Fighting for our Lives

I was reminded recently that God takes ‘sin’ very seriously. Seems obvious, the entire landscape of the bible is rooted around this reality… but our culture seems to be overlooking the obvious.

I was sparked by a recent Instagram post of a Francis Chan quote. He mentions the two biggest lies of our culture, that God won’t punish sin because of His loving nature and the belief that we’re essential all ‘good’ people.

Image – Pinterest (Jacob Roberts)

Our modern Christian world has pushed back the old school ‘hell and brimstone’ approach and instead has embraced the ‘grace and space’ approach to our personal faith. I admit, I love that ‘new’ approach as it gives me the flexibility to approach God on  my own terms. I like this more familiar territory with an emphasis on Grace and dismissal of the seriousness of sin, but does it hold water?

The turbulent world of the Christian evangelical has shared it’s conflicting views between the progressive and orthodox schools of thought. They have vented their sharp disagreements in various books and beliefs, but in the end ‘sin’ is a reality that needs to be defined for each and every believer. We after all will need to ‘account’ for our sins individually, no author or outspoken pastor will be on the judgement seat of God with us when our day comes… 

IF sin is a big deal, and I believe it IS. (thus the radical rescue operation of Jesus and the Cross) We can’t permit ourselves to simply dismiss our personal sins as the unavoidable by-product of our old nature.  There needs to be an urgency in us, we should be aggressively fighting back and pushing forward in the arena of personal holiness.

God is calling us to be like His son. We’re tasked with being ‘Holy like He is Holy”. An impossibility for us accomplish by sheer will and effort for sure, but the pursuit of holiness should be the heartbeat of the believer.

Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels

Are we ‘fighting’ back in our resistance to old habits and temptations? Are we battling the personal attacks on our moral character or are we allowing our old sins to exist and persist? God’s calling us to overcome. He wants our old self to become less and less, and for each of us to become fully ‘alive’ as we give up our old identities and embrace the new.

Today let”s agree to not settle for simply repenting all the time, let’s commit to fighting for our freedom from sin, not in our own strength but in His.

Our lives can be transformed from the inside out, we can be different than we were and God is working out His perfect will in our imperfect lives.

Fight for Holiness.

Pastor B.

Slow Down. Please.

I can’t help but push a little more, I can’t stop the need to check one more item off the ‘to-do’ list of my life. It’s my nature to stay busy, to distract myself from tomorrow by filling my ‘today’.

Maybe you can relate? 

The world we live in doesn’t help. Our instant communication and remarkable technologies have opened up worlds of discovery and detail that compel us to discover and ‘do’ more with each day.

Parenting is easily the hardest and best work of your life. Of any life. Our immediate desire is to protect and provide, to make sure our offspring are safe from harm and well cared for. Later we engage with our kids, teaching and mentoring them into the ways of life and the wiles of our world. We have dreams and desires for them, we have hopes that they will go where we couldn’t, do what we didn’t dare to try. (parenting doesn’t require a biological child, many parent those in need around us)

The struggle to find ‘rest’ in the world of parenthood is real. It seems the days are so slow… yet the years fly by. Our work as a parent never seems to end, we just shift gears as our kids get older, always busy, always engaged with the work of life and family. 

I have been told by almost every older parent or pastor I’ve ever known to ‘slow down’. I’ve known intellectually that life is more than a series of goals to be accomplished, but in the nitty – gritty of day to day living, it really didn’t sink in.

I imagine that many of you could say the same.

So what can we do to realign ourselves and reconnect with our deeper purpose and meaning beyond parenthood…? Isn’t there a purpose to life beyond raising our children?

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

Here’s what I’m learning as a newly minted 50 year old grandfather of two little ones. ‘Slow down’ was/ is wise advice.  I’m learning to accept and apply it over all my natural instincts to the contrary. 

