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/.

 

A Retrograde Faith

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ret·ro·grade

  [re-truh greyd]  (ret·ro·grad·ed, ret·ro·grad·ing.)

adjective

1. moving backward; having a backward motion or direction; retiring or retreating.
2. inverse or reversed, as order.
3. Chiefly Biology. exhibiting degeneration or deterioration.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 16 Jul. 2013. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/retrograde>.
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24 “But my people would not listen to me. They kept doing whatever they wanted, following the stubborn desires of their evil hearts. They went backward instead of forward.”

–Jeremiah 7:24, NLT
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I seldom seek out things like this to write about. In my 30 years following the Lord Jesus, I have been bludgeoned more than a few times by people wielding Jeremiah like a cudgel. Mostly, these are good people who I liked and honored. (But maybe they had too much coffee that day, IDK.)
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But there is a real issue here. Many who start out strong and brave end up on the scrap heap. Somehow, I suppose they were never able to tune their “ear” to His voice. But to be really honest– this can be a hard thing. And many of these dear ones end up with a retrograde walk in the Spirit. They would deny this, but if we look for a passion, we will see that a “first love” it will be absent.
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That passion is the pulse, the blood pressure of a walk that is so vital and so authentic. We can measure our own walk by this singular means– “first-love.”  Rev. 2:4-5 shouts to us,
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“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” 
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A retrograde faith may not deny Him, but it can often draw us into the place where our denial isn’t necessary. And that I suppose may be the scariest part of becoming apostate. We just slip; we slip right off of the map into an “almost-discipleship.” We would never dream of speaking an outright denial (never, ever) but we end up in this grey zone, nevertheless.
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I have no desire to manipulate you through nice sounding words and phrases. But I feel duty bound to tell you up-front. Having a “first-love” will protect you. A “first-love” will cover you and lead you through many diverse issues. Revelation 2 was the Father’s plea to a Church that had seemingly advanced in every way. (As a pastor I would have loved to oversee this Church.) But the Father spoke a clear word of correction to them. And  I’m sure that it was hard to accept.
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The “retrograde Church” exists. Unfortunately, it is alive and well, but we must share with these dear ones about the true freedom which comes from the “first-love” relationship with the Lord Jesus. Our love for Him, and His love for us will protect us from something that goes “backward” and not forward. I can only say, love Jesus, and make Him your “first-love.”
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“Whom should we love, if not Him who loved us, and gave himself for us?  –Unknown

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ybic, Bryan

kyrie elesion.

When Sin Brutalizes You

Detail of Painting by Rembrandt, “Return of the Prodigal Son”

There are three things for certain.

#1 You will never forget your sins.

#2 God has forgotten them.

#3 The Devil will try very hard to condemn you for your past.

 

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There are some days that are harder then others.  You see, I have lived profligately, harmed many, and influenced others to do evil.  I have wounded and hurt people very deeply.  There are days when I have this mental image of myself– I’m a ‘Fountain of Feces’ spewing and polluting my filth to anyone passing by.

But I am also the Prodigal.  I’ve squandered everything.  It’s gone.  I’ve been to the pig pen.  Filthy and starving.  Coming to my senses, I decide to return home, and sell myself to the employ of Him I once called “Father.”

But the most outrageous thing has happened.  It is so wildly fantastic that it defies any reason.    (I hardly dare to think it real).  The man who I once called “Father” refuses to listen to my list of sins.  He has embraced me, dressed me, established me as a son.  I have new shoes, and a signet ring.

I am a wonder to behold. A feast of unparalleled joy is waiting.  I pinch myself– is this really happening to me?  Those days in the pig pen, what a stupid waste.  I want to weep and shout for joy– all at the same time!  It doesn’t seem real.

The subject of my grossness and sin has been forgotten.  I have not been interrogated or punished.  (Since then, I’ve learned that Someone else took this on.)  But my perversity and my iniquity has never, ever been discussed.  Their is no list of my sin, no cataloging has taken place.  The promises tell me that my past sin has been put on a big barge, and shipped to the deepest part of the ocean– and dumped!

