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Forgiven First


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.”


“God pardons like a mother, who kisses the offense into everlasting forgiveness.”  

Henry Ward Beecher

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The Art of Denying Jesus

Peter weeps

“Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly.”

Matthew 26:75, NLT

Three denials are followed by three reaffirmations.

A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”

John 21:17

The apostle Peter was a fervent disciple. He knew who Jesus was before most. He was always included in special times (e.g. the transfiguration, Gethsemane). He was favored by Jesus throughout times of ministry. I also believe that he was Jesus’ friend. Peter is known for:

  • being called on the shores of Galilee, Matt 4:18-19
  • ‘almost’ walking on water, Matt 14:29-30
  • finding the tax money in a fishes mouth, Matt 17:24-27
  • having his feet washed, John 13:6-7
  • in Gethsemane– cutting off an ear, John 18:10-11
  • his remorse at denying Jesus, Matt 26:75
  • at the empty tomb with John, John 20:3-8

Peter’s own denials were of a serious nature effecting who he was, and who he was to become. Jesus astutely intervenes as they ‘breakfasted’on the seashore. There would be three affirmations; one for each denial. Peter needed to meet the resurrected Jesus, and speak with him about what he had done. Peter needed this.

Out of our own confusion, we realize that we deny Jesus. Perhaps frequently. A denial has different intensities and different situations. And none of us have an immunity as of yet. We deny the Lord when we refuse to speak of him to others. We deny the Lord when we fail to do what is right. Sometimes we deny him flagrantly, other times it is a more subtle attitude. At best, we’re still inconsistent, and at worst, apostate.

We’re not punished or abandoned for this behavior. Human logic would suggest that we should be. But instead we are gently restored. Given the opportunity, Peter the fisherman, would eventually become a wise shepherd to the young Church. I would also suggest that Peter’s personal weakness would serve him well as a gentle, and caring pastor.

Peter, near the end of his life, goes ‘full circle’ and uses a very precise Greek word found in only two places in the New Testament. It is the specific form of the word “shepherd.” It is only used in John 21:16-17 in Peter’s restoration, and in 1 Peter 5:2. Peter encourages the Church with the same words Jesus himself spoke to him on the beach so long ago! Peter wrote:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing.”

1 Peter 5:2, NIV

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Drowning in Despair


despair (2)“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.”

   2 Corinthians 1:8

“…we should all fortify ourselves against the dark hours of depression by cultivating a deep distrust of the certainties of despair. Despair is relentless in the certainties of its pessimism. But we have seen again and again, from our own experience and others’, that absolute statements of hopelessness that we make in the dark are notoriously unreliable. Our dark certainties are not sureties.”

John Piper

It is my ‘deliberateness’, and not my impulsiveness that gives me the most concern.   I know ‘despair’.  I know what it is like to be ‘backed into a corner’ and then feel the empty desperation of being lost.  But you must understand, there can be a weird seductiveness to ‘being lost’, a ‘strange sort of nobility’, a twisted honor, when it comes to despair.

Piper talks about the ‘dark certainties’ of knowing you are lost.  Now this really seems rather bizarre, that people could do this intentionally, without duress.  But I’m afraid to tell you that it happens all the time.  Despair is chosen over the option of life. This is the ‘lostness’ of the race of Adam.

Pop culture has given us words, albeit in a simplistic form.  I just happened to think right now of an old AC/DC  song, ‘Highway to Hell‘.  The lyrics are pretty basic, very simple, but the lead singer seems to really have a chronically, decided dedication to being one of the irretrievably lost.  He formats a ‘certain glory’ to being part of the damned.  This is a simplistic approach to the next stop– a more advanced case of stark-white despair, suicide. (We can call this ‘spiritual hubris,’ or even, “drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll.”)

In examining the striated world of despair, we must come to the interesting place when our foolishness combined with our arrogance produces a decision to be lost.  Of course, our fear of God must be extracted from the situation.  But for the eager candidate for despair, this is not an insurmountable problem.

Escaping this ‘drowning despair’ we must first dethrone our right to personal sovereignty.  And secondly, we need to grab the concept that God’s grace has an ultimate power that supersedes our notions of a ‘deserved’ love.  (It is completely undeserved).  We must believe that somehow, someway God chooses us out of a pile, a pile of the worst and ugliest.  And somehow, He delights in doing this, and He is Lord.

We are meant to be the people of redemptive hope. 

