Blood in the Water

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It’s a fact. Biologists tell us that sharks can smell blood from 2-3 miles away. They follow their noses to the place where they sense it. They have an ‘attack mechanism’ to anything that is vulnerable. Blood acts as a trigger inside their brains. Occasionally dozens of sharks attack in a feeding frenzy that is pretty horrific.

Almost 40 years in the Church has taught me that sharks aren’t the only ones that turn on the wounded.

The Church was supposed to be a safe and a healing place. This is what the Holy Spirit wants. That isn’t always the case. As believers in Jrsus we should of done better.

Someone fails, another falters. Sin is uncovered and everyone takes cover. Many people who could have been restored are instead trampled down.   There are many who would rather ‘kick’ than pray. Unfortunately there is always a sharp escalation and personal attack  that often creates even more blood in the water.

There are many who bleed. Those with a mental illness, or confined to a wheelchair, or with Downs Syndrome are the first that come to mind. The developmentally disabled, the drunk, the addict, the divorced, the adulterer, the homosexual, and the poor, the ex-con are just several kinds of people that regularly get hurt in our churches.

“God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.”

Matthew 5:7, NLT

Mercy is what God extends to people who don’t deserve any. Failure to understand God’s deep penchant for mercy is the first step into religious confusion. Keep in mind that the Prodigal’s older brother refused to party with the forgiven son. How terribly sad.

In theory, we agree. We find tremendous inspiration when this verse is read. But the noble feelings do not always translate well into dedicated action. I have come to see that I must consciously press this into action. I must actively show mercy for the healing of others– and to protect my own heart.

The Kingdom of God is specifically designed for losers; it exists for the sick, the stumbler and the sinner.

The Great Physician has come for the sick– and not so much for the healthy. He loves each of us, but cares in different ways. He tailors His grace to fit our sin.

If there is blood in the water, let’s turn it up a notch, and show special mercy for those who are struggling. Let us be kinder than we have to be. If we err— let us always err on the side of mercy and kindness.

Father, please help me be full of mercy as I touch those who are in pain. I ask that you would make me sensitive and alert to each one on this path. –Amen.

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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

 
 

A Grace Suitable for Sinners Like Me

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“Who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

1 Peter 1:5, NASB

Certainty and confidence will never be permanent fixtures in our lives. Yes, I believe there are times of exceptional fortitude when everything just clicks, and we seem to be pretty victorious believers. But I assure you, this is only a temporary state. It isn’t the normal Christian life. And yet, right or wrong, we seem to strive to make this consistency our Christian life.

Gloomy thoughts may often prevail; our fears and doubts become complete seasons of time. There will be doubts and frustration.  I start to lose my passion for Christ, it just trickles away. And since nature abhors a vacuum, other desires and interests move in. I slide into something quite compromised, and often what I previously might’ve condemned.

It is not so much your hold on Christ that saves you, rather it is His hold on you that is truly matters.

It is at these times we must absorb the truth.  It is not your hold on Christ that saves you, rather it is His hold on you that is significant. It’s not how tight we hold on to our Father’s hand, but His grasp on yours. He has soaked up all our sin, and become guilty of it all. He has drawn it all away. He blots it all up with His white heart.

The mercy of God will insist on Him holding you close. Because of His profound love He seems to become overprotective of you.  Anyone who touches you, touches “the apple of His eye.” Let none question, you are His own. The blood of Jesus covers all sin.

“I am graven on the palms of His hands. I am never out of His mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him, because He first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, One who loves me; and there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted for me, and no moment, therefore, when His care falters.”

J.I. Packer

Are you broken? Flawed, and stumbling? Do you think that you are a poor example of a believer? I tell you, His love is not contingent on your outward behavior. It is a Greek word, it is an “agape” love. Narrowly defined as a “unconditional love,” not related to what you deserve, earn, or warrant. It is a love given without an expectation of a corresponding love in return. This is love, and it travels with grace. And it will end with the same grace.

“The bridge of grace will bear your weight, brother. Thousands of big sinners have gone across that bridge, yea, tens of thousands have gone over it. Some have been the chief of sinners and some have come at the very last of their days but the arch has never yielded beneath their weight. I will go with them trusting to the same support. It will bear me over as it has for them.”   

Charles Spurgeon

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The Hiding Place– Corrie ten Boom Learns to Forgive

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“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

Ephesians 4:32, NLT

Great hearts are often shuttled through experiences with intense forgiving. The Father tutors us through out our earthly lives, with many visits to this classroom. It is here we get our learning. It will happen several times in our walk, and we carry different nuances, or slants. Each time we are required to forgive authentically. The course is set for us. We can’t choose to skip these lessons without injuring ourselves, and harming others.

We are learning to love– it is our calling and destiny. There are no “accidents” or misaligned ‘drop-outs’ here. We step into our classroom, and the Teacher and Comforter begins His instruction. Many things will strike you as diabolical. Deep inside us we have simply no idea of how “this” will turn out for good. And you’d be right. But the power of God steps in, and “all is well”.

Corrie ten Boom-- Writer, speaker, Christian
Corrie ten Boom– Writer, speaker, Christian

Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian. After her release from a Nazi concentration camp, she began traveling the world and speaking to any who would have her. The needs of postwar Europe were desperate. She traveled as an evangelist telling people who Jesus is and spoke about His redemption. She gave many people hope.

Through her travels she came in contact with a few of the guards that had been a part of the Nazi regime and had to practice forgiveness that only Jesus can bring. The first encounter with one of her previous jailers proved to be most difficult.