You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

Micah 7:19

As critical-thinking believers, with just a modicum of divine truth, what we do with our personal sin is huge.  It determines much about our walk.  We function out of our past.  The plant is rooted in something.  But our Father has turned our prodigal past into our personal future of total redemption.

Look at your greatest pain.  The Holy Spirit will very likely take that deep, deep bruise and turn it into your greatest ministry.  And He does it without resorting to a list of your ugly, ugly sin.  You see, He has already forgotten it.

“The question is who are we going to side with? God says our sins are past, cleansed, and gone. You cannot go on with God until you stand on His Word as cleansed with the heart made pure.”  

Smith Wigglesworth

ybic,

Bryan (the Prodigal)

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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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Make Yourselves Holy

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

Joshua 3:5, NCV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ybic, Bryan

 

 

Pouring Oil on the Waves (Peace)

“Storm Warning”

“…And through him God reconciled everything to himself.  He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.”

Colossians 1:20, NLT

Jesus has brought a complete peace into God’s world. Everything is now reconciled, taken care of by what Jesus has done. The precise word is “shalom.” It has within it the idea of ‘wholeness, or healthiness.’ It is in a general sense, being ‘made whole or complete.’ This present ‘sickness’ has become obsolete. That is our message.

There is no room really for any “peace” without completeness, it just isn’t possible. The “peace” that the Bible teaches is far more comprehensive, and total. The word in Hebrew, has a strong attachment to health, harmony and prosperity. It has the sense of being well, with the complete absence of turmoil or conflict.

“And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.”

Isaiah 9:6-7, NLT

Peace is more than a snazzy marketing approach. At its basic sense it is what He fully intends for the “peoples of the earth.” But this all comes to us with a price. In Isaiah 53:5, (ESV)

“But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.”

The brutalization of Jesus had a purpose. He “brought us peace.” And we needed peace, desperately. But, oh, the cost!

In ancient times, sailors in a nasty tempest, would pray to their gods, and then pour oil on the waves. They believed the oil, poured out in barrels would settle the violent seas. (I suppose they figured the viscosity of the oil on the waves, would give them some time to manage their ship.)

Today, we know that it doesn’t work this way. Our storms however, are just as bitter, and challenging. Things get so tumultuous, and savagely extreme. But somehow, we want to pour God’s peace on our awful storm. Inherently we know that His peaceful presence can restore some sanity on our crazy lives.

Jesus is “the Prince of Peace.” We look right at Him when things get so ugly. He has come to do this. He is God’s solution to our sad conflict. He brings the oil, for our storm.

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Ten Resolutions for Mental Health

Clyde Kilby’s Resolutions for Mental Health and for Staying Alive to God in This World

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Holding the substantial

 

  1. Once a day I will look at the sky and remember that I am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.
  2. I will suppose the universe is guided by an intelligence.
  3. I will not fall into the lie that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding 24 hours, but rather a unique event, filled with wonderful potential.
  4. I will prefer reality to abstractions.
  5. I will not demean my own uniqueness by envying others. I will mostly forget about myself and do my work.
  6. I will open my eyes and ears by at least once a day simply staring at a tree, a flower, a cloud or a person. I will simply be glad that they are what they are.
  7. I will often remember back to when I was a child and think about my dreaming eyes of wonder.
  8. I will frequently turn to things like a good book and good music.
  9. I will enjoy each moment, not always worrying about what the decade before me will demand from me.
  10. I will bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic but rather acknowlege that each day strokes are made on the cosmic canvas that in due course I will understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.

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Clyde S. Kilby, 1902-1986

Clyde S. Kilby, 1902-1986

” Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise.”

Proverbs 1:2

 Clyde Kilby, who is now with the Lord in heaven, was my teacher in English Literature at Wheaton. He did as much as any other teacher I have had to open my eyes to the ministry of God in the skies. 

       – Pastor John Piper, DesiringGod.org