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The Blessings of a Long Battle, Part 3


From Jonathan Coe’s website at Thank you gracious brother! (I’m so glad you are my friend.)

As I look over the last two posts on the blessings of a long battle, I’m reminded of what the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians about the importance of not being ignorant concerning the schemes of Satan (II Corinthians 2:11). After reading those posts, I realized a word of balance was needed in discussing the relationship of formulaic Christianity to spiritual practices lest the devil distort the truth to his advantage.

Both posts encouraged the believer to move beyond canned formulas to a restful trust in and radical dependence on Christ. A common formula for someone who finds themselves in a protracted struggle with sin, weakness, or some thorn in the flesh is “Read the Bible, pray, and attend church and that will solve your problem.”

These are wonderful spiritual practices but the problem is that people begin to trust in the formula more than the Person who can heal their inner leper. The formula can become a religious idol.

The biblical view of spiritual practices (prayer, Scripture study, church attendance, fellowship, fasting, meditation, and the sacraments) is that they are both avenues of renewal and bridges to intimacy with the Living God. They are sacramental; they are a means of grace.

Christ is the Vine; we are the branches. One of the primary ways that the branches stay connected to the Vine is through spiritual practices. That is how we abide in him and apart from abiding in him, we can do nothing.

This next part is crucial, and, if you only get one thing out of this post, this is it: when the believer gets frustrated enough to forsake impotent formulas, the devil’s primary agenda then is to get that person to forsake authentic, life–giving spiritual practices too.

That’s why the Christian should ask for wisdom every day so that he or she can tell the difference between the two. Satan is more than happy to allow us to forsake the false as long as we don’t replace it with the real.

It’s part of the human condition that, in our anger and frustration, we often throw out the wheat with the chaff. And a person who is involved in a long, difficult battle is going to need all the grace–filled spiritual practices they have time for!

I’m convinced that when the devil sees a believer, who is involved in a long battle, leave anemic formulas and begin to become engaged in regular, soul–nourishing spiritual practices, it fills him with uncontrollable rage. He will come to that Christian with many false voices in an effort to separate the branch from the Vine. Here’s a small sampling:

  • “ You tried this religious stuff before and you still have the same addiction/weakness/problem. What makes you think it’s going to work this time?”
  • “If you have your quiet time with God in the morning when you don’t feel like it, you’re being a phony. You should only do it when you feel like it.”
  • “If your quiet time with God becomes a regular thing, it will become a dead religious ritual. You don’t want to become legalistic. Keep things spontaneous. Just do it when your heart moves you to do it.”
  • “Regular spiritual practices aren’t the real you. You can find God in every day life without them in a way that fits your personality.”
  • “You’re a person of action not of contemplation. You get things done without all this navel–gazing and spiritual stuff.”

These are just a few plays out of the devil’s playbook. May God give us the discernment to recognize his voice and the wisdom to reject his counsel.

Reposted from Thank you Jonathan for your great teaching.

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How Things Happen


31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

Matthew 13:31-33, ESV

These are perhaps the three most potent verses in the entire Bible. And whenever you find “potency” you will find a strong possibility of exponential growth. It may be a steady synergy, or an explosive fission. Either way, it’s going to grow!

Both the seed and the yeast have so much in common. They are two sides of the same proverbial coin. And they represent explosive growth. If they are unleashed, watch out! They are both “pep and power” and now set loose they will take off.

The seed is put in the ground and the yeast in the flour. And the farmer and the baker both do their initial work of planting or kneading, and then they just stand back, their work is pretty much done. They now just let “nature” take its course.

These parables Jesus taught here are small— but hardly less significant because of their brevity. These two can bury you with all they imply and mean. When we think clearly about yeast in your cupboard and that single seed in its package, we should see the “life” that resides in them, and the potential that waits.

I think much about the Church. At times, I admit I get frustrated with it. I get judgmental, and fearful that it won’t survive into the next century.  I truly understand that I can be critical. At times my friends must deal with my “ugliness,” but still they put up with me. (They are true friends.)

The kingdom is growing, and advancing. I love the wonderful promise in Isaiah 9:6, (usually read at Christmas time only. A mistake.) But Isaiah 9:7 is also pretty amazing too,

“His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen!”

Let it grow, let it grow! 


ybic, Bryan

kyrie elesion.

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When Despair Empties You


“It is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of Heaven.”  

Acts 14:22

As a broken believer this happens. I breakdown, my faith is questioned, and I feel all alone. Issues like a simple hot shower and eating something seem impossible. I’m embarrassed to say I once went 34 days with a shower. I laid in bed unable to function. That is the insidious truth about chronic depression, I know it well. God seems far, far away from me. Life doesn’t matter anymore.

There is much I can do before  it gets to this point. And although life seems insurmountable. Clinical depression kills people. It slowly devours “a sound mind.” It cripples before it takes away your life. There is nothing quite like it; people tell you it will pass, and that you’ll see the sun again. But at the time that seems to be the worst advice ever given.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

2 Timothy 1:7

Meds help a lot. I take Zoloft and that is a godsend. I never miss a dose. I know I’m not bulletproof. I’ve taken it for several years now. (It’s like insulin for a diabetic).