Slowing down is a spiritual discipline for those who are ‘wired’ to keep moving. (not so much for those who like to stay still) It’s difficult to do without extenuating circumstances, we don’t ‘choose’ to slow down, we are ‘forced’ to slow down. God in his infinite mercy works in His mysterious ways to push us back into a proverbial corner. We may find ourselves stuck in a situation of His creation that forces us to stop thrashing and simply ‘be still’.

On first glance we feel like we’re being punished. God must be ‘angry’ with us. But as we slowly unclench our hearts and open ourselves up to His voice we soon begin to sense the exact opposite.

God is pleased with us. He wants to reveal something new and essential to our identity. We are now more than just parents or spouses, we are created children of a heavenly father. More than pawns in a cosmic struggle for power, we are invited to be a part of this divine story of redemption and love.

Not to drift too far into the theology, but we generally won’t stay ‘still’ for long without a deeper understanding of the presence of God. We need to learn to seek Him out for more than a few minutes each day. He is inviting us to bring Him along ‘all’ day. This shift from accomplishing things to ‘being’ is essential.

photo courtesy of Pixabay

The presence of God in our lives is where we find true meaning, purpose, and thus ‘Satisfaction’. Yes, the elusive sense of peace and contentment that is promised in scripture is truly out there. It just takes time to discover. 

So, be encouraged if you find yourself ‘hemmed in’ by life. God is in it. He is conspiring to bless you, to force you to rest and be ‘still’. It’s the only way forward.

Slow Down! Please.

Pastor Brad.

 

More than just another lakeside chat.

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

Luke 5

1 “On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. Dapper

  1. More than a lakeside chat

The town of Capernaum was near Bethsaida and framed the backdrop for many of the Gospel stories and miracles of Jesus and His ministry. It was a small town with a trading economy as it was situated by a lake on a major trade route. It was also an outpost for the empire of Rome and had tax collection duties for the region. As a result, the city was small but significant and shared many cultures with the traders and travelers who came through it. It had peaceful Roman and Jewish relations without tension or strife like Jerusalem. The primary trade commerce was related to the lake or Sea of Gennesaret aka Galilee.

Here (Capernaum/ Bethsaida) is where Jesus called Matthew (tax collector) and performed many early miracles in the area. In this passage Jesus called Simon (Peter) and brothers James & John – and Andrew.

  1. More than another religious teacher

The region of Israel was full of various teachers and religious zealots – many sought to gain influence by building a core of disciples and followers. This Jesus was different. He wasn’t seeking to grow a following – as we see in the text, he was only seeking out 12 specific men to become his personal band of brothers.

Jesus was yet to be fully revealed as Messiah, and had a growing company of followers who were curious about who he was and what he would do next.  The guys in the boats were just minding their own business, not active in the pursuit of Jesus.

Jesus just ‘seemed’ to stop by the lake-shore where they were… by sheer coincidence. We know better. There are no coincidences with God. 

  1. More than a suggestion

“Put out into the deep….. and let down your nets”.

When God asks us to do something there is always more than what meets the eye. Much more beneath the surface.

For these fishermen, they have no idea what God is asking of them, or of the multiple blessings offered in this commandment. They have listened to him speaking to the crowds and have seen some of his miracles around town, but this is the closest they have come to him for themselves.

Jesus is engaging them where they live and in what they do, he’s about to teach them a critical lesson on fishing and the power of living a life of obedience.

When God seeks us out to “ask” us to obey him, he approaches us where we live. Not waiting for us to reach some glamorous or prestigious position or place in our life or careers , but right where we live. For these men, he comes to their place of work and asks them to trust him with their livelihood.

He asks them and in illumination… all men, to “put out into the deep”! To trust he knows more about their business than they do. That He knows where the fish are and when to catch them. This would have been contrary to all their considerable skill and long experience had taught them to do.

They were being more than “polite” to Jesus – they were responding to his request in faith. Not knowing the details and being exhausted from their all night efforts, they were frustrated and irritated, but eventually they trusted and obeyed. “Master we have toiled all night and took nothing.”

