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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Shameful Memories

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her,and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 

Genesis 3:6-10, ESV

There is a good chance that some of your memories are pretty awful. When we get looking back we can see shameful, dark things.  Some of us carry things that are profoundly evil, and they go with us wherever we go. It’s no secret that  guilt and mental illness travel hand in hand, for they are brothers. They have tormented us for ta erribly long time. They are like playground bullies who have no fear– they  only have hatred for us.

I’m quite convinced that the only way to move on is to have Jesus Christ to fully cleanse you; and that includes your dark humiliations.  The human tendency is for concealment. We take considerable effort to conceal and cloak our past lives. (Both Adam and Eve understood personal shame.)

I remember back when my dad discovered that one of our dogs had killed a chicken.  He took that dead chicken and wired it around that dog’s neck. That dog wore that chicken for weeks.  It was awful, and it began to putrefy. The smell was terrible.  I can still see that dog, staggering and tongue lolling out and slobbering.  My dad said it was the only cure for a “chicken killer.”  The dog would get very sick, attached to this rotting carcass.  It was sobering lesson for a boy to see.

Somehow, that is what our past disgrace has done to us.  Sure we have moments when we can almost forget.  But, for the most part, it is just a temporary reprieve.  We slide back and rediscover the pain; it’s just waiting for us.   The cost on our mental health is staggering.  Many of us are driven in a mad movement to drugs and alcohol.  We are compelled to escape the pain, and for a little while it seems to work. (This is called “co-morbidity.” Which is ‘fancy talk’ for a dual problem.)

Most of us, would quickly trade this mental pain, this misery;  for a physical one. Something shameful that was done 20 or 30 years ago continues its destructive work.  It’s like filling a bucket with corrosive acid.  It will “eat” its way out.  Our conscience will not allow us to dispose of our self-disgust in this easy, cavalier manner.  We need a ‘hazmat’ crew to help us clean-up mentally and spiritually.

You have to forgive yourself.  You must (!), or you will destroy yourself and those closest to you as well.  Often these things are a moldy wall; they seem to just need a coat of paint. Our problem is that it will only cover for a short time.  After 20-30 layers are applied, we realize this isn’t really the answer. Nothing we can do is ever enough.  We must have Jesus– we must!

A full repentance is critical. Don’t scuff off this first step.  The blood of Jesus isn’t some nicety. It is foundational for salvation. We are to, by faith, start the obedience. Our blistering sin and guilt are absorbed in Jesus’ death and resurrection. He took away every ounce of sin. believe that and freedom is yours.

No matter what the sin it is forgiven.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

2 Corinthians 5:17

 
 

Don’t Waste Your Sorrows

 

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“You have given me many troubles and bad times, but you will give me life again. 
When I am almost dead, 
You will keep me alive.”

Psalm 71:20, NCV

“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

Isaiah 53:3, NASB

Everyone hurts sometimes. We all will face our sorrows. But there are times, when our pain pounds us intensely, and it turns into a deep problem. The darkness rolls in on our souls like a caustic fog. It can get awful.

Sorrow is the effects of a hammering emotional or spiritual pain. I have never spoken out like this, but my wife and I had a daughter who died— stillborn. She was doing great, up to a week before her due date. We knew that in seven days, we would be able to see her– face-to-face.

But that was not to be. Elizabeth Grace Lowe died from strangulation (from her own umbilical cord.) Nothing could have been done. My wife had noticed a moment of very frantic activity, as Elizabeth fought for her life. We plummeted from ecstatic joy to a devastating sorrow in minutes. It came “out-of-the-blue,” totally unexpected. We both were completely undone.

“For the Lord will not reject forever,
For if He causes grief,
Then He will have compassion
According to His abundant lovingkindness.
For He does not afflict willingly
Or grieve the sons of men.”

