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Sandblasted Saints

“Behold, I am doing a new thing;
   now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.”  

Isa. 43:19, ESV

There is nothing that will increase your strength and your character like the wilderness does. It is God’s gym; he works you out on his equipment.  Good things will happen to all who will work-out. The desert becomes a place of separation and resolve. It is not for the faint of heart.

This spiritual geography is also the launching pad for ministries: for Jesus’ public ministry was 40 days in the wilderness — the training for Moses’ powerful leadership of God’s people was 40 years in the desert — and maybe why you are serving your time in the wilderness, right now.  It has to be.  It is your place for this moment.

“In the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.'”

Deut. 1:31, ESV

Once in the desert, the Father keeps an “ultra-close-eye” on all his children. 

At times of strenuous activity/emotion–he comes and then he carries us.  He is exceedingly gentle, and he knows precisely what we need, and he sure doesn’t stint on his grace–he pours it out lavishly.

If you’re in the desert, know that your God is on duty.  Nothing that comes to you sneaks past His alert observation and consent.  (And after all, if you think about it, the wilderness is His as well.)

We seem to always be on the anvil; in the wilderness where God is shaping us for higher things. But, by faith, it is a rich place to be.

“To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness, is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment nonetheless. Even in the wilderness – especially in the wilderness – you shall love him.”

Frederick Buechner

ybic, Bryan

kyrie eleison. (Lord, have mercy)



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Leaving a Wilderness [w/ A Lot of Help]

Stranded by Snow
The bitter cold was intense in the car.

“Who is this coming up from the wilderness,
      Leaning upon her beloved?”  

Song of Solomon 8:5


Once while stranded in the Alaskan wilderness I almost froze to death.  It was cold, 20 F below zero.

About 30 years ago, a friend and I felt directed to bring in Bibles and discipleship materials into the village of Minto, very near the Arctic Circle.  We were driving in a little red Datsun through about eight inches of snow late at night. Suddenly, the car just quit running.  We looked at each other, and we started to assess our situation. No cell phone, on a very remote road with no heat.  We both knew that unless God made a direct intervention, we would never survive the intense cold.  We prayed, and waited and thought. We had to fight the panic.

There is a wilderness we all must traverse.  It can be as difficult and extreme as an Arctic landscape.  The Shulamite girl in Song of Solomon knew this terrain.  It is a desperate place to be.  This world is a bitter place, and provides little in the way of solace and comfort.  We are called to be “pilgrims and strangers,” making this journey of faith to a heavenly city.

The opening verse has witnesses or observers making a declaration.  They seem to be shocked, and amazed by what they see.  The Shulamite girl was spotted, making her way, slowly threading her way up from the wastelands.  The path has been difficult, it would’ve been easier to quit.  It has taken everything she could muster up.

But the crescendo in this verse is the declaration, “she is coming up…leaning on her beloved.”  She found the help she had to have, at the side of One who loved and beloved.  He had come, at just the right time to lift her up and lead her out her extremity.  She has found that He is her strength.  It is He who has come to deliver her.  The verse suggests that it is the bridegroom that is the determining factor.

His presence changes everything.

We were miraculously rescued after about 20 hours.  How we survived in that frigid isolation is beyond me.  Freezing to death was truly imminent.  I remember squeezing through the car window when it became first light.  The snow had completely covered the car, and as I surveyed our surroundings, I remember thinking how desolate it was.  We had stalled on a high ridge, and it seemed like the loneliest and most isolated place on Earth.

This afternoon I sat out on my deck, looking and thinking.  This verse entered my brain like a bullet.  Walking with Jesus through my wilderness has challenged and wearied.  I have fallen more times then I can count.  Each time I have picked myself up.  Do you know why? Because when I’m with Jesus, I know I will be fine.




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Let Him Take All [Love]

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Matt. 22:37-39

Love is the ultimate response God is looking for from us.  It is the currency of Heaven.  The Kingdom’s economy is ‘the gold standard’ of love.  It’s the way business gets done in eternity.  Love! Without love ruling our lives now, we will arrive there as paupers and beggars. We will disobey Jesus.

God is our primary target to love.  And the quality of it can be appreciated from its ‘source point’.  Heart.  Soul.  Mind.  These are the starting places for our affection.  The caliber of our worship is summed up by the word, “all.”  That word has a totality, and a significance to it.  It further intensifies love to the only acceptable place. Love indeed is the perfect “make-up.” We’re never more beautiful then when we love God or another person.

As disciples who are indeed flawed and broken, we can still find a place where we can minister from.  I can’t do a lot anymore, but I can love.  Loving God is something I can do, even with my issues. I can always love. I can always give my all, my heart to someone else. I can always love!

And actually, this disability strips my discipleship to a simpler and basic level.  At the “lowest common denominator”  my faith is still valid and vital.  I love Jesus, even when I can’t be a senior pastor  or teach at my Bible School anymore. I accept this. I can even rejoice in this new “inadequacy.”