Because of our problems, our addictions, we must clearly renounce our evil folly of despair.  These are the issues that make us vulnerable.  There is a seductiveness to ‘giving up’ and taking up the sin of despair.  There can be a ‘weird romance’ that lures those who ‘walk out lostness’.  We are pulled into a vortex of an exotic melancholy with a dash of fatalism, which makes it reasonable and weirdly heroic. But is it not even more heroic to live in hope?

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and 6 my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you.”

Psalm 42:5-6



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Getting Past Your Past


“For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.” 

2 Corinthians 7:10, NLT

“You will have mercy on us again; 
 You will conquer our sins.
 You will throw away all our sins
 into the deepest part of the sea.”  

Micah 7:19, NCV

My own past has been particularly brutal and ugly.  I have done quite a few evil things in my lifetime which I am ashamed of.  Regret and sorrow over my sins frequently troubles me.  And I have to come back to seeing my sins covered by His blood. See

“Properly remembering our past sins with shame will deter us from repeating them and help us receive God’s saving grace.  When we recall our failures through the lens of Christ’s mercy, God produces in us ongoing repentance and deepening humility.” 

–Robert D. Jones

I have walked in self-hatred for many years.  I know all about loathing, fear and paranoia over my evilness.  These things have handicapped me spiritually, and hating yourself is a terrible way to live.  My struggles with guilt and regret have deepened my sense of despair and depression.  I find that I am ashamed of my shame.

I have included in this post the lyrics to Bob Bennett’s song “Lord of the Past”.  He is a gifted song writer, and an exceptional guitar player.  (I can’t find it on  If you’re like me, you will find that you resonate with those who have been assaulted by the past. We now speak a common language, and we understand each other. 

Bob Bennett
© 1989 Matters Of The Heart Music (ASCAP)  

Every harsh word spoken
Every promise ever broken to me
Total recall of data in the memory
Every tear that has washed my face
Every moment of disgrace that I have known
Every time I’ve ever felt alone

  Lord of the here and now
Lord of the come what may
I want to believe somehow
That you can heal these wounds of yesterday
(You can redeem these things so far away)
So now I’m asking you
To do what you want to do
Be the Lord of the Past
(Be the Lord of my Past)
Oh how I want you to
Be the Lord of the Past

All the chances I let slip by
All the dreams that I let die in vain
Afraid of failure and afraid of pain
Every tear that has washed my face
Every moment of disgrace that I have known
Every time I’ve ever felt alone

Well I picked up all these pieces
And I built a strong deception
And I locked myself inside of it
For my own protection
And I sit alone inside myself
And curse my company
For this thing that has kept me alive for so long
Is now killing me.
And as sure as the sin rose this morning,
The man in the moon hides his face tonight.
And I lay myself down on my bed
And I pray this prayer inside my head

  Lord of the here and now
Lord of the come what may
I want to believe somehow
That you can heal these wounds of yesterday
So now I’m asking you
To do what you want to do
Be the Lord of my Past
You can do anything
Be the Lord of the Past
I know that you can find a way
To heal every yesterday of my life
Be the Lord of the Past.



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Judas Iscariot, Matthew 27:3-10

This is a chapter from my book, “They Met Jesus: Stories from the Gospels.” Hope you like it!

Chapter 37

Judas Iscariot, Matthew 27:3-10

When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”

What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.”

5 Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself.

6 The leading priests picked up the coins. “It wouldn’t be right to put this money in the Temple treasury,” they said, “since it was payment for murder.” 7 After some discussion they finally decided to buy the potter’s field, and they made it into a cemetery for foreigners. 8 That is why the field is still called the Field of Blood.9 This fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah that says,

They took the thirty pieces of silver—
the price at which he was valued by the people of Israel,
10 and purchased the potter’s field,
as the Lord directed.”

My name is Judas and I betrayed my Lord. It really had nothing to do with avarice or greed; The money was fine but that isn’t why I turned him in to the authorities. I did what they could not.

Jesus loved his disciples, including me. When he came washing our feet I was humbled and disturbed. But in my mind I knew that Jesus needed an opportunity to become the next ruler of Israel. That was his destiny, and I was going to help him bring it to pass. I would be the kingmaker and Jesus would reward me.

But this washing the feet thing made me doubt his fitness as a king. When he stripped to his underwear I had my doubts. Behaving as a common slave wasn’t in my agenda. It would take extra work to shape him and to deaden such strange behavior. But it would be worth it in the end. If only Jesus would cooperate.

It was said that Satan entered me at this time. I hardly noticed. I know I was filled with excitement. The other disciples would come to my side, and together we would do it. Enough groveling, we were going to rule Israel and even end the Roman occupation. I believed this with all that was in me.