  1. More than plenty

But at your word, I will let down the nets.”

These are the words of faith. Marion (a parishioner at St. Margaret’s Anglican)  says it all the time….”But GOD”.

The very foundation of our faith is firmly settled in the belief that God has the ability to change any circumstance or situation he is allowed to enter.

  • The first key is to hear his voice for ourselves.

That when we listen for His voice we can respond in faith and expect Him to exceed our best efforts.

But how do we know it’s Gods voice ?  – (at His Word) – how do we “hear” his words for ourselves? It’s a process of learning to be ‘still’ and waiting for His confirmation. (Sermons, Scripture, Prayer, Words of Knowledge, Affirmation of faith)

  • The 2nd key is a surrender of our way and accepting of His way to fish. Means we can’t rely on our own vast depth of wisdom and practicality. (AKA control)
  • The 3rd key is to recognize the absurdity of the request. He works in mysterious ways unlike our own, and that odd style is consistent with divine methods and helps to reveal the “way” in which God works and moves among us.

The results of trusting God are always bigger and more extravagant than we can imagine. The fishing is “grand” with Him. The principle isn’t to turn to God for our financial blessings, but to recognize Him as the “source” of our provision and like the exhausted fisherman – learn to believe and trust his advice for our labors, especially after we’re worn down from the all night efforts that seem to bear no fruit.

The conclusion is this… Jesus is calling to us all. Not randomly, not generically, but specifically. His call is unique to each of us, a personal request for our services as His precisely picked ‘fishermen’. He’s asking us each to respond to His personal invitation. 

The question is… will we trust Him enough to ‘put out into the deep” or will we decide we’re too exhausted for a miracle?

Pastor B.

When your about to give up and give in to despair… DON’T!

We all know the struggle is real as a parent. The struggle to keep hope alive. To choose to ‘believe’ that God is up there and watching, engaged in our lives and actively seeking our good.

But there are days when that belief is strained to the breaking point.

There are dozens and dozens of days that I look back on and wonder how I made it through. How did I not just chuck it all and bail? How in the world did I stick it out and not give up?

Simple answer… GOD’S GRACE.

It’s always a temptation to give up – throw our proverbial hands in the air and just surrender to despair and doubt and walk away. For parents you can do everything right and still seem like you’ve failed.

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

For parents who are raising teens, this can be a daily or weekly event. Those promises of God you scribbled down on sticky notes and taped to your desk or fridge, don’t forget them. The word of God highlighted in your bible until the pages tear… it’s real.  The faith we’ve so carefully nursed along through missed mortgage payments, cancer,  and marital strife, it’s true and tested no matter how we feel.

Yet…it can seem so fragile.

But hang on a sec. Our lives and circumstances are usually crazy. The forces that push us around can seem overwhelming and dark, but that’s only if we forget whose we are. Our strength was never based on how well we performed, never built on a foundation of self reliance and personal will power. If we’re a Christ-follower, a believer in the savior and Messiah – Jesus, then we’re supposed to rely on HIS strength.

That means we’re NOT the key ingredient in our lives or our faith. HE IS. Our eternal destinies and that of our kids are NOT dependent on us. It is the irresistible pull of God to align us and our families into perfect sync with His Kingdom. In His time, and in His way. 

So… unclench your fists. Take deep – slow – breaths… God is still GOD. HE is still at the helm of our lives. His will is going to occur and His plans are going to succeed. We are not victims lost in the floods of life, we are protected and purposed by Him.

Go get your promises out and lay them before God in prayer, remind Him of your need for hope, for encouragement, for peace. Make it a regular habit to ask Him to show up in your despair, to believe He’s going to miraculously realign your life and circumstances according to His will.  As you ask for help remember to choose to praise Him for the answer. To look forward in anticipation for His perfect solution… even before you see it.

