When the path isn’t clear…

Life comes with it’s own set of crazy choices. Options galore.

For Americans it’s worse than almost any other nation or people group… we have mega stores and megamarts with an enormous diversity of choices and and options to consider.  

I’ve spent ten minutes wrestling with my choices in the grocery storey… which wheat is best for bread? Whole milk, organic cheese, greek yogurt or bulk cereal?  So many products to consider. Literally hundreds of brands and labels to read, look for and price out.

The point is… the more options we have available… the less obvious will be the ‘best’ choice.

Can we identify God’s ‘choice’ in the mix of life? How do we know if God’s choice is the same or different than my own? What if that voice in my head is really the ‘devil’ and the advice I don’t like is from the Holy Spirit…? How can we truly know? 

These are truly frustrating moments for the father or mother whose tween or teen is acting… well, like a teen or tween. Rebellious. Angry. Disrespectful. Moody and mean. Do we ground them, take away their smartphone and change the wi-fi password… or do we send them off to a counselor… camp… or crazy aunt? All of these options are decent in their own way… but which of them is “God’s’ will?

How can a parent know?

Couple of thoughts for you today;

A. We ‘CAN’ know the will of God. We can hear His voice. But only if we listen. Only if we discard our personal preferences for His plan. 

B. We ‘CAN’ rely on the provision of God’s wisdom to guide our thoughts and inspire our ideas. Especially if we include others in the process. 

C. We ‘CAN’ trust the Holy Spirit to send us clear markers along the way of life. People, pastors, sermons that confirm or affirm the path we’re taking is ‘good’ or…. we can experience slammed doors and the unrelenting unease of uncertainty in the moments that matter. 

Over the process of prayer, counsel (with Godly mature leaders in our life) and patient consideration... there will emerge a clear consensus among your team. (Wife and Husband, Pastor and Leadership, Board and CEO etc…) That clarity will come with a sense of context as well. Timing… location, people, purpose, duration, intensity etc…

Road to Nowhere

But sometimes… a vague response will emerge from everyone on your team. Things  will be uncertain… foggy. Unclear. The path ahead dark and foreboding. What then?

If and when everyone on your team says something like this… God isn’t speaking clearly to me on this matter. I don’t hear a “Yes” and I don’t hear a “No”. The proper response should be to ‘wait’ for things to become clearer. Don’t rush ahead… don’t seize the opportunity…

NEVER ACT IN THE MOMENT OF ANXIOUS – URGENT – CONFUSION.

Sometimes, God is intentionally slowing us down to protect us… or to direct us in a new area that isn’t quite ready to be initiated. Sometimes, he’s simply eliminating our options so the choices are much simpler and straightforward. 

Either way, it’s essential that we trust our father to speak when it’s time for us to know. Until then, my advice is to “carry-on” in the same manner and direction that you started from. (Provided it was inspired and confirmed to be of God)

These are some of the hardest and yet richest moments of our lives. A time of uncertainty grows our faith, sharpens our hearing, and strengthen our resolve. We learn to expand our self-control (Saying ‘no’ to our emotions and impulses) and we gain patience and wisdom in the waiting.

It is hard to pray and hear ‘nothing’… but it’s meant to be a blessing, so keep asking, keep praying. God’s going to bring clarity. He will answer, and when He does it will make so much more sense than it does right now!

This blog was inspired by the following text: James 1:2-8 ESV. 

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Love you all, Pastor Brad.

When you can’t love anymore… Love Fatigue

“Love Fatigue”.  

A term of my own creation. Love Fatigue – “Refers to ‘a chronic or enduring feeling of being unable to love anymore.”

Spouses, Parents, Teachers, Friends, and Pastors are all affected by the presence of this often un-diagnosed condition… a subtle but devastating condition known as ‘Love Fatigue’.

What are the symptoms? 

