Gates of Hades

Recently did some sermon prep on a famous passage in Matthew 16…

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock[b] I will build my church, and the gates of hell[c] shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[d] in heaven.” (ESV – Source – BibleGateway.com) 

A few details about this passage worth investigating further;

  1. Jesus went 30 miles out of his way to visit Caesarea Philippi, why? I believe it was because this place was deeply symbolic and very specific to his mission. 
  2. Peter and the disciples had already discovered or discerned Christ’s identity on the sea of Galilee a few chapters earlier.  (Matthew 14:33)
  3. The Gates of Hades was not a metaphor, but a literal place known for generations as a place of evil and pagan worship of Molech, Ashtaroth, Baal and Pan. It was in this particular place ( a cave with a deep pit) that Christ spoke his famous words of Matthew 16.
  4. The gates of Hades (or the dead) was also a ‘metaphor’ for those who were in bondage to living a life without ‘life’. Dead in their sins… captured and held by ‘gate’s that would not open. Life without Christ or his redemptive spiritual gift, left men and women without hope and full of despair. Caught by sin and self in a world that was chaotic and full of pointless pain.
  5. The ‘church’ that Christ references as ‘prevailing’ is known as “ekklesia” or the “called out ones”.
  6. In the context of this passage (Mt 16) the ‘called out’ would imply strongly those who had been rescued from ‘hades’ – not in the future, but the present. The power of Christ on earth – released through the ‘church’ to lead the ongoing ‘rescue’ of men and women trapped behind the proverbial gates’ of hades.
  7. The authority of God himself would be re-established to the ‘ekklesia’ to bind and loose the constraints of death and hades in the lives of men and women who were trapped in the hopeless patterns and self-destructive habits of a sinful nature and it’s consequences.

For me… the passage came ‘alive’ 🙂 (No pun intended – but appreciated here) It opened up a profound insight that the ministry we do as parents, pastors, as the Church – as people who have been rescued… (Ekklesia – Called out ones) is offensive, and not defensive. We are called to ‘break through the gates,’ to invade hell to populate heaven! 

Translated… the power and authority and promise of God in Matthew 16 is strong and reassuring. I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

liveforchristresources.com

Guys – we’re on the winning side here. No matter the hopelessness of your current situation, the weakness you may feel… or the doubts you carry… God is available to you. We just need to ask…  He is ready to stand by your side as we live out of our re-born hearts. Sharing ‘his’ hope and encouragement to a world empty of both.

It’s a reminder that our God has won, is winning… and will reign. He’s completing the recovery of all that’s been lost, broken, or defeated in us, our kids, and our world.

This passage contains an honest and pragmatic truth – the reminder that we are the church “Ekklesia” and as ‘called out ones‘ we too were once trapped in cynicism, and despair, broken by this world’s pain… as messed up and weak as anyone.  But with Christ as our savior… with Jesus as ‘Lord”, we’re assured of new life and hope that will not disappoint.

We are able to truly ‘live’ as we were intended to… now that is something powerful and brilliantly full of light. A promise of goodness in a very dark place, and it’s enough to prevail against the very gates of hell itself.

Thank you Jesus!

Pastor B.

 

Advertisements

Forgiveness…the Evidence of Love

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

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

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

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

Forgiveness is the practical and often painful part of redemption. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

source – Money Matters

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

Why Thirteen?

Kids do eventually become young adults, they grow and change… and ‘mature’ over time.

The most significant transition of life occurs during adolescence. An individual’s personal identity (or view of ‘self’) forms between 10-14 years of age,  a critical factor in forming a personal belief and value system. 

For the church and families of faith, this stage of life lies smack – dab-  ‘in-between’ childhood and youth ministry programing. (thus the term… ‘tween’)

Parents are stuck with kids who are either too old for ‘kids’ church… or not quite grown up enough for ‘youth’ group. This non-critical issue may lay distantly in a parent’s mind, but fades to the background as ‘other’ more pressing concerns take center stage, like sports, scholastic pressure, or dating!

The challenge for the church is this, if over 80% of our youth are actually walking away from the Christian faith community in their late teen years, what has changed?                                  (Barna Research) 

The mass migration of young adults ‘out’ of the faith must have some ’cause’ and ‘effect’ to it. What is different? Why are so many of our college age kids discarding their Christian beliefs? Studies suggest that our kids made their decision before the age of…

Thirteen.

The age of Thirteen is the approximate year most form their core beliefs, values, and identities. The stage of adolescence when we try out our growing ideas and opinions beyond the safety of  home or church.

image – courtesy of armadamusic.com

It’s real life experience a growing mind needs… peer stuff begins to crowd out the voices of authority figures. Parents, pastors… teachers all lose their influence while friends, social media, and pop culture gain ground.

Adolescents are growing into independent adults, in the process they evolve and adapt to their environments, forming initial beliefs that haven’t been tested or fully embraced as an adult. This process of ‘discovery’ is natural and normal, and helps them establish an ‘identity’.

