At fifty I have to admit that I’m well into my mid-life crisis. Three kids, all grown, two beautiful grandchildren, one wife. All in all it’s been quite the mid-century moment to pause and reflect on. I’ve been blessed beyond measure and I’ve suffered along the way, just like you.
Life is sometimes spectacularly good and sometimes it is spectacularly hard. Both our gains and losses add up, they point us to something in-between satisfaction and shame. Family, career, and friends, all enter the equation and for most of us, things haven’t turned out quite the way we thought.
I bet you have a similar story. Different name, place, and circumstances, but a familiar pattern of highs and lows. It’s the great tapestry of our choices, the sum of our moments captured for our faulty memories to retain.
Why does it so often feel like ‘failure’? Why do we add it all up and find ourselves wondering what happened? What about our hopes and dreams? Where did the future go and how did we get so far from our objectives? Life isn’t turning out the way I thought.
For the Christian, it’s a struggle to resist the defeated sense of being ‘less than’ we should be. For the unbeliever it’s someone else’s fault, ever the victim of the ‘other’ person, thing, or group pitted against us.
Both feelings I believe to be correct. We are less than we should be and there is a strategic foe plotting our demise.
Where does our faith enter this equation? Are we just flawed in our understanding of it all? Are we missing the big picture of God’s providential plan… or is there just no plan for us?
Lots of hard questions that need answers. I’ve had a year to reflect on some of this stuff, twelve months to slow my mind and rest my heart. I can’t explain all I feel but here’s a start.
These nuggets of wisdom I’ve gleaned from the past twelve months in the great Northwoods of Maine. There are more details than I can share here, but these three reveal much about my journey, my process.
What about you? Have you allowed yourself to reflect and consider where you’ve been, where you’re at… where you’re headed? It takes courage and humility to face your own life.
Life can begin to feel pretty depressing if you lose you’re way. Life can feel more and more like failure if you forget where you’re going. If you forget that you don’t really belong here, its not our final destination. It’s essential for us to regain and retain our spiritual compass as we journey on, if we don’t, we’ll start to go in circles, lost, frustrated, angry, and ashamed.
God in His mercy provides the moments we need to recapture our first love. He knows what we need to recover our spiritual breath (ruach). He knows the air gets thinner the higher we go and He knows we need to remember the goal. We’re not meant to stay here, we’re not meant to make sense of the senseless things in life, He knows we were meant for more.
Dear Christian, don’t you dare stop climbing now. I’ve heard the view ahead is simply too spectacular to miss.
Epiphany 1 – January 12, 2020 Sermon Notes:
Romans 12:1–5 (ESV): “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
This week marks Epiphany 1. The first full week of 2020 – marks a brand New Year, a New Decade and a New Season of life. We’ve just finished another frantic Christmas, where demands and highest expectations can push us too hard, leaving us feeling empty and rushed. We can become disoriented and oblivious to the significance of a new year and it’s symbolism.
Let’s Slow things down. Let’s agree to NOT give into that false pressure to move on, to move past the calendar without a glance. Today, we need to prepare our hearts for a new year. Not with precise planning and preparation, but with a pause. A moment of reflection and time to process.
Glancing back at 2019, what has been the overall “PACE” of your life?
Have we been pushing too hard, moving too fast, filling our calendar too full? Is that what we want for this new season ahead? Today is a time to ask why? Are we running from something or to something? Are we losing the gift of the present…?
We shouldn’t enter this new season dragging along our OLD mindsets, nursing past regrets and aging grudges. We need to drop our tired attitudes, open ourselves up to the possibility of something different and new. Entering a new season challenges us to release our regrets. If we don’t, the past can become a figurative prison locking out the present and a threat to our future.
We all say we want a fresh start, to move on… but how do we actually accomplish that? Where in the scriptures can we find help in turning over a new page in our stories?
Today’s passage in Romans 12 is such a practical passage. It holds the key elements for leaving the past behind, a biblical approach to helping us move on, a how to guide – for “out with the old, and in with the new”! It even offers us a chance to preview the future and see Gods plans for our new lives.
So, if your ready for something new – and tired of the weight of the old… let’s jump in!
1. Who doesn’t want a new life?
It challenges us with its practical approach to embracing the NEW, as promised by Christ. This time each year… annual “resolutions” appear – our buckling down to make changes in our lives, healthier habits, simplified priorities, new goals. Each new resolution will mean a change of habit – a leaving the old for something different.