Lack of affection for others. Lack of interest in sharing life. Lack of emotion, especially an absence of compassion or empathy. Reduced awareness of the needs of those around you. Lack of concern for most anything or anyone. Self absorption and brutal self criticism. Lack of patience for others, especially those we live with or work around.

What causes it? 

Emotional fatigue. Chronic stress of an unrelenting nature. Spiritual isolation and independence. Pride. Unresolved anger. Unforgiveness. Feelings of relational despair and hopelessness. Stupid (annoying) people.  

Love Fatigue is all too common for men and women in long-term relationships. (Friendship, Family, Marriage, Church body) Usually the condition grows more invasive over time, starting from a simple mis-understanding or mis-communication into a distorted and perceived pattern of injustice or abusive behavior. Untreated, it forms deep roots in the cardiac and cerebral tissues as repeated opportunities for intimacy are rejected or avoided and a general frustration with other people grows uncontrollable.

boldomatic.com

boldomatic.com

 

Can it be treated or cured? 

Yes. Love fatigue is treatable with the regular (minimum of once a week) application of a spiritual soaking procedure; including exposure to the presence of God, the sacred word, and the Holy Spirit. This treatment has been proven  to help those afflicted to reduce the conditions crippling symptoms.

Research has shown,  only the removal of the ‘justification gene’, can cure the Love Fatigue condition permanently. This genetic & inherited sin-factor chromosome has been linked directly to behavior markers identified as ‘pride’ and “presumption‘.

Unfortunately the genetic factors responsible for “Love Fatigue” must be replaced with new DNA from a unique and rare donor type…Specifically an individual who has never been infected or affected by the condition. (See the your local pastor or Christian friend for more information on Jesus Christ – his history and claims of divinity).

In addition to finding an appropriate donor, the ‘tainted’ genetic mutations must be aggressively treated to prevent re-infection. Fortunately, once the donor procedure is completed… the remnants of the Love Fatigue virus can be easily flushed from the patient.

A simple, self-application of an oral and bitter tasting medicine known as Humility’ has been used and proven effective in long term studies. The treatment can be quite painful and only works when combined with a complimentary pain-reducing ingredient, “Grace.  When used together, an effective tonic is made and Love Fatigue can be completely cured.

Love Fatigue can be easily misdiagnosed, and is fatal to relationships if left untreatedSpecifically at risk are those who misinterpret their symptoms as external or environmental in nature, and simply seek to avoid exposure or aggravation. For successful treatment, a daily self-examination is required to see if any residual presence of the “Love Fatigue” gene remains. (Source – Dr. St. Paul – Epistle to the Romans, circa AD 55)

I had fun writing this…but only partly. It’s obviously an illustration far too close to the literal truth to be denied. Feeling some ‘love fatigue’ in our long-term relationships is normal and human. Just don’t let it grow deeper and consume you. Scripture clearly provides us with the best advice possible…”clothe yourself with humility and grace” and watch your love grow strong again.

Pastor B.

When our Faith isn’t strong enough anymore…

Debt.

The mountain of bills that spiked when you had your first kid, then when your AC went out you had to reach for a credit card to fix it. Then your tires all needed replaced and the dentist wasn’t fully covered by your work insurance. Christmas, that emergency trip to see your parents last year and a badly needed weekend retreat with you spouse all piled on top.

couple-joint-bank-account_1

yourtango.com – image source

In an effort to get your debt down and reduce the financial stresses on your family… you take a second job. Working after working so to speak. An effort to get ahead, to reset and simplify.

The IRS sends you a certified letter. Seems a return four years ago is in question. They want ten thousand dollars in back taxes for claimed expenses. The debt pile becomes a mountain.

Your life seems to be moving from bad to worse. But… this isn’t how it’s supposed to work.

Somewhere deep inside of us we always believed if we worked hard, acted with integrity… and trusted God, we would be protected. Provided for.

Where was God now?

