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.

Moving through the Wilderness is Moving Past Me.

Moving past Me

We may be starting to appreciate the design in our wilderness circumstances, even begin to understand the strategy in all our struggles, but the battle to survive the process we’re caught up in will require us to lift our gaze further than we have before.

The journey of faith we’ve been invited into cannot simply be focused on our situation, it’s larger and bigger than us. His presence in our lives is meant to be more than a means to an end. He cannot be approached without shrugging off our selfish and ambitious nature.

We cannot proceed any further in our upward ascent to following God if we insist on retaining what remains of our old self and sense of control. Thus the need for us to be driven into a desert / a wilderness moment of life, a place of being sorted out from the contamination of our world and the sins that so easily clings. (Hebrews 12:1-3) (Romans 12:1-3)

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The maturing focus of our spiritual journey requires a shift from our plans and promotion, to the relationship behind the entire belief system. Christianity is not a path for personal enlightenment or purification for our own merit – but rather as a process of being sanctified and consecrated for the creators presence. We are not our own.

Our relationship with God must become greater than any other preoccupation of our hearts. We can’t simply pursue His favor and blessings, we won’t progress any further than we are. To move deeper and higher we must relinquish our very identities to Him. Finding our strength and value and purpose in our time we spend within His presence.

He is not a means to an end… HE IS THE END.

Tozer quote: “We must be concerned with the person and character of God, not the promises. Through promises we learn what God has willed to us, we learn what we may claim as our heritage, we learn how we should pray. But faith itself must rest on the character of God.

 Is this difficult to see? Why are we not stressing this in our evangelical circles? Why are we afraid to declare that people in our churches must come to know God Himself? Why do we not tell them that they must get beyond the point of making God a lifeboat for their rescue or a ladder to get them out of a burning building? How can we help our people get over the idea that God exists just to help run their businesses or fly their airplanes?

 God is not a railway porter who carries your suitcase and serves you. God is God. He made heaven and earth. He holds the world in His hand. He measures the dust of the earth in the balance. He spreads the sky out like a mantle. He is the great God Almighty. He is not your servant. He is your Father, and you are His child. He sits in heaven, and you are on the earth.”

 From his book; Faith Beyond Reason, 44.

The Stillness of Intimacy – a gift from the wilderness

 

In the Wilderness… we can grow into a deeper ‘Intimacy” with God. 

The process of the Holy Spirit is persistent and subtle in our wilderness season.

  • He asks us to follow the voice of God – to walk the path we have been shown despite our limited insights and understanding of the “purpose” or plan.
  • We are gently forced to let go of our stuff – our crutches that have propped us up. (Career – intimate relationships that hold us back from growing in faith – confidence in our financial strength – friendships – ministry roles) things that affirm us or give us perceived value. Things “other” than God.
  • We must willingly surrender these “other” things as we choose to “stay” in the place and path Gods spirit has led us. We cannot run away or hide – we must allow the work of the Holy Spirit to persist in our weakness.
  • Our dependence on the flesh for support and affirmation is reduced the longer we allow ourselves to be reduced. Our need for the flesh is weaned – and we grow in hunger and interest in the things of the Holy Spirit.
  • The loss of self is astonishingly difficult, but it removes our false confidences and pseudo identities and replaces them with a transparency of the soul. We block less of the Spiritual light within and begin to assume more and more of our identity from the one who inhabits our heart.
  • Here habits can be broken and false assumptions revealed. Here in this place we can be changed and transformed from what we were to who we are destined to be.
  • It’s also here that we can begin to hear and understand the work of the Holy Spirit within much better than we could otherwise. We can gain insight and wisdom from the suffering we’re experiencing.

The process* of growing in Intimacy requires us to become “still”. To learn to stop doing things to change our circumstances. God wants to teach us how to wait. He wants to train us to trust His plans more than our own.

2 Chronicles 20

This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”

 The struggle to draw near to the creator is real – everything in us resists approaching His presence. Our minds endlessly inventive for finding “other” options to pursue.

