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The Fellowship of This Misery

Severe case of Leprosy
“In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Luke 5:12, NLT

Let’s jump right into this passage from Luke 5.  A very sick man desires to become well.  The Bible text reveals that his condition is agonizingly desperate.  His leprosy has advanced; he is covered with it from ‘head-to-toe.’  He is completely infected; he is ‘unclean’ and without hope. There is no treatment for what he has, doctors can do nothing, so he comes to Jesus.

We must emphasize this, the leper has no illusions of wholeness.  He knows it; he doesn’t need to be convinced, or persuaded by anyone else.  It occurs to him, that Jesus the healer (of lepers, and the like) may provide healing, or at the least a morsel of comfort.  This leper approaches the presence of Jesus, with such humility it is almost painful to witness. This man is completely broken; he has no hope, except Jesus.

There is a fellowship of misery–some of us are “card-carrying” members.

Our diseases differ, but they have affected us completely.  Our pain, and our darkness vary.  Some have physical pain, others have a mental illness.  When we meet, there should be a secret handshake or a password. We share a comradeship— we are all part of the same community.  We are a broken club of tired and decidedly unclean misfits.

How do we measure our pain and desperate darkness?  What do we use to measure it? For the most part, our lives have been destroyed. I think we can understand it by looking up at Jesus.  Lying in the dirt, we believe the unbelievable.  Our faith doesn’t activate his healing as much it guides it to our greatest need.  The presence of Jesus drives away the pain.  His love for us echoes into our emptiness. And he wants to do this!  He has come for us. He carries us through this.

I struggle with deep depression and despondency.  I have been on meds for a long time.  But when I come into Jesus’ presence, all this melancholy is driven out. He comes and injects a true hope into my spirit.  Am I a stellar example of perfect discipleship?  I think not.  (My wife could tell you this.)  But isn’t about us becoming “angels”, it’s about us becoming intimate with Jesus.

“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

The leper would be healed by the authority (and touch) of Jesus Christ. What is impossible with men, is possible with God.

“Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared.” (v. 13)

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When Despair Empties You

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“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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His “Irresponsible” Love

“Nothing in the church makes people in the church more angry than grace. It’s ironic: we stumble into a party we weren’t invited to and find the uninvited standing at the door making sure no other uninviteds get in.

Then a strange phenomenon occurs: as soon as we are included in the party because of Jesus’ irresponsible love, we decide to make grace “more responsible” by becoming self-appointed Kingdom Monitors, guarding the kingdom of God, keeping the riffraff out (which, as I understand it, are who the kingdom of God is supposed to include.)” 

— Michael Yaconelli

*****

Often there can be a frustrated hostility simmering just below the veneer of a religious person.  It can be seen in sudden outbursts of irritation that seems to come from nowhere.  It is often encountered when they feel the ‘spigot of grace’ has been open too long, too much water is being used, and the people are getting a little wild in showing their enthusiasm.  “They’re acting like ungodly pagans.”

Regulating the watering hole becomes a compulsion, and a necessary work of the “Church.” Jesus’ love is for all is a confirmed fact, but we must have some standards of decorum and appropriate levels of conduct and respect.  “We the keepers-of-the- spigot are called to take some responsibility in this,” we end up saying.

Celebratory shouts of joy are simply not acceptable.  Dancing in the mud is way ‘out-of-line.’  But there is an outrageous element to grace.  It is preposterous and disturbing.  It is untamed and wild, and not at all logical.  “We definitely prefer the thinking side of our faith,” we say.

Judas rebuked Jesus as he was getting a foot massage from the ungodly woman.  She had no business to be there in the first place.  And secondly, she has just poured this incredible fortune on the feet of Jesus!  Judas said, “way out-of-line!”  But there is a irrepressible love that always pushes its way forward.

For those of us who have first experienced God’s love and grace we must keep an alert out for our hard hearts.  First, He is in charge of how the water is utilized.  Second, [and we MUST believe this] when a man or woman connect with the water, there can be spontaneous displays of joy!

