Sorting Yourself Out.

There are moments we dread.

Long pauses after telling someone we ‘love’ them…opening a certified letter from the IRS… or getting ‘the’ follow up call from our doctor. Each of these moments slows our life down to mere milliseconds of movement. Our breathing stops, the sweat beads up and we want to wretch. It’s awful.

Fear grips us, gut deep and gnawing as we realize our life is out of our control. 

These ‘moment’s sort us out pretty fast. 

It’s in these moments we discover what we’re really trusting in, who we really are and who we are not, and what we actually believe about God.

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I’ve recently been through another season of personal upheaval. Deep changes in my work,  home life, and ministry. I find myself in Northern Maine, serving God. I’ve been removed to a distant and lonely place, isolated from my friends and family. Here on the back side of nowhere…I’ve had to change my perspective as I’ve been given some ‘extra’ time to consider and process.

Each change hit me hard. (Think like a two-by-four) Rapid blows that deformed my safe and predictable life, knocking the air out of my plans, my expectations,  my path forward.

On reflection… God it seems was calling me into something deeper and in doing so, He was ‘sorting me out’.

I believe the bible shows evidence this ‘sorting out’ is a ‘normal’ and healthy process to experience for the Christian, however when it happens to you for the first time, it gets ALL your attention.

So what’s the deal? Why all the drama and unanswered questions? Is God having a game with us or is there something deeper going on? 

I’m not for sure yet… but it seems to circle around this fact; I can’t get a grip on the essence of grace and the nature of our heavenly ‘father’ until I am desperately ‘aware’ of how much I need Him. And every so often… I forget. 

I think for many of us (myself included) we first experience God through a third person perspective. Faith is ours, but only as seen through eyes of our pastor or parents. Unfortunately it’s usually not until we personally have a few ‘moments’ in our life that we get ‘earnest’ about our own personal spiritual life.

Pexel.com

 

It seems we either turn towards God and seriously start to examine our faith or we discard it and Him.

I’ve been through this a couple of times in my life. Each time I’ve had certain supports in my life to help me through. Regular encouragement from a parent or spouse, the comfort of a ‘position’ in my career, or the structure of a scheduled life. Each of these external constructs were very helpful to keep me stable and moving forward, irregardless of the turmoil within.

But not now.

Now I’m in a new moment of life. God has engineered a space of life where I have to function and exist without any props to hold me up. No external supports or affirmations… just Him.

The empty space and silence of my life right now is maddening. I would rather run and yell and fight. But to just be silent is ridiculously hard and so lonely. 

Yet… I sense this ‘sorting out’ is an essential part of growing up, and an unavoidable part of maturing beyond myself.

What about you?

If you’re like me, you may be tempted to fill in the blanks. Move faster, get busier, schedule more stuff – anything to push back the silence and awkward pauses of our life.

Don’t do it.

Let both agree to let this new pace realign our heart and mind to be more sensitive to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit. From Abraham to King David, and Saul to St. Peter, each of the men and women of the scriptures learned to become ‘less’ and let God become “more’.

Peace out, Pastor B.

PS – No, for those who do know me personally… I’m not having a moral crisis or marital implosion, God is pushing into new territory within my heart and it’s uncomfortable. Pray for me, and I’ll pray for you.

 

 

 

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Am I running the right race?

This week, we consider the metaphor of “Athletics” as our entrance into this passionate principle of Christian living.

Paul’s describing the (his) call to ministry as similar to running a race, an illustration that his audience would recognize and appreciate. Athletic heroes and achievements were as huge in Paul’s time as it is in ours. The influence of the Greek culture included the Olympic ideals of athletic excellence and the cult fame of being a champion.

Let’s consider something similar in our time… the cult of athletics is alive and well – fan worship is enormous. Just consider the recent success of the New England Patriot football team and the accomplishments of QB Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick. Their unprecedented record and longevity of winning has established  them as legends in the annals of the NFL.

Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The effort and sacrifice required to earn such a reputation and record on the field is enormous and widely regarded as obsessive. Such dedication and personal commitment is remarkable and requires a year around dedication to train, diet, and avoid unhealthy habits or behaviors to ensure their bodies and minds are free of any containment’s or conditions that might reduce their athletic strength or skill.

This extreme level of athletic effort and prolonged discipline of will is the exact context that Paul uses to describe his focus and attention to ministry and personal spiritual living.

Assuming then that our lives are full of options – of different paths to choose from, we have lots of possibilities to race after, from prosperous careers to  acclaim and celebrity – we have our pick of races to run in – The question becomes… what race are you and I running? 