Photo by Lucas Campoi from Pexels

Apprehension at His knowing gaze tempts us to run, to avoid being exposed for what we truly are. Our external and superficial defenses are powerless before Him. We desperately assemble something to prop ourselves up… we use our self invented identities and lean on personal successes to offset the weakness His gaze is revealing about ourselves. Lacking the strength to withstand or endure the penetrating power of His words to us, we are tempted to just keep retreating and hiding from the painful truth. Just like our forefathers we look for whatever fig leaves we can find to cover our nakedness.

The active effects of our wilderness circumstances and of His approach are effective in forcing a “sorting out” of our past presumptions and false assumptions.

We cannot retain our pride and false bravado for very long in the definitely engineered circumstances of His will. There is no room for the baggage of our past in the present, we are unable to deny the truth of our weakness and incompleteness. We must admit our need – accept His conditions or we must flee forever.

This process of growing in Intimacy requires a form of “sorting out” or refinement. Consider your life as you would a precious metal like Gold, Platinum, or Silver, this is how God sees us. The purification of this treasured substance (our hearts) is a large part of the human condition as experienced in Christ.

We are in nearly constant transition as we experience the fire and flames of being heated and then the abrupt change of being thrust into the icy waters. The repeated heating to the point of melting and then being plunged into one more baptismal trial after another is the tempering way for every believer to proceed in their faith. No other path will prepare us adequately for the prize we seek.

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It’s in this season of refinement, in the pain and suffering of our fearful transitions and abrupt life changes that we risk giving ourselves over to the darkness of despair and discouragement. Make no mistake, this is a choice! We have the capacity to chose life or death, Hope or despair and it’s in this that our life trajectory will rise or fall.

No one of us can endure the strain indefinitely, we are subject to the mortal nature of eventual fatigue and exhaustion, but this too serves the masters purposes and realign’s our understanding from fantasy to faith. We cannot continue to pretend or fake our way through the Christian life, we must dig in or bug out.

Despite all of the insight and growing personal awareness of our condition, we cannot remain myopic and self obsessed for long if we are to move forward. The journey is “upward” and if we keep clinging to Jesus, we will wind our way to greater heights and better perspectives than we have ever yet experienced. This isn’t a test of our strength, but rather our wills. Surrender is hard.

The Wilderness isn’t about being abandoned by God, it’s all about learning to be more intimate with Him.  An unavoidable place and space in every Christians story, the journey of faith expands for those who choose to stay in His presence, for those who trust enough to be still. 

Pastor B.

 

Life in The Wilderness

 

  1. A classic setting – The Wilderness
  • God moves us away from our fleshly support and natural strengths = isolation
    • This process of removal from all things “familiar” is an essential part of deconstructing our old identities and allows for the reconstruction of the new and true identity we’ve never fully realized from our own effort and ambition.

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* He allows us to be left out of the normal flow and function of our world = leaves us feeling discarded or in a ‘time out’, but we’re not.

* He allows our circumstances to be uncomfortable and difficult = suffering

  • He prevents us from seeing beyond our day, no vision for tomorrow, no clarity of our path forward = dependence
  • Our activities are mundane and seemingly irrelevant, we feel insignificant and ineffective at best = reveals motives
  • Our hearts feel alone and unsupported, our minds are anxious and we sense only ourselves and no one else. = Faith vs. feeling
  • In our despair we are forced to choose, we can turn to our past or trust God for our future. Our flesh aches to find meaning, value, purpose in our old ways and habits. The spirit urges us onto deeper intimacy with God. = spiritual growth
  • The longer and deeper the struggle lasts, the more profound and enduring the lessons and transformation we experience.

This isolation and instability is awful. It removes all manner of old affirmation and familiar encouragements, this is exactly as intended by God to lead us deeper and further into our intended purpose.

Psalm 27 is / has been a significant strength to me.

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;

whom shall I fear?

  The Lord is the stronghold of my life;

of whom shall I be afraid?

 4  One thing have I asked of the Lord,

that will I seek after:

  that I may dwell in the house of the Lord

all the days of my life,

  to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord

and to inquire in his temple.

 5  For he will hide me in his shelter

in the day of trouble;

  he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;

he will lift me high upon a rock.

 7  Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;

be gracious to me and answer me!

 8  You have said, “Seek my face.”

  My heart says to you,

“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”

 9  Hide not your face from me.

  Turn not your servant away in anger,

O you who have been my help.

  Cast me not off; forsake me not,

O God of my salvation!

