Suffering that leads us to Surrender

Reading through the scriptures you can’t help but notice a pattern… the histories and testimonies of the patriarchs, prophets, priests, and kings all point to a common thread they share.

Suffering.

Sounds ominous, but it seems to be ‘the’ process God allows or uses to accomplish His will, His purposes in our lives.

The struggle of our will against God’s plan seems to work as the catalyst for our transformation. (think Jacob with the Angel) 

We desire and direct our lives to a specific point, we include God and prayerfully ask for His blessing to our efforts, but often we find our way in decline and the struggle to proceed becomes harder and harder to sustain. It’s in this pain that we suffer and wait for answers, confused by the lack of progress or success and we wonder if God is against us.

Rembrandt – Jacob wrestling with the angel. Google art project

He’s not against us. NEVER ever accept that lie. All of History reminds us of His passionate pursuit of our hearts! The great struggle of our faith is to cling steadfastly to this truth.

I’m learning a lot about these struggles and suffering moments right now, finding that it’s in these ‘storms’ of life that I am redirected from pursuing God as a means to ‘my’ progress. He’s more than a part of my plan, He’s bigger than all my plans and ambitions, He’s the entire point of it all. We have to reorient our lives around HIM.

We grow when we surrender our need to ‘know’ and accept His goodness for today and trust it will continue into tomorrow. I believe things radically changed in my life when I admitted my divided heart. That I was only partially in love with God and partially trying to manipulate Him into giving me what I thought I needed… but definitely wanted. I believe in the end He wants to be the focus and center of all my desire. He’s passionate to give us His best, and He wants to become number one, the focus of our attention and love. 

The suffering of our lives puts those inconsistencies of our motives into the floodlights of God’s divine illumination – these personal epiphanies are the mile markers in our journey of faith. They become the moments of clear understanding and  lead us to repentance, but often only come when we are exhausted and overwhelmed. It’s in those depths of despair that we finally surrender to God and in doing so they become the keys to our spiritual growth and maturity.

Brennan Manning in his book ‘Ruthless Trust” notes that we desire to have ‘clarity’ in our lives, often praying for it… but he points out that God wants us to have ‘trust’ in His goodness and His plan for our lives. There is a difference. (my paraphrase)

Clarity is knowledge of what’s coming. Trust is belief that God is in control of the future and that His plans are better than ours. Surrendering control is the door to us finding His peace and freedom from fear… easy to type, hard to act on.

Lord Help us ‘trust’ you in our suffering, help us to continue to believe in your goodness and give up our need to know and simply accept your leading us to a better place, that your plans can replace our own.

Blessings to you – Pastor B.

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably.

Just recently spent a week alone with God to get my head straight. I felt led by the Holy Spirit to go to a ‘new’ place… somewhere brand new and undiscovered. An unfamiliar area with unfamiliar people, places… ways.

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably.

In search of solitude with God… I had it all planned out. Even printed my schedule out.  Not even close to what would be.

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably.

I had explored Mt. Washington in the eastern New Hampshire area years before, but never alone. I was excited to be driving up the mountain at dawn to see the sights. An epic drive with serious terrain, this elevation would provide views unlike anything else in New England. Sticking up out of the modest White mountain chain, Washington was a Rockies like 6,288 ft in height. It’s elevation so extreme from the valley below it included over a thousand feet of tundra and high altitude small growth – short season flowers and evergreens.

Mt. Washington NH

It’s top was bare rock face. Blasted free from any vegetation by the near hurricane force winds that roll over its massive top on a daily basis. Known as one of the windiest places on earth and holding the record for highest recorded wind gust for most of the 20th century… this peak had some juice. (For more on Mt. Washington)

When I wound my way up its alpine slopes, the scene grew from forested and peaceful to wide open vistas of valley and sky. This was going to be a promising day, I was getting excited to see the top. To gaze across the mountain ranges and most of the New England states, maybe if the light was just right… I could even get a glimpse of the Atlantic (about 65 miles to the south-east)

Mt. Washington Selfie – Pastor B.

That was the goal anyway. To see further. To gain perspective and clarity. My trip was meant to give some clarity on the future, on the path and plan God would have me follow. These mountain experiences were sort of metaphor for the actual life events around me and on me.

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably. 

As I drove higher the vistas grew hazy and the clouds and fog thicker, my view was being obscured by the weather. What only a moment before had been sky blue for dozens of miles was now hidden, and my winding road showed more and more fog and cloud ahead. My hope for a clear summit on the top was fading.

Road to the top

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably. 

It’s clear in retrospect that God was speaking to me loud and clear on this road trip, BUT… in the moment, I just felt frustrated, alone, and isolated. I had made all this effort to put myself in just the right place and time to hear and see God. But he it seemed had other plans.

My expectation was for clear skies, a warm glow of spiritual presence… followed by a sudden and keen transfer of divine inspiration, and a spark of new confidence for the next season of life.

His plan was different. He was going take me a different path, and He chose to slow me down and shift my perspective from the future to the past, to somewhere more personal.

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably. 

Part 2, tomorrow.

What did I find at the top of Mt. Washington & Why does it matter….?

Pastor B.

 

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 

When you hate your job, but love your life.

We all want to find fulfilment.

When we were younger, we just pressed ahead with our life. We weren’t thinking too far, just focused on the ‘here and now’,  pushing to climb whatever ladder was in front of us. We worked hard to do our best, we wanted more for our lives and a piece of the ‘American Dream”.  School, career, family, church. Each option with its own unique set of struggles and issues to overcome, but oddly they are the same. 

