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Martyrs in America? Maybe

They died bravely in the first century. Will we in the 21st?

Being heard is not the same as having influence. Believers must reconsider the issues of being salt and light in a pagan culture.  We have tried a myriad of approaches in our evangelism, and we are not succeeding.  We have been maneuvered to the margins of society, and I fear that is where we will stay.

Several years ago, a believer directed a high budget movie, The Passion of The Christ, which shattered box-office records and sparked interest in religious films when it came out in 2004.  It was compelling and disturbing.  We saw Jesus beaten and whipped, but the splattering of blood did not translate well into spiritual change.  If perhaps anything, it inured people to a higher purpose– salvation.

We must use everything that is available to us as people to broadcast the gospel.  Art, both fine and popular, music and theater, movies and sports.  We need to squeeze out every venue, in every media to share the good news. Creativity is not a gift of the Holy Spirit, but it’s close.

But this is not enough.  We are engaged in a heated, spiritual struggle for truth and hope.  I believe that our methodology will consistently fall short of our ideals.  In the time of ancient Rome the only time Christians were in the limelight were as martyrs.  And the lions of the Coliseum made quick work of their witness.  But man, they succeeded in reaching thousands, and the pagan empire was brought to Christ, en mass!

Perhaps martyrdom will be our path to reach America with the Gospel.  The New Testament word for “witness” is martyr.  It very well may be that our blood will be the seed for a new generation of believers.  Church history would support this view.  It should come as no surprise.

martyrdomI remember witnessing once in UC Berkeley campus.  It is a very challenging place in a stronghold of intellectualism.  The people I encountered were bright and engaging.  But as I got ready to leave, I met a university professor.  He looked at me in his tweed jacket and sweater vest and said something I will never forget.  “Too bad we can’t feed you to the lions”.  It was a flat-calm statement; stark and frightening, because I knew he meant it.

In this enlightened campus, there was a coldness and a bitterness that I never encountered in the “drug and sex” neighborhoods of San Francisco.  In contrast, this incident in Berkeley was a brazen and committed calculation against the Gospel. Perhaps persecution by core intellectuals will fuel this martyrdom to come.

We are in God’s hands.  Obedience is a die-cast, deliberate decision we must make ahead of time.  We can’t just hope to make it work, unless we change.  “Die before you die, and your dying won’t be death”, the old preacher wrote.  This could very well be our cue. Get ready. And “watch and pray.” And die now.

 

 

 

 

 

Post art from The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer, by Jean-Leon Gerome (1824-1904)

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Battle Scars

knight

It is a bad habit to try to teach without personal knowledge. We can preach, but we do not possess. This is one of the occupational hazards of those of us in our profession. It seems to carry a horrible curse of spiritual sterility, that the wise believer ultimately sees.

It’s been 13 years since a diagnosis of Bipolar 1 was made. I believe I was BP in my teens. Life is a roller-coaster for me, up and down, with a twist or two along the way. I am now fairly aware at 56 that much of my earthly existence  has already been lived. Life can become such a grind. I’m tired and broken, and ready for eternity.

“One should go to sleep as homesick passengers do, saying, “Perhaps in the morning we shall see the shore.”

–Henry Ward Beecher

Billy Bray (a bearer of an unfortunate name) was an illiterate Cornish evangelist in the 1850s. He was heard to pray this: “Lord, if any have to die this day, let it be me, for I am ready.” By faith, I do understand these sentiments. I am ready to go as well.

I love collecting good quotes. (I also have a site at http://www.CrossQuotes.org.) But here’s two more good ones:

“God buries His workmen but carries on His work.”   -Charles Wesley

“If we really think that home is elsewhere and that this life is a “wandering to find home,” why should we not look forward to the arrival?”  – C.S. Lewis

Sorry if I’m being maudlin. But the battle is so long, and it doesn’t ever let up, does it? We all can become weary after a while. What we need is to be ‘shut in’ with the Lord. The Word reminds us:

Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God”

 Acts 14:22

“Tribulations” are common, and each must battle through them. And without being melodramatic, we each must walk through the blazing furnace. But I can also boldly attest that there is more than enough grace for each of us. We just need to become desperate enough. (Which shouldn’t be too hard).

Armor is given. Wearing it means you’ll survive (and thrive) to see another day. Those who may suggest that the Christian life is a “bed of roses,” I would say that they haven’t read Ephesians 6. If there is no war, why would the Holy Spirit tell us to put it on?

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” 

Eph. 6:10-11

We are starting to finally learn we must fall in love with Jesus. He receives us with a massive kind of love. And His mercy meets us at every doubtful corner. You have His Word on it. Simply ask Him to come to you. 

*

Kyrie eleison, Bryan

(Lord, have mercy.)

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Allowing Yourself to Be Weak

Warning: This post might step on some toes!

Our society has pretty much embraced the American cultural icon of the cowboy.  We revere those who ride alone and hard. We are rugged individualists and hardened men making our own way.  Our society reflects this in subdued ways.  No matter what happens, we are fiercely free and independent.  We are ‘desperadoes’–we do whatever we think is best.

