Breaking the Isolation Epidemic

According to a recent study at the Barna Group, (Trends 2018) some of us are suffering in isolation more than others. If you’re feeling alone and struggling to have steady friendships, it appears you are part of a trend that’s growing in the church. Christian men and Christian Pastors are especially prone to suffer through their days without support. According to Barna, 1 in 5 are in it alone, doing much of life by themselves.

Americans Are Friendly But Lonely
T
he majority of adults has anywhere between two and five close friends (62%), but one in five regularly or often feels lonely. Those who report the highest levels of loneliness are single, male, young and likely earning a lower-income. (Barna Group – Trends ’18 Study

According to Barna’s latest study, women have less trouble forming and keeping friendships but men struggle. Young men not in college scored the highest on the loneliness scale, but church attenders overall scored badly on their diversity of friends and relationships.

You can see how valuable and essential the local church becomes in addressing these issues. There are a lot of ministries that focus on single parents, moms, and youth… but what about the adult – unmarried – man?  Not many churches have a dedicated ministry to guys who are unmarried, and not in college.

There are others in our services who don’t fit in. Some churches are only republican. Some are only democratic. Some are only independent. All are tempted to engage only those they look like and talk like. This should not be.

The church risks becoming a haven for  -like – attracts- like – kind – of place. Where diversity of thought, appearance, or opinion isn’t all that , so people who don’t feel like they will fit – don’t even try.

To be fair, it is much easier to only engage those we understand, and we avoid those who take an extra effort. But it’s not the model Christ demonstrated for us. He went to Samaria. He chose to forgive the woman caught in adultery, and to invest three years of his life and privacy to the tempestuous disciples who smelled of fish and sweat. 

The community of Faith needs to see the bigger picture of our mission with Christ. We’re not trying to live as clones of each other, avoiding the odd and inscrutable among us, instead we need to appreciate and value the unique and eccentric we encounter. These are the very human people we read about in scripture, these are the precious lives that God has plans to use.

The gospel of Jesus is bigger than us. Bigger than our comfort zones and life experiences, the Spirit of God transcend generations and politics, and expands beyond grey haired married couples to spill out to our singles and young adults without a hesitation or hiccup. 

Let’s all agree to stop next Sunday at church and look around the room. Ask God to direct your attention to someone who made the service, but doesn’t quite fit in. Go sit with them. Make them feel wanted and welcome. Buy them lunch – or meet them later for coffee. Invest your best into these isolated and lonely, they are tomorrow’s leaders and Gods children.

Oh… and stop thinking you’re a Christian “republican” or a Christian “democrat”… God doesn’t poll red or blue. We’re followers of Christ first and last, the US American – Political game should not be allowed to divide or isolate those of us with passionate and differing opinions.

God is bigger than our national election, don’t allow the powers that be to manipulate your emotions into rejecting one group for the sake of another. 

The cross of Christ broke down all our barriers and split the walls that kept us isolated by social and educational standing, race, politics, or economic status.  He calls us all to be His disciples. Our allegiance is to Him first and foremost. The rest can sort itself out in the knowledge of His presence. 

Our services this week shouldn’t be a time to divide over regional policies or national politics, but a time to unite around the truth of the gospel and the promise of peace. He is all about the reconciliation of all things back to Him, back to the way they were always intended to be. Shouldn’t we strive for the same?

Our children will follow in our steps… let’s be careful where we walk.

Blessings,

Pastor B.

Scripture Reference from BibleGateway.com: Ephesians 2: 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

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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)

Parenting through an eating disorder

*Statistics say that 3 out of 4 women struggle with an unhealthy relationship with food.

Ever ask yourself if that might be you? Or your daughter… wife, best friend?

Might be time to consider expanding your circle of trust and risk sharing that struggle. What about taking the step to engage with someone or something that has helped thousands get free? It takes courage and humility to admit our need for help, and it takes the support of someone who walked before us.

Let me introduce a friend and expert on the subject, Constance Rhodes – she’s the founder and CEO of “Finding Balance” and she can help.  Her help saved my daughter’s life six years ago and it might do the same  for you or someone you know. Someone who’s fighting in despair and feels all alone and about to give up.

Eating disorders and poor self-esteem related to body image are arguably the most common and painful struggle any parent with teens will ever face. 

I’ve done it. It’s rough. Seriously dark stuff to wrestle with by yourself.  No one wants to over-react, to provoke things further, but if you’re noticing a pattern… a trend, then its very likely real.

You may wonder if this important enough to risk the anger and resentment? It is.

First step... admit there might be a problem. 

Second… ask for help. 

Third… listen to the Brilliantly Brave Parenting podcast and reach out to Finding Balance and get some honest and tested advice. 

With all my heart…

Pastor Brad.

*FindingBalance interview – BBP Podcast.

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.

 

In your opinion….

We all have opinions. We all have experiences… and we need your help!

Would you be so kind as to take time to share yours. I’m posting a TGA (Tween Gospel Alliance) survey today for parents. We need about 90 seconds?

Colour of Life Photography

For your trouble… we want to reward you! Two lucky folks will win $50 from Chik-Fil-A / or Hobby Lobby.

This blog is affiliated with the TGA, and we value your opinions and ideas, this information will be used to help create new resources for ministry and parenting. Your helping us…. help you 🙂

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/JZQYYFG

Thank YOU!

Blessings,

Pastor B.

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)