Battle Scars

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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. 

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Kyrie eleison, Bryan

(Lord, have mercy.)

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English Pigeons

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”

Psalm 32:8

In April 2002, I was sitting in this cavernous waiting room at King’s Cross in London, England.  I was waiting for a bus to Cambridge, UK.  I sat all alone, and stared at the tiled floor at my feet.  The doctors had warned me not to travel alone, but I had disregarded their restrictions.  I was taking several psych meds and felt somewhat stronger than I had in months.

As I sat there staring at the floor, within my field of vision, came several pigeons.  They were fat little guys, apparently thriving on bread thrown out to them.  Several very large windows were open, and these pigeons seem to have no fear as they took advantage of a meal from bored travelers.  I remember their audacity and resourcefulness as they came up just a couple of feet  from my chair.

Depression had followed me like an old friend all the way from Alaska to England. I had pushed my limits and was completely drained and quite confused.  I was crying out to the Lord, very desperately.  All of a sudden, a pigeon came across the floor and “presented” himself, right square in front of me.  I was amazed that he was crippled, one of his feet was a twisted claw.  He had been profoundly injured in such a way, that he would never be the same.  He was damaged, and yet somehow he survived.

It was like receiving a lightning bolt.  I understood for the first time in a long time, the Father’s love and care over me.  I saw the pigeon, and I saw myself.  It was a moment of a reassuring grace.  In the ‘mega-hustle’ of 13,614,409 people in London, and in the midst of my profound mental crisis, I knew God’s caring touch.  A grace much greater than all my sin and confusion. He was just letting me know that He was close.

Later that day, I found myself walking the streets of a busy Cambridge with its great universities.  I was all by myself, and I had gotten hopelessly lost.  I was terribly manic, and my meds just couldn’t keep the lid on.  I felt people staring at me, I was talking out loud to myself, disheveled and thoroughly confused.  I just kept wandering and talking, for hours.  I desperately needed psychiatric shelter.  But I was all alone. I knew no one at all.

I kept walking past the many universities, and churches.  They were very beautiful, but I was lost.  I then remembered the damaged pigeon, completely oblivious to self pity. I started to call out to the Father out of my confusion.  Within a few minutes I found myself sitting on the top level of a double-decker bus, with the driver aware of my problems who specifically guided me to the place I was staying.  I was being cared for. I think he was an angel sent to my aid.

I have come to realize that this trip to England was not for me to see Big Ben, Parliament or wander the academic centers of Cambridge University.  Rather I was brought there to meet a certain pigeon, who was waiting to meet me, and pass on vital instructions.  He shared things that I need to know.  The history and landmarks were nice, but I’ve forgotten much.  But all I really needed was somehow given.

P.S.  Two things:

  1.  If you can avoid it, don’t travel alone.

  2. Never call pigeons, “rats, with wings.”

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The Curious Case of Being Job

XIR84999 Job (oil on canvas) by Bonnat, Leon Joseph Florentin (1833-1922) oil on canvas Musee Bonnat, Bayonne, France Lauros / Giraudon French, out of copyright
Image by Bonnat, Leon Joseph Florentin (1833-1922) Musee Bonnat, Bayonne, France French, out of copyright

One of the most intriguing characters in the Bible is Job. Tempted and accused, ignored and maligned– he maintained a faith in God’s goodness when hell wanted to destroy him.

His goodness should not be questioned oe diminished.

“In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.”

Job 1:1

Job becomes an oblivious participant in a cosmic exchange. God and Satan lock horns over Job’s faithfulness. God is sure of his love, while the Adversary thinks Job will fold when repeatedly tempted. But keep in mind, Job hasn’t a clue of who or why. He has to deal with life that is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Job will soon become intimate with pain and suffering.

“Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who God, and shuns evil.”

Job 1:8

Satan is like a pit bull. And God has pointed out the character of Job, and what an enticing “meal” he would make. It’s a bit like slathering bacon grease on him and turning him over to the nearest pack of wolves. Satan now pursues his prey.