The dance of grace

We must change our thinking, e.g. repent, and insist that we ‘cease and desist’.  Our attitude is not acceptable or true to the Spirit of Christ.  We are the ones way “out-of-line” and we have not been good witnesses about his grace and love.  We had better turn from this sin, and ask Jesus to free us again.

“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  John 8:32

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Creativity– Coloring Outside the Lines

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“So God created human beings in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.”

Genesis 1:27

“Christianity is not about learning how to live within the lines; Christianity is about the joy of coloring.”

— Mike Yaconelli (Dangerous Wonder)

I know that this is not Bible, I have thought a lot about this and I can see no direct biblical correlation.  But my topical Bible lists dozens of occupations requiring giftedness.  And I know deep down that our Father is full of creativity.  He has done things that are exceptionally innovative, he reveals imagination in everything he has created.  Think about a butterfly, or the color purple, or, wonder about a giraffe.  And your house cat is a work of intense beauty and motion that rivals anything found in the Louvre.

When we first begin to color with crayons, we are told that we must color in the boundaries.  Our picture will get taped up on the classroom wall if we can manage this feat.  We become aware that this ability is extrapolated into the different areas of living life.  The desire to be accepted and appreciated squashes anything creative we might do.

Perhaps, these issues that involve us being creative, do need to be stifled or shut down.  I suppose we could make a case out of this.  We definitely as believers should avoid these theatrics, and conform into a homogeneous place of acceptability.  The Japanese have a phrase, “The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.”  But I wonder, why then do we desire to create and imagine things? Why do I want to write, paint, dance, sculpt, sing, and play the guitar?

Each of us carries a deep sense of aesthetics  or what is beautiful.  We instantly understand beauty when we see it.  We stand in front of a Van Gogh in a museum, or before Michelangelo’s’ statue of David.  They collectively undo us.  We step back and take a deep breath.  One becomes gentle in the face of such wonder and beauty. And after all, we create really for “an audience of One.”

Dance of the Joyful Bride
Dance of the Joyful Bride

We were built for creativity and beauty.  It is part of our DNA.  It also means that we have been created in God’s image.  When we pick up our crayons, we are revealing his presence.  When we color, our Father notes what we have done.  Some may see a scrawling.  But they honestly do not matter.  The Father completely understands and is thrilled.

“It’s like you come onto this planet with a crayon box. Now, you may get the 8-pak, or you may get the 16-pak, but it’s all in what you do with the crayons–the colors– that you’re given. Now don’t worry about coloring inside the lines or outside the lines. I say, color outside the lines! Color right off the page!”

Waking Life

I’m of the firm opinion that we need to communicate to our children the wonderful gift of being creative.  We must release them, to imagine and be inspired.  We need to encourage them to use their crayons, even if they color outside the lines.

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Messy Spirituality– Mike Yaconelli

Brokenness never means uselessness

“Messy Spirituality:” A Book Excerpt by Mike Yaconelli

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a godly person. Yet when I look at the yesterdays of my life, what I see, mostly, is a broken, irregular path littered with mistakes and failure. I have had temporary successes and isolated moments of closeness to God, but I long for the continuing presence of Jesus.

Most of the moments of my life seem hopelessly tangled in a web of obligations and distractions. I want to be a good person. I don’t want to fail. I want to learn from my mistakes, rid myself of distractions, and run into the arms of Jesus. Most of the time, however, I feel like I am running away from Jesus into the arms of my own clutteredness. I want desperately to know God better. I want to be consistent. Right now the only consistency in my life is my inconsistency. Who I want to be and who I am are not very close together. I am not doing well at the ‘living-a-consistent-life’ thing.

I don’t want to be St. John of the Cross or Billy Graham. I just want to be remembered as a person who loved God, who served others more than he served himself, who was trying to grow in maturity and stability. I want to have more victories than defeats, yet here I am, almost 60, and I fail on a regular basis.

If I were to die today, I would be nervous about what people would say at my funeral. I would be happy if they said things like “He was a nice guy” or “He was occasionally decent” or “Mike wasn’t as bad as a lot of people. ”Unfortunately, eulogies are delivered by people who know the deceased. I know what the consensus would be.“Mike was a mess.”

