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)

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Whose Am I ?

I’ve been on a pastoral sabbatical.

A rare 3 months to rest and unwind my mind and body from the rigors of bi-vocational service. I still have my ‘day’ job to keep up with, but I’ve been allowed to step back for twelve weeks to catch my spiritual breath. A first for me.

Sounds great! A chance to let go of some of the extra  commitments and obligations that come with pastoring a small church… but it’s actually been ridiculously hard. My free time has stretched me in ways I’ve never felt before and revealed areas of my life that needed to be attended to.

When I slow down, I fidget. I get uncomfortable and anxious without something to do, somewhere to be. When I stop, I have time to think… and when I stop moving I feel less important, less necessary…less needed.

Specifically… I lose my sense of value and purpose without running 100 mph every day. After decades of racing through life.. .this sabbatical has raised the proverbial hood of my souls engine and forced me to see what’s ticking underneath the drive to do and be more.

God is gently pushing me to re-examine my life, to take a survey of my identity. Where do I draw my value from? How do I see myself as a person as a man? Stuff I’ve not had to wrestle with for a very long time, issues that I never anticipated have become very much a part of my daily dialogue with God. He’s asking the hard stuff in my ‘down’ time. Just like Jesus did with His disciples, the questions reveal the areas of our life that need to be restored and renewed.

How about you? Have you had to wrestle with where you draw your identity from? As parents it’s appropriate to consider yourself as a mom or dad first. To take comfort in the role you’ve been appointed by God as a sacred trust. Caretaker, teacher, friend, and mentor to your kids. Those duties and obligations often push other commitments and pursuits away, and fill our lives with the daily work of family. 

For dads, we may find ourselves focused on our role as provider and defender. Taking our identity from our ability to work and earn a living. We draw our strength and value from the paycheck and security we provide our homes, and as we gain financial stability our self-esteem begins to keep pace. It feels good enough to our fragile egos  to seduce us into working ‘all the time’.

For pastors, lay-leaders and church ministry volunteers: the role we fill as teachers and shepherds can overshadow who we are. Our commitments to serve the body of Christ are noble and self-sacrificing, dutiful and sacred in their own right. We can gain self-importance and significance in our leadership roles and over time those strengths can become a part of our ‘false‘ self. A propping up of our self-worth and self-esteem with the external affirmation and encouragement of those we lead, a temporary fix that won’t work long-term. It’s the same core heart issue as the workaholic dad, but dressed up as ‘ministry’.

All of this is normal and predictable. Mothers gain their strength from the health of their family, dads from the financial contributions they bring, and pastors from the size of the congregations they serve…but there will be a time in each of our lives when those externals will be challenged by events and circumstances outside of our control. 

For parents, our kids will eventually grow and move out. The empty nest is a test for the marriage and identity of both parents, especially moms.

For dads, the career sacrifices and endless struggle to contribute to the bottom line will dry up or go completely away. The stress of being in-between work or career is life changing and carves deeply into the confidence and value of a man’s self-esteem.

For pastors, the expansion or contraction of their church body will temp them to feel good or bad about their performance as a spiritual leader, and in doing so falsely inflate or deflate their self-esteem based on a limited understanding of God and His faithfulness in spite of us.

The struggle is real. Where do we draw our confidence from? Who defines us? Where can I go to discover the truth about ‘me’? 

When I prayed over this and studied the scriptures multiple truths emerged. One question I was asked in prayer was this… Whose am I”? 

Am I ‘God’s man… or man’s man?

Am I focused and intent to spend my energy in knowing Him, of being in His presence? Am I more concerned with His feelings about my life or other people?

Whose… Am I?

Am I my wifes man?  Am I my bosses man? Am I my kids man? Do the people I lead love me? Do I only consider my own desires, or do I surrender my plans for God’s? ?

What I think He’s asking us all is this. Am I God’s man? 

The question is more than rhetorical. My identity is going to be very strongly associated with where my energy is directed and my focus maintained. Where my ‘treasure’ is, there my heart will be also, and my sense of self-worth will flow from that fountain – good or bad.