“I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. “

Paul’s life had changed dramatically from that of a scholar to that of an evangelist. His focus and attention were completely captured by the truth of the Gospel. His experience with God had redirected his energies to serving the needs of others more than himself.

Many of us get caught running the wrong race…not that ‘other’ races in life are bad or wrong – but they are “less” than the pursuit of God’s Kingdom. Remember the words of Jesus…in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 7

 “31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Paul was not focused on “earthly” achievements – he was focused on one primary goal, to finish the work that God had given him to do. Paul’s work assignment of planting churches across the Roman empire was specific to him, but we all share the bigger picture – God has entrusted each of us with a series of unique and specific assignments to oversee in our lifetime.

Body Tithe University

 

We are all called to be a part of the Christ mission on earth. Each of us are prompted by the Holy Spirit to function as an ambassador and agent of our Heavenly Father. Like Jesus at the temple – Paul in His Roman jail – we all have a specific place – time – and specific responsibilities customized for our specific gifts and personalities.

For the Christ-believer, we must be in pursuit of the presence of God. It drives us to go and do and risk everything – to follow is to obey. For the Christian there is always a Christ-commission that is meant become the prime directive of their life. Everything else is meant to be measured by that – all other considerations are meant to be reduced under the divine commission.

If you’re not sure what that is…it maybe time to ask until you get an answer. When we ask specific questions , God will clarify specifically.

Romans 12: 1-2 “ 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.” 

 Paul is making the point to the church at Corinth, don’t just rush around without a specific purpose or clear assignment.  Don’t rush into ministries you’re not called or equipped to perform – those will only exhaust you and wear you out. It’s important to engage with your specific God breathed task or assignment.

Many times we want to be just “like” a leader or mentor we admire – we model our lives and actions to match theirs and assume God would want us to follow in their footsteps… rarely is that so. We can waste years of our lives in frustration and confusion trying understand why our hard work and dedication isn’t showing any fruit. Paul reminds us to be clear on what we’ve been called to be and do.

  1. Do we know we are in a “race” – or are we standing on the sideline?
  2. Are we running with a light enough pack – or is it too heavy to win the race?
  3. Are we clear on what our purpose is – or are we living confused and frustrated?

Life is full of “races” to run – but only one race is truly essential. We have to be careful to focus ourselves in winning the right race.

Father Brad Mathias – First shared at St. Margarets Anglican Church in Conway NH

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)

Suffering that leads us to Surrender

Reading through the scriptures you can’t help but notice a pattern… the histories and testimonies of the patriarchs, prophets, priests, and kings all point to a common thread they share.

Suffering.

Sounds ominous, but it seems to be ‘the’ process God allows or uses to accomplish His will, His purposes in our lives.

The struggle of our will against God’s plan seems to work as the catalyst for our transformation. (think Jacob with the Angel) 

We desire and direct our lives to a specific point, we include God and prayerfully ask for His blessing to our efforts, but often we find our way in decline and the struggle to proceed becomes harder and harder to sustain. It’s in this pain that we suffer and wait for answers, confused by the lack of progress or success and we wonder if God is against us.

Rembrandt – Jacob wrestling with the angel. Google art project

He’s not against us. NEVER ever accept that lie. All of History reminds us of His passionate pursuit of our hearts! The great struggle of our faith is to cling steadfastly to this truth.

I’m learning a lot about these struggles and suffering moments right now, finding that it’s in these ‘storms’ of life that I am redirected from pursuing God as a means to ‘my’ progress. He’s more than a part of my plan, He’s bigger than all my plans and ambitions, He’s the entire point of it all. We have to reorient our lives around HIM.

We grow when we surrender our need to ‘know’ and accept His goodness for today and trust it will continue into tomorrow. I believe things radically changed in my life when I admitted my divided heart. That I was only partially in love with God and partially trying to manipulate Him into giving me what I thought I needed… but definitely wanted. I believe in the end He wants to be the focus and center of all my desire. He’s passionate to give us His best, and He wants to become number one, the focus of our attention and love. 

The suffering of our lives puts those inconsistencies of our motives into the floodlights of God’s divine illumination – these personal epiphanies are the mile markers in our journey of faith. They become the moments of clear understanding and  lead us to repentance, but often only come when we are exhausted and overwhelmed. It’s in those depths of despair that we finally surrender to God and in doing so they become the keys to our spiritual growth and maturity.

Brennan Manning in his book ‘Ruthless Trust” notes that we desire to have ‘clarity’ in our lives, often praying for it… but he points out that God wants us to have ‘trust’ in His goodness and His plan for our lives. There is a difference. (my paraphrase)

Clarity is knowledge of what’s coming. Trust is belief that God is in control of the future and that His plans are better than ours. Surrendering control is the door to us finding His peace and freedom from fear… easy to type, hard to act on.