The injustice of your situation starts to rub at your soul. Raw and open wounds spewing their pain and poison into the rest of your life. Angry all the time. Stressed, life feels stretched further than it can flex… about to break. 

Feeling the shame of failure creeping inside, we start to back away from relationships. Isolating ourselves we push others away and avoid any mention of God or Faith. The subjects are too painful to consider anymore. We only have the growing numbness. The shock of realizing that maybe we’ve been duped by the church. By the pastor… by our parents. Foolishly and blindly putting our faith into something that’s not really there… in a God who would actually care about us. About our suffering. About our…. debt.

I’m here to say… hang on. God isn’t absent. He’s here, right now. 

The struggle isn’t without purpose. 

The relationship you crave is real. 

God hasn’t, can’t abandon you. His character is faithfulness… forever. 

I don’t know fully why He allows such struggle in our lives… but I know Him.

losing-faith

lam-network.com

He gave us the Holy Spirit… the Paraclete. Not just for comfort and help, but to anchor us to Him when we can’t hold on any longer.

Read these words and remember the promise of God again.

Romans 8: 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (ESV) Source – BibleGateway.com 

Claim it’s truth no matter what it seem’s like in your life. These are the words of God, not man. They can’t be broken or lost… they last forever and their promise is assured.

He is FAITHFUL.

Pastor B.

PS – PRAY… with your spouse.

Every Proud Mom Cries

Ever sit near a mom during a wedding? What about a graduation ceremony…or even just a good Hollywood movie about a wedding or graduation? 🙂

Tears fall. 

Sometimes it’s just a few silent, solitary drops of pure pride and tender joy. Other times it’s the wet flood of an emotional storm, released without restraint. Either way, Mom cries.  View More: http://traciarneyphotography.pass.us/kelliejarrett

It’s as natural as the spring time, healthy, and in some way… ‘proper. 

I watched the birth of all three of my children. I clapped and whooped as each of them clutched their diploma’s and proudly smiled for the camera….walking by in their black graduation robes. It’s a heart warming, milestone moment… a truly joyful time. Pride pulses through every parents heart, excitement and satisfaction mixed with a bit of growing dread…

Thus the tears.

For mothers the transition of a graduation ceremony or a wedding day symbolizes the end of an era. The shifting of seasons, it represents a diminishment of their influence and ultimately… ‘control‘. That’s intense, anxiety inducing, panic-attack provoking kind of fear for a mother… a huge hill to climb. (Dad’s too, but not in the same way)

For the parent, a graduation or wedding is like a ‘final exam’. 

Did we teach them all they needed to know?

How will they handle the pressure of independent life?

Will they abandon the faith we tried to model…?

Do they know how much we love them?

Will they choose to stay close to us… or have they gone for good?

Just asking yourself these questions can cause your heart to skip beats. There’s far more going on under the surface here…more than tears expressed in a moment of celebration, this is the tip of a proverbial iceberg. A glacier full of fear buried deep in the heart of every mother in every home. For some mom’s this is a devastating time. A deep and dark season where fears can overshadow all else… if that’s you, keep reading.

Couple of thoughts. 

1 – God is Faithful. Pray.

Never forget the covenant love of our God, He is long-suffering, patient and His love endures forever!

2- Take the LONG view.

Give them a chance to grow up and discover the truth’s you taught them were real.

3- Don’t burn the bridge back home.

Express your concerns without ultimatums. It’s their turn to choose how to live. If your right about their foolishness… they are going to need help later to sort things out. If the bridge back home is out… where will they have left to go for advice? Probably somewhere or to someone ‘not’ good.

Inmate Steven Clark gets a hug from his girl friend Tomi Doyle after Clark received his associate degree from the University of Maine in Augusta on Monday at the Maine State Prison.

God bless all you “mothers’ out there. Let the tears flow... but rest well tonight knowing your in good company. Be at peace knowing God hasn’t, isn’t, can’t… abandoned you or your newly independent ‘babies’ 🙂

The adventure is just really beginning…

Pastor Brad.