I notice that when I keep my heart and mind open to God’s daily & hourly whispers… I am at peace and looking for His direction on which step to take next. When I allow God to fill my awareness, I shrink and He grows.

The truth of being an adopted son and joint heir with Christ begins to take root and grow. My need to be seen and heard is stifled and the fears and insecurities fade. The weight of my life is shifted from my shoulders to His hands.  I can rest and I can trust in something much bigger than me.

Taking time to ponder and pray is more than a luxury of a sabbatical, it’s an essential process we all need. The struggle to slow down and simplify although difficult at first, has become an essential lesson for me. It has allowed for the deeper issues of the heart to be noticed, considered, and addressed.

God is active in my sabbatical; He’s pruning me. Preparing me  for a future with bigger fruit and more abundant living. He’s also rewiring me from measuring those things with the models of success that our world so strongly endorses. 

He uses the cross of Christ and an invisible Kingdom as His measuring stick and the presence of Peace in our turbulent existence  as proof it’s all for real.

Pastor B.

PS (the use of ‘man’ in this blog is not meant as sexist, simply as a generic term for mankind)

Facing the past as parents; 1988 to Now

I think every generation of parents has fear. Each transition of faith from one age to the next feels like a critical pass of the baton, a sacred trust that must be kept.

This age and stage of our society may be unlike any before…unique in the modern era. Not being a legit historian, I would hazard a guess that not since the rise of the industrial revolution has the fabric of life been so rapidly affected as it is with today’s technological transformation. 

Think back 30 years. (1988) Consider the state of society and faith, the condition of the family and what we considered to be ‘normal’. The personal computer had just become a product for us to consider. The internet wasn’t yet a public concern. Cellular phones came in bags and families of faith were focused on the abortion debates, and prayer in the classroom. Marriage was defended by both democrats and republicans as between a man and woman. Pot was illegal. 

Oh, change was occurring in 1988; generational shifts were rapid between music styles, MTV videos and late night television stars opened up the door to cable TV programming, and something called “hip – hop’ was being heard from those ‘boom boxes’ in the streets. We were fascinated by Top Gun, Beetlejuice, Michael Jackson, and Miami Vice. Big hair and Nike shoes were the norm as our values were shifting to focus on wealth, raw materialism and success. The party scene was focused on  a brat pack in southern California and the valley of San Fernando was the talk of every town. Eddie Murphy was coming to America, the Young Guns were big at the box office and Ronald Reagan was rocking America into a major economic recovery. The incomparable U2 was on top of the music world,  “but we still couldn’t find what we were looking for”. 

Today, life is shifting again. Parents who were once teens, are now facing tremendous strain. We who were the self absorbed children of the 80’s are now seeking wisdom on how to help our teens navigate a digital world of relativity and limitless opinions. 

If your not aware, here are some recent (2018) stats about Generation Z (kids currently 13-19 years old) from the Barna Research Group.

Barna Research Group (2018) Study Findings: Barna’s most comprehensive research study investigating the perceptions, experiences and motivations of 13- to 18-year-olds in Generation Z, reports the following:

  • 59% of students in this age group Identify as Christian or Catholic (down from 75% ).
  • 21% say they are atheist or agnostic (up from 11% )
  • 4% say they have no religious affiliation (up from 9% )
  • Students in this age group offer the following “barriers to faith”:
    • a. “I have a hard time believing that a good God would allow so much evil or suffering in the world” (29%)
    • b. “Christians are hypocrites” (23%)
      c. “I believe science refutes too much of the Bible” (20%)
      d. “I don’t believe in fairy tales (19%)
      e. “There are many injustices in the history of Christianity” (15%)
      f. “I used to go to church but it’s not important anymore” (12%)
      g. “I had a bad experience at church with a Christian” (6%)
  • Students in this age group struggle to reconcile science with the Bible.
  • 24% side with science (up from 16% ).
  • 31% believe science and the Bible refer to different aspects of reality (up from 25% ).
  • 28% believe science and the Bible can be used to support each other (down from 45% ).
  • 17% consider themselves on the side of the Bible (up from 13% down from 19% for “Millennials”)
  • Students in this age group hold negative perceptions of the church in the following areas:
  • The church seems to reject much of what science tells us  (49%)
    b. The church is overprotective of teenagers (38%)
    c. The people at church are hypocritical (36%)
    d. The church is not a safe place to express doubts (27%)
    e. The faith and teaching I encounter at church seem rather shallow (24%)
    f. The church seems too much like an exclusive club (17%)
  • When students in this age group were asked why they didn’t think church was important, they gave the following reasons:
  • “The church is not relevant to me” (59%)
    b. “I find God elsewhere” (48%)
    c. “I can teach myself what I need to know” (28%)
    d. “I think church is out of date” (20%)
    e. “I don’t like the people who are in church” (15%)
    f. “The rituals of church are empty” (12%)