The tricky part was to manipulate Jesus. He must see the opportunity that awaited him. He already was immensely popular among the common man.

My plan was this, after I met with the Pharisees, I would then lead them to the garden where Jesus was staying. The Pharisees insisted on an armed escort in case there was trouble among the disciples. I on the other would give Jesus a kiss to signify that he was the one, it was dark and the torches didn’t give enough light.

When I kissed Jesus on the cheek the soldiers were to arrest him. I assumed he would resist and fight. It was my hope that he would fight. This would be the spark that Jesus needed to take action. When Jesus was taken into custody I assumed that this was the beginning of the revolution to come.

I was wrong. Nothing went as planned. Jesus did not take charge and overthrow the government, As a matter of fact the opposite happened, he was silent and refused to answer most of their questions. I once heard him say, “My kingdom is not of this world.” I should have listened.

I realized too late, that I helped shed innocent blood. I went back to the priests who hired me to give back the silver. They wouldn’t take it back. I threw at their feet and left the temple. I was in a daze and ugly thoughts filled my mind.

Excuse me, but I have a date with the rope.

Lord Jesus, but for the grace of God there go I. Let me be a servant and not a king. Keep me away from foolish thinking, help me to believe in your Gospel just as it is, Amen.

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Our Hearts Plead for Good Pastors

I always felt that being a pastor was a lot like this

October has been set aside for appreciation of our pastors. I encourage you to pray for them and their families.

flourish2 Within our personal issues of vulnerability, there are usually great problems. These are tender areas: Alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illnesses, homosexuality, sex addiction, porn and chronic depression are all substantial issues of pain and conflict. But as defeated strugglers we are often intimidated by leadership in the Church.

It seems all we can see is their authority, and we are fearful.  Typically, in our fellowships, our pastors and elders are men.  And that alone can sometimes create issues in hearts looking for a tenderness that will heal.

Rather than opening our brokenness up to our shepherds, we fabricate illusions of sufficiency and invulnerability. We are afraid, and our pain still resides in our hearts.  (We were never designed to carry this.)

As strugglers with great pain and confusion, we often brand ourselves as hopeless and completely defeated.  Some of us secretly believe that they have committed the unpardonable sin. But this is a lie, as God forgives every sin.

They’ve heard they are going to hell no matter what they do, so they are permanently separated from God. They need to know this is a lie, because whenwe confess our sins, the blood of Jesus covers them ALL and cleanses us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Many of us who struggle have a ugly and a twisted sense of our leaders in the Church. We get “really weird” whenever we meet them– an intense paranoia.  Typically, we sense avoidance of those who try to pastor us.  As a result our flaws and weaknesses will only grow us away (not towards) the Church.

Cellulitis is bacterial infection of  the skin and underlying tissue.  While I was in the Army, I developed this inflammation in my right forearm.  It started as a very small spot.  My arm quickly ballooned up, and within days I couldn’t bend my arm.  The infection just continued to grow and spread.  But I refused to see a physician.  When I finally did, they had to drain the wound, and I was put on heavy-duty antibiotics and bedrest. I could have easily lost my arm.

Often we try to live a life separated from outside intervention.  We avoid people who could really help us.  But we are sick, and need a pastor or elder to work through these things. But they intimidate us, and we expect to be rebuked, reprehended and rejected.  Certainly that there is often a need for scriptural correction, but always in love– and even some tears.  


An Open Note to All Pastors and Leaders:

There is almost always a definite frailty that is common in the hearts of us strugglers.  We have fought for our spirituality, sanity, personality and even our sexuality. We have very few relationships, and the ones we do have are seldom healthy.  We are intimidated by authority and afraid of any kind of transparency.  We live under a enormous pile of shame and nasty guilt.

We need “good shepherds” that can be deliberately gentle and tender. Pastors and elders ought to reflect the astonishing grace of God.  We need His deep love, and you must show us what that’s like.  Please show us.  Verbalize it.  We need to know that we have been forgiven, over and over. Make much of the Grace of God.

You may already know this, but some in your flock have broken walls. Our boundaries are down; they are crumbled, and we are in true danger.  We need you to help us, and share His love and acceptance, and yours as well.  We need to be immersed in the atmosphere of spiritual kindness and forgiveness. It’s not you being a perfect pastor, but us together knowing a perfect God, who flows through yours (and my) imperfection quite willingly.

