“Saying YES to the dress”

Recently while serving as the parish Priest / Pastor of St. Margaret’s in Conway NH, I discussed the words of St. Paul in Colossians 3 regarding how to experience a ‘spiritual makeover’.

My wife and family loved watching the popular series “Say Yes to the Dress” (TLC cable) and despite my boredom with the topic and idea in general, I often watched along with the rest as drama after drama was displayed on the screen. Tears, fears, and frustrations were all put on vivid display as family after family struggled to agree on the best dress for each new bride to be. 

The process of trying on and shrugging off each new possible dress was agonizingly slow for me to watch, but the reactions from everyone involved was remarkably riveting. The expectations were so high for each new bride to find her ‘perfect’ fit and form, for her special – once in a lifetime – day.

So to the Kingdom of God and His bride the church. We are being asked to find our best fitting attire for our special day! Paul writes to the church at Colosse in chapter three to say these words….

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry…. 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. “(ESV – Biblegateway.com) 

The language here is reminiscent of the idea of taking off “old” clothing and putting on “new” garments. The removal of the past and the putting on of the future, a metaphor for the Christian experience of ‘New Life’ in Christ.

Paul’s writing to the local church (ecclesia) to actively remove the old, and actively put on the new postures and traits of Christ. It’s more than an act of our wills though. God has given us the ‘capacity’ to act differently in the presence of the Holy Spirit. We are no longer stuck in our past habits and passions, instead we’ve been given a newness of life from the inside out.

The Christian has the ability to say ‘no’ to the old ways of our flesh, and say ‘yes’ to the new and Holy ways of Christ. It’s more than a change of attitude, it’s a change in our altitude. 

God’s life within us, begins to transform us from the innermost part of our hearts to our minds and will. The more time we spend in the presence of God and His people, the stronger the seed will grow, the less time we spend… the more dormant it will become.

When we look at the overall changes in our lives, and the significant movements from who we were… it’s encouraging. If we only focus on the tedious struggles of the here and now, we can get discouraged into believing we’re not really any different now than when we started this Christian journey of faith.

NOT SO.

God will finish the work He started in us. He will not fail us, and we can take renewed comfort in the fact that our salvation and renewal is not based on our best efforts or accomplishments along the way.

Instead we’re captured by the power of Grace and Redemption. It’s these truths that unlock our most stubborn hearts and renews our warped minds into something entirely new and fresh!

Parents and Grandparents, don’t be discouraged if you’re not seeing any apparent transformation in your offspring. God is still active and engaged in the process – deep under the surface. The seeds of faith and authenticity you’ve planted with your life will grow, and in time God’s promises will be seen and displayed. Be confident of the truth of God to grow in the most surprising of times.

SO… take the time to spend in reading a devotional and or scripture today. Invest in your own spiritual makeover, it may be time to let go of some old stuff and start putting on the new … it’s time to say “Yes” to the dress.

Peace out, Pastor B.

Sources and Links: 

Daily Lectio.net 

Daily Audio Bible 

 

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Adventures Ahead

Following the Holy Spirit’s leading is a risk.

For the believer in Christ Jesus, the road ahead is often obscured, no clear visibility or confidence in our path. Yet we sense the pull of something beyond us, something stronger and deeper than our mere ambition or desire.

God draws us to come closer, and often in His courtship of our souls He woos us with the gentle power and subtle attraction of the Holy Spirit. 

Let me be clear, I’m no expert on following God… but I am learning. Couple of quick observations about my own path.

  1. God often leads us to follow His plans and not our own. (usually a ‘curve’ ball – something completely unexpected and different from we had in mind.
  2. God through the Holy Spirit will surprise us with Joy in the midst of transition and turmoil. Despite our awkward and uncomfortable agitation in the circumstances we’re in, God will comfort us and gently encourage us to stay with it.
  3. God’s leading will push us into places and spaces we’re not familiar or confident in. Life experiences will not equip us for the next step, instead the past will give us context for God’s faithfulness to meet us in any situation at any time. Our confidence will grow in Him and wane in us.
  4. God’s direction will bring a deep sense of personal satisfaction and contentment despite the lack of any external success or personal affirmation.