Here is an excerpt from her book, “The Hiding Place”.

“It was a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

She then took his hand and the most incredible thing happened.

From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

Corrie’s Wisdom for Us

  1. There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.
  2. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
  3. It is not my ability, but my response to God’s ability, that counts.
  4. When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.
  5. Faith is like radar that sees through the fog-the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see.
  6. Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.

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Thoughts from Other Believers

Forgiveness is me giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.    Author Unknown

To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.   C.S. Lewis

There is such a big difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. It takes two to reconcile, so it is not always possible to be reconciled. But it takes only one to forgive. So if people do you wrong, forgive them, whether or not they ask for forgiveness. You cannot cancel their sin. Only God can do that, and He will only do it if they repent. But what you can do is set aside your own anger, bitterness, and resentment towards them.   Philip Graham Ryken

Forgiveness may be described as a decision to make four promises:

  1. “I will not dwell on this incident.”
  2. “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”
  3. “I will not talk to others about this incident.”
  4. “I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”  Ken Sande

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For her efforts to hide Jews from arrest and deportation during the German occupation of the Netherlands, Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983) received recognition from the Yad Vashem Remembrance Authority as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” on December 12, 1967.

“The Hiding Place” and her many other books can be purchased at Amazon.com. It really must be read and there is a movie out with the same name.

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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/.

 

The Blessings of a Long Battle, part 2

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 “Do not fear the conflict, and do not flee from it; where there is no struggle, there is no virtue.”   John of Kronstadt

Part 1 of this post highlighted how God can bring good out of a long struggle with a sin, weakness, and/or problem by helping the Christian make the transition from putting their faith in formulas (e.g., “Do these three things and your problem will go away”) to a restful trust in Christ. Again, no sane Christian advocates habitual sin but the benefits of a protracted battle are numerous:

(1)  After a long battle, in making the transition from formulas to faith in God, a new brokenness develops in the believer. They’ve come to the end of themselves, run out of “self–effort fuel”, and are beginning to learn what Christ meant when he said, “…apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

(2) During a long battle with sin or weakness, there is a pattern of falling down and getting up. Proverbs 24:16 says that a righteous man falls seven times but keeps rising again. In this process many Christians report that a new intimacy has emerged in their relationship to God. They’ve come to know the God of mercy and compassion as never before because they’ve been repeatedly forgiven after their many stumbles.

(3) “He who is forgiven much loves much.” Along with a new intimacy, a greater love for God can also develop, after a long battle, because we’ve been forgiven over and over.

(4) And since God has extended his tender mercies to us over and over, we then can extend his mercy and compassion to others who have a protracted struggle with some issue. If our heart is right, a long battle can inoculate us from self–righteousness and judgmentalism in relation to others who fall over and over. How can we not extend to them the same grace that God extended to us?

In extending this grace to others, we may become a wounded healer to them. The healing we received from Christ during our struggle is graciously passed on those often struggling with similar issues. Healing emerges from your wounds just as resurrection emerges from death.

(5) After a war, the soldier of Christ often emerges battle–tested and wise to the schemes of the enemy. If a person has been pulled down into the dust 27 different ways by the devil, then, if he or she is paying attention, they’ve learned 27 strategies the enemy of our soul uses to try to destroy us.

In Twelve Step programs, one often hears the acronym H.A.L.T. mentioned in discussing relapse back into addiction. These four letters stand for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired and emphasize how these conditions create fertile soil for relapse.

If you frame the issue a different way, these are four strategies the devil uses to bring us back into bondage. How was this acronym learned? By people relapsing over and over when these conditions were present. Recovering people became wise through their failures in their long battle with addiction.

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Jonathan

posted from http://www.openheavensblog.com/

The Rigidity of Evil

I have a heart--but it is broken and crushed.
I have a heart–but it is broken and crushed.

Today I realized that I was sick and very tired of myself. It’s really not disgust, or even loathing. It’s more like a weariness, an exhaustion. I’ve never felt this way. In a strange way it intrigues me. Could this definite disenchantment mean something spiritual? Does it have value, or am I just feeling self-absorbed or conceited?

There is a real rigidity to evil. As I have seen it– sin hardens all who touch it, plain and simple. My growing immobility disturbs me, as I know I’m developing a “hardness of heart.” Atherosclerosis is a condition of a sick heart where arteries become blocked. It’s also known as “hardening of the heart, or arteries.” It is a patient killer, slowly and surely making hard deposits that block the flow of blood.

The Bible speaks about having a hard heart. It also uses the metaphor of fallow ground that must be plowed up. Jesus used the same image in His “Parable of the Sower” in Matthew 13.

“A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain.”

There are only four real options.

  • The first is seed that never arrives.
  • The second lands on hard stones.
  • The third possibility is landing on thorns and thistles.
  • Only the fourth flourishes.

    Heart of Stone Heart of Flesh
    The Battle of the Heart

The question I have is this, can the hard soil become soft, and can the good soil become overgrown with thistles? Is this a static, set experience? Or could it be far more fluid? I seem to move from one soil condition to another.

I have found that my own  heart drifts. Manic Depression is a mental illness where emotions fluctuate constantly. They gallivant around, floating here and than there. I maybe depressed and suicidal in the morning, and then I can be euphoric in the evening. It’s having the identity of a “wandering star.”

I want my heart to soften. I want to sit with Jesus and hear His words. I need Him to share what He is thinking about. Any sin I entertain has a hardening effect in my spiritual heart. This really scares me. *

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ybic, Bryan

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