Again, Job is completely unaware of this contest. No one has bothered to consult him directly about this. Job knows nothing about this ”wager.” And it’s hard to be kept in the dark. I contend that had Job  known what was going on, this all would’ve been far easier. However, everything would be “unscripted” and  Job would suffer in complete ignorance. And that is doubly hard.

“At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”

Job 1:20-22

But there was no sin! Job will not travel down that road. Yet he loses everything– all of it. And things are going to get even worse for him. He will be visited by three “friends.” However, they won’t help him. They will only make things worse.

The life of Job, and the “total war” on his soul must be our consideration and our precedent to order our lives.

The pain of Job should become the blackboard where we practice our figures. In the New Testament book of James, (5:11) we are told to think about Job. And in our deliberations, to consider the compassion and mercy of God. Ironic, in some wild cosmic way, our trials of faith are significant.

We should realize that if you or I are going to come out clean in this, we will need to emulate the faith of Job. I think that this what James meant in 5:10-11. We understand that Jesus absorbed all our sin and pain, completely. When we see that, we can come through just about any nastiness. It won’t make the trials any easier, but it will frame the full goodness of God.

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The Art of Offending Jesus

SIN_KILLS_SIGN Our actions can bless God, and others immensely. We really have no idea that we have such power in our grasp. But we do say and do things that do alter the realities of those who are trying desperately to draw close to Him. We like to be unattached from these very real things. We suppose that it is a “no-brainer,” we will always avoid any complications or entanglements, about our behavior.

However, reality is much more “unforgiving” then we imagine. How we conduct ourselves is certain, and is significant. Honestly, when we become believers and are added to His church, can we honestly behave worse than we were before our salvation from sin?

I’m afraid salvation from sin means “turning off the faucet.” We can’t avoid this, it will determine what kind of a Christian we are. What do we do? Do we continue to sin? “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?”

Romans 6:1-2, NLT

I’m truly convinced of this. Our decision to keep enjoying sin is disturbing. Our “death” in this case, has never happened. We have died to nothing, and remain untouched by the Gospel. We become just inoculated enough to make us believe that we are “ok.” Our lives keep moving, and we will never consider that we have made these wrong adjustments.11831809_417345445125926_2957479398676821867_n

Are we not “offending Jesus Christ” by not dying to our own sins? If we have pretty much remained the same kind of people, then it is very likely we have. Our enjoyment of sin indicates our real allegiance that we will have when “push comes to shove.” It really seems that we must shake off the old way before we can put on the new.

I simply suggest that you liaten to the Spirit as you make your choices.

Let him accompany you and show you what offends. I only speak boldly, because it matters more than you realize.

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The Art of Begging

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Jesus looked at his followers and said,
    “You people who are poor are blessed,
      because the kingdom of God belongs to you”.

Luke 6:20, NCV

It is an astonishing thing, to have Jesus look at you.

His steady, focused gaze is transformational, He sees me, and in this huge mass of people Jesus has picked me!  It’s like He takes His ‘spiritual highlighter’ and sets me apart from everyone else.  Amazing grace!

But this really isn’t arrogance, or even wishful thinking.  We’ve been selected to be the special ones, not so much in an elite way, but in a way that glorifies only Him.  Scripture emphasizes this by stating ‘the weak are chosen’.  As I stood in this teeming crowd, I was surrounded by some very attractive and muscular people.  They preened and postured, but that wasn’t what He was looking for.  When He saw me, He stopped, and then He picked me out of the crowd.

Those who have been ‘chosen’ are definitely not superhero material.  We are the weak, and blind, and very foolish.  There is ‘zero attractiveness’.  In the classroom, we are the nerdiest of nerds.  (We are nerdisimos.)  In the spirit, we have a ‘less than zero’ rating.  In a sense, we’re not even remotely ‘the right stuff’, we are so pathetic.

Every once in a while, we find someone that seems to have figured out how to put it together.  Then often we go ahead and put our ‘mark’ on that person and then become loyal followers.  But if we extend ourselves to hear the Spirit (who by the way, is very easily heard) we find that our choice is a Saul, and not a David.  In other words, he is very close but is disqualified.