The direction the Holy Spirit leads will not be a rogue and independent push away from God’s people or spiritual oversight. Instead it will be affirmed and supported by those we live with and walk out our faith along side of. (i.e. – Pastor, Friends, Family, Spouse will all affirm the direction we sense is God)

God will ask you to trust Him. That means we’ll have to take risks to obey His leading. There is nothing safe about following the Holy Spirit’s voice, it may seem radical and unbalanced on the surface, but as we discern and respond by faith the process will bring clarity and conviction that God is indeed behind it all. 

I recently was asked to personally put these ideas to the test, I am writing this from my new home off the coast of Maine. God redirected my life and ministry from the safety and comfort of middle Tennessee to the wild and unpredictable world of northern New England.

The question is… where is He calling you to follow Him? I don’t know the timing, details, or specifics for you…but I do know that whatever He asks of you, it will exceed your expectations and instead of dread… you can look forward to “Adventures Ahead!”

In closing, I leave you with possibly the most  the famous CS Lewis quote out there, from his classic book “The Lion the Witch, and the Wardrobe“,  

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Holiday Cheer in the New Year

Christmas… glorious CHRISTMAS!

I Love the entire season of Christmas and New Years! The joy is contagious, presents, food, family, and lots of fun! The triumphant day comes and goes, the food is abundant and full of carbs, the days are long and we spend hours watching movies, eating peppermint chocolates, sipping cocoa and generally having a blast with those we love the most!

New Years brings a fresh start, like it or not… we’re going forward, time stops for no one and the world is new once again.

After the New Year…’real-life’ returns, and we slowly lose our lightness of being. We start to feel the ‘weight’ of our normal world push back in and over us. The daily grind of school, work, and our lives quickly shrink back into perspective.

We may start to feel the slow burn of regret cloud in as we begin to anxiously wait for the bills to arrive. We may feel sad, depressed, and full of fatigue. The Holiday ‘high has come and gone, and we’re left with a profound ‘low’.

This Christmas was unusual for our family. We found ourselves in a moment of ‘transition’, waiting to move into a brand new home over 1500 miles away from our life in Tennessee. We were set to journey to an unfamiliar world, a new and uncertain home and place in Maine.  The result, we were not only feeling emotionally and relationally displaced, but we were literally and physically (albeit temporarily) living through the holidays without a home to call our own.

As a result, the struggle to gather was greater this year.  We ended up renting a small house in the woods through VRBO.  A small 3 bedroom 1.5 bath renovated home in the rural countryside of Primm Springs, TN. It was marvelous, and it was close. All eight of us squeezed into a 1200 sq. foot home and made the best of our Christmas week. Three nights we had together, eight adults and a 15 month old grandson.

Our family had come together in this magical moment of Christmas time, our daughters and son-in-laws, our son, and grandson… all very much together again. It was marvelous and wonderful to see the whole gang at once. A rare treat now that our oldest and her husband were living in Oregon, we all sensed how precious the time was and no one took a moment for granted.

In those special moments we shared some time watching classic Christmas movies and sharing our favorite snacks as we lounged on the couch and wrapped ourselves in warm blankets and snuggled our way through once iconic scene after another. 

On Christmas day we watched the “The Nativity Story (2006)“. No one had seen it before, and it became an instant ‘favorite’ of our family. Ignoring the negative reviews we watched this amazing story of Mary and Joseph as they wrestled with the enormity of the life God invited them into. That’s all amazing and epic stuff, but I never truly considered the cost of them accepting such a calling.

The movie illustrates with remarkable clarity the rigors of life in the time of the Roman occupation of Israel, the shame of an unexplainable pregnancy and the overwhelming weight of being rejected by the religious elite. The Nativity story, makes you wrestle with the multitude of impossible challenges Mary and Joseph had to overcome to survive as a couple, not even fully married, but nevertheless they were branded by their ‘illegitimate’ child, an inescapable scandal that marked them for the rest of their lives.