We ALL know how that usually goes – Planet Fitness is never busier than the second week of January – but by Easter things have slowed way down.
Weight watchers commercials are running non-stop right now. Capitalizing on our need to change our appearance, to drop excess weight and regain our self esteem. Psychologists and doctors all agree, to see an exterior change, we must have an interior realignment – a life adjustment that begins within and works itself outward over time. The same is true of our spiritual life.
But what about the deepest part of us? How to we change our thoughts, our obsessive compulsive behaviors, our cynical expectations, our ragged beliefs?
How do we change the thoughts and agreements we have about ourselves, each other, about our God. How do we resolve to change the things deeper inside? To truly experience a New Season, to enter the fullness of Life that is promised – we will need to be transformed from the inside-out.
2. Leaving our past (old) requires surrendering our future (new). A living sacrifice. Consider the imagery here. A Hebrew reality, animal sacrifice was very familiar to the Jewish readers, a cow or goat, sheep, or dove, all were “given” to God as sacrifices for sin, atonement, guilt, uncleanliness.. etc.
The cost of following Jesus requires us to surrender our lives for His will. “A Living – breathing – active – choice to allow our old self to die, and His life to take over.
To move beyond our past, we will have to trust GOD with the old issues that seem to stick to us like glue – we have to let go of our wounds. A releasing of our “right to be wronged”.
We must release those old regrets – we can’t retain grievances if we are to move on. We must lay them down at the altar – we must relinquish control – we must surrender all our independence and need to exact justice.
The painful experiences of our past can rob us of life in the present, and any hope for our future. It’s clear the only way we can safely transition from the old to the new requires a cutting off, an abandonment of our carefully guarded hurts for His wholeness.
We sacrifice ourselves – (our personal plans and preferences) on the altar of worship – we let Him chose our future for us. This is a Key first step in finding our way – without this surrendering we can’t experience the transformation of our minds – and discover the will of God for our life.
3. Making the old new – A re-new-ed Mind is the essential element for being transformed from the old / past to the new / future. It reverses the trajectory of our lives from repeating our past mistakes and resuming old and painful habits to embracing the new and hopeful – to seeing our life with the eyes of Faith.
“Be ye transformed by the re-new-ing of your mind.”
Easy to say, impossible to do. The Holy Spirit is an essential catalyst for a changed thought life. For new patterns of thinking and living.
Do not be conformed = συσχηματίζεσθε (syschēmatizesthe) Verb – Present Imperative Middle or Passive – 2nd Person Plural. Strong’s Greek 4964: To conform to. From sun and a derivative of schema; to fashion alike, i.e. Conform to the same pattern.
Christ is offering His mind and His thoughts for ours. A trade if you will. We exchange our old, tired, negative obsessive mindset for His new, invigorating, optimistic, and calm view of our life.
As we consider the distinct difference between this worlds “thinking” or logic, vs. the wisdom of God we can clearly determine the polar opposite perspectives each is offering us. As Christ-followers we must un-learn what we think we know and ask for Wisdom that comes from above. James tells us that there is an earthly or fleshly wisdom and a heavenly wisdom.
To be transformed we will need a shift in our thoughts – from an earthly to a heavenly perspective. Jesus tells us that as the heavens are above the earth so are his ways above our ways. The pursuit of Gods will requires us to understand and trust in Gods ways.
James 3:13–18 (ESV): Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
We have the opportunity to re-wire our thinking. To reset our default programming from manic, uncertain, unstable, irrational, self-destructive, and cynically protective…to something brand new, confident, wholesome, and eager.
This new spiritual mind allows us to see things we’ve missed before. To increase our capacity to trust and hope where we couldn’t muster the courage before – it unveils the path laid out before us and marks the steps we should take in every aspect of our lives – we are no longer self made or independent from God, we are dependent and abandoned to His provision and pace. We are freed from the past and allowed to experience the present fully.
4. Moving Forward – Pursuing the New. As our minds are renewed – We are no longer stuck in our old ways and past wandering – we are no longer swept along by our circumstances and environment, we are no longer “conformed” to the world (ways and values and principles of our culture) – we can see the way forward clearly.
When we are “freed” (1) from the bondage of our past, (2) renewed in our patterns of thought, and begin to live (3) unaffected by our circumstances, we have the opportunity to “see” our lives clearly!
We begin to understand, and discern (test) the will of God, allowing us to sense and find the will of God for our individual and corporate lives. Able to see “ahead” as to what we’re called to do and be. Instead of living by our wits – we have a new, divine, clarity as to where and when and what to do.