Loving Him and following Him can be done, even with a limp.

Several years ago I sat waiting for my bus at King’s Cross in London, England.  I was all alone, and felt it. There was a strong sense of brokenness and I was aware of my disability.  I was coming a bit unglued by the enormity of my mental illness. I sat staring at the floor just in front of me.  I could do nothing else.

But  in my field of vision, just in front of me, hopped a bird with a crippled foot.  Something had damaged him.  The thing that profoundly spoke to me was that bird was not at all devastated, not at all.  And the Lord spoke to me about that bird, and His comfort pumped through my veins.  I felt I was right where I was supposed to be.  I had become the ‘broken’ sparrow, and I could still follow. Maybe, even better now, because of my ‘limp’.

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Pouring Oil on the Waves (Peace)

“Storm Warning”

“…And through him God reconciled everything to himself.  He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.”

Colossians 1:20, NLT

Jesus has brought a complete peace into God’s world. Everything is now reconciled, taken care of by what Jesus has done. The precise word is “shalom.” It has within it the idea of ‘wholeness, or healthiness.’ It is in a general sense, being ‘made whole or complete.’ This present ‘sickness’ has become obsolete. That is our message.

There is no room really for any “peace” without completeness, it just isn’t possible. The “peace” that the Bible teaches is far more comprehensive, and total. The word in Hebrew, has a strong attachment to health, harmony and prosperity. It has the sense of being well, with the complete absence of turmoil or conflict.

“And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.”

Isaiah 9:6-7, NLT

Peace is more than a snazzy marketing approach. At its basic sense it is what He fully intends for the “peoples of the earth.” But this all comes to us with a price. In Isaiah 53:5, (ESV)

“But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.”

The brutalization of Jesus had a purpose. He “brought us peace.” And we needed peace, desperately. But, oh, the cost!

In ancient times, sailors in a nasty tempest, would pray to their gods, and then pour oil on the waves. They believed the oil, poured out in barrels would settle the violent seas. (I suppose they figured the viscosity of the oil on the waves, would give them some time to manage their ship.)

Today, we know that it doesn’t work this way. Our storms however, are just as bitter, and challenging. Things get so tumultuous, and savagely extreme. But somehow, we want to pour God’s peace on our awful storm. Inherently we know that His peaceful presence can restore some sanity on our crazy lives.

Jesus is “the Prince of Peace.” We look right at Him when things get so ugly. He has come to do this. He is God’s solution to our sad conflict. He brings the oil, for our storm.

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A Spellbound Captive of the Night


“We are all infected and impure with sin.
      When we display our righteous deeds,
      they are nothing but filthy rags.
   Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall,
      and our sins sweep us away like the wind.”

Isaiah 64:6, NLT

There are bad things that happen to us— the ugly, awful and rigorous things, that only God himself can explain.  We read theology and we read our Bibles, we listen dutifully to preachers but we still approach the throne of Jesus more mystified than anything else.

We are seem to be playing ‘ping-pong’ with the most challenging  issues.  We come to Him, because there is no one left who can answer things that have perplexed everyone else.  Why do we suffer?  Why does evil exist?  Why do people who live in blatant sin, succeed?  Why am I sick all the time?

If God is really God, why doesn’t he just give us an explanation about these questions?  Our title talks about being “spellbound.”  Are we really that inured, or attached with a sinister evil?  To be spellbound means we are being confused, drugged or hypnotised by something quite awful.  A cobra rises up, and opens its “hood.”  Its victim is entranced by what it sees in front-of-it.  He soon becomes supper.

Being held captive is a ordinary occurance for human beings.  Captivity brings us imprisonment.  Usually in a dark, dirty and unpleasant place.  But yet, it intrigues us so much, and the “light” is such a boring and dull thing.  We feel great as we trade the truth for lies.  But what a deal we reason; “step right up, and exchange it for the lie!”

 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

Ephesians 2:1-3, ESV

From this new and fresh influence we come under the control and will of ‘the dark side’.  (And this is not merely “Star Wars‘ mythos.  It is very much real.)  We gradually give ourselves over, in a reasonably predictable pattern.  We think we are pretty much unique in this, but the truth is that we are pretty much ordinary. Sin never enhances us. Don’t believe the lie.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”

John 3:19

There comes a point when there is enough momentum and weight, that it creates an avalanche. At this point things have gotten desperately grim.  From a human standpoint, there will be no way to avert the inevitable.  Sin will roll over you, blasting into your life, and worst of all into the hearts of your family.  In a stark way— things get very dark, very fast.

Sin will always enslave.  It will turn on you and rock your world. 

But we are so entranced by what it wants to give us.  It looks so good…one could call it “self-actualizing.”  (Maybe even “liberating!”)  But in one of the many purposes of the Old Testament, is to clarify what happens in people’s hearts when we step down and let the sin and confusion take over.  You could say, that there will be pleasure for a brief season, but  it will always have a very savagely grim and a black conclusion. ”For the wages of sin is death.”