Talk about lives in transition! Mary and Joseph were thrown from all that was familiar and safe and tipped top over teakettle into the dangerous currents of God’s Holy Spirit. An ocean of uncertainties filled their horizon, they faced rejection by family, by faith, by friends, the danger of a paranoid and violent Roman King who ruled their world,  life was at risk at any time, finances were non-existent and their future was grim. Yet, they were obeying God. Trusted by the Holy Spirit to carry out the most important human assignment in history.

Such honor! Such shame.

The movie made the case very clear… these saints were far from living an idyllic existence; their lives were marred by every kind of stress, anxiety, and pain. They endured months of pressure, struggle, and acute suffering. As the iconic vessels of salvation, favored by our God Most High, I’ve always glossed over this part of the Christmas story.  I sort of filled in the blanks of the gospels with my own version of how things went. I wasn’t being very honest with myself or with the narrative of the bible. Life wasn’t magically lifted up and amazing simply because they obeyed God’s call… in fact, it got harder and more tenuous.

That sounds a lot like my life. 

My take away from this movie was significant and timely. God’s will is going to be accomplished, and He’s inviting us to be a part of His story. No we’re not being cast as the heroic lead, we’re not starring in a spectacular – hollywood scripted show, but we’re asked to follow Christ in our everyday, flawed, and anxious lives! Our world doesn’t magically shift from daily struggle to the ease of a superman when we obey God’s call.

It’s becoming more and more evident, despite being chosen by God to carry out His will here on earth, we’re still going to hit the same obstacles and issues as everyone else. No free pass, no eternal Holiday bliss of Christmas, but the difference is… we’re going to see God do amazing things. He is going to show up in the fine details of our existence. He’s not our magic genie in a bottle, prepared to grant our every wish, but He is the God of our fathers, and He won’t let us fail or fall.

Happy New Year from  Pastor B.

 

 

The Light of Laughter!

My grandson has the best laugh… like his mother, he can cackle from deep in his belly and light up a room in a heartbeat.

His laugh is contagious and full of genuine joy, it warms the coldest heart and breaks through the chill of any dour day. It’s magical and supernatural and wonderful to hear, and God designed it exactly so. 

Life can be so challenging, so stressful. We live day in and day out with clenched fists and anxious minds, ducking and weaving our way from one crisis point to the next. Laughing is the last thing on our mind, work, finances, strained relationships, health  issues… those are the things that get our attention.

pixabay.com

This Thanksgiving, my grandson (14 months) arrived with all the jovial chatter of a plump  little cherub, cackling and hooting his way around our Tennessee house. He was mesmerized by the lights and sounds, nuzzling our soft furniture and pillows, blankets, toys and trinkets. Stuff we took for granted.

His blue eyes sparkling with excitement, he rumbled from room to room. He was simply thrilled to see and touch, to try and catch our little dog or strut out some new steps on the fireplace sill. He roamed and rolled in hidden places and spaces, experimenting with everything he could. Awash in new tastes and touches, life was thoroughly exuberant, fascinating and full of hooting joy with all that could be discovered. He was a glowing spot of hope and happiness, a wonder to behold.

Sometimes we get so serious we forget to laugh. To enjoy our life. It’s really that simple.

We adults get so grown up we forget to savor the tastes of our wonderful existence. Grandkids can break that fallow space up for us, allowing new light and flavors to renew our heart and refresh the mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank God for our little grandson!

If you don’t have your own grandkids, godson, toddler, or nephew… go borrow one! (with permission of course) Freshen up your day with some toddler living and a cereal box full of tender laughing, the contagious joy you unleash won’t wear off for a long -long time. (I’ve been told, granddaughters are just as good as grandsons 🙂

No one can spread joy and happiness faster or further than a toddler… it’s no wonder God used children to exemplify HIS KINGDOM in the gospels*.

