, but it really bothered me.  They had the form of an eagle; the wing span and the aloofness, but they were pathetic.  Their feathers were matted down, and they looked completely disheveled.  They were scrounging for scraps, competing with the crows. The dump here is like a “crack house” for eagles.

A hard day’s night

And perhaps the saddest thing was they were losing their distinctive white heads. They had given it up for dump food.  This is a big problem in many towns here in Alaska.  Their heads turn in color to a dark grey.  You have to look a little closer to see that they are still bald eagles.

In the Bible, God is identified with being an eagle. But so are Christians. There is something quite unsettling and tragic to encounter a believer addicted and controlled by their appetites. Soon they will change, as they grow more pathetic and disheveled.  They give up soaring and become wretched souls, without joy or purpose.

Those of us who struggle can’t live out of a landfill.  We don’t belong, and it isn’t who we are. You see, we were meant to soar, strong and free.  No matter who you are– addictions, compulsions, or mental illness. We can still become eagle Christians.

But the people who trust the Lord will become strong again.
    They will rise up as an eagle in the sky; 
       they will run and not need rest; 
       they will walk and not become tired.

Isaiah 40:21, NCV

I often struggle with debilitating depression and and nasty paranoia.  But I never want to surrender to it.  I resist living out of the dumps.  It is a heavy struggle at times, but we were re-created to soar.  Please, never forget that.

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From a Mental Hospital Ward, [Crushed]

3 For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.”

Psalm 143:3

Some time ago,  I was hospitalized for my mental illness. (Actually seven times.) And though each time was bitter, but the Lord carried me.  They would take from me my shoelaces, and belts, and fingernail clippers.  Basically, I was stripped of everything, anything that I might use to harm myself. But I was creative, I took a clock off the wall and rolled it in a blanket,  I smashed it and used the shards of glass to cut my wrists.The nurses were exceptionally observant, and within moments they intervened.

I had already been stripped, searched, and then brought into a ward full of very sick people.  Much of all of this is a terrible glazed blur.  There was a real awareness of unreality.  I was quite confused, and it would take several weeks before I could reconnect.  Things were no longer ‘reasonable’ and I could discern nothing.  But I didn’t know I was so confused (but I did suspect it). The staff were quite aware and accommodating.  They let me be, so time could take care of the rest. I needed to unravel things  

Besides, Jesus knew exactly where I was if I didn’t.

Days rolled by, quite slowly.  The tedium of a mental hospital is the worst— much more difficult than jail or prison.  You walk in a very limited corridor, back and forth.  You wait for your shrink, and wait, and wait.  You pace, and pace. You pray, stupidly.  The other patients were equally disturbed.  There was a great variety among them.  One guy would urinate in any corner. Once he jumped up on the nurses station, and took a “whizz.” It was hysterical.  He almost shorted out their computer.

In all of this, there was a very bleak and strange awareness, of being incredibly ‘detached,’ and only remotely aware that something was not right with me.  I tried to get well, but I was mentally lost.  I paced, and I remained confused.  I was most definitely in an ugly place.  Desperate and increasingly bewildered, I knew I had no place to go.  A fine place for someone who used to pastor, and teach at a Bible college.

If you have been in this place, you will recognize the ‘lostness’ of being on a ward of a mental hospital. It is confusion mixed with despair,  and without a part of very strong drugs, and there is nothing you can do to be released.  And really until you come to this fact, they will never let you go.  They wait for you to snap out of your confusion, unfortunately that takes time. Sometimes many weeks and whole months. Sometimes never.

It’s worse when you have a family.  In my case it was my wife, and two small children.  This at times, would twist my heart.  I would get a very short phone call, once a week.  But this was quite difficult.  I gained very little from those calls, and I found myself quite disturbed after each call.  Being on this ward tinged me completely. It was like being dipped into darkness.  I was very much affected.  Now on the outside, I admit I was quite disturbed, but at the time I honestly did not understand a way out.

