Seeing with the “eyes’ of Faith – a Covid-19 encouragement

Understanding The Restlessness Within

Learning to reject our ‘old’ identity and habits for our ‘new’ identity in Christ is an ongoing struggle for dominance in our Christian psyche.

Each heart that confesses the name of Christ and invites & submits to His presence as ‘Lord” and savior in our heart, has activated a soul transforming process catalyzed by the Holy Spirit. 

No one can experience the presence of Christ within one’s heart and mind without being affected. It reorients and rearranges our spiritual DNA into something ‘new’ and ‘different’ than what was ‘us’ … before.

Photo by Amine M’Siouri from Pexels

Speaking only for myself, and quoting directly from my own personal journal entry, the process looks and feels like this;

I can sense the old patterns of thought, behavior, self-condemnation, guilt, and shame are being slowly replaced with a new confidence in the power and presence of Christ within me. The ‘old’ brad is almost gone, the new ‘brad’ is slowly emerging from the shadows of my past life. The habits, tendencies, and temptations of two decades ago are no longer a constant, living, memory, within my heart and mind. New habits and affections have replaced the old. My soul, heart, and mind are coming into alignment and my sense of becoming ‘whole’ is growing inside of me. The more ‘wholeness’ I sense, the less restlessness remains. The transformation of my identity from old to new is reducing my wandering heart and diminishing my anxieties and fears. 

The alignment of who I am in Christ with how I see myself, this is the new-growth of my current identity. I’m moving away from the ‘old’ man and actively leaning into the ‘new’ creation I was promised in scripture. This convergence of the internal and external man is what I mean by ‘wholeness’.

For me (and I believe for you too), the convergence of the promised and the present within, this is the hidden work of God’s Holy Spirit. He’s gently remaking me (us). We are works in progress, transitioning from being motivated by a restless and uncertain heart to a more grounded and comfortable one. A hidden transformation expanding from within.  This growing sense of inner peace and contentment is firmly connected to my (our) growing understanding of who and whose I am.

The Christian life is more than a static existence, more than a series of devotions and disciplines, it is a transformational journey. A hidden supernatural work within that recreates our very identities and deepest passions. 

God is re-writing His laws upon our hearts, as he repeatedly promised and prophesied. The presence of Christ within changes everything, and that my fellow believer, is the eternal power of the Gospel.

May the peace of Christ guard you’re ‘heart’ and mind.

Father Brad Mathias

 

Hearing the ‘whisper’ of God.

Elijah was a rock-star in the Old Testament. He was a prophet’s – prophet. No other prophetic life in the scriptures can compare to the astonishing events surrounding this man of deep faith. (see his story for yourself in 1 Kings 17 – 19 and 2 Kings 1-2)

He literally caused a three year drought, called fire from heaven, and never actually died on earth as he was taken up in a fiery chariot. This was a man of courage. Elijah, at the risk of his own life, called out a corrupted government and the sin of embracing openly pagan worship in defiance to God’s will and ways. (not too unlike the world we live in today) 

Yet we know this astounding man of faith also struggled with despair, depression, and anxiety. He too felt the fatigue of spiritual burnout, he got tired of all the struggles, all of the burdens that came with representing God to a hostile culture.  Much of his life he had to live on the run, a wanted man without the comfort and stability of a home or place to call his own. His life was filled with great turmoil and forced isolation.

Photo by Eric Sanman from Pexels

YET… he needed to learn to hear God’s voice, just as we do.

Elijah is the guy who hid in the wilderness, was fed by ravens, and eventually faced his fate completely alone and seemingly abandoned by God. It was in this place of deep despair that he and God had a remarkable encounter.

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” (1 Kings 19:11-13

 

It was in this whisper that God came to Elijah, in the middle of all his stress and anxiety, despair and chaos, God spoke quietly and calmly to Elijah. It wasn’t in the rush and hype of a busy work day or after a stellar worship service at church, it was one to one – alone – on the mountain of God.

If you find yourself like Elijah, overwhelmed, discouraged, and full of despair… it may be time to go to the mountain and get quiet. For some of you reading this, that may mean a literal place you need to go to. A quiet place of reflection and beauty, a place where God has spoken to you before. For others, this is a metaphor of life. It means setting apart some time to be alone in your day or week, to be silent. It will mean turning off the electronics, clearing your calendar and waiting for God to approach.

It seems that in the moments we need Him the most, God comes to us. But only after we quit trying to control the story we live in. It takes a posture of full surrender to be still, to get quiet enough to hear the ‘whisper’ of God. 

The Peace of Christ be with you.

Fr. Brad.