Afflicted souls are special to God. And that truly comforts me. Sometimes it seems like there is an invisible tether that holds from completely dropping off the edge. When I do pray, it is desperate and brief. More like a quiet scream for help. There are no frills and no eloquence, but I know I’m being heard by Him who guards my soul.

People for the most part, are of little help. I admit that my attitude can be less than stellar. “Unless you have been lost in this section of hell yourself, it’s best if you just shut up.” (I don’t really say this, but I’m tempted to.)

But there are a few that can speak. Almost always these are the ones who have been through some affliction themselves. They have been hurt and they ‘walk with a limp.’ I’m convinced that they can speak in direct proportion to the pain they themselves have suffered. I once woke up to another pastor praying prostrate on my bedroom floor. He didn’t have to do or say anything else. He left without saying some ‘pious’ word to me, what he did was wonderfully done.

“I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain.”   

John Henry Newman

Take care of yourself. If this isn’t your first major depression, prepare in advance spiritually for the next. Identify those ‘dear-hearts’ who can help you in advance. Keep taking your meds, even if you think your o.k. And speak often with the Lord, and learn to listen to His voice. That “sound mind” is a promise for those who truly need it.

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Hey! It’s Christmas Day!

“This Gospel anticipates a world far different from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia,where it is “always winter, and never Christmas.” But the promise of the Gospel is that it is always Christmas. To be “in Christ” is to enjoy each morning as a Christmas morning with the family of God, celebrating the gift of God around the tree of life.”

–Kevin Van Hoozer

Christmas can be a torment and tribulation for so many. I have no doubt it brings grief. Family, friends, finances– mixed liberally with heavy doses of materialism and manipulation will always bring us issues.  The music and decorations are mostly mere Novocaine (which doesn’t always work). Stress builds up. And we want none of that.

Being mentally or physically ill often accentuates these issues. I’m not sure why exactly, but suicide increases during this season. Perhaps the challenges Christmas brings just overwhelm a person who is struggling hard just to make it.

“Christmas is for children. But it is for grown-ups too. Even if it is a headache, a chore, and a nightmare, it is a period of necessary defrosting of chilled hidebound hearts.”  

–Lenora Mattingly Weber

As I think about Christmas, it is helpful for me to see it as a “mirror.” It is my reflection back to me. What we see, is who we are. If we have issues in our own life, the Season will just magnify them.  But this doesn’t mean its bad, far from it. There is always conflict, but this spiritual combat can bring us success. Some things must be fought for.

I’m convinced that in all of this, there is opportunity.  The chance to connect to “Christmas”. The very idea is quite strange.  But Christmas can be an exquisite treat.  It is made by mixing love and truth in generous portions. As we look hard for it, there is something that moves us to a place far beyond us. Grace makes us to stand and look, perhaps for the first time.

When we truly process this, we’ll find “Christmas”. And honestly, it is more than a holiday. For the Christian, it is special time. And yes, there will be times when it may be trying, but I cannot think Christmas has become a time of great joy and anticipation.

It won’t take much, maybe a little imagination on your part. But those things you do may ignite and become a blaze that will direct them through their lives. Be kinder then you need to.

“The universal joy of Christmas is certainly wonderful. We ring the bells when princes are born, or toll a mournful dirge when great men pass away. Nations have their red-letter days, their carnivals and festivals, but once in the year and only once, the whole world stands still to celebrate the advent of a life. Only Jesus of Nazareth claims this world-wide, undying remembrance. You cannot cut Christmas out of the Calendar, nor out of the heart of the world.”   


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A Cross That Amuses Us

“If I see aright, the cross of popular evangelicalism is not the cross of the New Testament. It is, rather, a new bright ornament upon the bosom of a self-assured and carnal Christianity. The old cross slew men, the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it.”

–AW Tozer

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

Matthew 16:24, CSV



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Braided Up With God


Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

Isaiah 40:31, NASB


The particular word “wait” is not a passive word. It does not mean ‘ to be passive or apathetic.’ Sometimes we wait in line at the grocery store; we think we push a pause button until our turn comes up. But this doesn’t define this word at all.

The Hebrew word used in v. 31 is ‘kawvah’ which means, ‘to bind together by twisting.’ It sometimes will mean, ‘to braid.’

An interesting word picture, isn’t it. If we only take the English idea of waiting, and turn it into ‘a delay’ or ‘a ‘stand-by sort of status’ we lose out on what ‘wait’ is really. I believe the Holy Spirit wants to teach this idea of becoming ‘braided with God.’ All too often we are limited by the English word (which is almost, but not quite) what the Lord is doing.

For those of us who are ill— physically or mentally, to be told simply “wait on the Lord” can be frustrating. Often, we will sort of resent this counsel because we misunderstand what it means to really ‘wait.’

Yet when I truly wait on God, I’m entwining myself around Him. He becomes my strength; He is my strong cord that I become braided to. Very often this is how He imparts strength and might to His people.

This promise in Isaiah talks about new strength, eagle’s wings, and stamina. This verse is truly for us today. We need this kind of strength now. I only want to encourage you in your own prayer time, to see yourself intertwined  around the Lord, and to see yourself bound to His great strength.

‘Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’

Isaiah 41:10

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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