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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

Is LESS really MORE?

In our modern American society… we’re taught to be an overachiever. Our success model is based on doing more, working harder… outperforming our competition. Winning is everything.

Career Resume Consulting

Our culture respects the independent and dedicated worker, parent, or athlete. We get extra rewards with extra effort. That in turn pays off with greater levels of success and money becomes the main tool to measure our progress.

 

Some call this… the “American” dream.

But what does the Bible say? Specifically what does the bible teach about work and rewards, sacrifice and success… it may surprise you.

The bible describes our lives differently than we do. Instead of measuring our financial achievements, the bible measures our hearts and character. It measures our relationships and personal development. Not our bank accounts or balance sheets. 

In that light… we may see more clearly what God is up to in our life.

For instance, if we measure our success like the culture does, we’re probably going to feel pretty miserable. The vast majority of us are not climbing an esteemed corporate ladder to fortune 500 status. We’re not retiring in our thirties or buying a summer home in the mountains, we’re scrambling to cover the cost of new tires on our family SUV and hoping we can squirrel away enough cash to take a vacation this year.

Life is more than what we accumulate in our 401K. 

Jesus talked a lot about money, but not in the way we do. He used it as a reference point for us to see what we trust in, strive for, and how we steward it. His perspective is unique and helpful for us who are wondering if we’re getting life wrong somehow because we’re not ‘successful’. He said something odd – “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…Matthew 6.

Scripture Art

This concept or idea of investing is opposite of our culture. It points to giving things away as we receive extra, of sharing and investing in those around us who are lacking. It points to spending our energy in the lives of others, rather than building up our own nest until we can own a castle. It redirects our ambition to another place… outward rather than inward.

The goal of God is to make us all like His son. Not to help us retire early and avoid the struggles of month to month living. Sure, stewardship is a critical part of a healthy and balanced life, but in the end our provider is God. Of course we should still save money and plan for retirement, but it’s not something to put your ‘faith’ in.

The idea of less being more is key to understanding what God may be up to in your life. If you’re struggling with finances, you’re not being judged or dissed by God. He in fact is working in your something deeper and more profound than you can imagine… something eternal in fact. 

When we start to ‘get’ the idea of trusting God for our ultimate provision, we can begin to truly embrace the idea of “Sabbath”. We can authentically begin to explore what it means to ‘rest’. To enter into the offer of true peace and contentment that Christ refers to in the gospels and Paul highlights in Hebrews.

This is truly a countercultural idea. To slow down and to pause every week. To regain our physical, emotional, and spiritual balance with a day of rest and reflection. To trust that our ‘extra’ push to get things accomplished isn’t nearly as important as our confidence in God’s ability to get us what we need, when we need it.

Peace out, Pastor Brad.

PS (This is not laziness or taking a free-ride  through our life,  we can’t live on our couch and petition the state for money. I believe we’re called to be thrifty, industrious, hardworking  people, but in the end, we’re not driven by a thirst to accumulate wealth,  we’re focused on investing in lives not our mutual fund)

 

Fear of the Unknown & Unknowable

Life comes at us full throttle. Events, experiences, relationships… each of them can be overwhelming and exhausting. We do our best to anticipate and prepare, but ultimately we’re going to run out of solutions.

For the Christian, we have the option to turn our impossible’s over to the God of the impossible. 

Recently our Life Group discussed the issues we face that are simply ‘overwhelming’. From old to young (65+ to 15 year olds) each of us described life circumstances that were stressing us out. For some it was their age and stage of life being ‘too old’ and their worry of future employment options, for others it was not knowing what to pursue, what to study or how to proceed past High School. Each person who shared noted their lack of control and fear of the future. Of not ‘feeling’ confident about their ability to manage their lives.

It’s pretty clear from this pastor’s chair that we ALL struggle with the fears of our future. The phrase that emerged from our discussion was this…Fear of the Unknown and the Unknowable.’ It doesn’t matter your age or stage of life, it’s a common thread that we share. It affects parents more than most… we’re facing the fear of our kids choices, the uncertainties of their future… a heavier weight than simply worrying about our own.

In one way or another, we all will face the ‘unknown and unknowable’ details of life.  Our futures may appear unclear, cloudy, and indistinct. Our past may seem wasted or irrelevant, but the truth is different than we ‘feel’. God is using it all.

For the Christian we can live with the confidence of God’s faithfulness to direct each of our steps into His perfect path. We’re flawed, broken, and inconsistent… but He is unchanging, good, and reliable. His plan for our life is moving forward, we can rest in His provision and purpose being realized at the precise moment we need it.

This ‘trusting’ God for the ‘unknown’ and ‘unknowable’ is commonly referred to as ‘Faith’. 🙂

We like to have a guarantee of the future, a clear understanding of how and why things are going to work out, but for the Christian that’s not an option. Instead we’re given a blank check by God to use whenever we need it… an endless supply of Faith that says… I don’t need to know, because He already does. 

Peace out, Pastor B.

For a reading reference, check out Matthew 6:25-34