(for those of you with young children, this ‘waiting’ and listening is almost impossible in the normal chaos of your day to day. Ask for the Holy Spirit to provide you with opportunity, and then stick with the being ‘silent’ part until you ‘hear’ what God is whispering to you.)

Living as a Settled Soul

I need to share honestly… and I know I’m not alone or unusual. My last five years have been full of struggle and discouragements, tragic loss, and setbacks. I’ve felt the harshness of life and the ridiculously hard path of what I thought was a  simple existence.

It seemed that everything and everyone was resisting me constantly, and the weariness from the exhaustion that comes from trying again and again to get back up…is impossible to describe without going through it yourself.

The accumulated years of seemingly pointless sacrifices take their toll on our hearts. Sometimes they get so grim they choke out much of our optimism and left us more empty and numb than alive inside.  

As we ponder our lives, we have to wrestle with the point to our endless parade of difficulties and stress. We wonder, am I doing something wrong? Is God angry with me? Why doesn’t my life seem to be ‘working’?

If you’re finding yourself in a similar diminished state, weary of the struggles that never seem to be conquered… read on! I get it. I understand as much as any other human can.

Here are some hard won truths from my own private journal. Some are from podcasts I’ve listened to, some from daily devotionals, but most are from hours alone with God and His word.

Reminder #1: All difficult circumstances are not ‘God’s’ making. He doesn’t create and force disaster upon us, but when it comes… He is offering to be ‘in it’ with us.  He will redeem whatever we’re facing, irregardless of whether we deserve it or not.

Reminder #2: The places we go for comfort in our difficult days are only temporary substitutes for the true solace we long for.  Sex, Drugs, Alcohol, and Ambition can only numb us to the pain we feel inside. The deeper pain never goes away with external medications.

Reminder #3: The struggle allowed or endured is used by the Holy Spirit to remove the gunk in us and free up fresh real-estate in our soul for God’s presence to settle in and restore. Our hearts need made whole and that’s a inner work that takes time.

Reminder #4: God is good. His ways are odd to us, the solutions He prescribes seem to take the long way to our desired outcomes, but they are always the best possible route and a specific answer to each and every prayer we voice.

Reminder #5: The inner work of stillness is the mature work of a settled soul. God longs for us to shrug off our external distractions and focus on just being satisfied in Him. The bible calls this ‘abiding’ in Christ. It is the deep and permanent work of the Holy Spirit to settle a soul.

These are truths we must recall in the dark night of the soul. Those days and weeks, months and even years that we feel abandoned by God and alone in our struggle. We are not alone, it’s a lie, and the truth can be so hard to remember when our world seems to never change.

Be strong dear one, God is working… and whatever new and awesome assignment that’s right around the corner,  you can bet it requires us to go through whatever we’re currently wrestling with. God never wastes our pain or suffering, He uses it to prepare us for the greater influence and responsibility sure to come our way.

The temptation is to simply find ‘the’ solution to our angst, but in the end I’ve found the discipline of ‘stillness’ is the surest course to find Peace and a settled soul.

Pastor B.

Transition with Provision

One of the greatest themes of the Old Testament is the ‘Exodus’. The focus on much of the first five books of the bible centers on a ‘transition with provision‘ as the people of God move from one place and season to another. (Egypt to the Promised Land)

Photo by Al Butler from Pexels

The Torah lingers on the details of Israel’s release from the empire of Egypt.  Significant details are shared about the journey of God’s chosen people from the land of Egypt across the Red Sea and into the wilderness, specific locations, events, and characters are recorded in intricate detail.

This “exodus’ is a major theme of the early scriptures and gives us a clue as to its importance in the bigger picture of history and the word of God. It tells us we can expect to face similar experiences and circumstance as we make our own personal journey from the ‘old’ to the ‘new’.

In the New Testament scripture we see a parallel journey for each believer as we leave the ‘old man’ behind and put on the ‘new’ man in Christ. The process of transition for each of us is unique, but the principles are the same. God always ‘provides’ for His people as they ‘transition’ from one stage of life to the next. The introduction of divine food  (Manna) is realized on the Israelite’s journey through the desert.  A remarkable and supernatural provision for their daily needs.

Change is almost always scary. When we leave the familiar behind we are taking a risk. God calls each of us to walk out of our old ways and lean into the new. These changes are transitions and can take many different forms. For some it’s the challenge of a health issue or Cancer diagnosis, for others it’s a lost job and new career path, but for ALL of us it’s a serious shift in our ‘normal’ way of doing and being.

Like the children of Israel, we face many stressful transitions in our life and like the children of Israel we too have a good and capable God who knows our needs and has already arranged for our provision. The scripture reminds us of God’s faithfulness to meet each and every need as we progress from one season to the next.