5. A Prescription for Wholeness. This new mind offers us a new life, an exchange of our will for His, and when we do, life becomes remarkably different… and NEW.
It marks a powerful new beginning for all who chose it, an entering into – a covenant with God – the Old Testament equivalence of being “circumcised” (Genesis 17) repeatedly emphasized in the Old Testament books.
In the New Testament this physical act is replaced with a “circumcising of the heart”.
A metaphorical and more precise description of the earliest sign of covenant, the removal of the “old” and dead sin nature for a new and cleaner life in Christ is the powerful symbol and proof of a life lived in “Newness”.
It leads to the Hebrew promise of Shalom. Or Wholeness – completeness. Fulfillment and contentment, peace and plenty, all wrapped up into a single idea. This is the fullness of life Jesus has offered to all who follow Him.
6. Getting Real:
We all get to choose how we will enter this new season of our life. We can keep doing the same things we did in the past, or we can pause, reflect, and reconsider how we are going to live in 2020.
For those who long for more… we can learn and follow the precise will of a God for our lives. We can experience “wholeness” and completeness, maybe for the very first time. Our future can be a bright horizon, full of renewed optimism and properly placed confidence in our Saviors plan being infinitely better than the one we had.
Let’s agree to “circumcise” our hearts – once and for all. To cut off the old ragged parts of our past, and agree to sanctify our lives, our ambitions, desires, and plans by surrendering them to God.
We do this Symbolically now at the beginning of our year / decade/ season… and then regularly as we go through the year / decade / season ahead. We want to reset our PACE of life to match Gods.
This year let’s resist the temptation to run at overcapacity- let’s decide now, we will consciously chose to slow down and simplify our lives – to intentionally make space, new room in the margins of our life for God. If you do, be prepared for Him to invite us into something new. That new “something” is going to be really good for us and our families.
—–This Blog post contains Fr. Brad’s sermon notes for his Sunday service sermon at St. Margaret’s Anglican in Conway NH —- Strong’s Reference material was obtained from Biblehub.com –
Learning to reject our ‘old’ identity and habits for our ‘new’ identity in Christ is an ongoing struggle for dominance in our Christian psyche.
Each heart that confesses the name of Christ and invites & submits to His presence as ‘Lord” and savior in our heart, has activated a soul transforming process catalyzed by the Holy Spirit.
No one can experience the presence of Christ within one’s heart and mind without being affected. It reorients and rearranges our spiritual DNA into something ‘new’ and ‘different’ than what was ‘us’ … before.
Speaking only for myself, and quoting directly from my own personal journal entry, the process looks and feels like this;
I can sense the old patterns of thought, behavior, self-condemnation, guilt, and shame are being slowly replaced with a new confidence in the power and presence of Christ within me. The ‘old’ brad is almost gone, the new ‘brad’ is slowly emerging from the shadows of my past life. The habits, tendencies, and temptations of two decades ago are no longer a constant, living, memory, within my heart and mind. New habits and affections have replaced the old. My soul, heart, and mind are coming into alignment and my sense of becoming ‘whole’ is growing inside of me. The more ‘wholeness’ I sense, the less restlessness remains. The transformation of my identity from old to new is reducing my wandering heart and diminishing my anxieties and fears.
The alignment of who I am in Christ with how I see myself, this is the new-growth of my current identity. I’m moving away from the ‘old’ man and actively leaning into the ‘new’ creation I was promised in scripture. This convergence of the internal and external man is what I mean by ‘wholeness’.
For me (and I believe for you too), the convergence of the promised and the present within, this is the hidden work of God’s Holy Spirit. He’s gently remaking me (us). We are works in progress, transitioning from being motivated by a restless and uncertain heart to a more grounded and comfortable one. A hidden transformation expanding from within. This growing sense of inner peace and contentment is firmly connected to my (our) growing understanding of who and whose I am.
The Christian life is more than a static existence, more than a series of devotions and disciplines, it is a transformational journey. A hidden supernatural work within that recreates our very identities and deepest passions.
God is re-writing His laws upon our hearts, as he repeatedly promised and prophesied. The presence of Christ within changes everything, and that my fellow believer, is the eternal power of the Gospel.
May the peace of Christ guard you’re ‘heart’ and mind.
