Seriously though…

What’s so important about all this Christianity stuff, does it really matter? I mean, people have the freedom to choose whatever they want to believe.

Evidently this is the case as almost half—47 percent—of practicing Christian millennial’s believe “it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hope that they will one day share the same faith.” (Barna defines as “practicing Christian” those who identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives, and have attended church in the past month. – Source: Barna research group)

Today our society is all about tolerance. We’re being trained by our culture to be a ‘kinder, gentler, and more tolerant”, generation of Christians. Don’t get me wrong, we should be gentle and kind, and this is not advocating a license to be a jerk, or to act without respect… but the middle road (Via Media) is where I’m heading here.

It would be so nice to avoid the uncomfortable discussions, to remain aloof from the world and it’s controversies. It would be so much easier to just coast along life watching and observing the flow of pop culture as it diverges from the traditional values of two millennia of Christian orthodoxy. But I believe we’re called to be more than ‘critics’ of our culture, we’re called to be an influence within it.

pexels.com

Granted over the years the church has waxed and waned in its role as Gods ambassadors to the world, but on the whole the message of the Gospel has emerged as direct and brilliantly clear as when it was first shared with us.

Sin. Grace. Forgiveness. New Life. Purpose. Hope and a coming Kingdom. 

God’s rescue plan was daring, out of the box, and completely successful. No detail was overlooked and no generation left out, He thought of everything and everyone as He saved the world and all creation.

But saved us from what? I mean what was the big deal, the alarm that seemed to cause such a cosmic fuss? According to the bible, it was eternal death.

Not just physical death and decay, but something so awful and destructive it stretches across time and space to confront all mankind with the despair of losing our entire existence. Not just this life, but all the intended pleasure and purpose of the divine eternity.

Pexel.com

The whole construct of the Christian faith centers around the ‘salvation’ of the soul and the Resurrection of the dead. Nothing else matters! 

We need to seriously consider that as we navigate our lives, we need to really and truly wonder at the seriousness of the situation we find ourselves in. If the gospels are accurate about this spiritual death that threatens us all, it should affect us.

We are entrusted with more than blending in. Our lives are meant to be risked, our popularity and acceptance is irrelevant. People are dying. Lives are being lost for eternity. Hell and separation from God are a real possibility. Stuff that’s uncomfortable to talk about, stuff we try to deny and avoid at all costs, but if there is anything more important to sort out… I don’t what it would be.

What about our soul? What about our faith and relationship with the only person who actually matters? Jesus. 

Lent is this week. A time of introspection and mediation. What am I here for? What’s the point of my existence and what is it God has offered me? Ideas that are worthy of our consideration and self-examination.

backlit-black-cross-161089

Source – Pexels.com

Let’s not waste our chances…

Pastor B.

Links:

Tim Keller on why Evangelism is so hard. (Relevant Magazine Source)

Ash Wednesday (Free)

Lenten Devotional (Free)

 

Remember the truth… Dig out the lies

“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (ESV) 

The passage above is out of the New Testament Gospels in the bible. The Physician and Apostle Luke wrote this account of arguably ‘the’ most complete parable ever shared by Jesus about His coming Kingdom.  (Luke 8:11-15)

Here’s the 30,000 foot view… we have to ‘own’ and take  good care of the promises and truths we receive from God. If we don’t, we risk losing the truth and wandering further and further from what we were meant to be and do.

The word of God is the seed in the parable, it comes from being in the presence of God. (Prayer, Worship, Scripture, Sermons, Dreams, Visions)  When we hear the word of God speaking to us about our life, about who we are, and what He has called us to be… we must ‘receive’ it and keep a firm hold on it. We can’t let it fly by and decide to come back to it later. (Think of the “manna’ in the old testament – good for only one day)

Image Source – Pexel.com

We ‘hear’ with our hearts, not our ears. Yes, our senses work off of vibration and interpretation of the audible sensory organs, but this parable is focused on the ‘ears’ of our hearts. The passions and pursuits of our life come from the desires of our heart. The struggles and destructive habits we wrestle with also come from our hearts. What we believe about ourselves is all important, and what God speaks to us is powerful and unstoppable truth if it’s received and believed. In this parable, when we believe the words of God, the seed of our life is implanted into the soil of our heart.

Here the battle begins – God’s Word is contested at the “heart” level and before it can become implanted deep enough to affect our behaviors and beliefs  we must “receive” it guard it as our own.

