Fighting back from despair, a pastors confession of faith.

Fear… Depression… Doubt. Seems all I hear about anymore. From the news cycle to my weekly church meetings. People are so focused on the negative…what’s going ‘wrong’ in the world.

Their discontent… hovers over and around like a bad case of B.O. – (body odor) – The smell an overwhelming distraction in having any real conversation.

Sometimes our attitude or posture of life… just stinks. Our resentment and cynicism…grows and reeks like a ripe case of B.O., our lives full of frustrations and negativity. 

When I’m not careful…It slowly seeps into my own life… after prolonged exposure to the funk, I’m joining in right there with everyone else… and I’m starting to wonder, maybe life does suck?

Pastors are supposed to keep their ‘crap’ together. No “B.O.” for us . We’re supposed to live ‘clean’ and well laundered lives. No bad attitudes, no depression… no sulking. We’re the ones who go around cleaning up everyone else’s stink. We soothe and encourage, offer some kindness and consideration, even a heartfelt prayer, but it’s like a paramedic in a battlefront surgery center…. band-aids for blown apart body parts.

People are suffering. REALLY SUFFERING.Their pain is deep and dark, it sucks the  life out of them like a cancerous black hole. It’s rotten stench corrupting everything it touches or gets near. 

It’s in these fetid and helpless moments of ministry that Christ arrives. He always shows up right on time. Usually when I’m too tired, too overwhelmed to respond.  When my tank is empty and I’ve got nothing ‘nifty’ and ‘wise’ left to inspire the broken hearted parishioner laying in pieces before me.

That’s when God comes to my aid… the Holy Spirit prompting me to reach out and up…but not just in a desperate prayer for the right words to help… but, in an instant of worship.

Supernaturally… I find myself thanking God for the privilege to serve Him and his people as a priest. That’s when things change!

When life is hitting the proverbial poo pile fan – God shows up, but His presence is found in our worship. 

When I surrender my right to be pathetic and mis-understood… He’s right there. Usually it’s strongest when I’m in church – during the time of music and worship.

I feel like he just gently comes and sits right next to me… so close and comforting. His reassuring presence worth any sacrifice or suffering I’ve been whining about just a moment before. My “B.O.’  gone!

RED leaders network – source of image

I feel Him whisper those famous words ( like He did to St. Peter….”if you love me… feed my sheep”… ) it’s like salve to my soul.

I stir somewhere way down deep inside… love and contentment pushing out all my despair – the darkness in my mind  gone.  All that tedious wrestling is over in a instant. Truth crowding out the lies....”My ‘savior’ is alive. He’s here… and he needs me!” WOOOHO!

In that moment… I feel ‘whole’.  As I should be. I’m a priest after all. Serving others, pouring out my life… that’s the call for every pastor. 

The admission of my need and His willingness to intercede does something remarkable. I praise Him – spirit – soul – body! No religious exercise – but a genuine display of gratitude and joy – without thinking… my hands raise – the words I’m singing off key… echo to heaven somehow.

In those moments of renewal…He reaches across the distance of time and space –  touching my wounded heart. He lifts the bone weary fatigue and replaces it with sparkling fresh faith and desire to serve again.

I don’t know exactly how it all happens…  but He does. It’s a mystery.

This is the power of worship. Of ‘thanking’ God – no matter what. 

The greatest weapon we have in our darkest moments of despair is this.  Worship  with God, Worship with His people. Experience His presence. It’s worth every obstacle and effort to do this.

Be amazed. Be restored. Be made new again…

It happened for me… just yesterday.  No one around me even noticed… but the Holy Spirit did. My soul did… those refreshing winds came and ‘breathed’ again on my dry bones. 

What about you?

Pastor Brad.

PS – you certainly don’t have to be a pastor to feel all of this. Parent, Spouse, or social worker… teacher, non-profit volunteer, or policeman. Those who face despair every day risk bringing it home. Let’s fight back with some ‘hope’ of our own.

Restlessness

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

St. Augustine

The restless nature of our soul is a direct result of the duality of our emerging identity in Christ.

As we leave our “old’ self behind… the new and redemptive heart leaps forward to embrace all that should be. We start to sense all that can be, and soaring ever upward with the new-found power of a Holy Spirit, we taste the ‘good’ and long for the pure and true things of God. These delightful and treasured moments leave a lingering ‘afterglow’… a residue of God in our battered minds and hearts.

We crave the presence of God now… looking for more, longing to repeat the experience. It’s this deep transformational compulsion that begins to war against our oldest instincts. The old – and new – locked in an ancient yet intimate conflict of wills. Good and Evil ripping up the old establishment that was our comfy space.

This is the state of our souls in between. In – between the converted and the completed.

For Christians, this dichotomy of life and thinking, and living is our journey of becoming. Our battlefield of the mind and heart and the context for St. Paul’s writings in Romans.