Father Brad Mathias
Elijah was a rock-star in the Old Testament. He was a prophet’s – prophet. No other prophetic life in the scriptures can compare to the astonishing events surrounding this man of deep faith. (see his story for yourself in 1 Kings 17 – 19 and 2 Kings 1-2)
He literally caused a three year drought, called fire from heaven, and never actually died on earth as he was taken up in a fiery chariot. This was a man of courage. Elijah, at the risk of his own life, called out a corrupted government and the sin of embracing openly pagan worship in defiance to God’s will and ways. (not too unlike the world we live in today)
Yet we know this astounding man of faith also struggled with despair, depression, and anxiety. He too felt the fatigue of spiritual burnout, he got tired of all the struggles, all of the burdens that came with representing God to a hostile culture. Much of his life he had to live on the run, a wanted man without the comfort and stability of a home or place to call his own. His life was filled with great turmoil and forced isolation.
YET… he needed to learn to hear God’s voice, just as we do.
Elijah is the guy who hid in the wilderness, was fed by ravens, and eventually faced his fate completely alone and seemingly abandoned by God. It was in this place of deep despair that he and God had a remarkable encounter.
“11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” (1 Kings 19:11-13)
It was in this whisper that God came to Elijah, in the middle of all his stress and anxiety, despair and chaos, God spoke quietly and calmly to Elijah. It wasn’t in the rush and hype of a busy work day or after a stellar worship service at church, it was one to one – alone – on the mountain of God.
If you find yourself like Elijah, overwhelmed, discouraged, and full of despair… it may be time to go to the mountain and get quiet. For some of you reading this, that may mean a literal place you need to go to. A quiet place of reflection and beauty, a place where God has spoken to you before. For others, this is a metaphor of life. It means setting apart some time to be alone in your day or week, to be silent. It will mean turning off the electronics, clearing your calendar and waiting for God to approach.
It seems that in the moments we need Him the most, God comes to us. But only after we quit trying to control the story we live in. It takes a posture of full surrender to be still, to get quiet enough to hear the ‘whisper’ of God.
The Peace of Christ be with you.
(for those of you with young children, this ‘waiting’ and listening is almost impossible in the normal chaos of your day to day. Ask for the Holy Spirit to provide you with opportunity, and then stick with the being ‘silent’ part until you ‘hear’ what God is whispering to you.)
I need to share honestly… and I know I’m not alone or unusual. My last five years have been full of struggle and discouragements, tragic loss, and setbacks. I’ve felt the harshness of life and the ridiculously hard path of what I thought was a simple existence.
It seemed that everything and everyone was resisting me constantly, and the weariness from the exhaustion that comes from trying again and again to get back up…is impossible to describe without going through it yourself.
The accumulated years of seemingly pointless sacrifices take their toll on our hearts. Sometimes they get so grim they choke out much of our optimism and left us more empty and numb than alive inside.
As we ponder our lives, we have to wrestle with the point to our endless parade of difficulties and stress. We wonder, am I doing something wrong? Is God angry with me? Why doesn’t my life seem to be ‘working’?
If you’re finding yourself in a similar diminished state, weary of the struggles that never seem to be conquered… read on! I get it. I understand as much as any other human can.
Here are some hard won truths from my own private journal. Some are from podcasts I’ve listened to, some from daily devotionals, but most are from hours alone with God and His word.
Reminder #1: All difficult circumstances are not ‘God’s’ making. He doesn’t create and force disaster upon us, but when it comes… He is offering to be ‘in it’ with us. He will redeem whatever we’re facing, irregardless of whether we deserve it or not.
Reminder #2: The places we go for comfort in our difficult days are only temporary substitutes for the true solace we long for. Sex, Drugs, Alcohol, and Ambition can only numb us to the pain we feel inside. The deeper pain never goes away with external medications.
Reminder #3: The struggle allowed or endured is used by the Holy Spirit to remove the gunk in us and free up fresh real-estate in our soul for God’s presence to settle in and restore. Our hearts need made whole and that’s a inner work that takes time.
Reminder #4: God is good. His ways are odd to us, the solutions He prescribes seem to take the long way to our desired outcomes, but they are always the best possible route and a specific answer to each and every prayer we voice.
Reminder #5: The inner work of stillness is the mature work of a settled soul. God longs for us to shrug off our external distractions and focus on just being satisfied in Him. The bible calls this ‘abiding’ in Christ. It is the deep and permanent work of the Holy Spirit to settle a soul.
These are truths we must recall in the dark night of the soul. Those days and weeks, months and even years that we feel abandoned by God and alone in our struggle. We are not alone, it’s a lie, and the truth can be so hard to remember when our world seems to never change.