 10  For my father and my mother have forsaken me,

but the Lord will take me in.

 11  Teach me your way, O Lord,

and lead me on a level path

because of my enemies.

 12  Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;

for false witnesses have risen against me,

and they breathe out violence.

 13  I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord

in the land of the living!

 14  Wait for the Lord;

be strong, and let your heart take courage;

wait for the Lord! (ESV)

Life in the Wilderness – Biblical Examples:

* Abraham in the promise land – experiencing famine and leaving the promise land to go down to Egypt. (Foreshadowing)

  • Abraham and Sarah – living in the land of promise without the promise and creating Ishmael in an effort to force the promise of God
  • Jacob and his servitude to his father in law
  • Joseph and His imprisonments
  • Moses and his 40 years in the desert wilderness
  • The nation of Israel and their wandering generation of 40 years in the wilderness
  • David as the future anointed King and his 15 years of running and hiding in a wilderness exile and under threat of persecution by King Saul
  • Jesus in the desert for 40 days and nights before his ministry begins
  • Saul / Paul in his desert time in Arabia – 14 years

These ‘examples’ should bring us comfort and perspective. Each of us will enter multiple seasons of wilderness life, each will need to move from anger and doubt to acceptance and trust. The wilderness in scripture represents a time of testing and teaching. God was not punishing, He was preparing.

So it is with us.

Seriously though…

What’s so important about all this Christianity stuff, does it really matter? I mean, people have the freedom to choose whatever they want to believe.

Evidently this is the case as almost half—47 percent—of practicing Christian millennial’s believe “it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hope that they will one day share the same faith.” (Barna defines as “practicing Christian” those who identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives, and have attended church in the past month. – Source: Barna research group)

Today our society is all about tolerance. We’re being trained by our culture to be a ‘kinder, gentler, and more tolerant”, generation of Christians. Don’t get me wrong, we should be gentle and kind, and this is not advocating a license to be a jerk, or to act without respect… but the middle road (Via Media) is where I’m heading here.

It would be so nice to avoid the uncomfortable discussions, to remain aloof from the world and it’s controversies. It would be so much easier to just coast along life watching and observing the flow of pop culture as it diverges from the traditional values of two millennia of Christian orthodoxy. But I believe we’re called to be more than ‘critics’ of our culture, we’re called to be an influence within it.

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Granted over the years the church has waxed and waned in its role as Gods ambassadors to the world, but on the whole the message of the Gospel has emerged as direct and brilliantly clear as when it was first shared with us.

Sin. Grace. Forgiveness. New Life. Purpose. Hope and a coming Kingdom. 

God’s rescue plan was daring, out of the box, and completely successful. No detail was overlooked and no generation left out, He thought of everything and everyone as He saved the world and all creation.

But saved us from what? I mean what was the big deal, the alarm that seemed to cause such a cosmic fuss? According to the bible, it was eternal death.

Not just physical death and decay, but something so awful and destructive it stretches across time and space to confront all mankind with the despair of losing our entire existence. Not just this life, but all the intended pleasure and purpose of the divine eternity.

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The whole construct of the Christian faith centers around the ‘salvation’ of the soul and the Resurrection of the dead. Nothing else matters! 

We need to seriously consider that as we navigate our lives, we need to really and truly wonder at the seriousness of the situation we find ourselves in. If the gospels are accurate about this spiritual death that threatens us all, it should affect us.

We are entrusted with more than blending in. Our lives are meant to be risked, our popularity and acceptance is irrelevant. People are dying. Lives are being lost for eternity. Hell and separation from God are a real possibility. Stuff that’s uncomfortable to talk about, stuff we try to deny and avoid at all costs, but if there is anything more important to sort out… I don’t what it would be.

What about our soul? What about our faith and relationship with the only person who actually matters? Jesus. 

Lent is this week. A time of introspection and mediation. What am I here for? What’s the point of my existence and what is it God has offered me? Ideas that are worthy of our consideration and self-examination.

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Let’s not waste our chances…

Pastor B.

Links:

Tim Keller on why Evangelism is so hard. (Relevant Magazine Source)

Ash Wednesday (Free)

Lenten Devotional (Free)

 

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.

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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.

 

 

 

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