Given the gospel illustrations* that Jesus used with his disciples… there must be something truly special, something amazing and hilariously joyful about redemption. I mean let’s truly stop and think about how much laughter must be going on up there, full joy and hilarity, nonstop  celebration in Heaven that we can’t really comprehend yet. Makes you wonder, shouldn’t we start seriously practicing down here?

Merry Christmas and may you have a very HAPPY New Year!

Pastor Brad.

Scripture Passage: *Mark 10:13-15 (BibleGateway.com)

Faithful is He who called you.

“Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” (KJV) 

Parenting is one of the most significant ‘calling’s we will ever be honored to embrace. In the stress and struggle of crazy Holiday schedules and family…it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It’s normal to wonder if you’re ‘fit’ for the duty of being a parent at all.

Let me humbly seek to encourage you and remind you of the bedrock strong promises of God that back us up. We’re not in this all by ourselves, God has not left us alone and unsupported. He promises to work on our behalf, to finish what we started despite our ability to keep it all going on our own.

What a relief! God didn’t just call us into this parenting adventure, He is the one who guarantees the outcome. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 is an anchor to the soul of every parent floundering in the treacherous waters of self-condemnation and doubt. 

Parents! We’re not going to get it right every time. We’re going to fail and flop along the way.

It’s true, none of us are ‘perfect’ parents, and we’re not going to raise ‘perfect‘ kids. Our expectations and pride need to be just a wee bit lower and our reliance on God a whole lot higher! 

We’re all faced with the reality of our ‘human’ shortcomings, the emotional outbursts, anger, anxiety attacks, and frustrations…but in the end we’re backed up by something much bigger and better than ‘us’. It’s time to cut ourselves and our kids some ‘slack’ and enjoy the moments and individuals we have in front us.

Don’t miss your family time today! We can easily be robbed with distractions and discontent. We can get stuck longing for the good old days long past or in planning ferociously to make sure we have a better ‘tomorrow’.  We all need to do our best to live contented, to live with awareness and try to be ‘present’ in the preciousness of today. 

So… for parents handling the strain and stress of the Holidays, relax. Your kids and family have been personally ordained by God as perfect for you, and you for them. There are no mistakes in God’s order of life, He hand picks and places us in the exact situations and circumstances that will best serve our growth and development. He’s all about the end result, and in the messy – in-between we can rely on His ability to finish what He started in us and through us.

This post is meant to be an encouraging and timely reminder to rest in the promises of God for your kids and home.

This Thanksgiving and Christmas, lets renew our commitment to enjoy the moments we have together, maybe it’s time to put our phones down and focus intensely on those directly around us… God after all has only placed them in our path for a season.

Blessings,

Pastor Brad.

Scripture Source – BibleHub.com

Seasons Change

It’s been quite a run.

Middle Tennessee has been home for over fifteen years. We’ve raised three kids here and helped plant a new Anglican church. We helped care for and bury my dad and dear sister-in-law. We’ve had the honor to stand side by the side with those who grieved and those with reason to celebrate. We’ve been blessed to be included in the lives of hundreds of amazing men and women, kids, and students since moving here in 2003. A huge part of our lives was invested in the formation of iShine, the Tween Gospel Alliance, and Bema Media.

Mathias Family Circa 2017

The call to the Priesthood and pastoral ministry with NewSong Christian Fellowship, Four Winds Mission and the AMIA all were birthed here. The blood, sweat, and tears we shed for the unique and beautiful family that is the church at Four Winds Anglican Mission, was a constant part of our past nine years.

To leave these things is to leave a part of our own identity behind and unthinkable. Yet the voice keeps coming… and the images of Maine are never far from our minds. When I prayed… I felt it, when I slept… I saw it, and when I began to investigate… God revealed it.