We have an enemy, the deceiver and accuser of the brethren and he is strategic and aggressive in his desire to steal our identities and purpose in Christ… he wants to;

  • Steal our faith
  • Dash our hope
  • Distract our attention
  • Prevent us from receiving the Word as ours
  • De-legitimize the word as inaccurate & unreliable
  • To convince us we are unworthy – God’s will and blessing is unattainable for us.

In the parable Jesus differentiates between long-term growth and short-term, in doing so He reveals that to grow and mature we have to not only “receive” the word and claim it as our own (Implant the Seed), but we have to clean up our hearts by throwing out the rocks and tending to the weeds.

Without removing the rocks and tending to our soil we won’t grow deep enough roots to endure and mature. We need our life to grow, for our hearts to expand deeper until we have established a regular access to tap the living water of God’s truth.  (Psalm 1)

source – Pexel.com

Rocks are the hardened spaces and places in our lives where we cannot compromise or forgive – areas of disbelief and hurt, chronic wounds that form emotional walls and barriers between us and God. Those struggles we have given up on ever overcoming, those lies we accept… they block us from receiving the living water. Rocks keep us from growing beyond our wounds into stronger and mature disciples. Men and women who become stronger, more stable, and more consistent in their Christian life.

Weeding our garden = simplifying our lives. Once we grow roots, we gain stability and experience more and more sustained spiritual growth, our faith gains substance and sustainability – we elevate our perspective and see our lives differently.

Take away truths;

1. “Am I tending to the garden of my heart?

2. Have I received and believed what God has told me about Himself, about myself… about others? If not, I may need to remember the truth and dig out the lies.

Peace out, Pastor B.

Sorting Yourself Out.

There are moments we dread.

Long pauses after telling someone we ‘love’ them…opening a certified letter from the IRS… or getting ‘the’ follow up call from our doctor. Each of these moments slows our life down to mere milliseconds of movement. Our breathing stops, the sweat beads up and we want to wretch. It’s awful.

Fear grips us, gut deep and gnawing as we realize our life is out of our control. 

These ‘moment’s sort us out pretty fast. 

It’s in these moments we discover what we’re really trusting in, who we really are and who we are not, and what we actually believe about God.

Pexel.com

I’ve recently been through another season of personal upheaval. Deep changes in my work,  home life, and ministry. I find myself in Northern Maine, serving God. I’ve been removed to a distant and lonely place, isolated from my friends and family. Here on the back side of nowhere…I’ve had to change my perspective as I’ve been given some ‘extra’ time to consider and process.

Each change hit me hard. (Think like a two-by-four) Rapid blows that deformed my safe and predictable life, knocking the air out of my plans, my expectations,  my path forward.

On reflection… God it seems was calling me into something deeper and in doing so, He was ‘sorting me out’.

I believe the bible shows evidence this ‘sorting out’ is a ‘normal’ and healthy process to experience for the Christian, however when it happens to you for the first time, it gets ALL your attention.

So what’s the deal? Why all the drama and unanswered questions? Is God having a game with us or is there something deeper going on? 

I’m not for sure yet… but it seems to circle around this fact; I can’t get a grip on the essence of grace and the nature of our heavenly ‘father’ until I am desperately ‘aware’ of how much I need Him. And every so often… I forget. 

I think for many of us (myself included) we first experience God through a third person perspective. Faith is ours, but only as seen through eyes of our pastor or parents. Unfortunately it’s usually not until we personally have a few ‘moments’ in our life that we get ‘earnest’ about our own personal spiritual life.

Pexel.com

 

It seems we either turn towards God and seriously start to examine our faith or we discard it and Him.

I’ve been through this a couple of times in my life. Each time I’ve had certain supports in my life to help me through. Regular encouragement from a parent or spouse, the comfort of a ‘position’ in my career, or the structure of a scheduled life. Each of these external constructs were very helpful to keep me stable and moving forward, irregardless of the turmoil within.

But not now.

Now I’m in a new moment of life. God has engineered a space of life where I have to function and exist without any props to hold me up. No external supports or affirmations… just Him.

The empty space and silence of my life right now is maddening. I would rather run and yell and fight. But to just be silent is ridiculously hard and so lonely. 

Yet… I sense this ‘sorting out’ is an essential part of growing up, and an unavoidable part of maturing beyond myself.

What about you?

If you’re like me, you may be tempted to fill in the blanks. Move faster, get busier, schedule more stuff – anything to push back the silence and awkward pauses of our life.

Don’t do it.

Let both agree to let this new pace realign our heart and mind to be more sensitive to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit. From Abraham to King David, and Saul to St. Peter, each of the men and women of the scriptures learned to become ‘less’ and let God become “more’.

Peace out, Pastor B.