It’s somewhere between fifth and seventh grade that social pressure starts to sway kids more than they ‘fear’ their parents wishes. It’s a part of the normal maturing process of kids to pass through various ‘crisis’ points in the development of identity – as they literally ‘try on’ new ideas and beliefs like we would a new hairstyle or clothes outfit. They just want to ‘see’ if things ‘fit’… if a parent knows this is ‘normal’ and expects it, the process can be stressful but not a ‘crisis’.

If parents are already stressed out, distracted, and overwhelmed by life… this adolescent ‘stuff’ can drive them over the proverbial ‘edge’. It’s here that faith and culture collide.

Thirteen.

What our kids decide is ‘real’ and of value, what they perceive to be ‘true’ of themselves and the world begins to slowly solidify. 

Their identities are being shaped in this ‘in-between’ time of the late grade school and early junior high years. We all learned this in biology or sex ed when we were teenagers, but as parents and pastors this presents new dangers and opportunities.

 The formation of identity is effectively reinforced by the stability of their social environment (according to studies) and the actions of parents in the home. What we say, and more importantly what we ‘do’… impacts our kids as much or more than anything else… before the age of ‘Thirteen’.

We have a short time with our children. a fixed period during which we can teach, prepare, and then ‘model’ our faith. They are going to struggle with the truth, they will make erratic and unpredictable choices…but in the end,  studies and experience (and the promise of God) predict their identities and beliefs are seriously affected by the health of their home life and the respect kids have for a parents faith. 

Not a spiritual perspective, this entire blog post is based on secular educational studies (see references below). The need for ministry to pre-teens and tweens has never been greater as media and access to digital platforms is now a normal part of childhood. Our kids need to know and ‘see’ the faith of their family and church. They need to know that we’re serious about Jesus Christ being the ‘center’ of our lives… they don’t need us to be perfect or polished, but they do need to know we’re sincere and dedicated to following the principles of the bible.

B413 the ‘No-Filter’ tour is all about equipping families of faith with the inspiration and biblical truth they need to help navigate this critical stage of parenting and life!

Let’s make EVERY effort!

Pastor Brad.

Links to references: http://www.rcgates.com/psyc/c16_pv.html  http://www3.uakron.edu/witt/adol/selfidentity.htm

 

 

Fighting back from despair, a pastors confession of faith.

Fear… Depression… Doubt. Seems all I hear about anymore. From the news cycle to my weekly church meetings. People are so focused on the negative…what’s going ‘wrong’ in the world.

Their discontent… hovers over and around like a bad case of B.O. – (body odor) – The smell an overwhelming distraction in having any real conversation.

Sometimes our attitude or posture of life… just stinks. Our resentment and cynicism…grows and reeks like a ripe case of B.O., our lives full of frustrations and negativity. 

When I’m not careful…It slowly seeps into my own life… after prolonged exposure to the funk, I’m joining in right there with everyone else… and I’m starting to wonder, maybe life does suck?

Pastors are supposed to keep their ‘crap’ together. No “B.O.” for us . We’re supposed to live ‘clean’ and well laundered lives. No bad attitudes, no depression… no sulking. We’re the ones who go around cleaning up everyone else’s stink. We soothe and encourage, offer some kindness and consideration, even a heartfelt prayer, but it’s like a paramedic in a battlefront surgery center…. band-aids for blown apart body parts.

People are suffering. REALLY SUFFERING.Their pain is deep and dark, it sucks the  life out of them like a cancerous black hole. It’s rotten stench corrupting everything it touches or gets near. 

It’s in these fetid and helpless moments of ministry that Christ arrives. He always shows up right on time. Usually when I’m too tired, too overwhelmed to respond.  When my tank is empty and I’ve got nothing ‘nifty’ and ‘wise’ left to inspire the broken hearted parishioner laying in pieces before me.

That’s when God comes to my aid… the Holy Spirit prompting me to reach out and up…but not just in a desperate prayer for the right words to help… but, in an instant of worship.

Supernaturally… I find myself thanking God for the privilege to serve Him and his people as a priest. That’s when things change!

When life is hitting the proverbial poo pile fan – God shows up, but His presence is found in our worship. 

When I surrender my right to be pathetic and mis-understood… He’s right there. Usually it’s strongest when I’m in church – during the time of music and worship.

I feel like he just gently comes and sits right next to me… so close and comforting. His reassuring presence worth any sacrifice or suffering I’ve been whining about just a moment before. My “B.O.’  gone!

RED leaders network – source of image

I feel Him whisper those famous words ( like He did to St. Peter….”if you love me… feed my sheep”… ) it’s like salve to my soul.

I stir somewhere way down deep inside… love and contentment pushing out all my despair – the darkness in my mind  gone.  All that tedious wrestling is over in a instant. Truth crowding out the lies....”My ‘savior’ is alive. He’s here… and he needs me!” WOOOHO!

