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The Blessings of a Long Battle, part 2


 “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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Barrels of Monkeys

monkeys toy

“My problems go from bad to worse.
    Oh, save me from them all!”

Psalm 25:17

If you are over 40 or so, you would’ve known about this simple toy. Today, a little girl came up to me to show me her singular monkey. She insisted its origins were from the animated movie “Toy Story.” I told he she was suffering from delusions and began to instill the real story. She basically told me that I was the one who was thoroughly nuts, and she quickly became very skeptical of anything I would say next. (It’s hard to connect with this younger generation, lol.)

In my mind I achieved a moral victory, but it was short-lived. It wasn’t enough to do a “fist-pump” or a touchdown dance I craved to do. The way I figured things, old age has to count for some bonifide wisdom. My gray hair reminds me that I can speak with supreme authority about toy monkeys without recriminations.

Sometimes God gives us a barrel of squirmy, tricky monkeys. He watches what we do with them. This barrel could be a marriage, child rearing, a job, sickness, addictions, physical or mental illnesses. There are a lot of barrels out there. You could easily triple this list, and still need to add something.

The antics of monkeys, their tricks and misbehaviors are well known. Barrels of monkeys are embarrassing, they throw their own feces for God’s sake.  But they are still the elite masters of physical comedy in the animal kingdom. They are the Jay Lenos and Robin Williams of the zoo. You can’t subdue them, except with a tranquilizing gun, or some fermenting bananas.

Monkey barrels are tough. We usually are not steady enough, or patient enough to play the game. I submit it takes guts to play with the whole barrel, and taking short-cuts violate some kind of rule somewhere. Our faith should steady us. But the barrel only baffles us.

But the Spirit has come to assist us.

His presence helps us get by every barrel and every chimp, but we have to ask for help. I encourage you to get desperate. These monkeys can be tamed, and you need to do this. Time is never the issue. But how you behave is the true evaluation.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.”

Romans 5:3, NLT


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Bone Tired Weariness


8 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.”

Matthew 11:28-30, New Living Translation

Weariness and burdens are our common plight. We all have them. They are shared as sort of common identity, like eye color or hair color. We all have them, and wish we didn’t. Sometimes we feel like shutting down.

Weariness, that bone-tiredness that sleep doesn’t seem to help. We seem to be chronically fatigued by life and what it brings us. We have heavy burdens, we carry a load that only gets heavier (and never lighter.)

Money problems, bills that are past due, marriages, straying children, cars that need fixing, family problems, job hassles, health problems… the list goes on ad nauseam. There are far too many issues, too many problems. I believe boredom and tedium are added to the list as they only intensify the hopelessness. (Its own special kind of suffering.)

Some will choose to ‘self medicate’ with alcohol or drugs. They want something more, and find they only create more burdens (not less.) Some will become hopelessly addicted, never finding relief from their burdens, but only increasing them. Suicide very often is seen as the only way out.

But Jesus will never condemn (leave that to the Pharisees) but instead offers a sort of amnesty to the burnt-out and the burdened. Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Jesus did not say, “Get away from me, I am holy and you are not.” Rather, He makes himself to be the solution to all those who life has overwhelmed. He wants our burdens and takes on our weariness. He wants us. He wants to give us peace and rest.

He invites us to exchange whatever burdens us for the yoke of discipleship.

An easy trade, especially since we are so desperate. Some have evaluated Jesus’ offer and made the transaction–piling up our burdens at His feet. We might be a little hesitant about the “my yoke” part, but will quickly find that discipleship can’t be compared to the weight we once carried for so long.

The non-demands of biblical disciplehip are easyFor my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Following Jesus becomes the best way to live.

29 He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:29-31





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Fear and Loathing

“For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night.”

1 Thess. 5:5

A year before I received Christ as my Savior, I was hospitalized in a U.S. Army psychiatric ward.  My uniform was replaced with the distinctive attire of a mental patient.  Ironically, I’d been attached to the same hospital as a medic on the pediatric floor.  And to make things only slightly more surreal was that one of my nurses on the psych ward was someone I bought drugs from!

Previous to this hospitalization, I had dropped two hits of LSD and found myself in an awful mess.  It was night and I was prowling outside my barracks.  I was hallucinating heavily and had lost control of my thoughts.  I had pretty much flipped out  and it entered my drug saturated brain that the darkness would kill me that very night!

Utterly convinced of my impending fate, my mind seized upon the street lights.  If I could stay in that illuminated circle I could escape death!  The light would save me.  I stood under that light for a few hours.  As I stood I could see very clearly the boundary between the light and the dark.  I knew I was safe as long as I didn’t wander.

Despite that traumatic experience, the drugs and the mental instability continued to develop.  I began to mainline cocaine, crossing my “no needle line”.  I also became quite the heavy drinker, with Jack Daniels for breakfast.  I had one basic rule though.  As a medic who worked in maternal/child health, I had the best assignment in the Army.  Many people coveted it, and I was not going to endanger it by drugs or alcohol.  I never went on duty loaded.  It was my rule. I would be the best medic they had.

Shortly after my psych ward discharge, I was reassigned to Labor & Delivery on the night shift.  I was pulled from my duty and I went on an ambulance run as the medic in charge.  We were called to officer’s housing were an older man had died in bed which got me thinking.  Back at the hospital I returned to L&D.  On the way back I took a shortcut through a ward on another floor.  That’s when I found it!

On a waiting room table was a small book called, “More Than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell.  I picked it up, reading it right on duty because there were no mothers waiting for the delivery room.  By the end of my shift I was well on my way to becoming a Christian.  It was a book solidly speaking of the light, and of the dark.  And I knew beyond a doubt that I couldn’t remain in the dark anymore.