It is the ‘goodness’ of Gods character that we are being trained to trust in.  The outcome of our lives is not depending on our merit or hard work, just HIS GOODNESS.

For our mental perspective to shift all we have to do is recall to mind and more importantly our hearts, the faithfulness of God to meet ALL our needs. He was God over the impossible in the past and He will be God over the impossible today.

 

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Remember we are but dust, and when our faith is only an ember, it is HIS strength that will carry the day.  St. Paul said it this way… “His strength is made perfect in our weakness”.

So parents – what could be more reassuring than that?

Peace out!

Pastor B.

Suggested link: Here is a great interview with one of my spiritual fathers, Pastor Duane Sheriff. He and his wife Sue have a fantastic perspective on parenting when we feel like a failure. Available at Brilliantly Brave Parenting on Soundcloud, iTunes, and YouTube.

Teen Stress Today

Teen Stress: One Powerful Way to Help Your Child Stand Strong

Today, I welcome Pastor Brad Mathias of Bema Media, Road Trip Parenting, and the Brilliantly Brave Parenting Podcast.  (You can catch my interview HERE!) His latest work, Storms of Life, is a study for students. And friends, it’s a tool we want and need in the hands of each of our young people today.”

Teen Stress Today

How we see ourselves is a huge struggle for most people, no matter our age or stage of life. We are naturally critical, especially of our own lives. Our self-image or self-esteem is the third highest stressor for students according to surveys and recent studies.

The Age-Old Struggle With a Twist

Statistically, self-esteem ranked as our third highest stressor for students in college or high school and higher for adults. We know that many are struggling with the way we see ourselves and how we perceive others see us. The pressure to achieve and be successful is a huge unspoken stressor for any stage or age of life.

From well-meaning high school counselors to your aunts and uncles, everyone is asking the question; “What do you want to be when you grow up?” or “Where are you going to attend college?” As we get older, the questions get more obvious, where do you work? Where did you go to school, where do you live?

The demands of our society push unbelievable expectations on us.

The additional pressure of fitting in, finding somewhere to belong and be accepted is just a part of our journey. School and culture have already created specific stereotypes for us to pick an identity from. For parents and adults, the struggle continues on with new names and places, but the same old sense of ‘not-fitting in’.

And each identity has a specific clique or club with its own rules and hierarchy in how to belong.

Finding the group that accepts and affirms you are uncertain in the fickle world of social popularity. No one really has a chance to relax and assume they are “in” for long. The ongoing and daily battle of social media is unprecedented and the allure to be accepted and liked offsets the risk of rejection for most. From what you wear to the color of your hair, everything you say or do is on display for anyone to like or dislike. The social media culture of today puts our identity on trial each and every post.

Perfection Required

This daily demand to be perfect is impossible to sustain especially when we add in the pressures of a society that is visual and we feel the need to be beautiful and handsome 24/7/365 to be acceptable. Here is where the dissatisfaction with our appearance grows from an annoyance to an obsession for some. We fret about the smoothness of our skin and the thickness and texture of our hair to how we look in jeans. We seek to adapt ourselves to fit the mold of our society. How others respond to our appearance has the capacity to make or break us, and we truly aspire to be the very best we can be, not for our own health, but to simply survive without total humiliation and shaming.

Many are so worried about their size and shape that they are actively measuring and managing their diets to manipulate their basic body types, height, and weight to fit the norms of the local style. We no longer know who we are or what we want. We just hate to be bullied or demeaned by those who are skinnier, prettier, and more popular. And we live unsure of anything but the fact that we don’t measure up.

The struggle for our identity and value is a struggle for the truth

We have voices that are talking to us all the time. Some are predictable and hopefully encouraging. Some are our insecure peers at school or work who are immature and selfish, critical and demeaning. Those we can ignore. Their opinions, although vital for popularity, are not truly meaningful in the long run. And then there are the voices we hear when we look in the mirror. Those demeaning and ugly voices that tell us we’re ugly or worthless. Those are lies.

