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.

 

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Adolescent Sexuality

“Insights into Adolescent Sexuality’ (adapted from a recent interview with Dannah Gresh on Brilliantly Brave Parenting Podcast)

Sexual development, identity, and behaviors are forming in the pre-teen and teen years. It’s clear that the role of parents in this process is crucial and irreplaceable. Without an active and intentional effort by both mom and dad to help ‘shape’ a child’s beliefs, the culture will speak unchecked into their lives.

According to experts, the prefrontal cortex continues to develop into our early twenties, making early experimentation with sexual behaviors and or visual exposure to nudity, sexual acts, and behaviors ill advised. Our brains are literally unable to process and absorb the information it receives until much later than our society is exposing these ideas and attitudes to our kids.

The boundaries of monogamy in marriage and abstinence until monogamy are biblical and scientifically supported by modern research. As Dannah Gresh says… “Science eventually catches up with God’s word”. When it comes to sexuality we’re learning that you can’t experience sex without releasing significant doses of pleasurable and addictive hormones, neurotransmitters, and other factors that literally ‘bind’ us to our sexual partner. We experience a powerful stimulus from our own body chemistry that forms a “cocktail of chemicals” (oxytocin, vasopressin, dopamine among others; source – Medical Institute of Sexual Health) which form a kind of glue between one brain and the other, a powerful ‘bond’ between men and women who share the act and intimacy of sex. 

So… if  a pre-teen or teen is exposed to pornography or sexual behaviors before being old enough to understand and or process… they will begin to crave the feeling and the chemicals that get released during a sexual encounter, needing to do it over and over without understanding what or why.

They become ‘addicted’ to whatever it is that creates the feeling.

If the pleasure is found in the act of sex within a marriage it cements the relationship and creates a ongoing and wonderful desire to share intimacy and physical pleasure with your spouse.

If the pleasure is found with pornography or other ‘friends with benefits’ type relationships, we can become trapped into a series of frustrating relationships that never become what God intended. Sex becomes something destructive rather than life bringing.

Parents who neglect the responsibility of talking with their kids about sex are in danger of allowing the hottest celebrity or artist teach them instead. We must have and hold an ongoing relationship with our kids through their pre-teen and teen years. Have regular points of connecting, eat together, go to movies, date your kids – take them out for dad or mom dates. STAY CONNECTED. Be the voice they respect and respond to despite what the culture is feeding them.

 “Quality time parenting is a myth… it takes quantity to make a difference – Dannah Gresh.

As our kids grow, it’s important as parents to model what romantic love looks like in a healthy home. Showing affection for each other as spouses is essential, we must demonstrate what marriage can be for our kids. Taking care of each other as husband and wife is a big part of the parenting role for helping our kids develop a healthy sexuality and respect for the institution of marriage. If we’re not celebrating our marriages – our kids won’t either.

“We’ve really undersold the value of marriage to our kids and culture” – Dannah Gresh

We have to start with the affirmation of marriage early in our kids’ lives, instead of telling our kids ‘no – no – no – we can show them what ‘yes – yes – yes’ looks like. We can clearly demonstrate the benefits of a healthy sexual relationship without saying a word. 

For more resources or information check out Dannah’s many books and resources that deal directly with sexuality and purity for our kids and homes. Here’s a quick recap of our time with Dannah on BB Parenting;

Key Points from Dannah’s Interview on BB Parenting: 

  • Learning to play, to creatively engage helps our frontal lobe to develop and in doing so, increases self-control
  • 65% of high school kids are sexually active
  • 80%+ of College students are sexually active
  • We live in a ‘friends with benefits” culture today – a “hook up” society – where sex is a itch to scratch – with a friend, rather than a life-long commitment that’s sacred.
  • Adult men have an average of 9 sexual partners in their lifetime and adult women have an average of 7.
  • Steps parents can take to help their adolescent kids with sexual development.
  1. Have Dinner 3 – 5 x each week as a family
  2. Regular time with each child – dinner or breakfast dates – consistently
  3. Role model romance as a parent – dads and moms honoring and loving each other in front of their kids.

Pastor Brad Mathias / Brilliantly Brave Parenting

Links:

Dannah Gresh and “Pure Freedom”  http://purefreedom.org/

Podcast Interview http://brilliantlybraveparenting.com/dannah-gresh/

Medical Institute for Sexual Health https://www.medinstitute.org/

The Stuff we see is the stuff we want!

Christmas is cool…but very EXPENSIVE!

Budgets are great in theory… but when you hit the local mall, your consumer DNA kicks in hard. The stuff you SEE is the stuff we WANT! But is it the stuff we can AFFORD?

From the siren call of the credit card to the demands of travel and last-minute meals, the average family feels the pinch of our finances every Christmas. It’s how you respond that makes the difference.

