The Hidden Dangers of Disappointment

Heard a very thought-provoking sermon on the radio today. A series on the life of Joseph from well known Pastor & Author; Alistair Begg of “Truth for Life”. 

He spoke about the presence of God in our lives when we’re trapped in circumstances beyond our control. He described the presence and power of God to provide and protect us in the middle of difficult and discouraging moments, something I’m sure we can all appreciate. Joseph was trapped in a foreign land after being betrayed and abandoned by his own brothers, alone and isolated, a slave.

He had every right to give into the emotions of self-pity, resentment, bitterness. He had every right to hold a grudge, to nurse his anger and disappointment with his fellow-man and shake his fists at God in despair and righteous indignation. But he didn’t. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instead Joseph chose to make the ‘best’ of his situation. To look for the good in the middle of his impossible circumstances and God’s presence remained.  Joseph must have sensed there was some purpose to his injustices, some method to the madness of his incarceration and false imprisonments. Joseph’s faith looked for a hidden agenda by God, a strategy to direct his steps through the ridiculously bad luck of his life; of being sold as a slave, falsely accused of rape, and then discarded in prison by the one guy he helped to survive Pharaohs wrath.

It seemed that Joseph just couldn’t get a break. 

His disappointments could have derailed his faith. Stopped him from trusting or talking with God. His pain and suffering could have easily burned away the belief and anticipation of looking for God  to keep his promises, of daring to trust that someday and somehow God would show up and fulfill his adolescent dreams and visions.

What about us?

Do we believe God is working in our ridiculously bad circumstances? Are we surrendering to the wave of despair that comes over us, wallowing in the feelings of self-pity, resentment, and bitterness?  I do it. Lots of times I’ve found myself muttering as I drive, wondering where God is in my latest crisis. Arguing with Him that He’s not fair!

I suffer badly. I hate stress and disappointments.  I want my life to go the best possible way, to be fulfilling and without prolonged struggle. I want what I do to be successful. I want to work hard and see results, to find meaning and value in what I labor over. But far too often it’s nothing like that. 

Suffering in Silence

So… I have a choice to make. Like Joseph my life has had some major disappointments and moments of despair. I’ve found myself in circumstances beyond my control and feeling the dangerous current of self-pity, resentment, and bitterness gnawing their way up my gut.

Will I surrender to the darkness or push it back with one more act of hope and desperate faith? Will I look to God and reaffirm my belief that although it makes NO SENSE to me, He must be involved. That in my disappointments… He is still God. He is still using my momentary suffering as a tool of infinite beauty for my character and growth. (Romans 8:28 / Psalm 34 )

Those are the moments to cling to our faith. We can choose how we will react to the pain of life.  Lots of options here… from covering up our pain with pleasure to losing ourselves in work. But what if we chose to read and pray?

What would happen if we turned to God no matter how hard it is? Discovering the promises of God in the darkness and sorrow of a sleepless night  has salvaged my faith many many – times. It can realign our heart and reshape our suffering into an intimate act of faith.

When we come to Him in our pain… we reaffirm the truth we so desperately need to remember about our savior. He loves us. He understands us. He gets our pain and suffering as no other can… we remember in our surrendered heart that our God is good. He is working in our circumstances, using the disappointments of life for a higher purpose. He has a plan, and we’re in it.

Let’s agree to follow in Joseph’s example.

Let’s look to see how God’s going to show up in our disappointed lives. Let’s drop the weight of our painful baggage. We don’t need to carry the self-pity, resentment, and bitterness we’re holding anymore.

Blessings, Pastor B.

 

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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)

Finish strong

Being a family is like running a very long – long – long way… think a long-distance marathon… not a sprint.

source – podiatry.com

For those who didn’t run track… Parenting is more like getting a Ph.D. A long – very expensive – time-consuming – exhausting and overwhelmingly difficult pursuit.  Add marriage to that mix and you’re effectively getting a double Ph.D at the same time. 🙂

It’s a really big deal to get married and start a family.

I think we often underestimate the extraordinary accomplishment it is to live the traditional family life. Lots and lots of us get married. Lots and lots of us have kids… but less and less of us are staying married and even fewer have been able to maintain a healthy adult relationship with our kids. (source article

Why is that…?