We are Christians because Jesus chose us.  We come into His presence because He left the doors open for us to squeeze in.  We enter in because Jesus has been ‘bled out’ for us.  Everything was drained when He died.  He stepped into our ‘nightmare’ to allow us to escape into the light.  Without His presence, we would decay into a dark and perpetual night.

And now He stands directly in front of us.  He looks (it seems He is always looking) and says something to us that is strange. ‘Those who are poor will become those who are very, very ‘blessed’.  Quite strange and bizarre.  Like the guy sitting on mass transit right next to you, who is talking to himself!  He simply doesn’t mesh with what is real.  He has lost touch with reality.

The kingdom is up for grabs!  Anyone can snatch it and bring home something substantial.  Poor people, those who are at the level ‘of very little account’ have been moved ahead in the line, right up to the front.  Suddenly, those in the back become envious.  This envy becomes jealousy and then rebellion.  But it changes nothing.

The ‘poor in spirit’ have just inherited the Kingdom of God.  It has become theirs and it won’t be something that can be overturned.  The ‘ultimate’ has become fully available to the ‘least’.  Those out there who are starving, will be those who get the most.

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Bethesda, 31 A.D.

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“Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches.One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him,“Would you like to get well?”

“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”

Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”

Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! But this miracle happened on the Sabbath,

John 5:1-9, NLT

We were following Jesus and He led us to the pool of Bethesda. A crowd gathered quickly, but I jostled myself right up front. We stood waiting, we pretty much knew something big was going to happen. And it did. I can never be the same, after what I saw. This is my simple story.

So much was happening, and as I watched I realized that so much escapes me. I can’t take it all in. But when I decide to watch Jesus, I quickly become aware of what is important, what is real. It starts to make sense. The chaos of the moment becomes calm. At least it does when He takes charge.

There were hundreds of sick people camped out. They are laying under the roofs, with their thin mats. The smell alone was really bad, all were unwashed and some with putrid and festering sores. Dirty bandages are used over and over, and shared with all. And I suppose all of them are hungry, but they are at least able to drink from the pool. (What more did they really need?)

Finally, all are watching Jesus, they become quiet wondering what He will say. We’re all pretty curious. We see Jesus as He walks directly into this ugly field of suffering people. He doesn’t hesitate or flinch. He seems almost like He is at home.

Oh my! Just to have a religious teacher visit Bethesda is rare. They never come. And today is the Sabbath (and a special feast day at that) and that alone makes it impossible. And yet Jesus is here, and that somehow is wonderful.

Jesus stops to talk with a man who is an ‘old-timer’ here. Someone behind me mentioned that he had been sitting here for almost 40 years, and that is a long, long time. Jesus speaks. Everyone listens. “Do you want to get well?” And of course, some groan and mutter– “of course he does!” But Jesus waits quietly.

“Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.” The man explains. He has an excuse that seems like a reason. Nothing has ever gone right– ‘I always miss out, and I can’t find anyone to help me.’ And I suppose that this is the world of the blind, the crippled, the paralyzed in Israel. They are confined to Bethesda, with the weak hope of finally being healed. I don’t think that this is how it was meant to work.

This man was horribly discouraged.  It was then Jesus said, “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” And this very crippled man was healed on the spot. No ‘hocus-pocus’, no incantations, no magic dust or rubbing of sacred bones. Nothing. He was healed by a few spoken words.

I cannot emphasize my own astonishment enough. It shook all of us to the core. We were all stunned, and undone. The crowds, and all the sick and the paralyzed just stopped and stared. There are so few moments in life, just like this. We just looked at each other sort of stunned.

The ramifications of what we all had witnessed were staggering. Shocked, we turned to each other, and a great fear fell on us like a heavy blanket. The crowd did not disperse, we were completely shocked, and pretty much speechless.

For years that sense of awe has never left me. I don’t really listen to the scorners anymore– they simply have no idea. I heard that some of His disciples wrote about what we saw that day. It completely changed my life. I was never the same after that.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

Luke 19:10, NLT

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kyrie elesion, Bryan

(Lord, have mercy on us.)
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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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