If you’re like me… you can get very frustrated! After all we mean well, doing our best to save money throughout the year. Unfortunately, life intervenes all to often. Braces, Car repairs, broken washers… surprise school expenses… all conspire to suck up our cash before we even get to Black Friday.

We (fathers) have the added struggle of giving our gang the best possible Christmas! We get hammered with hundreds of big budget commercials showing well-groomed men of substance buying new cars and diamonds for their wives and offering massive piles of presents for their kids! sad-christmas-man_si

Mom’s feeling the heat too, she’s hustling to prepare her home for a Southern Living photo shoot, every towel and trinket in its place, the lights and candles all lined up like they saw it on Pinterest. The pressure’s on to perform, provide the ‘perfect’ Christmas with the perfect meal in the perfect setting… after all, the in-laws are coming!

But what about the payoff in January and February? What happens when those bills come back to haunt us…. Conflict, guilt, anger… we hide stuff from our spouses and hope we can pay it off in the year ahead.

Somewhere in all the pressure to get… we lose sight of ‘giving.

The Christian parent feels all the secular stresses AND is supposed to move past the pressures of this season to make it a Holy thing. Some days it simply feels impossible. Somehow – somewhere we must rein in all this distraction and focus our kids and our hearts on the amazing GIFT behind the cyber frenzy of e-commerce. As parents… we must push the distractions away – and battle to focus ourselves on the truth and the triumph of Christmas. folkmassor-i-shoppinggalleria-på-jul-48343163

Parents! Have a plan – budget your expenses – stick with it. Don’t go to the mall unprepared 😊 Arm yourself with a good Christian attitude and some Charles Dickens or Little Drummer Boy lyrics in your mind – push back – don’t let our culture force it’s selfishness and materialism on you or your family.

Protect the sanctity of “contentment” in your home. Don’t allow the season to be about ‘stuff’.

No matter your age or stage as a parent, there is always the temptation to over-spend. To indulge and over-imbibe on the latest gadgets and gifts for those we love. But… at what a price?

Couple of things to remember when you’re in the ‘fever’ or caught up in a sudden shopping spree.

  1. Gifts are supposed to be special – attached to the intended recipient in a unique and personal way.
  2. Financial budgets are meant to help and protect your family. The boundaries you’re setting with your spouse – are not to be dismissed lightly.
  3. More is not always better. Take care to keep a healthy balance between getting and giving. What are you doing as a family to share and care for those less fortunate?
  4. Engage the spiritual with spiritual. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your gifting efforts. Recognize when you’re Peace is gone… it’s a signal that you may be out of balance in the moment. Lay whatever it is down. Restrain or discipline yourself. The Peace of Christ will return.
  5. Be vigilant as a parent help your kids and yourself to develop a ‘critical’ thinking filter. If shopping – ask the hard question… is this actually going to help someone or hinder them in living a wholesome life?
  6. Grab the popcorn and DVR; Watch the classic movies and do the Christmas stuff, but be prepared to point out the fantasy vs. the reality. Christmas isn’t supposed to be perfect, it supposed to be sincere! Help prepare your kids for adulthood – ask them how they view God for themselves? (Is he a “Santa Claus” figure to your kids?) Discuss – and enjoy!

Christmas can be hard, a moment in time when we as parents want to “get it perfect”! I can assure you no matter how hard you try, people in your family are going to struggle with some part of the Christmas season, and that’s ok. Let God have some space to work! The season can knock you off-balance if you’re not careful.

Christ is still in Christmas… but it may mean some difficult decisions as a parent to keep Him there. It may mean your marriage and family could benefit from some healthier boundaries to get the balance right.

Peace and Grace

Pastor Brad Mathias

  • Article for Charisma –  Christmas ’17

Christmas Podcast/YouTube Video Link

BB-Christmas-768x768

http://brilliantlybraveparenting.com/458-2/

(for more – check out the Christmas edition of our Brilliantly Brave Parenting – Podcast)

Take it Back!

Words spoken in anger…

We get frustrated. We say stuff we regret. Harsh words spoken with painful spite, the net effect… a wounded heart. 

Pain from the accusation. Pain from the separation of friends and lovers. Pain from the truth and its bitter sting… pain from a well placed lie and the venom of being misunderstood.

Such little things… words.

Add a mix of social media and instant technology, and the toxic can become catastrophic for relationships.

The Coaching Room

As parents and pastors the field of life is strewn with the corpses of past friends, fellow soldiers for the King and old comrades in arms now fallen.  We see the gross and festering wounds of bitter disappointment and resentment seeping across the hearts of those we minister to… and with.

The culture is sucking us dry. We’re being trained to cut loose our baggage… to move on when things get messy. No relationship is worth our sacrifice and struggle, we exhaust and offend easily, fragile in our self-absorption and pride. 