This is distinctive to the American sense of being.  We are instilled with a pride and a freedom as our birthright.  John Wayne, the ‘Alamo,’ and the biker with his Harley-Davidson on Route 66 have been our inspiration.  Each are distinctly heroic and carry our hopes and dreams.

But the Bible is not an American book.  A cowboy did not die for our sins (which are many).  The way of discipleship does not take us through Dallas, Texas.  Rather, His Words to us are bold and entirely challenging in an amazingly fresh and different direction.  We are told to wash feet, to repeatedly turn the other cheek, to surrender all our rights, and then take the lowest place there is in every situation.

Jesus is positioned as the Lord over us.  Humility is to become  the way we think and how we act.  We have become slaves to righteousness.  Our vaunted independence has been toppled. The crown has slipped. My wilfulness still wants to stand instead of kneeling. We discover this has been the truth all along.  We have never ever been in control.  He has been the King since before time, and will always be, for an eternity.

“Many Christians have what we might call a “cultural holiness”. They adapt to the character and behavior pattern of Christians around them. As the Christian culture around them is more or less holy, so these Christians are more or less holy. But God has not called us to be like those around us. He has called us to be like himself. Holiness is nothing less than conformity to the character of God”.

Jerry Bridges

I want to pose the following questions.  Are we honestly in a condition of being weak?  Can you serve with a basin and towel?  Is your heart that of a child? Do we see the world through the ‘lens’ of a soft and broken spirit?

Our churches often struggle often over issues of pride and stubbornness.  There is often little gentleness and brokenness to be seen.  We still see ourselves as independent, and we call our own shots.  I wonder if the lordship of Christ is even considered.  We may consider it noble to be a Christian, but our lives are not discipled.  (And they are not likely to be until God breaks us of our independence.)  It’s called, ‘the spirit of the age.’

“Holiness has never been the driving force of the majority. It is, however, mandatory for anyone who wants to enter the kingdom.”

Elisabeth Elliot

 

I write these things surveying my own life.  Self will and my hard heart fit ‘hand-and-glove’ with being that desperado.  I ride alone, making my own way, and I don’t make any disciples. I jettison my cross— my cross of discipleship.  I serve no one, unless it suits me.  Am I His disciple, or am I a man of my own?  Is He my lord, or have I decided to claim that right for myself? We must decide these things.

I only hope I have spoken the truth today. Forgive me if I offended.

“Lord, I am willing to receive what You give, to lack what You withhold, to relinquish what You take, to suffer what You inflict, to be what You require.”  Amen.

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A Broken System

mental-health

Sixty million Americans – that’s one in five adults – will experience a mental illness in the coming year. That means every one of us knows someone who is living with a mental illness – depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, an eating disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and some additionally have a substance abuse.”

The stats are staggering. They are also easily forgotten. (It seems that we approach life not as it is, but as we want it to be.) But consider this:

• Half of all adults will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime.
• Half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14.
• One in five children will have a mental illness by age 18.
• Ninety percent of people who die by suicide also had mental illness.

Brokenbelievers is not just a “niche” site– we’re dealing with hardcore issues that are significant for far too many. Mental illness is a pervasive and terrible issue in our society. Christians must witness to what Jesus can do in the midst of this. We are his witnesses.

Accentuating this, our mental health care system is broken. Jails and prisons have become “dumping grounds” for afflicted people. I guess that this is considered “routine” for us. Imagine the outcry if, instead of doing this to the mentally ill, we did incarcerated those with diabetes? Yet we do so because that’s the way the system works.

There are many beautifully competent people who toil in the mental health field. Some of the kindest and caring can be found working in these places. They deserved to be commended, not vilified.

The landscape is strewn with casualties. Mental illness will affect half of adults in their lifetimes, and the collateral damage can’t even begin to be quantified. Our therapists, nurses and doctors have a grisly job security. Money can never fix our system of dealing with those with a mental illness.

Many of us will disagree about what to do.

Perhaps we should advocate a multi-prong approach. Brokenbelievers exists for Christian believers that are having to work out their faith in the presence of a tenacious illness. It’s good to have someone that understands depression or other issues in the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ.

We must think differently– and do differently. With God’s help we can.

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Sources:

https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kay-warren/hope-for-mental-illness_b_8045810.html

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Life in the Fast Lane, [Rest]

“Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me.”

Psalm 131:1

“We are going as fast as we can, living life at a dizzying speed, and God is nowhere to be found. We’re not rejecting God; we just don’t have time for him. We’ve lost him in the blurred landscape as we rush to church. We don’t struggle with the Bible, but with the clock. It’s not that we’re too decadent; we’re too busy. We don’t feel guilty because of sin, but because we have no time for our spouses, our children, or our God. It’s not sinning too much that’s killing our souls, it’s our schedule that’s annihilating us. Most of us don’t come home at night staggering drunk. Instead, we come home staggering tired, worn out, exhausted and drained because we live too fast. “

— Michael Yaconelli

We have a problem.  We cannot hide it anymore.  It is invasive and a detriment to our lives.  It is called activity, or busy-ness.  It can destroy our souls as much as adultery, or stealing would.