So… reading those stats can sober a parent up.  At first glance it looks grim, things are clearly different than when we were teens. Reasons for this are debatable, but anyway you slice it, our kids are changing their values to reflect today’s pop culture, just as we did in the 80’s. I went a bit crazy in my early twenties, after college and the restrictions of my parents, I promptly set out to chase after money and success, reflecting the values and beliefs of my generation. I left my faith and family for a BMW and a swollen Edward Jones portfolio, but by my mid-30’s Christ had graciously derailed my selfish path and reconnected me to His perfect plan.

Why?

My parents. They prayed for me every day.

My wife stayed true to her faith when I wandered from mine. In the end, God won the battle for my heart and mind. It was the authentic beliefs and behavior of my family that eventually forced me to consider the Christian faith as ‘real’. Not a fantastic sermon or study, not a fascinating truth revealed in a engaging ministry event, it was the consistency and faithfulness of my family living out their faith when no one was watching that won my respect and ultimately my trust. God wasn’t in a hurry, He had things under control and He was unfazed by my wandering ways.

The truth…God wasn’t distraught over my prodigal diversions. He wasn’t ‘thrown’ by my generations pagan pursuits, He firmly and gently reclaimed what was lost and started the divine story of redemption all over again. I believe He can and will do that for this generation. I believe parents must live their messy faith in authentic ways to earn the respect of our teens, and sometimes we as parents must watch and wait for God to show up in our kids lives. 

Pastor B.

Source Link – Barna Research – Generation Z 

Everythings going to be different now… ‘Again’!

Last week… my wife and I became ‘grandparents’.

Yes… sigh. I’m “that” old. 🙂

Micah was born last week to my youngest daughter and son-in-law. A healthy – pink – wrinkled – handsome little man of eight pounds. My wife never left our daughter’s side,  I was exiled to the waiting room with the other “grandpa”. 

After 12 hours of anxious pacing, little Micah arrived and in an instant…everything changed. 

Suddenly the world was new and different from before. Not sure exactly how or what that means, but I knew it in my bones. As we Anglicans like to say… “the old has passed, and the new has come“… 

Time had a new designation. A new point of reference… life was now simply… “before Micah or ‘after’ Micah.”

The shift was noticeable in the words we chose, in our thoughts and even in our discussion with others. Life had injected something brand new into our slowing orbit. Like families who have lived through a hurricane or devastating event… time was referenced by the name of the one (IRMA or HARVEY) who had changed their life.

For us it was a profound moment… a beautiful and spectacular joy to welcome this newborn into our world. We wept silent tears of happiness at his touch. Full of wonder and awe at the beauty of life and the sacredness of a yet to be discovered destiny.

Grandma and Micah

I cannot imagine what it would have been like to see the Christ child, to touch the baby that was Jesus of Nazareth.

I don’t know if those who held him as an infant had any true idea of how special and unique his life would be… but I can imagine it all so much better now. 

Thanks to Micah, I’m refreshed and renewed in my hope for man. Encouraged by what ‘could be’ and joyful to see him next.

To hold him and feel his warmth on my wrinkled hands and furrowed brow. His newness and innocence enveloping all my pain and sadness like a sponge of goodness and love. 

This is the truth of the gospel.

The birth of hope and newness in our otherwise old and hopeless world. My grandson will be a miracle for our family. A true ‘godsend’ for us to enjoy and be inspired by… but the Christ child was and is the hope of all mankind. 

Time that we can only reference… one miracle at a time.

Pastor B.