The gospel of Christ forces us to look beyond self-interest. It re-aligns our hearts to something greater than affirmation and glory. The gospel received awakens something super-natural in us… and true love awakes.

We crave to serve and sacrifice, an unexpected contentment and growing satisfaction in our heart. Our relationships begin to bring us strength, fulfilment, and peace, not the old familiar creep of bitterness and jealous resentent.

Brings to mind an inspired poem that sparked a revival of sorts; “…Whatever it takes they will give: Breaking the rules. Shaking mediocrity from its cosy little hide. Laying down their rights and their precious little wrongs,…” (The Vision Poem

Guys… we must lay down the offenses, forgive the offenders, and take back our words. There’s no other way to reconcile.

Andrea Lystrup Therapy

If you’re struggling with a relationship. If you find yourself distant and isolated, nursing a grudge… it’s time to take it back. Yep… those words of anger and hurt need to be recalled.

Pick up your mobile phone… arrange for some coffee talk and take a risk. Share your regrets and your pain… swallow your pride and fight on dear one. The relationships of life are our only true treasures to keep. 

Peace out- Pastor B.

 

Forgiveness…the Evidence of Love

For the Christian… the life and death of Jesus is the ultimate demonstration of love.

The ultimate ‘take-away’ truth of Christ’s life as lived out in front of his disciples… ‘Forgiveness’ 

For most, we would readily agree. Without forgiveness we have no possible way to pray or spend time with our Creator. No option to pursue greater intimacy with the lover of our souls… it takes the foundational truth of being forgiven to start this Christian pilgrimage.

We surround it with words like….Grace, Mercy, Long-suffering, Patience, Humility… but in the end it’s all about ‘forgiving’ sin. From the ‘Lord’s Prayer” to almost every gospel and epistle in the New Testament, we are constantly reminded and commanded to forgive one another.

Forgiveness is the practical and often painful part of redemption. 

Our pop culture senses the power of forgiveness… it stands in wonder at its strength and courage…

Don Henley (of the Iconic band the Eagles) says it like this…

“I’ve been trying to get down
To the heart of the matter
But everything changes
And my friends seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness
Forgiveness” (The Heart of the Matter – Released1989) 

We are ‘redeemed‘ is the liturgical response for many… it means we are the forgiven and restored ones. True. Yes and thank God!  But Christ’s work on Calvary is more than a theological event for all mankind… it’s also our personal moment of salvation.

This reality crowds out the ‘other‘ offenses in our life. When we remember our conversion to Christ… we instantly return to the realization of our own broken state.

It only takes a sobering second of our time to recall  just how messed up we were/are when we were ‘forgiven’.  We remember in vivid detail… the intense and painful brokenness we felt. The anguish at seeing the devastating effect of our sin. The shame at our wilfulness in disobeying our loving father. The despair of  how selfish we were in thinking only of ourselves.

That is the moment of our transformation, when our despair and darkness was pushed aside by the blazing glory of Christ and His offer of forgiveness. An offer of freedom. 

Yet it’s this reality that often eludes us when we encounter the brokenness of others in our lives. Our spouses, kids, bosses, and mothers… all fail. All of them leave us torn up and wounded by their sin and shortcomings. Yet… we struggle to forgive. 

It’s only when we ‘forget’ the sorrow and grief of our own sin… that we delay offering the grace and gift of forgiveness to others.

source – Money Matters

St. Paul said it like this in his letter to the Colossians (chapter 3).1Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

Tired of Waiting…the AcheDeepInsideOurSoul

The greatest single threat to a family’s health… is divorce.

As a pastor and a parent, I get it.  We all understand the temptation that promises to bring excitement and passion when we feel ‘nothing’. The allure of being free again….to leave what we have for something… ‘better’.

NBC – source

But sometimes we get tired of trying.

We just wear out inside. No more desire. No more determination to stay… we just surrender to the dull and relentless… and seriously consider its time to simply ‘give-up’.

 

We feel only a little…  and it all adds up to just an empty AcheDeepInsideourSoul.

St. Augustine tells it like it is in his classic, “the Confessions” … “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” (source link)

For those who are grieving… those who lost a spouse… a parent, or a child. The grief that consumes is identical in its impact to our psyche as when a marriage runs off the rails… For those reading who are openly contemplating divorce… the truth is, you’re already grieving.  In your sorrow, you can lose all sense of time or purpose. You can lose your colors and taste, no flavor… personality dried up. We simply ‘exist’.

The need to ‘feel’ again is overwhelming. It scares us. 

In those moments of panic and desperation we turn to everykindofcrazy option. Cutting, drugs, sex, alcohol, work, ministry, friends ,cars, boats, exercise, gardening, books, movies, music, porn, you name… if you hurt badly enough…  we give it a whirl.