PS – No, for those who do know me personally… I’m not having a moral crisis or marital implosion, God is pushing into new territory within my heart and it’s uncomfortable. Pray for me, and I’ll pray for you.

 

 

 

Am I running the right race?

This week, we consider the metaphor of “Athletics” as our entrance into this passionate principle of Christian living.

Paul’s describing the (his) call to ministry as similar to running a race, an illustration that his audience would recognize and appreciate. Athletic heroes and achievements were as huge in Paul’s time as it is in ours. The influence of the Greek culture included the Olympic ideals of athletic excellence and the cult fame of being a champion.

Let’s consider something similar in our time… the cult of athletics is alive and well – fan worship is enormous. Just consider the recent success of the New England Patriot football team and the accomplishments of QB Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick. Their unprecedented record and longevity of winning has established  them as legends in the annals of the NFL.

Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The effort and sacrifice required to earn such a reputation and record on the field is enormous and widely regarded as obsessive. Such dedication and personal commitment is remarkable and requires a year around dedication to train, diet, and avoid unhealthy habits or behaviors to ensure their bodies and minds are free of any containment’s or conditions that might reduce their athletic strength or skill.

This extreme level of athletic effort and prolonged discipline of will is the exact context that Paul uses to describe his focus and attention to ministry and personal spiritual living.

Assuming then that our lives are full of options – of different paths to choose from, we have lots of possibilities to race after, from prosperous careers to  acclaim and celebrity – we have our pick of races to run in – The question becomes… what race are you and I running? 

“I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. “

Paul’s life had changed dramatically from that of a scholar to that of an evangelist. His focus and attention were completely captured by the truth of the Gospel. His experience with God had redirected his energies to serving the needs of others more than himself.

Many of us get caught running the wrong race…not that ‘other’ races in life are bad or wrong – but they are “less” than the pursuit of God’s Kingdom. Remember the words of Jesus…in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 7

 “31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Paul was not focused on “earthly” achievements – he was focused on one primary goal, to finish the work that God had given him to do. Paul’s work assignment of planting churches across the Roman empire was specific to him, but we all share the bigger picture – God has entrusted each of us with a series of unique and specific assignments to oversee in our lifetime.

Body Tithe University

 

We are all called to be a part of the Christ mission on earth. Each of us are prompted by the Holy Spirit to function as an ambassador and agent of our Heavenly Father. Like Jesus at the temple – Paul in His Roman jail – we all have a specific place – time – and specific responsibilities customized for our specific gifts and personalities.

For the Christ-believer, we must be in pursuit of the presence of God. It drives us to go and do and risk everything – to follow is to obey. For the Christian there is always a Christ-commission that is meant become the prime directive of their life. Everything else is meant to be measured by that – all other considerations are meant to be reduced under the divine commission.

If you’re not sure what that is…it maybe time to ask until you get an answer. When we ask specific questions , God will clarify specifically.

Romans 12: 1-2 “ I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 

 Paul is making the point to the church at Corinth, don’t just rush around without a specific purpose or clear assignment.  Don’t rush into ministries you’re not called or equipped to perform – those will only exhaust you and wear you out. It’s important to engage with your specific God breathed task or assignment.

Many times we want to be just “like” a leader or mentor we admire – we model our lives and actions to match theirs and assume God would want us to follow in their footsteps… rarely is that so. We can waste years of our lives in frustration and confusion trying understand why our hard work and dedication isn’t showing any fruit. Paul reminds us to be clear on what we’ve been called to be and do.

  1. Do we know we are in a “race” – or are we standing on the sideline?
  2. Are we running with a light enough pack – or is it too heavy to win the race?
  3. Are we clear on what our purpose is – or are we living confused and frustrated?

Life is full of “races” to run – but only one race is truly essential. We have to be careful to focus ourselves in winning the right race.

Father Brad Mathias – First shared at St. Margarets Anglican Church in Conway NH

“Saying YES to the dress”

Recently while serving as the parish Priest / Pastor of St. Margaret’s in Conway NH, I discussed the words of St. Paul in Colossians 3 regarding how to experience a ‘spiritual makeover’.

My wife and family loved watching the popular series “Say Yes to the Dress” (TLC cable) and despite my boredom with the topic and idea in general, I often watched along with the rest as drama after drama was displayed on the screen. Tears, fears, and frustrations were all put on vivid display as family after family struggled to agree on the best dress for each new bride to be. 

The process of trying on and shrugging off each new possible dress was agonizingly slow for me to watch, but the reactions from everyone involved was remarkably riveting. The expectations were so high for each new bride to find her ‘perfect’ fit and form, for her special – once in a lifetime – day.