If this feels familiar, you’re in good … even grand company.

Romans 7 and 8 focus our attention on the forces at work within and around our lives. It’s helpful to have context for the daily effort it takes to follow Christ all over again.

Let’s not grow weary in doing good…

Peace out; Pastor B.

Extra Reading resources. (Ligonier Ministries)

A uniquely complicated, but very intended individual. 

Disclaimer for this post:  There is/was no anger or fresh personal experience that stimulated this blog post. Instead… I wrote this blog after noticing a series of deep relational issues that kept coming up in my pastoral marital ministry. Couples who were coming to me for counseling exhibiting issues and patterns of verbal / emotional conflict that had specific behaviors in common. It was from these experiences that I began to research the ‘root’ causes of some of this… this blog post was a response to what I felt impressed into my heart and mind. It rang true to me and my prayer would be for this post to help you understand yourself and others better. Marriage is all about seeing ‘past’ the shortcomings of others.

I detest fake people.

You know ones I’m talking about… folks who always have a plastered smile on their faces…, never dropping their guard or relaxing their emotional control.  Always having a “fantastic‘ day or ‘gushing’ about how amazing their career is going, how accomplished their kids are… nothing negative, only awesome all the time!

Pinterest

Or… the maybe even worse…the fake people who rush to breathlessly confide in you. Whispering excitedly about the shortcomings of another in a somber tone of false concern, only to do the exact same bus-throw to you after you leave the room. Flitting from one conversation to another, always pointing out the problems of others, never offering to be a part of the solution, critical and duplicitous.

This is the wounded heart floundering through life. The insecure and insignificant soul reaching desperately to find purchase on the slippery edge of their existence, the ‘fake’ behaviors only symptoms of something much deeper. 

Let’s be honest here, we all struggle with both sides of this. Sometimes we’re the victim… sometimes the offender, all of us affected daily by relationships with people who are struggling to find their purpose.  People secretly afraid to admit their problems are real… hiding their shame in plain sight.

We’re all flawed, broken, and desperate for purpose and identity. We are longing to find the answers to the deepest issues of our existence, the reason we’re alive, the reason we matter.

The world is full of options and offers to pursue… knowledge, pleasure, possessions… honor. All of these can be valid to some degree, but what ties it to us? Where does our deepest identity spring from? Are we athletic, intelligent… beautiful, or spiritual? Do we allow ourselves to fail… or are we pushed to perfection in a wordless cry for value and significance?

Lots and lots of questions…

The Christian faith offers a simple consideration that can bring clarity and conviction to any life. An honest and enduring truth to build your entire existence around and on. 

Jesus Christ is in fact both man and God. His life an ultimate illustration of what life can be for each of us. What life should be for each of us.

The loss of purpose and value, the soul robbing power of fear and uncertainty gone in an instant. If Christ is who he claimed to be… (the one and only path to God) then what he did and why should matter.

It means we’re valuable. 

It means we matter. 

It means we can stop being fake. 

It means that who we are, the way we are… the unique and weak parts of us are all on purpose. They serve a function that’s essential and vital to our purpose as created ones. The things we hate about ourselves… our personalities, feelings, fears, and frustrations… our insecurities and stubbornness are all a mix of us… a uniquely complicated, but very intended individual.

The twist here… in our weakness, God reveals his strength.  That means… ultimately we’re not going to measure up on our own. That means… we’re going to get it (marriage/parenting/relationships) wrong. We’re going to fail each other and flounder around and foolishly fall on our faces.

So what! We are only HUMAN! Not GOD! Cut yourself some slack… cut others some too.

Here’s the punchline… there is only space for one “God” in our life…. and it’s not us. Once that reality sinks in… we’re off the hook. No more ‘pretending’ to be something we’re really not. No more posers trying to convince ourselves and everyone else we’ve got things in our life under control. 

What a relief that could be…

Peace out, Pastor B.

 

Politics and Parenting

Seems every week I write on this blog we have a different ‘crisis’ in the news.  From the threat of Nuclear War in Asia, to Ukrainian incursions by Russia, to the threat of ISIS in the public square… media is selling us ‘fear’. I’m not suggesting their reports are only ‘fake’ news, but I am saying they emphasis the ‘fear’ more than hope. On purpose.

As parents we’ve got a choice to make. We can buy what their selling… or not.

I choose to ‘not’.

Here’s why.

Politics is a murky world of hidden agendas, manipulation, half truth, and outright deception. Our worlds issues  are complex. Most issues are way past making simple ‘right/wrong’ judgements within a few minutes. Broad determinations on a person’s character or the wisdom of an action probably need more than a soundbyte. Judgements made  from a 5 minute news flash are not a good way to inform ourselves or determine our ‘positions’ on the latest politics of our day.  