Dear friend, having a mental illness is cruel and disturbing.  And being committed to a mental hospital is a desperate thing.  Having passed through its locked doors is something you will never forget.  The way I figure these seven hospitalizations have stolen over six months of my life. Its work is irrevocable, its fingerprints will be on your life, for as long as you live.  But God will bring good out of this. This I know.

“Do not gloat over me, my enemy!
    Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be my light.”

Micah 7:8

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Bringing Down Goliath

David giving Goliath a forehead massage with his foot

Many things seem to have risen up to block us. What we have to face is scary.  It shakes us right down to our sandals.  We see the ultimate intention of the enemies work.  If we pass on Goliath, he will remain, and the Father’s plan becomes vulnerable. Sooner or later, he must be faced.

Then Goliath, a Philistine champion from Gath, came out of the Philistine ranks to face the forces of Israel. He was over nine feet tall! He wore a bronze helmet, and his bronze coat of mail weighed 125 pounds. He also wore bronze leg armor, and he carried a bronze javelin on his shoulder. The shaft of his spear was as heavy and thick as a weaver’s beam, tipped with an iron spearhead that weighed 15 pounds. His armor bearer walked ahead of him carrying a shield.”

“Goliath stood and shouted a taunt across to the Israelites. “Why are you all coming out to fight?” he called. “I am the Philistine champion, but you are only the servants of Saul. Choose one man to come down here and fight me! If he kills me, then we will be your slaves. But if I kill him, you will be our slaves! I defy the armies of Israel today! Send me a man who will fight me!”  When Saul and the Israelites heard this, they were terrified and deeply shaken.”

1 Samuel 17:4-11, NLT

Things are such in Israel, that an active faith has no real significance.  Men are going to die, many very quickly.  Then up steps David, he is untried in battle, but within him is an eager commitment to a faith in Jehovah.  Fear has consumed hearts and minds, which are now full of ‘scary goliath fears’ and confusion.  They’re pretty much inconpacitated at this point.  The Scripture says “they were terrified and deeply shaken.” This is an irrational fear.

David (the shepherd boy) steps out and into the confusion.  He is resistant to the fear that attacks his brothers.  He identifies the giant before him as evil, and stands in the way of the Father’s will.  David advances without fear.

The space once occupied by fear has been filled up by faith.

This story, is much more than a story.  It may entertain schoolchildren, but it is so much more for us as believers.  Most definitely you will be called upon to face a Goliath of your own.  He is waiting for you, and you must step forward in faith. If you want to negotiate this away. Don’t! You are already dead.

So much points to Goliath’s superiority.  He is a man-of-war; a dedicated and trained source of death.  Goliath equips himself to stand quite forcefully over you.  He presses forward, confident that he will destroy you.  But David steps out of the line.  He is trusting in God alone.  He steps forward with no armor (Saul’s didn’t fit).

Something is about to happen, something children will sing about, and people will always esteem. Some theologians call this a “power encounter” which is about to tumble down.

David is about to kill Goliath, with just a stone from his sling.  He swings, throws and embeds a rock into the giants forehead– right between his eyes!  The giant collapses, and David moves forward,  and he cuts off the giants head.  He uses Goliath’s own sword to do this. Brutal and bloody?  Terribly so.

But things around us are not much different.  Each of us face a tall evil.  Something that is monstrous and destructive.  We cannot reason with it.  We can only face it with the weapons the Father provides for us.  When we advance to that source, we must do so with a faith that is real and undefeated.

Some reading this are pounded with depression and mental illness.  I truly understand.

But you’re called to advance on any personal darkness.

We must stand and take an aggressive posture against it.  As mentally ill people, the battle (and the stigma) is more intense, but it is overwhelmingly defeated by our simple faith in God’s Son.

Simplicity is our key, and we will not advance with anything less.  At times, we think that we can strategize our way to victory.  We hope to rationalize our enemy away by thinking positively about him.  We think we can move against him by being clever.  That will not work.  Our simple hearts must be laced with faith.  We need to step in to this, and then we will dance in the enemies jaws!

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