 

 

The Secret of Adventure…

From the very beginning I’ve had a deep longing to explore… to be challenged, tested, and to discover. God in His great wisdom granted my heart’s desire… and made me a parent.

The secret of Adventure is knowing your already living in one.

AA Milne knew that. His pooh stories saturated with the truth of Adventure and the need we have to be on one. So is the Bible… it reminds us of the fantastic story we’re a part of . The epic and the insignificant moments all threaded into one beautiful tapestry we call our life. For us children of the 80’s… the Adventure was in a galaxy far, far, away.

pic source - moviepilot.com

pic source – moviepilot.com

Like all great stories, there is a sacred quest and a villain with evil intent. A damsel in distress and a gallant hero complete the setting…

Soon our story expands, as priceless treasure is discovered, needing to be protected,…good, and evil locked in a battle for the prize. Drama and tragedy set among the glory and triumph, we watch with breathless anticipation to see how the scene plays out.

Life is an adventure… if you see it for what it really is. 

Can you see your life as more than survival, or a test? More than a painful series of ‘checklist’s to complete?

Can you see your marriage and your love for others as a sacred quest? The priceless treasure…your little ones. Heroically we stand guard against a corrupted and evil world, fighting to protect their hope and preserve innocence.

It’s heroic, even inspiring to watch as we parents learn to love and honor each other in the pursuit of parenthood. Sacrificing our rights and ‘precious little wrongs’ on the altar of true love and a growing commitment to serve someone greater than ourselves.

Ahhh… the heart of a epic story really is inside us all, just waiting to be discovered and celebrated!

Each family, each marriage can become a testament to the adventure God intended us to all share in. And like any great story… we know intuitively the ending. Good will triumph and the evil villain will get his just reward…

Unless you remember the story. Unless you understand what your life really is a part of… the adventure you’re in may only feel like one long moment of sheer terror and the epic hero seems absent. Don’t be confused, that isn’t just a battered and helpless carpenter nailed to a cross… it’s the Prince of Peace and the Lord of the Universe.

The truth is, your hero is with you. The battle has been fought and your are free to be as your father intended. Full of life and optimism, trusting the script has been written down to the smallest detail.. and you’re going to see the ending! 

Peace and Grace dear one… Pastor B.

birds and bees…for tweens

newsweek image

blog.sfgate.com – source

I’ve been preparing for the fall youth retreat at our church…. our theme is “Does my faith fit me?” a series of talks about “emotions” and how they impact our lives. Of the four sessions planned, mine is the talk on sexuality and love. 🙂

Considering the massive impact sexuality has on society, it’s a major topic to cover in a few minutes. Add to that the awkward stage every tween lives in… and I’ve got my work cut out for me. So… “Talking “Turkey with your tween” is a moment of reflection that every parent will face eventually. What do you tell your tween about sex? How do you handle the struggle with hormones, faith, and sexual identity?

Below are thoughts from my talk notes… hope they help.

Pastor Brad.

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SEX ...

SEXUAL

SEXUALITY...

Three potentially awkward – embarrassing topics.

Each distinct but related, and representing 3 huge issues that all of us have to consider, respond to, and decide what they will mean to us as an individual and as families of faith.

1) SEX – the physical act. The joining of a man and woman in an intimate and sacred act of both pleasure and procreation. Designed and encouraged by God, SEX is the ultimate sharing of 2 separate lives as they become one. It’s where babies come from 🙂  Reserved for the covenant of marriage, SEX is a pure act intended to symbolize the union of heart and soul… with the body. A beautiful and divinely inspired celebration of love.

2) SEXUAL – part of our hormonal status quo – it reflects the human nature of each of us. We have surges in our bodies during the stage of adolescence. From 12-20 young men have incredible spikes in testosterone as they grow. Young women begin to feel the effects of hormones in other ways, experiencing the changes to their uterus and physical bodies that prepares them to have children.