Lamentations 3:32-33, NASB

There is pain, but there are promises. There is sadness, but there are psalms. There is a blessing on all those who grieve. This topic deserves far more attention than this simple post. (But they say, every fool wants to play “Hamlet,” so I guess I’m not immune.)

There is such sorrow in this life, much more than the human heart can possibly contain. But our Savior has a title (one of many.) He is the “Man of Sorrows.” He is the one “on point.” He leads us through such intense hostility. He guides us when things get very dark.

There are a few things that I want to communicate to you. These have come out of great darkness.

  1. God takes the full blame for our pain and sorrow. He doesn’t shift the blame, or deny His presence in our sufferings. Sometimes you need to adjust your theology.
  2. Jesus has fully shared our sorrow. All that you are feeling right now, He feels. If you feel you are at a minus 10, then He does as well. As you suffer, He is your shadow.
  3. Nothing is ever wasted. We really shouldn’t treat these moments of sorrow as a waste. Have you ever wondered at Jesus’ ‘economy’ after the 5000 were fed?  He assigns value to the leftovers. The disciples pick up their baskets and collect everything up again. Nothing will go to waste.
  4. This pain, this sorrow is the “intensive crash course” in becoming a person of mercy. You now will always walk with a limp. At times the scars will be quite visible to those who can really see. This will become forever a healed wound (but a wound nevertheless.) It helps to seek out others who have walked this same path. I don’t think I will ever fully trust a person who doesn’t walk with a limp.
  5. You will need (but maybe not accept) the transformation of your suffering into glory. This will take some time, and it almost feels like your not progressing at all. I encourage you to re-think each of these simple points. The Holy Spirit maybe working, perhaps behind the scenes.
  6. Finally remember this: God is not a monster, stomping on us like a boy crushes ants. He carries our pain and illness. He clearly comes along side every suffering believer. It is Satan who would suggest to you that God is a Celestial Menace, not worthy of our love.

*“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

Psalm 147:3, NLT

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.”

Isaiah 61:1, NLT

He heals the wounds of every shattered heart.
Psalm 147:3, TPT

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Recalibrate Our Senses

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. “

Matt. 3:8, NIV

“Do the things that show you really have changed your hearts and lives. “  

Matt. 3:8, NCV

When we evaluate change, the Biblical definition is crisp and solid.  It has everything understood in results (or fruit) and less to with my posturing.  Just simple words or emotions aren’t enough when we consider authentic transformation.  We can’t relate to feelings, they need actions to become visible. You may feel ‘warm and fuzzy’ when you think about Jesus, and  yet somehow that’s not enough. Especially if you’re beating your wife.

Actions do matter.  Your actions will define what you believe about God.  What you decide to do, will delineate what is really real. Jesus made it clear to his congregation that their definition of repentance needed adjusting.

I struggle with many things, I seem to be a magnet for all things dark and lost.  So this proper way of evaluating reality will become a tremendous blessing those of us with ‘mood disorders.’  My feelings are definitely mercurial.  I really can’t trust them. So I won’t.

Thomas Merton once said that we’re so motivated to climb the ladder of success that when we finally get to the top we discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall all along! To waste your life to climb one more rung is incredibly tragic.

And yet, down deep, I do understand.  I don’t like it, but it truthfully seems oddly rational and real.  It seems to be something God would do to lovingly correct us. If I place my bets on what I think God wants, and behold, I discover am completely mistaken. He delights in confusing the proud in heart.

We need a basis on what is real, and important.  It may shake us, but the result is being able to realize what is the truth.  Our feelings, and idealistic ideas are like a bucket with many holes.  What we receive from Him can’t be maintained–it runs out almost as fast as it collects.

We must recalibrate our senses.  We need to rearrange many things, and completely reevaluate our momentum and focus.  These seem to be abstract and vague ways of making determinations like this, but if we get honest we realize that these things are critical.

“No one can sum up all God is able to accomplish through one solitary life, wholly yielded, adjusted, and obedient to Him.”

–D.L.Moody