Stepping back even further it’s clear that your source of information affects the ‘tone’ and perspective dramatically. Fox News or CNN…? Flip back and forth one day… listen to identical events being portrayed in polar opposite ways. One dissects the actions of the day from a ‘conservative’ or ‘Republican ‘perspective, the other in a ‘progressive’ or Democratic posture. Both are stridently ‘right’. Reading the news or hearing the radio talking heads go further into the weeds doesn’t help… each side props up their positions with selected facts and opinions to bolster their audience’s already decided positions on the latest drama.

How are we as parents going to help our kids navigate the mess that is our modern political culture?

Couple of thoughts. 

  1. Prejudice is well understood in the context of racism… but what about political parties? Conservatives and Progressive thinkers… Republicans and Democrats. Are we being pushed into yes/no answers based simply on  past stereotypes?
  2. Is the media messing with us? Are we being ‘played’ by a savvy business model that intentionally creates panic and fear to sell airtime and news? Hmmmmmnnn… I think so.
  3. As a Families of Faith, we should be careful to assign blame or pre-judge people, events, or news items simply based on what news cast we caught says. What about searching the scriptures… or praying. Or even saying nothing about the latest political foofaw to our kids.
  4. How much of what we’re hearing today… is going to even matter in a month? What about next year….? Can you remember what was happening last year this week on the world stage of news? I didn’t think so. (Freddie Gray – Baltimore police controversy – US News & World Report – May ’16)

In my opinion, when we allow politics to push into the sanctity of our homes… we are risking more than high blood pressure. Is it worth allowing the hype and fear and anger invade our lives? Is it wise to let a media driven culture subtly steal our peace and unity as a family of faith.  

Good questions. Lots of folks like to debate, discuss, and dialogue about the latest events and news. Great. Awesome. Me too… but as parents we’re faced with the dilemma of creating a space that is safe for our kids. A place that we can focus on the most important issues of life. 

I love that some parents use politics as a way to engage their older teens with an education narrative to teach values and truth from the exaggerations and deceptive reporting, but in the whole… let’s avoid being manipulated by media. Let’s agree it wouldn’t be wise to take sides prematurely on issues that may never matter. I’m talking to everyone here… Republican, Democrat… Conservative, Liberal, Progressive, Independent, Constitutionalist… etc… let’s pull back from the hype machine we call media and re-focus ourselves on the truly important things!

Peace…

Pastor B.

PS – I know there will be lots of opinions against my blog today. That’s cool… no problem. My views come from a “Via Media” approach to life. (The Middle Way – in Latin) Scripture reference for this blog… Psalm 2

 

 

Anchor Down

Drifting is a problem for me…. 

I get distracted sometimes, lost in the variables of life. Lost in the memories of past regrets and immediate consequence. What if… maybe I could have… and should have…thoughts combine to paralyze my present.

Added to regrets, may be the reality that life has not have turned out how we planned it… and a mild drift can quickly turn into ‘lost’.  (Sorry for the nautical) Corey_Arnold_Gulf_Crossing_2008_1178_97

The truth is we’re easily distracted, discouraged, and can get derailed from our life course. The rigors of circumstance and disappointment can sap our strength and siphon off our resolve. What was healthy and whole can become fractured and weak. Not from an overt sin or moral failure… but from the slow accumulation of setbacks and suffering.

Faith is like a muscle. It must be exercised to stay strong and flexible. Without use it will atrophy and shrink. 

The storms of life are sudden and violent, they threaten and bluster at us with all the vehemence and force of a hurricane before suddenly slowing and settling down. Anyone can maintain their sense of direction during clear weather, but it takes an ‘Anchor’ to hold us when the waves get high.

What are you anchored to? 

Our faith must be secured to something or someone greater than yourself, stronger than our emotions and deeper than our experiences. stone cross

For me it’s all about what I consider in my moments of freedom. When life is suddenly quiet and calm… where does my mind drift to? If I find myself over-indulging in the gratification of my senses, it won’t be long until I find myself discontented and critical.

When I deny my own gratification and take the opportunity to invest in my spiritual development… I grow. I gain perspective and I receive deeper insights into God’s character, His plan and purposes for life and the role He’s asked me to play.

Knowing a thing doesn’t mean I always choose wisely… 🙂 However, I am learning to discipline myself, to devote my time to prayer and reading of scriptures, to anchor myself before the storms of life hit.

To grow my faith in the moments of rest and not simply retreat from life when the opportunity presents. God is wooing me to spend time with Him for only the sake of ‘knowing’ Him more. Not in a crisis driven frenzy of faith, but in a simple and honest desire to be ‘with’ Him more than to feed my flesh.

Pastor B.

Key Scripture Reference: Ephesians 4:14-15 (ESV) Biblegateway Source:

14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

Link to Daily Reading and Devotional resources;

When the path isn’t clear…

Life comes with it’s own set of crazy choices. Options galore.