You might say Christianity has a tradition of messy spirituality. Messy prophets, messy kings, messy disciples, messy apostles. From God’s people getting in one mess after another in the Old Testament to most of the New Testament’s being written to straighten out messes in the church, the Bible presents a glorious story of a very messy faith. Sounds like you and I are in good company.

A few years ago, I was introduced to a group of uncouth Christians who call themselves “the Notorious Sinners.”  These are men from all walks of life who meet once a year to openly share their messy spirituality with each other. The title ‘Notorious Sinners’ refers to the scandalous category of forgiven sinners whose reputations and ongoing flaws didn’t seem to keep Jesus away.

In fact, Jesus had a habit of collecting disreputables; he called them disciples. He still does. I like people who openly admit their ‘notoriousness’—people who unabashedly confess they are hopelessly flawed and hopelessly forgiven. Graciously, these men invited me to be a part of their group. The ‘Notorious Sinners’ meet yearly at spiritual-retreat centers, where from the moment we arrive, we find ourselves in trouble with the centers’ leadership.

We don’t act like most contemplatives who come to spiritual-retreat centers— reserved, quiet, silently seeking the voice of God. We’re a different kind of contemplative— earthy, boisterous, noisy, and rowdy, tromping around our souls, seeking God, hanging out with a rambunctious Jesus who is looking for a good time in our hearts.

A number of us smoke cigars, about half are recovering alcoholics, and a couple of the men could embarrass a sailor with their language. Two of the ‘Notorious Sinners’ show up on their Harleys, complete with leather pants and leather jackets. I admit I run with a rough crowd—Christians whose discipleship is blatantly real and carelessly passionate, characterized by a brazen godliness. Unafraid to admit their flaws, unintimidated by Christians who deny their own messiness, these guys sometimes look like pagans and other times look like Jesus.

They are spiritual troublemakers, really, which is why they look like Jesus (who was always causing trouble himself ). They are full of mischief, laughter, and boisterous behavior, which is why they look like pagans. Truly messy disciples. The ‘Notorious Sinners’ are definitely a bizarre mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly, living a spirituality which defies simple definitions.

Oh, and they are some of the most spiritual men I know.”

___________________________

Messy Spirituality [Book] by Michael Yaconelli, Karla Yaconelli in Books

$6 online

By Michael Yaconelli, Mike Yaconelli, Karla Yaconelli – Zondervan (2007) – Paperback -192 pages-ISBN 0310277302

I Guess I’m Not a Very Good Christian . . . Do you feel like: I don’t pray enough I don’t read my Bible enough I don’t share my faith enough I don’t love God enough I’m not committed enough I’m not spiritual enough Then this book is for you.

Messy Spirituality was written for the silent majority of us who have been convinced that we just don’t do Christianity right. We spend most of our lives worried about what we don’t do instead of what we have done, focused on our imperfections instead of God’s fondness for the imperfect. Why?

Because we’ve been bombarded with books, tapes, talks, seminars, and movies convincing us that real Christianity is all about perfection. Michael Yaconelli dares to suggest that imperfection, infiniteness, and messiness are, in fact, the earmarks of true Christianity; that real Christianity is messy, erratic, lopsided . . . and gloriously liberating.

What if genuine faith begins with admitting we will never have our act completely together? Maybe messy disciples are exactly the kind of imperfect people Jesus came to earth for and whose company he actually enjoyed–and still enjoys.

If you want to find Jesus today, look for him in the midst of burned-out believers, moral misfits, religious incompetents . . . men and women whose lives are, well, messy.

Messy Spirituality is a strong antidote for the spiritual perfectionism in us all. Here are truths that can cut you loose from the tyranny of ought-to’s and open your eyes to the deep spirituality of being loved, shortcomings and all, by the God who meets you and transforms you in the midst of a messy and unpredictable life.

 PDF File can be found at http://mikeyaconelli.com/yaconelli/words/SelectedYac.pdf

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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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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.

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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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