So to the Kingdom of God and His bride the church. We are being asked to find our best fitting attire for our special day! Paul writes to the church at Colosse in chapter three to say these words….

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry…. 12 Put 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. “(ESV – Biblegateway.com) 

The language here is reminiscent of the idea of taking off “old” clothing and putting on “new” garments. The removal of the past and the putting on of the future, a metaphor for the Christian experience of ‘New Life’ in Christ.

Paul’s writing to the local church (ecclesia) to actively remove the old, and actively put on the new postures and traits of Christ. It’s more than an act of our wills though. God has given us the ‘capacity’ to act differently in the presence of the Holy Spirit. We are no longer stuck in our past habits and passions, instead we’ve been given a newness of life from the inside out.

The Christian has the ability to say ‘no’ to the old ways of our flesh, and say ‘yes’ to the new and Holy ways of Christ. It’s more than a change of attitude, it’s a change in our altitude. 

God’s life within us, begins to transform us from the innermost part of our hearts to our minds and will. The more time we spend in the presence of God and His people, the stronger the seed will grow, the less time we spend… the more dormant it will become.

When we look at the overall changes in our lives, and the significant movements from who we were… it’s encouraging. If we only focus on the tedious struggles of the here and now, we can get discouraged into believing we’re not really any different now than when we started this Christian journey of faith.

NOT SO.

God will finish the work He started in us. He will not fail us, and we can take renewed comfort in the fact that our salvation and renewal is not based on our best efforts or accomplishments along the way.

Instead we’re captured by the power of Grace and Redemption. It’s these truths that unlock our most stubborn hearts and renews our warped minds into something entirely new and fresh!

Parents and Grandparents, don’t be discouraged if you’re not seeing any apparent transformation in your offspring. God is still active and engaged in the process – deep under the surface. The seeds of faith and authenticity you’ve planted with your life will grow, and in time God’s promises will be seen and displayed. Be confident of the truth of God to grow in the most surprising of times.

SO… take the time to spend in reading a devotional and or scripture today. Invest in your own spiritual makeover, it may be time to let go of some old stuff and start putting on the new … it’s time to say “Yes” to the dress.

Peace out, Pastor B.

Sources and Links: 

Daily Lectio.net 

Daily Audio Bible 

 

Adventures Ahead

Following the Holy Spirit’s leading is a risk.

For the believer in Christ Jesus, the road ahead is often obscured, no clear visibility or confidence in our path. Yet we sense the pull of something beyond us, something stronger and deeper than our mere ambition or desire.

God draws us to come closer, and often in His courtship of our souls He woos us with the gentle power and subtle attraction of the Holy Spirit. 

Let me be clear, I’m no expert on following God… but I am learning. Couple of quick observations about my own path.

  1. God often leads us to follow His plans and not our own. (usually a ‘curve’ ball – something completely unexpected and different from we had in mind.
  2. God through the Holy Spirit will surprise us with Joy in the midst of transition and turmoil. Despite our awkward and uncomfortable agitation in the circumstances we’re in, God will comfort us and gently encourage us to stay with it.
  3. God’s leading will push us into places and spaces we’re not familiar or confident in. Life experiences will not equip us for the next step, instead the past will give us context for God’s faithfulness to meet us in any situation at any time. Our confidence will grow in Him and wane in us.
  4. God’s direction will bring a deep sense of personal satisfaction and contentment despite the lack of any external success or personal affirmation.

The direction the Holy Spirit leads will not be a rogue and independent push away from God’s people or spiritual oversight. Instead it will be affirmed and supported by those we live with and walk out our faith along side of. (i.e. – Pastor, Friends, Family, Spouse will all affirm the direction we sense is God)

God will ask you to trust Him. That means we’ll have to take risks to obey His leading. There is nothing safe about following the Holy Spirit’s voice, it may seem radical and unbalanced on the surface, but as we discern and respond by faith the process will bring clarity and conviction that God is indeed behind it all. 

I recently was asked to personally put these ideas to the test, I am writing this from my new home off the coast of Maine. God redirected my life and ministry from the safety and comfort of middle Tennessee to the wild and unpredictable world of northern New England.

The question is… where is He calling you to follow Him? I don’t know the timing, details, or specifics for you…but I do know that whatever He asks of you, it will exceed your expectations and instead of dread… you can look forward to “Adventures Ahead!”

In closing, I leave you with possibly the most  the famous CS Lewis quote out there, from his classic book “The Lion the Witch, and the Wardrobe“,  

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Holiday Cheer in the New Year

Christmas… glorious CHRISTMAS!