Lord Help us ‘trust’ you in our suffering, help us to continue to believe in your goodness and give up our need to know and simply accept your leading us to a better place, that your plans can replace our own.

Blessings to you – Pastor B.

Unanswered Prayers

Paul writes of his ‘thorn’ in the flesh. It’s in his second letter to the church at Corinth, he’s describing an experience he had with God, confused by an unanswered prayer for relief.

 How many of us feel like God’s not listening when we pray? 

How many of us struggle with the weight of circumstances and situations that we can’t escape, the powerlessness of being caught in a dilemma of someone else’s making?

It’s incredibly hard to stay encouraged, ‘up’ or full of faith when we’re praying for relief and finding nothing but more stress and overwhelming pain in our lives. But Paul gives us a very helpful and encouraging insight into these moments of struggle.

Listen to his words… “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”(2 Corinthians 12:7-9 ESV – Biblegateway.com) 

Paul gains the understanding in the midst of his frustration, pain, and bewilderment at God’s failure to remove the obstacles to his life. Instead of growing angry and resentful, He grows closer and more intimate with God. A peculiar response to a prayer denied. I long for that kind of trust and faith.

dwellingintheword.wordpress.com

For me, it’s a struggle to just trust God sometimes. To just believe He is up there. To let go of my control for His will. I wrestle with the difficulties and attacks that seem to never end in my life. I wonder at the wisdom of such persistent stress and spiritual oppression, it seems so overwhelming. So pointless.

But then a passage like 2 Corinthians 12 comes along and light breaks into the darkness of my despair and I ‘see’ again. I remember the goodness of God and His infinite capacity to take the attacks of the enemy and use them for good. Not just “his” good, but ‘my’ good.

Paul illustrates the point of unanswered prayer so succinctly here you can miss it without taking the time to dig a little deeper. God’s grace and power are released in these ‘thorny’ moments of our life. Released in a very unique and permanent way that no other life experience can create.

It’s in these struggles of faith and circumstance that God transforms and abides with us. Our strength is sapped… and His is tapped. 

Powerful grace overshadows the overwhelming despair and defeat we feel… we gain character (for Paul it was humility) and we gain it permanently. We lose our fear and grow courageous, full of anticipation for how and where God will show up in our circumstances. Paul was convinced that the grace and power released in his struggle would so far overshadow the pain of it all that he was encouraged by the setbacks in his life.

So, if you’re in the midst of a rough spot, feeling beat up and abandoned, don’t give into the doubt, God is with you. If he’s not answered your prayer yet, He will. And like Paul’s triple request for relief, if God in his wisdom chooses to leave you in the situation, it’s’ because the outcome is going to be so much better than you can imagine, that it’s worth the wait.

I pray for that atmosphere of faith to rule in my heart.  “Lord I believe… Help my unbelief.” 

Pastor B.

Additional notes and links:

John Piper has multiple sermons and resources at DesiringGod.org on 2 Corinthians 12 – This is the one that was most helpful for me –  

BibleHub.com has a great array of Commentaries as well – the one by Barnes was so helpful in providing the detail on how these thorns create permanent changes in us.

Sometimes it hurts to care…

Life is easier on our own.

Alone is a simpler and less dramatic way to go. People are fine from a distance… but up close, things will get messy.

Parents have an amazing capacity to love their kids. I watched on the news this week as a mother was interviewed after her adult son had walked into a Nashville Waffle House and killed four random strangers. She still loved her son. She wasn’t condoning his actions, didn’t make any excuse for his behavior… but in her voice you could hear the suffering of a ‘mother’ and obvious heartbreak.

Spouses have an amazing capacity to love too. They can be lied to and cheated on, mislead, manipulated, and abused… but still the heart reaches out. The battered wife syndrome is a real ‘thing’. Women who are physically hurt by the one they love find it incredibly hard to walk away. They still ‘feel’ compassion and yes even love for their spouse despite the scars.  man in chair

Friends can love with great endurance as well. Suffering through the turbulence of being near the other. The passionate highs and lows of personal life can be abrasive and unexpected for a friendship to last. The ups and downs require patience and a long-suffering spirit, and thick skin.

Or not.

As a pastor, father, husband, and friend… I’ve seen all of the above from a distance and up close. From the parish I pastor to the kids I’ve raised, in my own marriage and with those I’ve walked through the fire with, there is no way we can avoid the pain of caring. People we care for and about are going to wound us.