It started a few months ago when we  (Paige and I) visited the state of Maine, and had an unexpected sense of displacement, a familiar connection to something we shouldn’t have, in an area we’ve never been before. (Ellsworth / Acadia)

An old and faintly familiar nudge began coming into our thoughts from somewhere outside of us. A kind of gentle whisper that wouldn’t go away, coupled to a ridiculous implication that didn’t make any rational sense. The idea inside those thoughts was just too crazy to seriously consider.

“We both felt we were supposed to live in Maine”

We knew being empty nesters meant some major life changes, but this was a bit much. After all, we have a grandson two hours away, our kids, friends, and church family were in middle TN. Our life had been built around and for this beautiful and warm place we called home. To leave now, just didn’t’ make sense.

The insanity of the idea was clear to any rational mind. To willingly decide to leave the familiar and comforting parts of our life and go to a place we know nothing  and no one… just didn’t make sense. 

In the end it was proven true, and confirmed by everyone in our life. After four weeks of intense and persistent prayer for confirmation, it came. First from our Bishop and then from our immediate family, we talked with our bosses, friends, and fellow pastors. They all sensed the truth of this and affirmed our decision to leave.

Acadia National Park

The crazy call of God to go to Maine wasn’t just some bout of indigestion or a momentary impulse. It was a genuine ‘calling’ to go and serve in a far away place. To be His servant in a strange land, to minister and laborer for His Kingdom and not our own. It felt scary and exciting… like a sneeze and a hiccup in one deep breath.

This radical idea had gone from a general concept to startling reality in a few short weeks. The truth of our calling was hard to apprehend, yet the implications obvious. The idea of getting our house ready to sell, of unplugging our lives and moving a thousand miles should be terrifying… but it wasn’t. A strange but peaceful atmosphere  was settling over our home and lives. God was miraculously forming a path out of the fog, a new road for us to follow, a journey for Paige and I into a new season of our life.

What had been a seemingly random idea was morphing into something quite solid, touchable, and true. A miracle that was taking shape right in front of our eyes. The reality of relocating our lives had hit ‘home’, and it felt ‘right’. (The transitions of our life may be sudden, but in God’s hands, we can remain peaceful.)

So here we are today, moving forward in faith. Our house is for sale, and we’re looking in Maine to find our next residence. We’re living proof that God continues to use broken people to serve Him in unusual ways and in unexpected places.

Paige and I are about to embark on a grand adventure, to explore a new and much ‘colder’ place with new challenges and experiences sure to be ahead. The path forward has been revealed, but the details are still foggy. We don’t know when exactly, we don’t know what exactly, but we do know where.

It turns out…St Thomas Anglican in Ellsworth Maine is in need of a Priest, and we believe it is to become our next stop. This obscure and distant place is strategic to both the Kingdom of God, and to our lives.

We’ve learned since hearing from God, that New England and the specifically the state of Maine are suffering greatly from a famine of churches*(see sources) and pastors to serve them. We know that Maine has few churches to meet the needs of God’s people and that around fifty percent of pastors are giving up their pulpits within three years of serving a church. This remote state and region matter to God, and the need for pastoral care is clearly reaching a critical stage. We didn’t know all that before we said yes… but we do now. Things are beginning to make sense.

St Thomas Anglican

God is constantly leading people all over the world to do seemingly radical things for Him. Just like the unknown fishermen He found on the shores of Galilee… He’s asking people to ‘Come and Follow Him,” and He will make us into  ‘fishers of men’.

I wouldn’t dare presume to know for you, but for some… you’ve been hearing the whisper of God already, but were afraid to respond. I get it. To trust God so completely is scary, but it’s also an honor and a privilege to be asked. For Paige and I, it’s time to hit the pavement and start on a brand new and totally EPIC Roadtrip to the great state of Maine. 🙂

We’ll see you there.

Pastor B.

PS – This blog and my work at Bema Media/ iShine will continue, the podcast (Brilliantly Brave Parenting) and work of Four Winds Anglican are not ending. God has provided a way for each of those to continue on and to thrive. Some of it will include us directly and some will not, but each effort is secure in the shadow of God’s divine providence and sustaining power.