Each of you (boy / girl ) are undergoing distinct changes in your bodies as a normal response to the flood of hormones inside you. These undeniable changes are responsible for raising your awareness to see each other as more than friends, but possibly as a future husband or wife. The sexual drive for men is physical (Eros)- the drive for women (Phileo – Storge) to be wanted – desired – protected, to belong and to be safe – comfortable. Surprisingly power feelings and emotions, new desires never before present, a confusing and exciting time of life for sure. But it’s all normal – healthy and designed by God! So much so that we create music, movies, videos and social media to try to capture all we feel… books are written, poems composed and careers decided all by these powerful ‘feeling’s.

The Greeks had four words to describe what we call love, Eros, (romantic love, physical lust), Phileo,(comfortable, fondness, friendship), Storge (family loyalty)and Agape (unconditional love).

Eros– love felt particularly within the body (trembling excitement, elation, joy), colored and underpinned by deep and beautiful procreative urges. C.S. Lewis distinguishes Eros from natural sexual urges and lusts, because Eros is a state of the heart and while it is intimately related to sex, sex can exist, and often does exist, without Eros enlivening it. It leads to children, family, joy and laughter. It is good and right, but it is usually not enough to sustain a relationship long-term. Eros is an exulted and beautifully idealistic love, usually between a man and woman, but can also be “platonic” and extend to deeply intimate friendship. While Eros can simply be an earthy thing, when Spirit infused and elevated to it’s true position, it speaks deeply of universal mysteries, keenly expressed within the most sacred of all relationships, that between husband and wife. The elevated buzz of Erotic love is said to naturally fade within a year of its beginning.

Phileo If Eros is the love of the body, Phileo is the love of the soul. It is easy love and affection, it is bent towards our natural tastes and preferences (familiar and comfortable). It embodies culture and beliefs. It’s about the friendship you feel towards people like you, with the same interests, social graces, and style. God is said to have this kind of love for us and Jesus. Jesus felt this kind of love for his disciples, parents felt it about their children and children to their parents. It is not a shallow love, but rich in emotion and feeling. However it is also described as natural and exclusive and conditional. Also known as “brotherly” love as in “Philadelphia” – City of Brotherly Love. (Phileo derivative)

Agape-Is more of a parental, mature, sacrificial kind of love. Greek references describe it like this… “to take pleasure in the thing, prize it above all other things, be unwilling to abandon it or do without it.” In a way it is as idealistic as Eros, in that it is a crazy love that will not let go. Agape loves, usually at cost to the bearer. Agape puts the beloved first and sacrifices pride, self-interest and possessions for the sake of that beloved. This is the love that God has for us which inspired him to sacrifice His son and for His son to obey and sacrifice himself. It is a love of supreme greatness. It is supernatural and divine – the glue that holds all other loves together!

Storge– This is the love of community and family. Often dutiful, sometimes unfeeling, but very strong none the less. It is a natural, carnal love, but powerful and committed. It is a love that may pull you towards family commitments, or keep you from wandering far from home as you get older!

All of these ‘feeling’s are distinct and powerful, capable of driving us to do goofy and silly things. From planning our ultimate fantasy wedding down to the smallest detail to thinking about how much we can’t live without another. The pull of sex and love is one of the strongest challenges to being a Tween.

The bible give us so much to consider about love and suggests that what we feel is not as important as how we choose to behave. God sets healthy boundaries to our sexual feelings that include abstaining from sex and restricting ourselves from exploring our sexual urges outside the commitment of marriage. A difficult task given the all pervasive images and opportunity for porn and seductive media that floods the digital age.

Only with the power of the Holy Spirit and healthy boundaries can we navigate the roller coaster of emotions that lift and lower us in adolescence.