I was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in June of 1982.  I became a born again believer on July 4, 1982.  I was in Bible College that October.  Life has become radically different, and I became a missionary and a pastor.  All I can tell you is that Jesus is real, he is alive and the Bible is true.  I have translated from the dark to the light, and I am not afraid anymore.  Jesus is my light.

“The people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light.
And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow,
    a light has shined.”

Matthew 4:16


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Alaska Bible Institute,

“More Than a Carpenter”, by Josh McDowell Review

Since its release, More Than a Carpenter has been challenging readers to ask the question, “Who is Jesus?” Author and renowned speaker Josh McDowell acknowledges that while the topic of God is widely accepted, the name of Jesus often causes irritation. “Why don’t the names of Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius offend people? The reason is that these others didn’t claim to be God, but Jesus did.” By addressing questions about scientific and historical evidence, the validity of the Bible, and proofs of the resurrection, McDowell helps the reader come to an informed and intelligent decision about whether Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. This short, 128-page gem does not employ fancy theological words, forsaking the layman, but reads more like an intimate research document laying out the facts with veracious accuracy, from reliable sources ranging from secular scientists to conservative seminarians. A skeptic himself for many years, McDowell always believed that Christians were “out of their minds” but now insists that “never has an individual been called upon to commit intellectual suicide in trusting Christ as Savior and Lord.” McDowell adeptly articulates fundamental answers to poignant questions that cause the skeptic to consider whether Jesus was a liar causing countless martyrs to die in his wake, a lunatic deserving death, or actually the Lord of the universe. –Jill Heatherly
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The Lady and the Knight in Shining Armor

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Eph. 4:32

“It’s unfortunate and I really wish I wouldn’t have to say this, but I really like human beings who have suffered. They are kinder.”

Emma Thompson

She has nailed down a thought here.  It is only a starting point, a beginning that one should work-out, over and over.  We begin at this realization that there can be a definite link between suffering and kindness.  It’s like two wheels of a bicycle.

I’m in love with kind people.  All the people I have met who were truly wonderful, had very kind hearts.  Kindness set them apart.

Historically, kindness was regarded as one of the “Knightly Virtues” of medieval times.  Having it was to be a mark of chivalry.  In theology, it was one of seven virtues, that mirrored the “Seven Deadly Sins.” It seems to me that believers who practice kindness are to be regarded as part of a spiritual nobility.

This connection between suffering and kindness isn’t so much as a “cause and effect,” but rather a ‘fruit’ which has to ripen, or mature.  Pain is not always this productive in our lives.  It can bring bitterness and loss as easily as it can bring kindness and gentleness.  And many of us who struggle with mental illness or substance abuse understand this all to well.

The apostle Paul was right to link his sufferings to spiritual growth.  If you can do this you are moving in the right direction.  It will not lift you out of the pain; you will still have the sense of being overwhelmed, but you will see through it with the eagle eye of faith.

Why is it that so many who have suffered, will go on to become kind people?

It may have to do with two dynamic principles. The first metaphor would have to be the smelter/the potter.  These are significant because they illustrate how believers are always in process.  We are in flux, either moving under the hand or under the heat.

The second metaphor is the grape vine dresser/bread maker.  These strike me as harsh, although it may not always feel that way.  But both are definite “hands-on” from a supervisory source–the Holy Spirit.

Suffering is a lot like learning another language.  Some days it will just click, and then other days you can’t remember your previous lesson.  But if you are really patient you will learn to speak the dialect of suffering.  Learning languages can open up the world to you.  If you learn to speak “suffering” you will be able to touch the hearts of millions.

But there needs to be patience.  You must wait for “kindness.”  Transformation will never be smooth or easy.  There are no switches for God to flip to make you Christlike.  You will not wake up tomorrow morning with the character of Jesus–his mercy, love, wisdom and kindness.  I’m sorry.  (Choose to dispute this, and I will let you.)


“I prefer you to make mistakes in kindness than work miracles in unkindness.”

Mother Teresa’s counsel 

“God has chosen you and made you his holy people. He loves you. So you should always clothe yourselves with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

Col. 3:12, NCV 

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Pondering Brokenness, [Acceptance]

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Broken Fresco– Assisi, Italy

Many voices tell me that there must be distinct lines between sinners (like, me) and Church people. These borders keep order and provide security to those on the ‘inside’ of our Faith. This seems more from a reaction to control than actual sin.

But there are so many people with mental illness: Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, addictions, PTSD, and many others. We are truly an afflicted people.

Fitting in isn’t always easy

“Most of the verses written about praise in God’s Word were voiced by people faced with crushing heartaches, injustice, treachery, slander, and scores of other difficult situations.” 

Joni Eareckson Tada

There needs to be an adjustment to the status quo. Room must be made for the ‘losers’ and the misfits. These are people for whom Christ died. They are special to God.

According to federal  law, buildings must be accessible to the handicapped. Special signs are placed in the parking lots, for special parking and wheelchair ramps need to be installed. This is well and good. But let’s extend this ‘deliberateness’ to those with other needs as well.

“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

I encourage you to become proactive when it comes to “opening up” the Church to include ‘the brokenness of the other.’ Even a smile can make the difference to the down-trodden soul. Love the unlovely,  just like Jesus.

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Please, Don’t Waste Your Sorrows



“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. Sometimes it seems that we need God’s Flexeril. When we need it, as a muscle relaxer (for a strained back) it is useful. But if we abuse it and don’t really need it– it suddenly turns into a deep problem.

Sorrow is the effects of a hammering emotional or spiritual pain. I have never spoken out about 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, fools always want 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 the above points. The Holy Spirit is working, perhaps behind the scenes.

*“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


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