Jesus commanded his disciples to rest, so we must conclude that this is necessary for us as 21st century disciples.  But the current is strong and it seems there is no “slow lanes” anymore.  Our days start early and we are propelled through it by the frantic pace of continual demands.

Can we honestly say that this is the abundant life that Jesus promised us?  Is this the fruitful Christian life?  The verse we must consider, “Be still and know that I am God.”  That word “still” means to be without motion, calm, at rest.

Tozer wrote to his generation with the penetrating question, “Has busy-ness become the new holiness?”  He observed that the Church was partial to activity, and that discipleship was becoming equated to work and movement.  The presence of the Lord was no longer a factor to the modern disciple.

We must return to the Master.  We must become quiet and listen to what he has to tell us. Matthew 11:28 tells us,

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

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“For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” But you would not”

Isaiah 30:15


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Sometimes I Haven’t the Slightest, [Oblivious}

“Ah yes, the Shroud of Turin! We will have to dry clean it before we return it.”

Inspector Clouseau, (Upon discovering stolen artifacts) in The Pink Panther 2

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I honestly think that our bumbling attempts to follow Jesus are entertaining angels who watch our efforts and shake their heads in astonishment. ” Did you see what Bryan just did?”  I guess I’m the “Inspector Clouseau of the spiritual realm.”  Clumsy and very much oblivious, I bungle my way down the path of discipleship, without a clue. It seems when something right happens, I still end up butchering it.

We  have experienced so much, been given so much light, and yet we consistently choose to trade it for a lie. For the most part, I don’t sin automatically, I choose it, consciencely and deliberately.  People don’t sin because they feel they have to. We sin because we like the pleasure it brings. We sin because it feels nice. We sin because it brings a thrill to our bodies, fleeting satisfaction to our souls and excitement to the boredom of our everyday lives.  We sin because we believe the lie that the pleasure it brings, though passing (Heb. 11:25), is more satisfying than the pleasure obedience brings.

The issues I have are medical and psychological.  I have chronic Hepatitis C.  I survived a brain tumor and I need to walk with a cane.  I do have a bad case of Bipolar disorder. I have some struggles with paranoid delusions and social anxiety. These are forgivable and God gives me buckets of grace.  I know first-hand his agape love for me.

But he cannot bless disobedience and rebellion.  When we announce to the world that “Jesus is Lord” we can expect God will hold our feet to the fire over this.  The Holy Spirit will not negotiate when we suddenly decide we are hungry for sin.  Apprehended by grace, we must fully surrender all claim we have to sample sin’s delights.

In the middle of my psychiatric issues, I must remember joy.  I can not imagine being without it.  I’ve been clinically depressed to the point of suicide many times.  But God gives me joy in my darkness.  “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah)

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Intensely Loved, but Definitely Broken, [Reality]

bryondeck-2For everyone who loves Jesus, but yet has had an experience of terrible loss, sickness or the death of a loved one…this post is meant for you.

I am evangelical, a former pastor, and a Bible college instructor. I also have bipolar depression, and a bit of paranoia and delusional thinking. I have been hospitalized in mental hospitals seven times in 10 years.  But, I love Jesus more than anything. And I’ve been told by many who repeatedly insist that He loves me as well.

I have experienced the darkest and most crippling depressions.  There are some weeks (months?) I could not get out of bed, shower or even eat.  For this Bipolar, I must take Lithium, Zoloft, and Lamictal.  These meds hold me in place. I’m being treated for a seizure disorder, and have had surgery to remove a tumor in my brain. I now walk with a cane.

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”

1 Corinthians 1:3

This blog is geared for the mentally ill believer, the terminally ill, habitual sinners and all who are confused and dismayed by their own brokenness. But you don’t need a diagnosis to read this blog.

It seems like failures—

  • the mentally feeble,
  • lame,
  • chronically ill
  • blind, and deaf
  • sinners, great and small
  • and mentally ill have not always been welcome in the Church. I think that is about to change.

I’m honestly convinced that it has been the churches’ loss. How is the Church ever going to learn to love the unlovely without us to ‘train’ them? We the disabled are sprinkled into each fellowship to tutor them through our illnesses.

The church need not look to new ‘fund raising ideas’ or to pave the parking lot, it just needs to reach out to the broken– one at a time.  I think God will bless every church who will do this. This is the work and passion of Jesus. This is what Jesus’ church looks like. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10.)

The Church needs us, whether it realizes it or not.  It is as broken people that we model our fallenness as the paradigm to intimacy with Jesus.  We often are the first to know that it has never been about our giftedness, but our intimacy. 

We are a witness, a tangled but tangible reminder, of how God’s grace gives His power to the weak and despised (2 Cor. 2).

“For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” 

Matthew 9:13

“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Mathew 11:28-30

I simply can not say anything more. Just please love us.

“The power of the Church is not a parade of flawless people, but of a flawless Christ who embraces our flaws. The Church is not made up of whole people, rather of the broken people who find wholeness in a Christ who was broken for us.”

–Mike Yaconelli

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All scripture quotations are from the New Living Translation.