For Americans it’s worse than almost any other nation or people group… we have mega stores and megamarts with an enormous diversity of choices and and options to consider.  

I’ve spent ten minutes wrestling with my choices in the grocery storey… which wheat is best for bread? Whole milk, organic cheese, greek yogurt or bulk cereal?  So many products to consider. Literally hundreds of brands and labels to read, look for and price out.

The point is… the more options we have available… the less obvious will be the ‘best’ choice.

Can we identify God’s ‘choice’ in the mix of life? How do we know if God’s choice is the same or different than my own? What if that voice in my head is really the ‘devil’ and the advice I don’t like is from the Holy Spirit…? How can we truly know? 

These are truly frustrating moments for the father or mother whose tween or teen is acting… well, like a teen or tween. Rebellious. Angry. Disrespectful. Moody and mean. Do we ground them, take away their smartphone and change the wi-fi password… or do we send them off to a counselor… camp… or crazy aunt? All of these options are decent in their own way… but which of them is “God’s’ will?

How can a parent know?

Couple of thoughts for you today;

A. We ‘CAN’ know the will of God. We can hear His voice. But only if we listen. Only if we discard our personal preferences for His plan. 

B. We ‘CAN’ rely on the provision of God’s wisdom to guide our thoughts and inspire our ideas. Especially if we include others in the process. 

C. We ‘CAN’ trust the Holy Spirit to send us clear markers along the way of life. People, pastors, sermons that confirm or affirm the path we’re taking is ‘good’ or…. we can experience slammed doors and the unrelenting unease of uncertainty in the moments that matter. 

Over the process of prayer, counsel (with Godly mature leaders in our life) and patient consideration... there will emerge a clear consensus among your team. (Wife and Husband, Pastor and Leadership, Board and CEO etc…) That clarity will come with a sense of context as well. Timing… location, people, purpose, duration, intensity etc…

Road to Nowhere

But sometimes… a vague response will emerge from everyone on your team. Things  will be uncertain… foggy. Unclear. The path ahead dark and foreboding. What then?

If and when everyone on your team says something like this… God isn’t speaking clearly to me on this matter. I don’t hear a “Yes” and I don’t hear a “No”. The proper response should be to ‘wait’ for things to become clearer. Don’t rush ahead… don’t seize the opportunity…

NEVER ACT IN THE MOMENT OF ANXIOUS – URGENT – CONFUSION.

Sometimes, God is intentionally slowing us down to protect us… or to direct us in a new area that isn’t quite ready to be initiated. Sometimes, he’s simply eliminating our options so the choices are much simpler and straightforward. 

Either way, it’s essential that we trust our father to speak when it’s time for us to know. Until then, my advice is to “carry-on” in the same manner and direction that you started from. (Provided it was inspired and confirmed to be of God)

These are some of the hardest and yet richest moments of our lives. A time of uncertainty grows our faith, sharpens our hearing, and strengthen our resolve. We learn to expand our self-control (Saying ‘no’ to our emotions and impulses) and we gain patience and wisdom in the waiting.

It is hard to pray and hear ‘nothing’… but it’s meant to be a blessing, so keep asking, keep praying. God’s going to bring clarity. He will answer, and when He does it will make so much more sense than it does right now!

This blog was inspired by the following text: James 1:2-8 ESV. 

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Love you all, Pastor Brad.

The Flaws of Family…

Every year we gather as families. 

Turkey and Football, Black Friday and Tryptophan Thursday… the family together… In one place… for an extended period of time.

That will create some drama. 

Sometimes it’s good drama (hugs, love, affection, and cheek pinching) and sometimes it’s bad. (arguments, old grudges renewed, hostility and offense) family-thanksgiving-drama-modern-family

The question for each of us, how will we respond?

Of course families have emotional baggage. Of course we struggle to ‘like’ the one’s we love. That’s life. That’s family. Expect it.

Don’t revel in how bad it (family) really is now that you’re back in the thick of the fray. Don’t marvel at how much the past mirrors our present, or how the old habits of your family are like Kryptonite to your Christian testimony of today.

My encouragement, my exhortation… enter the Turkey gates this year with renewed humility and hope.

  1. Humility – accepting your own flaws. Acknowledge and accept that you need as much forgiveness and grace as anyone before arriving…  If you do, you’ll be in a much better position to extend some grace to your annoying whoever… 🙂
  2. Hope – trust that as God is actively at work in changing you… He is also working with those around you. That means… your family can change!

Remember… it’s the mix of good and bad that make it all so interesting. One thing we know for sure as followers of Christ, He expects us to learn to love each other as He loves us. That means to forgive and to be reconciled (*means to make things right) with our families.

Oh… and for those of you who are parents….your kids are watching. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pastor B.