My advice to the Christian tween-teen… seek out good friendships, avoid the bad ones. Hang with peers who respect their faith and God’s ways. Live in the open… don’t hide your struggles and have the courage to go and seek help from a pastor or parent if you find yourself in temptation.

3) SEXUALITY: the natural distinction between male / female. It is not as simple as masculine and feminine – however it can be for the vast majority. Over 90% of us when asked would identify with either man / woman in our identities, sexual orientation and attraction towards the opposite. Sexuality is fiercely debated today. The 5-8% who claim to be attracted to same-sex relationships or have gender identity confusion are often struggling with instability in their families, homes and or parental role models.

There is a very small percentage who don’t know who they are (male /female) and are desperately seeking to discover which role would fit-them ‘best’. These lost and lonely are searching for a societal niche to belong to. The need to escape what they perceive to be traditional family exile, they often choose alternative relationships where acceptance is offered without any judgement or condemnation.

It’s no wonder that more and more Tweens – teens are seeking answers outside of the traditional Christian view of sexuality.

It is easy to see the appeal alternative sexual orientation offers to the awkward and uncertain among us. For the Christian family, we should respond with compassion and gentleness – recognizing the need we all have to be a part of something / someone who will “love” us for who we are. It’s one of the reasons I believe Christ provides our culture with an answer to every dilemma we could face, including sexuality. Christ is ultimately the ONLY one who can meet the longing of every human soul. Another_World_Desktop (1)

Encouraging our kids to find their identities and orientation from an intimate relationship with the one who created them is a far better approach than forcing our kids to accept our beliefs without question…we’re teaching them to bury their feelings….and that creates ‘secrecy’ and shame. It allows for other secular voices to speak to our kids hearts when we’re not around. Not a good thing.

From the biblical perspective… in the end, Sexuality is the divine distinction.

It’s a sacred gift and a powerful illustration of what God intends for creation. Our culture has drifted far from the original intent of a loving father for his children. Our standing firm on the biblical mandate is only part of the parenting equation. The other part is to create a healthy and open environment for our kids to discuss and process their personal feelings and beliefs. If we think it through, it’s clear… we can only lead our kids to the savior, we can’t offset the combined impact of mass media, pop culture and trending styles with our dogmatic logical debates. It’s about the heart… and the longing of  our souls.

Authors closing note: To be clear… I’m not pushing these sexuality issues aside as irrelevant to Christians or acceptable to God. Choices matter. Actions define us. As a pastor and a parent, I am very firm on the need for us to respect scripture as authority in these matters. However, it’s not enough to declare the facts.. we’ve got to let complicated lives get untangled in the purity and power of God’s presence. We’re responsible to share the truth in love… to be patient as God does His mysterious work in the souls of those who genuinely seek to know Him. Let’s be sure to cultivate the respect and space our tweens will need to mature, process, and become all that God intended. We’re in a post-Christian world now… and we’re going to have trust God’s truth will outshine the lies.

 

 

Musings on Moods

Life is sudden and slow, abrupt and deliberate.

Moments of extreme happiness…followed by long dull marches through grey days.

It’s impossible to live and remain unaffected.

Emotions will rise and fall according to the chemistry and circumstances of our lives at any given moment. If we surrender ourselves to simply what we ‘feel’ like doing or being, we’re risking more than stability… but our very sanity. mood swing

Faith binds us to something ‘more’. It’s the antidote for the erratic shifts in our emotions and the anchor of our soul. Belief in truth that exceeds our senses, is a glue that will bind our behaviors to our beliefs. 

 

“The promise, made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits me to being true even if I cease to be in love. A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions: no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way. He might as well promise to never have a headache or always to feel hungry.” CS Lewis -‘Mere Christianity

Let’s take a deep breath. Take a moment to consider what we’re feeling vs. who we are by faith in Christ. Let’s re-attach to our savior before going any further into this day… banishing the mood monster from controlling our lives.

Peace,

Pastor B.