I love the way speaker and author Stasi Eldredge puts it in her book “Defiant Joy”. “In Christ your life is inextinguishable. Undefeatable. Victorious. Worry, fear, panic, and dread do not get to hold your heart hostage in their vise-like grip. Your heart is safely held in the hands of your faithful God who promises that a life of unending joy is your inheritance. It is coming.Jesus led the way. And though the way often includes disappointment, pain, betrayal, and sorrow, none of them get to have the final say.”

We can live with confidence no matter what we’re walking through or away from. God is going to keep up with you, He won’t leave you behind or let you go. Your safe, secure and intimately cared for, in fact you could not be in better hands.

Peace out, Father Brad.

PS – for a scripture reference to study, check out this passage from the Old Testament.

Exodus 16:14-18 (ESV)  – ” 14 And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground.15 When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?”for they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.’” 17 And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat.”

Faith grows, One generation to the next.

“Preserving our Faith, one church, one family, one generation at a time” 

There are a variety of secular forces at work in our society that seek to undermine the Christian faith. Specifically, these voices criticize the authenticity and authority of Scripture as well as the incarnation / resurrection claims of Christ.

Educated voices are claiming the bible is full of antiquated teachings and inaccurate texts. Our biblical beliefs are being generally discarded as fables and myth instead of being respected and revered as actual historical and spiritual events.

These forces are effectively disrupting thousands of years of church history and orthodoxy in only a few generations. Those impacted most include the 2 latest named generations. (Millennial’s and GenZ) – the erosion of faith is becoming clearly evident in the habits and beliefs / values of families with young children. (*stats from Barna Research, Huffington post, and the Orange Group.)

50-75% of students raised in the “church” leave for college and never return.

Over 65% of families are either blended or single parent – there are very few traditional, same parent homes left.

Approximately 50% of Millennial’s raised in the church believe the Bible is a irrelevant, inaccurate, and an outdated text, no different than the Koran or any another religious historical text.

The stories of heroic faith and miraculous phenomena described in scripture are disregarded by today’s young adults as myth and exaggeration.

The deity of Christ is directly damaged by the erosion of scripture as the divinely inspired history of God and mankind. The virgin birth and resurrection tradition become invalidated if the scripture can be undermined as inaccurate and unreliable. Additionally, we see culture discarding the moral codes dictated to Moses (The 10 commandments) and St. Paul (Romans) as they transcribed Gods laws to hold mankind accountable to a higher standard of divine justice and holiness.

Photo by Emre Can from Pexels

When we as a society disregard scripture as a moral authority, we allow ourselves to become our own “gods” – which gives us the presumptive powers to re-write” the moral rules to fit our own preferences. That is EXACTLY what we are seeing today. The original – divine – blueprint for life and human purpose has been literally rejected, erased, and rewritten according to our own personal opinions and reinvented “truth”.

The overwhelming rejection of all things “Christ-ian” has permeated the public sphere and is directly affecting our laws and social behaviors. The church finds itself in full retreat and assuming a defensive posture. This is due in part because of the rapid social transformation external to us as well as the growing publicity of our own internal moral failures of our leaders.

The net – net is this, we face a time of growing hostility to the church and its closely guarded and previously sacred beliefs. The church is seen as a compromised and hypocritical voice with no moral authority to speak to our modern culture.

The light we were meant to bring to the darkness has been greatly diminished – the darkness is growing and gaining momentum and widespread influence in our time. (Romans 1-2) Not a new phenomenon, something Paul was facing in the first century church as it engaged with Pagan Greeks and Romans and later St. Augustine faced with the widespread corruption of the church in the 4-5th centuries as it sought to offset the ways of the pagan culture it existed in and among.

It is and always has been the role of the church and the faithful believer to endure and remain steadfast, immovable, always prepared to give a reason for the hope within us. We are not going to change the world in a decade, but over time the “testimony” of faithful men and women that speaks louder and stronger than any media messages or false claims of truth.

The world is searching harder than ever for answers. They desperately want to know why they exist, what life is all about, what comes next?

We actually have those answers available within the church and carefully secure within the history and stories of our past. Each generation of Christian families and their testimonies carry the gospel message forward. Millennial’s and GenZ adults are desperately seeking to discover more than the “moment” can offer them, “They long for meaning, for anchors to secure themselves and their lives to, something timeless and eternal”. (*Fr. Dan Scott Ph.D.)

This (current) aging generation of faithful Christians have carried their values and beliefs with them, and the treasure of those carefully preserved traditions and beliefs are not “outdated” or erroneous, they are in fact as valid as ever. The structure that has provided safe haven for those beliefs and values is the Church itself, just as Paul said it would be. 