In that moment… I feel ‘whole’.  As I should be. I’m a priest after all. Serving others, pouring out my life… that’s the call for every pastor. 

The admission of my need and His willingness to intercede does something remarkable. I praise Him – spirit – soul – body! No religious exercise – but a genuine display of gratitude and joy – without thinking… my hands raise – the words I’m singing off key… echo to heaven somehow.

In those moments of renewal…He reaches across the distance of time and space –  touching my wounded heart. He lifts the bone weary fatigue and replaces it with sparkling fresh faith and desire to serve again.

I don’t know exactly how it all happens…  but He does. It’s a mystery.

This is the power of worship. Of ‘thanking’ God – no matter what. 

The greatest weapon we have in our darkest moments of despair is this.  Worship  with God, Worship with His people. Experience His presence. It’s worth every obstacle and effort to do this.

Be amazed. Be restored. Be made new again…

It happened for me… just yesterday.  No one around me even noticed… but the Holy Spirit did. My soul did… those refreshing winds came and ‘breathed’ again on my dry bones. 

What about you?

Pastor Brad.

PS – you certainly don’t have to be a pastor to feel all of this. Parent, Spouse, or social worker… teacher, non-profit volunteer, or policeman. Those who face despair every day risk bringing it home. Let’s fight back with some ‘hope’ of our own.

Tired of Waiting…the AcheDeepInsideOurSoul

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

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

NBC – source

But sometimes we get tired of trying.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

source – Readers Digest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace out, Pastor Brad.

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

 

 

 

 

Restlessness

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

St. Augustine

The restless nature of our soul is a direct result of the duality of our emerging identity in Christ.

As we leave our “old’ self behind… the new and redemptive heart leaps forward to embrace all that should be. We start to sense all that can be, and soaring ever upward with the new-found power of a Holy Spirit, we taste the ‘good’ and long for the pure and true things of God. These delightful and treasured moments leave a lingering ‘afterglow’… a residue of God in our battered minds and hearts.

We crave the presence of God now… looking for more, longing to repeat the experience. It’s this deep transformational compulsion that begins to war against our oldest instincts. The old – and new – locked in an ancient yet intimate conflict of wills. Good and Evil ripping up the old establishment that was our comfy space.

This is the state of our souls in between. In – between the converted and the completed.

For Christians, this dichotomy of life and thinking, and living is our journey of becoming. Our battlefield of the mind and heart and the context for St. Paul’s writings in Romans.

If this feels familiar, you’re in good … even grand company.

Romans 7 and 8 focus our attention on the forces at work within and around our lives. It’s helpful to have context for the daily effort it takes to follow Christ all over again.

Let’s not grow weary in doing good…

Peace out; Pastor B.

Extra Reading resources. (Ligonier Ministries)

The Family Business

For thousands of years families have handed down more than a name to their children. Business and commerce, skills, and trades have all been passed from one generation to the next… one family at a time…for millennia.

For Christians, we look to pass our heritage of faith down to our kids like our ancestors did their livelihoods.  As a part of each family’s identity, these ‘family businesses’ were associated with entire regions of a country or state; blacksmith, jeweler, bakers, scholars, tailor, sailor, farmer, and mayors.

Source – Bloomberg News

The idea of families being engaged in the same enterprise of life has been the ‘normal’ for most of our history. Jesus as a carpenter… passed on by his earthly father to him is probably the most notable example, but also the idea of the disciples as fisherman etc… the cycle of living and existing continued with the skills and expertise of a lifetime of learning shared to the next generation with care and dedication.

Today we still see son’s and daughters’ stepping into their parents shoes, professionally and personally. Our kids will eventually adopt what we live (believe)  for their own.  (Proverbs 22:6)

My reminder today is to encourage you to take the time to consider carefully what you plan to pass on to your kids? Not just money and a car for college, but what will you actually transfer to them for a lifetime?

We get so busy. We are so busy. We run all day and then collapse… it’s easy to surrender to the overwhelming sense of being out of touch and ineffective as a parent. But the fact that you are a family is a huge – big – ginormous – deal!

God is for you. He is prepared to send whatever help you need to share your faith and your biblical beliefs with your kids.  That means no matter how weak or weary you may be, God’s strength is there to pick you up,! He promises to provide you with just the right ‘thing’ to say or do with your obstinate tween or teen, able to soothe your frustrations in the heat of any emotional moment and calm your fears for the future!

In short, God is our anchor to life and wisdom. His perspectives are  “the’ perspective, when we can ‘see’ our kids through ‘His” eyes, we’re on track as parents.

The family business is a faith business. We’re all training our kids to grow in their faith. No matter what your professional or career path is, we all share the father’s love and as Jesus said.. “I Must be about my Father’s business” – (Luke 2:49)

And so should we!

Blessings, Pastor B.