God’s voice is the one that:
  • We have to learn to hear and trust.
  • Will never condemn or demean us. He will never reject or ridicule us. Never, ever.
  • Reminds us of our priceless value, of how He traveled across the universe to meet us, how He chose to suffer and die for sins we committed.
  • Resonates with the warmth and joy of a proud Papa who can’t wait to tell us how much He loves us and longs to see us again.

The voice we hear is the one we will follow.

It’s imperative we learn to hear God’s voice above all the other voices in our lives. He will not disappoint, lie, or pretend with us. He tells the truth and knows what we need and truly want. If we trust His voice, we will follow Him.

As you grow in your faith, believe that God:
  • Can patiently stick with you through all the ups and downs of your day. He does and He will
  • Doesn’t grow closer when you do good and pull back when you do bad
  • Stays near you all the time
  • Will provide you with strength when you’re tempted to compromise
  • Gives you courage when you’re afraid
  • Will provide wisdom when you are uncertain

Teen stress is more prevalent than ever before and social media has a lot to do with that. How do we help them stand strong in their faith? How do we help them navigate beyond stress and overwhelm? #teens #teenstress #stress #socialmedia #parenting #biblestudy #hope #stormsoflife #identityinchrist #identity

Take your prayers with you.

Don’t just pray at home in the morning and before bed but pray all day long. As long as you can pray silently in your mind, you can pray at school all you want. Start asking God for help in the moments you need Him. When those “trigger moments” occur, He can be right there with you, providing you with the help you so desperately need.

Jesus has gifted us with unique and beautiful attributes.

His gifts of personality and skill make us irreplaceable to Him. We don’t need to follow the pack because we can be our own individual person, seeking after the One who knows us best for our satisfaction and value. Young women tend to struggle with self-esteem issues more than young men. We know our society puts enormous pressure on ladies to look a certain way, to be loved or treasured, but Christ has a different perspective. It’s essential for us to model that acceptance and love of the uniqueness we each have.

We cannot let the world define our worth in possessions or sex appeal. As Christian, we can invest our energy and personal affirmations in the people in our lives. Pointing our peers and families to the One who holds the keys to life is providing them with a lifelong anchor for their soul.

Summary and Closing

We live in a time of instant criticism or admiration where social media can make or break us in a moment. We will need to learn how to fight for our identities and encourage each other using the devotional power of daily prayer and Scripture to give us added perspective on our value and identity in Christ. The world is restless and unsettled, but we can live with confidence and at peace. We don’t have to be condemned to living stressed out and overwhelmed!

Blog post is an adapted excerpt from the Storms of Life Study available now at iShine Live.


About the Author:

Author of Storms of Life: Living Beyond Stressed Out & OverwhelmedPastor Brad Mathias is the president of Bema Media and a pastor for over a decade. He and his wife were survivors of a near divorce, and now are actively engaged in public ministry to families and students in crisis. Brad and his wife Paige have been married for over 28 years and are the parents of three adult children and two grandchildren.

His blog Road Trip Parenting.com (WordPress) and book, Roadtrip to Redemption(Tyndale/Momentum) have laid the groundwork for his latest project, a new study on Life and how to navigate the storms we will all face. He is also the Co-Host and Executive producer of “Brilliantly Brave Parenting” the podcast.

Waiting, Resting… and other ‘odd’ requests.

The Christian life in our modern world is so convoluted with the secular it’s almost impossible to sort things out.

The way our world works seems normal to us. It seems logical, even wise… but it operates on principles foreign to the Holy Spirit.

The world is about self-preservation, promotion, accomplishment, and gain.

Christ led us by example into a new way, a Kingdom built out of self-sacrifice, humility, service, and loss.

Photo by Zukiman Mohamad from Pexels

He promises that if we will follow after His way, we’ll find what we’re all searching for… a new life, one that’s abundant and free.