In the church we see our orthodox beliefs secured inside the traditions, liturgy, and common prayers of our historical creeds. These have been passed down reverently from one generation to the next for hundreds and thousands of years irregardless of the rise and fall of society and culture.

When we celebrate and remember the perfect work of Christ on Calvary each week, we are carrying those truths and traditions forward. The essentials of our faith are wrapped up in those familiar phrases, prayers, and declarations, and are carefully positioned in  the history of our church liturgies to preserve and protect them from the whims of popular opinion and personal interpretation.

The vitality of the worship we share with each other during each Sunday is more than for our own personal edification, those moments serve our children and grandchildren as protectors and incubators of faith, safekeeping and extending the influence of the gospel with continuity from one generation to the next.

I believe the churches finest hour is yet to come, as the hour approaches so will the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit to His people.

Blessings;

Fr. Brad.

Praying with Perspective

Do you struggle sometimes to pray. To sincerely trust God more than we do our-self? Do you wonder if He’s really going to ‘show’ up in our life when we need Him the most?  I mean the whole idea of God being engaged and concerned with my struggles and fears can seem laughable. I’m sure He has bigger ‘fish to fry’ than my petty little anxieties and circumstances.

If you’re like me, you might find yourself praying timidly around the edges of your life, asking for general things like favor, health, wisdom, etc. We’re  easily convinced He has better things to do than talk with us. 

It’s easy to feel that way. It’s not true of course, but it can ‘feel’ that way. We keep our conversations with Him short and superficial, we avoid asking what we’re in true need of, uncertain of our status with Him.  Sometimes it’s because of the fear we have about His true ‘answer’ to our deepest concerns, but I think its also because we don’t feel worthy of much blessing. We are keenly aware of our own shortcomings, inconsistencies, and hypocrisy.

Photo by Rodolfo Clix from Pexels

In the opposite extreme, sometimes we can totally take prayer for granted, rushing into things we go through our ‘check-list’ of needs, heedless of who and how we’re talking to the one who saved our very souls. We charge ahead in our demands, wanting answers to our ever present emergencies, approaching God without the reverence and awe He deserves.

If we’re being totally honest… often the ‘real’ reason we’re visiting with Him in prayer at all is to ask for stuff or to ask Him to affirm our wishes as His will. He becomes sort of a cosmic cookie jar rather than the Creator and Lord of all.  

In an effort to find some balance its important that we approach Him with the proper levels of both familiarity and respect. It’s vital that we find a healthy balance and perspective for the amazing opportunity that Prayer provides the Christian. In the end, prayer is all about relationship. It’s not about ‘getting’ but growing.

For those who feel unworthy, we don’t need to be afraid to approach Him and for those who are simply spiritual consumers, we shouldn’t over assume on His blessings. Thankfully, we’re offered grace for either imbalance and scripture grants us insights into how to access His faith and power despite our inconsistent and often messy spirituality.

I’ve been struggling with being too timid, too conscious of my shortcomings. Recently I was reminded to pray with more courage and a clearer purpose, to ask with less hesitation and more hope. 

Quick couple of thoughts for you to consider if you’re in a similar state.

  1. Instead of asking God for generic things, I’m learning to ask for specific issues. To be bold and ask for more, not less.  (for example – instead of just asking for His favor or blessing over those who are ill or struggling in their health. I’m asking instead for Him to “heal’ them completely.) I’m getting bolder, asking for the miracle and not just comfort, to see God bring wholeness from the brink of death or despair. (understanding that despite my boldness, His will isn’t always to fix things)
  2. I’m also learning to pray with an understanding that God’s strength and power are already ‘mine’ to access. I’m learning to pray with more confidence, trusting Him for the strength I need when I’m weak, trusting that those scriptural provisions of the Holy Spirit already exist, and I only need to ‘come under’ them or walk ‘into’ them in my day.

This isn’t word of faith stuff or positive thinking, it’s a firmer grip on the work of Christ on Calvary and my status as ‘His’ adopted son.

According to the scriptures, I’ve inherited His strength and wisdom and insight, I simply need to ‘remember’ that and step into it with the confidence of His work on my behalf. I’m not a beat up, worthless piece of poo in my redemptive life, I’m a son of royalty, a prince and heir to the King.

Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

Rather than giving me hubris and overconfidence, these insights give me the courage to engage my life head on.

I don’t have to slide around the scary things in my day or week, I can confront them directly when required. I don’t have to live waiting for the next crisis to crush me, I have every thing the day will require in Christ.

So do you.

Peace out, Pastor Brad.