I Love the entire season of Christmas and New Years! The joy is contagious, presents, food, family, and lots of fun! The triumphant day comes and goes, the food is abundant and full of carbs, the days are long and we spend hours watching movies, eating peppermint chocolates, sipping cocoa and generally having a blast with those we love the most!

New Years brings a fresh start, like it or not… we’re going forward, time stops for no one and the world is new once again.

After the New Year…’real-life’ returns, and we slowly lose our lightness of being. We start to feel the ‘weight’ of our normal world push back in and over us. The daily grind of school, work, and our lives quickly shrink back into perspective.

We may start to feel the slow burn of regret cloud in as we begin to anxiously wait for the bills to arrive. We may feel sad, depressed, and full of fatigue. The Holiday ‘high has come and gone, and we’re left with a profound ‘low’.

This Christmas was unusual for our family. We found ourselves in a moment of ‘transition’, waiting to move into a brand new home over 1500 miles away from our life in Tennessee. We were set to journey to an unfamiliar world, a new and uncertain home and place in Maine.  The result, we were not only feeling emotionally and relationally displaced, but we were literally and physically (albeit temporarily) living through the holidays without a home to call our own.

As a result, the struggle to gather was greater this year.  We ended up renting a small house in the woods through VRBO.  A small 3 bedroom 1.5 bath renovated home in the rural countryside of Primm Springs, TN. It was marvelous, and it was close. All eight of us squeezed into a 1200 sq. foot home and made the best of our Christmas week. Three nights we had together, eight adults and a 15 month old grandson.

Our family had come together in this magical moment of Christmas time, our daughters and son-in-laws, our son, and grandson… all very much together again. It was marvelous and wonderful to see the whole gang at once. A rare treat now that our oldest and her husband were living in Oregon, we all sensed how precious the time was and no one took a moment for granted.

In those special moments we shared some time watching classic Christmas movies and sharing our favorite snacks as we lounged on the couch and wrapped ourselves in warm blankets and snuggled our way through once iconic scene after another. 

On Christmas day we watched the “The Nativity Story (2006)“. No one had seen it before, and it became an instant ‘favorite’ of our family. Ignoring the negative reviews we watched this amazing story of Mary and Joseph as they wrestled with the enormity of the life God invited them into. That’s all amazing and epic stuff, but I never truly considered the cost of them accepting such a calling.

The movie illustrates with remarkable clarity the rigors of life in the time of the Roman occupation of Israel, the shame of an unexplainable pregnancy and the overwhelming weight of being rejected by the religious elite. The Nativity story, makes you wrestle with the multitude of impossible challenges Mary and Joseph had to overcome to survive as a couple, not even fully married, but nevertheless they were branded by their ‘illegitimate’ child, an inescapable scandal that marked them for the rest of their lives.

Talk about lives in transition! Mary and Joseph were thrown from all that was familiar and safe and tipped top over teakettle into the dangerous currents of God’s Holy Spirit. An ocean of uncertainties filled their horizon, they faced rejection by family, by faith, by friends, the danger of a paranoid and violent Roman King who ruled their world,  life was at risk at any time, finances were non-existent and their future was grim. Yet, they were obeying God. Trusted by the Holy Spirit to carry out the most important human assignment in history.

Such honor! Such shame.

The movie made the case very clear… these saints were far from living an idyllic existence; their lives were marred by every kind of stress, anxiety, and pain. They endured months of pressure, struggle, and acute suffering. As the iconic vessels of salvation, favored by our God Most High, I’ve always glossed over this part of the Christmas story.  I sort of filled in the blanks of the gospels with my own version of how things went. I wasn’t being very honest with myself or with the narrative of the bible. Life wasn’t magically lifted up and amazing simply because they obeyed God’s call… in fact, it got harder and more tenuous.

That sounds a lot like my life. 

My take away from this movie was significant and timely. God’s will is going to be accomplished, and He’s inviting us to be a part of His story. No we’re not being cast as the heroic lead, we’re not starring in a spectacular – hollywood scripted show, but we’re asked to follow Christ in our everyday, flawed, and anxious lives! Our world doesn’t magically shift from daily struggle to the ease of a superman when we obey God’s call.

It’s becoming more and more evident, despite being chosen by God to carry out His will here on earth, we’re still going to hit the same obstacles and issues as everyone else. No free pass, no eternal Holiday bliss of Christmas, but the difference is… we’re going to see God do amazing things. He is going to show up in the fine details of our existence. He’s not our magic genie in a bottle, prepared to grant our every wish, but He is the God of our fathers, and He won’t let us fail or fall.

Happy New Year from  Pastor B.