“If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will then we may take that it is worth paying.”  

–C.S. Lewis

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When the Storms Rage On and On

He takes charge

 “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

Deut. 31:8, NLT

You can go to the British Museum in London, England and view old nautical charts that were made in the early 1500s. Written on them are things like, “Here be fiery scorpions” and “Here be giants” or the classic, “Here be dragons.” These notations were written I suppose, to discourage any kind of exploration.

At this early point a man named, Sir John Franklin wrote on each map, “Here is God.” His sincerity was well noted– and it strengthened the sailors, and helped them to trust in a discovery that would lead to salvation for many.

35 “As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.”

Mark 4:35-37

Jesus, all of a sudden stands up. He declares we must go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. (He says, “Lake.” But this is not a lake.) It is the storm. It rips over the disciples. It confuses them, and causes fear.

There is enough waves, that the disciples (trained fisherman) begin to wonder why their world is “falling apart.” They realize they are in deep trouble, and I suppose many “crossed” themselves and prepared to die. Everything is now lost.

The certainty of death approaching can be quite sobering. It clarifies so much. If you’ve been at this “threshold,” you will understand what I am saying.

“But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” 39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.”

Mark 4:38-39

Where is Jesus? There He is, sleeping on a pillow. How can He sleep, when the world is going to end? They wake up Jesus, and pointedly ask Him, “Don’t you even care? We are at the very point of death!

Shaking off His slumber, Jesus stands. He looks at the vicious waves, and then announces, “Be at peace, be still.” Immediately the storm ‘shuts down.’ There is no reluctance, no hesitation. The waves become calm and subdued, instantly.

Jesus turns, He focuses on His own disciples. “Why did you doubt?”  He asks. And they can say nothing. “Where is your faith?” And they can say nothing. They are overwhelmed at the authority of Jesus.  They dare not offer anything that may confuse others who will encounter Jesus.

Confusion rules when desperation is present. But yet this is not true, confusion will enter in, when everything we see is impossible. We take a look at Jesus, and we see and discover His power and significance. Rightly so, He overwhelms us, and He takes us apart.

The disciples should have realized the strength of Jesus. He was so very tired. Yet He told His followers that He would bring to the opposite side of the lake. Being in the middle of the lake is not a factor.

Our lives should be focused on Jesus leading us through. He is in our small boat, and yet we struggle with our waves. They cripple us and completely dismantles us, the intense waves are breaking over us. But we should never determine that life will work without His presence.

We won’t always travel through calm waters. There will be definite times when we approach peace and confidence. Dangers that will visit us are not in our proximity. We are His children. We must bring our souls to rest. Amazingly, He does love us. We are His property and must believe that we belong to Him, He will bring us all the way home.

Never, ever doubt His deep love for your soul.

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The Giant Mocks Us

Painting by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1616
From 1 Samuel 17

Young David stood and looked at Goliath face-to-face.  Physically there was hardly a comparison.  Goliath was almost 10 feet tall, a warrior since birth, armed to the teeth, we read of his armor–he was like a human tank.  David was nothing,  a pesky boy, nothing more.  Goliath preened and strutted into the field of battle, and David was stepping up for his first try.

Goliath begins to blaspheme.  He boasts and mocks.  In his mind he is superior.  His arrogance knows no bounds.  The center of the universe is the Philistine army, and he is their champion.  Nothing can compare, the glory is his.

“As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him.  Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground”.

1 Sam. 17:48

 Goliath is a ‘human wood chipper.’  Everyone who has faced him has been destroyed.  There have been no survivors to speak of. But I find David to be powerfully exceptional.  His reaction to the ‘human mountain’ of Goliath was to run directly at him.  This is an astonishing faith.

Many of us face a giant called “despair”.

He has marched out on the field of battle confident of his ultimate triumph over us.  We have been tutored that there are enemies that can destroy us.  We’ve been indoctrinated to accept the inevitable slavery with a spirit of meekness.

The concept and milieu of going to war has not been something that didn’t get passed on to us.  The ‘enemy-giant’ of despair is real and brutal.  Our destruction is inevitable in his mind.  Despair believes he will destroy us.  Its just a matter of time.

So many believers, cowed and intimidated, surrender to the boastings of the giant Despair.  Hope, and faith are drained out of our being, and we become a empty spiritual shell.  The “warfare” dimension gets nullified, and soon irrelevant.  Despair reaches us and has the full intention of taking total control.

David ran to the battle.  He passed through the dark intimidation and influence to approach Goliath.  There was no passiveness or doubt to cloud his mind.  David took a spiritually aggressive position, he took on the confusion, and then ran directly at the giant Goliath.  His spirit was untouchable.

As believers, we struggle and David and Goliathpout.  We turn our hearts over to despair.  We become available to the enemies workings.  And the confidence we might have through faith is dissipated into doubt and confusion.  But the victory we have in Christ allows us the liberty, through the Blood of Him who defeats our own goliath of despair.

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