*Sources:

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/jared-c-wilson/why-new-england-is-the-new-american-missional-frontier/

http://philwaldrep.org/retreat/

https://factsandtrends.net/2017/08/25/survive-pastors-graveyard-new-england/

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/05/18/religion/got-faith-maine-the-least-religious-state-in-the-nation/

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/29/how-religious-is-your-state/?state=alabama

https://news.gallup.com/poll/232223/religious-regions.aspx

Breaking the Isolation Epidemic

According to a recent study at the Barna Group, (Trends 2018) some of us are suffering in isolation more than others. If you’re feeling alone and struggling to have steady friendships, it appears you are part of a trend that’s growing in the church. Christian men and Christian Pastors are especially prone to suffer through their days without support. According to Barna, 1 in 5 are in it alone, doing much of life by themselves.

Americans Are Friendly But Lonely
T
he majority of adults has anywhere between two and five close friends (62%), but one in five regularly or often feels lonely. Those who report the highest levels of loneliness are single, male, young and likely earning a lower-income. (Barna Group – Trends ’18 Study

According to Barna’s latest study, women have less trouble forming and keeping friendships but men struggle. Young men not in college scored the highest on the loneliness scale, but church attenders overall scored badly on their diversity of friends and relationships.

You can see how valuable and essential the local church becomes in addressing these issues. There are a lot of ministries that focus on single parents, moms, and youth… but what about the adult – unmarried – man?  Not many churches have a dedicated ministry to guys who are unmarried, and not in college.

There are others in our services who don’t fit in. Some churches are only republican. Some are only democratic. Some are only independent. All are tempted to engage only those they look like and talk like. This should not be.

The church risks becoming a haven for  -like – attracts- like – kind – of place. Where diversity of thought, appearance, or opinion isn’t all that , so people who don’t feel like they will fit – don’t even try.

To be fair, it is much easier to only engage those we understand, and we avoid those who take an extra effort. But it’s not the model Christ demonstrated for us. He went to Samaria. He chose to forgive the woman caught in adultery, and to invest three years of his life and privacy to the tempestuous disciples who smelled of fish and sweat. 

The community of Faith needs to see the bigger picture of our mission with Christ. We’re not trying to live as clones of each other, avoiding the odd and inscrutable among us, instead we need to appreciate and value the unique and eccentric we encounter. These are the very human people we read about in scripture, these are the precious lives that God has plans to use.

The gospel of Jesus is bigger than us. Bigger than our comfort zones and life experiences, the Spirit of God transcend generations and politics, and expands beyond grey haired married couples to spill out to our singles and young adults without a hesitation or hiccup. 

Let’s all agree to stop next Sunday at church and look around the room. Ask God to direct your attention to someone who made the service, but doesn’t quite fit in. Go sit with them. Make them feel wanted and welcome. Buy them lunch – or meet them later for coffee. Invest your best into these isolated and lonely, they are tomorrow’s leaders and Gods children.

Oh… and stop thinking you’re a Christian “republican” or a Christian “democrat”… God doesn’t poll red or blue. We’re followers of Christ first and last, the US American – Political game should not be allowed to divide or isolate those of us with passionate and differing opinions.

God is bigger than our national election, don’t allow the powers that be to manipulate your emotions into rejecting one group for the sake of another. 

The cross of Christ broke down all our barriers and split the walls that kept us isolated by social and educational standing, race, politics, or economic status.  He calls us all to be His disciples. Our allegiance is to Him first and foremost. The rest can sort itself out in the knowledge of His presence. 

Our services this week shouldn’t be a time to divide over regional policies or national politics, but a time to unite around the truth of the gospel and the promise of peace. He is all about the reconciliation of all things back to Him, back to the way they were always intended to be. Shouldn’t we strive for the same?

Our children will follow in our steps… let’s be careful where we walk.

Blessings,

Pastor B.

Scripture Reference from BibleGateway.com: Ephesians 2: 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.