“We don’t forgive people because they deserve it. We forgive them because they need it–because we need it.” ― Bree Despain

We are not like the “norms” in your congregations.  It is highly unlikely we will be completely healed in this life. Also, many of us are gifted by the Holy Spirit, but we are flawed and we struggle a lot. Pastors must grow in their gifting, so maybe we will grow together. But please consider this; perhaps you need us as much as we need you (?).


kyrie elesion, Bryan

(Lord, have mercy on us, your little flock)
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Good Grief, [Post by James Winsor]


How Depression is a Blessing in Disguise; by Rev. James Winsor

A darkness creeps into the soul and smothers it. Who knows why, how long it will last, or what will make it go away. You feel like you have nothing left to give to anyone else. You don’t want anyone around, except that one person who knows how to lift the darkness. You can’t and don’t want to explain how you feel. You don’t know why you’re sad, and you feel embarrassed by it because you have a pretty nice life. You can see why hungry, sick or poor people would be sad, but not you.

If you’re up to it, you try to process thoughts about God or words to or from God. This feels impossible. At best, God is distant. He couldn’t care about these stupid, unjustifiable feelings. There are people with real problems; God should be much more concerned about them. At worst, God becomes a very active enemy. He judges you for feeling this way. He wants you to just drop this selfish, self-centered, self pity trip. Doesn’t the Bible command, “Rejoice in the Lord always?” You’re a long way from doing that. Every word of good cheer seems to condemn you more for not being cheery.

As you deal with these feelings, you start to see what’s at the bottom. For the most part, it’s self-loathing. You just can’t stand being around you! Sometimes you can’t see the causes for the self-loathing. It’s just there and it won’t go away. I hate being me, and anyone who really knew me would hate me. The people who love me only do because they don’t know me.

Sometimes the self-loathing turns outward. It explodes into a kind of rage against the world. Now the darkness has covered not only your heart, but your eyes. You can’t see outside of yourself. You have trouble remembering there is an outside world. When you wake up to that fact, you again see the self-centeredness and hate it all the more.

It doesn’t seem possible to break out or for anyone to break into it. Even God doesn’t seem to know how to break inside the darkness. Some of the most spiritually-rich Christians I know experience depression. Some of them medicate it. Some don’t. But it doesn’t make that much difference when it comes to the soul. You can’t medicate the soul.

God is up to something in your depression. There are things God can do for you better when you’re depressed. Someone once said that God empties in order to fill, and kills in order to raise up. God could have made a world where depression is impossible. He could have made a world where sin, death and Satan are not on the scene. But God decided ahead of time that it was better to do things His way. There was something important that He could do with a broken world that He couldn’t do with a perfect world.

In paradise, Adam and Eve did not know God as well as you do. They walked and talked with Him, but were ignorant of what God was really about. God is self-sacrificing, self-giving love. Adam and Eve didn’t have a clue about Good Friday. They didn’t need Good Friday. Do you realize what that means? They didn’t need God’s self-sacrificial love. All they needed was a creator and provider. They didn’t need a Savior.

But that’s what’s best about Him. He saves sinners by dying for them. When Jesus was on the cross, you were loathed enough. God took out all of His holy loathing, and it was over. There is nothing more important in your life than God’s saving love for sinners.

Depression is a cold, gray wind that blows you off the cliff.

You can’t find anything inside yourself to cling to, to hope in, to claim as a basis for God’s acceptance.

All you have is Jesus and His love for sinners.

His resurrection of sinners in Himself. His baptizing of this sinner, you. That’s all you have. You fall into the water and lose yourself. But once you fall in, you can only see the love of God in Christ. A purple robe for mocking. A brown cross. Silver nails. Red blood. A white robe shining forth from the darkness of the tomb.

Have you ever noticed that you can see the farthest at night? In the daytime the most distant object you can see is the sun – a mere 93 million miles away. But at night your eye takes in countless stars and galaxies that are many light years away. Your vision is greatly improved in the darkness.

So it is with depression. When you are having bright days of happy sunshine, you can’t see too much further than your studies, sports, work, friends, family or possessions. A very small world. But in the darkness of depression you begin to see the glistening vast expanse of God’s love in Christ.

And when you are full of self-loathing and darkness, the love of Christ is all you have. And as it turns out, you don’t have Christ at all until all you have is Christ.

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The Rev. James Winsor is pastor at Risen Christ Lutheran Church in Arvada, Colorado.

Taken from the Spring 2002 edition of Higher Things magazine. You can write Higher Things at P.O. Box 58011, Pleasant Prairie, WI 53158-8011.

Bryan’s Note: This is the second article by Rev. James Winsor that I have selected for He has a very definite ministry to those who struggle. He writes with insight and a real sense of wanting to help– not preach. I hope you will enjoy this and receive the gift he offers. Let me know what you think.


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