We work and work to gain the next rung of whatever ladder we find ourselves on, pulling up one more level, determined to get further and higher than the others.

Somewhere along the way we notice this isn’t making me very happy. It may be sooner for some and later for others, but in each of our lives we notice.

The faith we’ve kept offers some vague promises about life being ‘full’ and having ‘joy’ in the journey, but it’s a bit hazy when we slow down our ladder climbing enough to think it through. 

We can get a bit surly inside, irritated by the growing dissatisfaction of our progress. The goals we set in our youth shimmer in the distance, unmet. We ponder with regret some of the decisions and compromises we’ve made. We wonder what could have been…

It’s about at this point that I begin to hear comments about how much people hate their jobs. It creeps out at first, bitter and seeping out from the inside. Working late, going in early, struggling to keep up… it’s clear why we run out of gas. Our work doesn’t always fulfill us. It may pay the bills but it doesn’t bring us lasting contentment or satisfaction.

Last night in church LifeGroup we discussed the idea of “vocational calling“. The concept of having a specific purpose and set of unique gifts that God himself granted us. It’s in this idea of a divine purpose that we can find some ‘light’ for this dark and disturbing tunnel we may find ourselves in.

For the Christian, our purpose and our calling go hand in hand. But, our occupations are often unrelated. So, when we work at the local supermarket but long to teach Sunday school… we begin to understand the dichotomy of loving our life but hating our job. Totally understandable. 

God wired us to be in ‘vocational’ ministry for our entire life. We will naturally have a ‘bent’ or leaning towards our calling. No matter where we live or work, we’ll find ourselves drawn to certain causes or people. We will always want to ‘teach’ others if we’re called to be a ‘teacher’. It doesn’t matter if we find work as a fireman or a judge, nothing we ‘do’ will provide as much satisfaction or ‘fulfilment’ as what we were created to ‘be’. Understanding that concept is a huge step forward!

Love this quote from Frederick Buechner “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” 

So, let’s discover what God created you to ‘be’ and don’t be confused that what you ‘do’ is the same thing as what your called to “be”. The distance between our paycheck and our hearts can be frustrating.  Remember, St. Paul was a tentmaker by day, Apostle by night. I’m confident it wasn’t ‘fulfilling’ for him to work as a common laborer, but it provided the path for his ‘calling’ to be realized. For some courageous few, we get to do both at the same time, but most of us have to work jobs that are not our vocations.

For those who are sick of the disappointments and pointless sacrifices made at work, it may be worth the effort to dig a bit and find what your ‘calling’ or ‘vocation’ really is.

Be careful on google, there are tons of people and groups who claim to have the magic fulfilment formula, but most are selling you something. God has been whispering to us all along who He is and what we were created to be.

Here is one resource I would recommend.

God bless! Pastor B.

Source Notation. “How to understand your vocational calling

When faith isn’t fair…

Just finished a sermon on “A Theophany of Hope” – (Four Winds Anglican Mission)

Sounds scholarly, but it’s far more muddy than that. Life and faith can be such a huge struggle, and issues of personal injustice seem to hit me the hardest. When life just isn’t ‘fair’.

Source – David Ould

The text for the sermon centered on Mark 4 and Job 38. Both are passages about storms and stress, they focus on issues of drowning and sinking boats as well as the unresolved and unanswered questions of a faithful man (Job) in search of God’s presence. In short… they are the moments of our life when we can’t figure out what’s going on anymore.

Life moments can  coalesce into the all to familiar struggles we have with “Fear” and “Frustration”. Those moments of our faith life when we can’t find God or any answers to our unresolved circumstances. You know… when our lives don’t make sense, and God seems to have abandoned us. The moments when we’ve been working faithfully to serve and obey… and no one seems to even notice our sacrifice. That’s the moment when we cry out!

That’s the ‘storm’ moment, the time when life is lashing us with fear and frustrations, doubt, anger, resentment, and a hailstorm of regrets! 

But that is also the moment when we have to choose… we can draw closer to God to or walk away in disgust and despair. IF you make the leap to get closer… so will He.

The moment of the storm can become a THEOPHANY. (a visible manifestation of God to man)  We can experience God in a new way… if we  chose to stay. In our persistence, we will ‘see’ Him. We will gain a new revelation of His character… of His faithfulness, of His wisdom, and His compassion. 

I don’t know what God will show you in your storm, but He will show up… and He will bring peace and calm. For the disciples in Mark 4… He was the God of the Storm. For Job He was the God who Sees the details.

Whatever your pain. Whatever your frustration and fear… God has an antidote in Christ. It’s the perfect mixture of truth and hope and it’s been custom designed just for you. I know it doesn’t seem fair. I know it absolutely does not make sense… but it will. 

The scriptures are full of such moments as Theophany, full of the richness of God’s plan for our lives. He appears and reveals something precious that we would have missed if not for this storm. It’s a faith reminder, evidence that nothing with God is wasted or needless, He uses it all.

Press on dear one, God is waiting for you to draw closer.

Pastor B.

Parents! What do you believe?

We are working with the TGA (Tween Gospel Alliance) on a new book / resource project and need your anonymous input.

If you are a socially aware parent, and have an active and ongoing interest in our shifting Faith culture and parenting, we would LOVE and APPRECIATE your help with this ten question survey!

Take our 90 second survey – make a difference!

TAKE OUR SURVEY HERE – You could win some cool stuff from Chik-Fil-A !

Survey is fast! It only takes 90 seconds to complete the ten multiple choice questions and it’s going to help thousands of parents and kids! 

God Bless you and please share with your friends or family!

Pastor Brad / Road Trip Parenting – TGA team

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.