The solution to the “AcheDeepInsideOurSoul” isn’t obvious or easy. It’s not ‘more’… but ‘less’. 

We can’t fill up our empty spaces with stuff, or pleasure, or pain… we can’t get back to being whole again by doing more or owning nicer things.

source – Readers Digest

Our pain is only resolved by living with less. Less of us. Less of me… more of God. 

We start a terrible and dangerous spiral down when we keep insisting on getting what we always wanted. We look at the stuff we don’t have and then we start a checklist of all the things that will be better without someone else holding us back… or weighing us down.

If we were free to do and be and go…  would we be happier…. ? Or would we be more MISERABLE?

Here’s what I’ve learned….To fill the empty ache, you need to shift your focus. When we give up our rights, and our petty little wrongs…we gain life. Real life. Jesus said that. He meant it. 

Take whatever it is in your life your so weary of.  That thing you’re so tired of waiting for… Maybe it’s the option to walk away from an empty marriage or a dead-end job that you know you’re supposed to keep. Are you willing to consider another option?

Would you take another day… another week and sincerely ask (Pray) for God’s help?

Do something radical… don’t run away… trust God and stay. What if you chose to sacrifice your ‘wants for someone else’s needs? What would God do with such an act of faith?

(Disclaimer – It takes 2 to make a relationship work, and if you are the only one who wants to try, you’re going to have to pray for a change of heart in your spouse – and there are definite times to walk away from marriage – abuse – infidelity – addictions etc… God knows your specific circumstance – ask Him – listen – wait – He’ll show you what to do)

You won’t regret it and neither will your family…

Peace out, Pastor Brad.

Need some extra encouragement and practical support? … Check out a “Weekend to Remember” with Family Life.

 

 

 

 

Finish strong

Being a family is like running a very long – long – long way… think a long-distance marathon… not a sprint.

source – podiatry.com

For those who didn’t run track… Parenting is more like getting a Ph.D. A long – very expensive – time-consuming – exhausting and overwhelmingly difficult pursuit.  Add marriage to that mix and you’re effectively getting a double Ph.D at the same time. 🙂

It’s a really big deal to get married and start a family.

I think we often underestimate the extraordinary accomplishment it is to live the traditional family life. Lots and lots of us get married. Lots and lots of us have kids… but less and less of us are staying married and even fewer have been able to maintain a healthy adult relationship with our kids. (source article

Why is that…?

Not trying to be trite here. Not trying to look at this from an elevated perch of maturity and wisdom. Truly examining this question as I reflect on my own life. Why is family such a huge challenge?

First observation; Family is more than a life milestone to shoot for. It’s a calling from God to fulfill. If we approach it as another ‘to-do’ on our bucket list of life, we may dramatically  mistake the obvious. If this is a ‘blueprint’ for living – as handed down by  God himself to the children of Adam / Eve… then it’s going to be challenged and resisted.

Second: Family requires healthy relationships to work. Healthy relationships require respect, patience, selflessness, and humility. Not character traits that can just be easily downloaded like a new phone app. These lessons are life-long  and are continually being refined, tested, and improved by the circumstances we share. Living for someone else is not easily  sustained. We can do it for short bursts of time, but with extended pressure we’re forced to admit how far short we fall. Grace may be most important missing ingredient in most long-term relationships.

Third: Family is all about finishing strong! It’s not how well we get started, It’s not about how few mistakes we make or how organized our homes appear to be… it’s about the determination to get back up when we fall. The resolve to never – ever – stop trying to ‘be’ a family. Our lives are full of dead-end opportunities, broken promises, and people who disappoint, it’s up to us to push past our offenses and pain. Like a long distance race, we have to set a pace to finish. We have to ask God to give us strength when we have nothing left in the tank.

source – muzmatch.com

I’ve done most of my marriage & parenting  ‘completely wrong’. I did great at the starting line, crashed and burned at year 9 and by God’s redemptive grace year 11 was a fresh start. It’s now year 26, and by the power Christ within, my faith, marriage and family are stronger than ever. (See my book; Roadtrip to Redemption )

It’s not that we’re blessed to live ‘safe’ lives, quite the opposite in fact. We’ve seen one crisis after another hit our family, but we’ve also seen God faithfully meet us in each desperate hour. It’s the strength of a shared faith and mutual determination to live out of a spirit of love and not fear…those factors made a huge difference in our family.

My prayer for you. No matter how bad you feel you’re doing…”Don’t give up!” 

Don’t give into the guilt and shame, don’t surrender your family to frustration and fear. God is present. ALL THE TIME. It may be time to shut out the other voices and just listen to His. After all… He invented Family and Marriage, He might just have some helpful advice to share 🙂

Peace out, Pastor B.