One of the first things we’re often asked to do by God is to ‘wait’. He doesn’t assign us a prominent role in the ministry, He doesn’t place us in positions of great influence or authority, He often puts us in a ‘time-out’. 

He’s not punishing us, He’s loving us. His voice will often urge us to ‘rest’. It seems odd. It seems out of place for us to ‘not’ pursue after our ministry, or work, or family. After all our entire life has been in ‘pursuit’ of something!

What is this weird request?

We may feel like we’re aren’t ‘needed’ for His purposes? Did we misunderstand Him. Did he misunderstand us? It’s so unusual to slow down and to actually stop running around that we feel useless, and irrelevant when we do. So we don’t.

Yet God asks us to be still.

The point I believe is we’re being ‘un-taught’ our worldly ways. In our world the harder we push the further we get. In God’s Kingdom, the way up is down. His ways are opposite of our ways, the slower we get the quieter we become. The less we do, the more we can hear. 

When we learn to ‘hear’ clearly we can proceed with conviction and confidence. If we’re learning to live and work in ‘his’ strength, then knowing His will and way is far more important than working out the ways we’re going to accomplish things, or pondering the “how to’s” of our ministry.

God is speaking to us, it’s essential that we learn to slow down and stop. To rest and be quiet, it’s in these moments that we learn the most. His will is all that matters.

Blessings, Pastor B.

Isaiah 30:15 (ESV) “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling,” 

The Choice to trust…

It’s always a temptation to doubt.

Life often doesn’t go like we planned, relationships get tough, finances strained, our work fails… we wonder where we’re going.

The struggle gets real with the news of cancer, loosing your job, a spouse who considers walking out, life can seriously strain one’s sanity at times. Parents get caught in the middle of this all the time, juggling one or more of these major stresses, yet needing to keep the ship balanced at home. The question becomes…how do we make sense of our faith when nothing makes sense anymore?

We get to decide what we’re going to do. The truth is, we’re not victims caught in the rush of water and helpless before the flood. What we can do is choose to ‘trust’. But when we can’t ‘see’ or ‘feel’ God, when our circumstances push us to the limits of our logic, God is near. 

How do I know that? Many – Many – Many times I’ve been caught in desperate moments. I have struggled ‘wondering’ where God was in my hurt and loss. I’ve not always trusted God in those moments of confusion and pain, I’ve often allowed myself to ‘thrash’ emotionally, blaming myself, others, and God for the struggle or issues at hand. It’s exhausting and unnecessary.

Photo by Ali Arapoğlu from Pexels

But no matter how overwhelmed, shocked, or stressed out I may feel, I still retain the consciousness to recognize my free will. I have a choice to make. A decision for how I will respond. I’m not caught in a one way tunnel of darkness, I can still pull my gaze away from the nasty stuff around me and focus on the light of God’s word, and remember the power and love of my Savior.

It takes a massive effort to deny myself the satisfaction of being a victim, of living in the gutter of self pity. Instead I have to choose to remember God’s faithfulness. I have to deny my emotions and not allow them to rule over me. I have to embrace my faith within my own mind and heart. I have to decide to trust God, to acknowledge He is ‘good’. 

These moments of choosing are the moments that build our faith. We can’t avoid our struggle, we can’t always flee or run and hide, we have to face it and we can do it in our own strength or in His. The struggle is to allow God to lead us when we can’t see or feel His presence… that takes ‘faith.

The choice is only ours to make. No one can do it for us, it’s deeply personal and painfully intimate. Once we make our choice, we can experience ‘peace.

My prayer for you and myself is this… “Lord give us the grace to hang on to the words you spoke to us, to remember the special promises of your scripture, to look for your salvation in this moment. Lord provide me the strength and wisdom to move forward in faith and open the doors you want me to enter and shut the ones not good for me. I trust your goodness, I believe in your sovereign power, and I look forward to seeing your miraculous solution to my impossible problems.” 

Psalm 100:5 “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Pastor Brad.