The deeper hurt for me comes from those who misunderstand, from those who think the worst.

It’s awful when one who we once trusted decides its better for them to walk away.  The sorrow and injustice of such shame burns like fire, resurfacing like a glowing ember as we live it over and over, a fragmented memory smoldering in the heart and the soul.

We suffer when the bond of a life together is broken, the joy of sharing erased. We remember the snap of our hearts as they break…that moment when the full weight of rejection hits. Pain sharp as glass ripping our soul, an excruciating moment that lasts and lasts and lasts.

For some of us, we decide it simply hurts too bad to risk it again. For others… it’s an ongoing and unresolved debate. 

We can choose to run from relationships. We can walk away and close ourselves off, vowing to never ‘feel’ again. We can pretend and make our way numbly through what’s left of our life, avoiding the people and conversations that dig deeper. I admit… it’s tempting.

Or we/I can stop and face the pain. Invite others ‘in’. We/I can choose to let God touch us, let Him heal our wound. 

The Christian life is supposed to offer hope. The faith of Christ is supposed to be filled with grace. The Christian heart is supposed to be capable of supernatural love and forgiveness, but in my experience it’s very rare. The community of faith is supposed to be a ‘safe’ and honest place, a sanctuary in the storms of life. But is it?

The entire his-story of all human life is groaning for things to be set right. For our world and our lives to be restored. Somehow and in some unknown way God brings our dead hearts back to life. It’s the truth of the Christian Gospel and the promise of our own personal resurrection that has inspired men and women for millenia to get back up and take the risk of being hurt all over again. 

 

I whisper as the disciples must have whispered, with shaky and uncertain faith, sincere in my moment of doubt and pain, “Lord I believe… help my unbelief.” 

B.

 

Living in the “NOW”

After my breakthrough moment with God in Colorado… I carried a deep and lingering sense of calm. A peaceful and contented acceptance.  A better way to say it…  I had insight, an ‘understanding’ of what God was really like.

As my “papa” he was tangible to me. I could reach out and ‘touch’ that presence anytime I allowed myself to be quiet and still. 

This truth became a ‘doorway’ to a deeper chamber of my heart. IF God was my ‘papa’… then I could rest. I could let down my defenses and pretenses. I could let go of the constant need to review and project, my mind scanning constantly for danger in my past or the future, never allowing myself to enjoy the present.

The idea of relaxing was as foreign as ‘rest’ to my mind and heart. I couldn’t relax… not really. I had to be vigilant, had to assess and project the probabilities of success or failure. The inherent dangers along the way or the review of past mistakes to gain insight . I wasn’t able to relax because I had no one to rely on but myself. I didn’t really trust anyone. Not completely.

The Shack (summit entertainment)

If God was ‘papa’. He is trustworthy. Safe. Present.

No father betrays his kids. No heavenly father would be negligent in caring for my life. I could let that long – held – breath  out… and begin to slow it all down, steady heart. Mind resting enough to notice the details around me. I saw the beauty of Santa Fe, an old – old – old place. Full of adobe and tile, leather and stone. Beautiful and serene, it’s age a testament to longevity and purpose. Built by the Spanish monks over four hundred years ago, their places of worship still stand. Pointing not to their ingenuity – but to the one who inspired them to risk it all and go to a foreign place and dangerous time to spread their faith.

I noticed all of that in a nano-second. Like a Matrix moment in slow-motion… I could see and smell, hear, and perceive details all around me. Thousands of colors and shades had been missing in my life. I was black and white, sharp-edged and fast. Moving through the days like a school project, missing the ‘life’ around me. 

As I began to slow my existence in the wake of knowing ‘papa… I could live in the ‘NOW” for the first time in a long – long – time. I hadn’t felt this  in so long it was a bit foreign to me… not since I was a pre-adolescent kid in the summer – riding my bike with Scott McCumber or Mike Middleton – catching Crawdads – playing army – I remember each day was a decade of fun – but that had faded with adulthood. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today, I was ‘present’. Santa Fe was beautiful… each shop and restaurant a new treasure to discover, fear gone… I was able to relax.

Today, I was able to enjoy just being there. No distracting anxieties no restlessness.  I drove from Santa Fe to Taos, using the ‘high road’ it was gorgeous. The sun was clear and bright, blue skies and breezes all day. I drove and explored and relaxed in the sheer delight of it. No guilt, no regrets… I was living without the weight of all that pressure to keep moving. I could finally ‘stop’ inside.

Thank you GOD!

Next… my last two days on this Roadtrip Revival. Each was another beautiful surprise… rain in the desert and snow in the mountains. Special moments to share, truths to help me along.

Pastor B.