Be strong dear one, God is working… and whatever new and awesome assignment that’s right around the corner, you can bet it requires us to go through whatever we’re currently wrestling with. God never wastes our pain or suffering, He uses it to prepare us for the greater influence and responsibility sure to come our way.
The temptation is to simply find ‘the’ solution to our angst, but in the end I’ve found the discipline of ‘stillness’ is the surest course to find Peace and a settled soul.
As believers in our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, we have been invited into an Epic adventure.
Like the famous Lord of the Rings trilogy, we have pledged ourselves to a “fellowship” of heroes and saints. We are well beyond the honeymoon phase of our adventure and the sunshine has faded and the mud and muck of our journey has obscured the brilliant beauty of our surroundings. The shine is off the metal and we are wondering what we were thinking…
Our youth was full of clarity and confidence, we knew what we knew and mortality was a distant storm, we would go where we would, fearless and free of the bonds of fallibility.
Decades later…Life isn’t what we imagined it would be. Our world isn’t what we hoped it would become. Our faith isn’t as strong or as sturdy as we once believed… God seems distant and remote, far away from our struggles and pain.
Yet, we are still here. Still wrestling with our world, still standing up to the punishment of our past choices and hopeful for validation. We want it all to have meaning, for our time to have significance and our blood, sweat, and tears to matter.
This is the pilgrim’s path of ascent.
We remain despite our defeats; we believe despite our doubts. God is still a sacred heartbeat within our aging hopes and dreams, we long for more and pray it will one day be.
Be encouraged dear one. Be refreshed today in the truth of God. Soak In the gospel and allow its endless power to redeem and restore. You will be – all you dreamed and more, God will win.
The path ahead may seem impossible, impassable, and steep, but God has made a way. The path will grow bright as you step in faith forward.
He will not be denied. You will not be left behind and all that was promised will be.
The work has already been done. We simply walk into the works of God already established for us… I love this elegant passage from the Anglican Traditional Altar Service;
“And we humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen”
The prayer above echos our hearts yearning, as we age… the disciplines of our devotion never stop pulling at our hearts, we are forever affected, forever in need. Only His presence can soothe our aches, only His words can still our storms. Only Him.
This fellowship is for those who cannot forget, for those who cannot begin to comprehend the mystery and the marvel of Him. Its truth resonates deep within, flowing full and free from a source too deep to see and too bright to dim.
This fellowship never ends.
Take comfort dear one, your faith in Christ is well placed.
Peace out, Fr. Brad Mathias
References for study: (all scriptures are in the ESV translation unless otherwise noted)
biblehub.com – Gill Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:4-9: “Who shall also confirm you unto the end, The author of this blessing of confirmation is not the Lord Jesus Christ, though he is mentioned in the latter part of 1 Corinthians 1:7; and seems to be the antecedent to the relative “who” in this, but is not, for this confirmation is made in him; see 2 Corinthians 1:21; and besides, it is in order that the saints might be blameless in the day of Christ, and so must design some other person distinct from him, which is God the Father,
1 Corinthians 1:4, to whom the apostle gives thanks, and continues to do so unto this verse; in which he assures the saints of confirmation in grace by God, the author and giver of all grace: and which may be understood of their confirmation in the love and favour of God, from which there can be no separation; and of their establishment in the person of Christ, and in the doctrines of grace; and of the permanency of the grace of the Spirit in them, and of their perseverance in faith and holiness unto the end: that is, of their days; even until the day of Christ, when the good work begun in them shall be performed and finished; that is, “forever”,
as the Ethiopic version reads it; “for the love of God to his people always continues; their interest in Christ can never be lost; grace in them is an immortal seed; nor shall they be ever finally and totally moved away from the hope of the Gospel: that ye may be blameless; not in themselves, for no man is without his faults; none of God’s children are without their failings and infirmities; they have whereof to blame themselves, and may be blamed by God too in a providential way; but they are so in Christ their head, being justified by his righteousness, and washed in his blood; and so in the sight of God, as considered in Christ; and will appear such in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he shall descend from heaven, and take his saints to him, and present them to himself a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.”
—————- References —————
Jude: 24 “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
1 Corinthians 1:4-9 “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord”
2 Timothy 1:12 “..which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”
Philippians 1:6 “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace,”
Ephesians 1:13-14 ”In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory”.
Recommended Reading: Epic by John Eldredge.
These notes and thoughts are from Father Brad’s sermon preparation for St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, in Conway NH.