Not trying to be trite here. Not trying to look at this from an elevated perch of maturity and wisdom. Truly examining this question as I reflect on my own life. Why is family such a huge challenge?

First observation; Family is more than a life milestone to shoot for. It’s a calling from God to fulfill. If we approach it as another ‘to-do’ on our bucket list of life, we may dramatically  mistake the obvious. If this is a ‘blueprint’ for living – as handed down by  God himself to the children of Adam / Eve… then it’s going to be challenged and resisted.

Second: Family requires healthy relationships to work. Healthy relationships require respect, patience, selflessness, and humility. Not character traits that can just be easily downloaded like a new phone app. These lessons are life-long  and are continually being refined, tested, and improved by the circumstances we share. Living for someone else is not easily  sustained. We can do it for short bursts of time, but with extended pressure we’re forced to admit how far short we fall. Grace may be most important missing ingredient in most long-term relationships.

Third: Family is all about finishing strong! It’s not how well we get started, It’s not about how few mistakes we make or how organized our homes appear to be… it’s about the determination to get back up when we fall. The resolve to never – ever – stop trying to ‘be’ a family. Our lives are full of dead-end opportunities, broken promises, and people who disappoint, it’s up to us to push past our offenses and pain. Like a long distance race, we have to set a pace to finish. We have to ask God to give us strength when we have nothing left in the tank.

source – muzmatch.com

I’ve done most of my marriage & parenting  ‘completely wrong’. I did great at the starting line, crashed and burned at year 9 and by God’s redemptive grace year 11 was a fresh start. It’s now year 26, and by the power Christ within, my faith, marriage and family are stronger than ever. (See my book; Roadtrip to Redemption )

It’s not that we’re blessed to live ‘safe’ lives, quite the opposite in fact. We’ve seen one crisis after another hit our family, but we’ve also seen God faithfully meet us in each desperate hour. It’s the strength of a shared faith and mutual determination to live out of a spirit of love and not fear…those factors made a huge difference in our family.

My prayer for you. No matter how bad you feel you’re doing…”Don’t give up!” 

Don’t give into the guilt and shame, don’t surrender your family to frustration and fear. God is present. ALL THE TIME. It may be time to shut out the other voices and just listen to His. After all… He invented Family and Marriage, He might just have some helpful advice to share 🙂

Peace out, Pastor B.

 

The Secret of Adventure…

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

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

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

pic source - moviepilot.com

pic source – moviepilot.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and Grace dear one… Pastor B.

Transplant Theology

The Christian faith has to be more than a list of what not’s. More than a set of higher ideals and noble pursuits… the faith of those who follow Christ must have a bit of the supernatural. The mystic and mysterious nature of God and man intermingling and re-engineering our very souls has to be way more than just a tradition or practice of piety.

galleryhip.com

galleryhip.com

Our basic beliefs hinge on some radical concepts... the violation of known physical and scientific law (Virgin Birth, Resurrection of a dead man, elemental control of the weather, gravity, etc..), as well as the most impossible evidence of all, the regular and repeated transformation of one’s desire’s.

As Christians we are supposed to serve a God of the impossible and improbable.

Why do we tend to retreat to the safe-zone of scientific reason and rational logic when defending our faith and beliefs? Is it to protect ourselves from public ridicule and the private smirk of cynics and realists, embarrassed to be counted as one of the radical Christian ‘fringe’?

Are we uncomfortable being lumped in as part of the emotionally unstable… a sensational and unpredictable ‘charismatic’ Christian, always claiming to see and experience dynamic movements of the Holy Spirit?

So what are we comfortable with?

justacatholic.blogspot.com

justacatholic.blogspot.com

Safe church services where we can easily predict what comes next? Do we enjoy the elevated discussions on theology, doctrine and bible semantics, careful consideration of the latest Christian best-sellers and media… maybe it’s the social predictability of seeing ‘normal’ and safe people with healthy personal boundaries and a familiar mindset. These can be quite reassuring, but are they what we need ?

Our most essential truth is the power of God expressed on a cross to raise the dead.

The very man who claimed to be “THE” son of God… an example of supernatural power and uncomfortable custom – breaking behaviors. He talked with prostitutes, drank in the local pubs, taught without a seminary degree, challenged the ‘heart ‘of the law and revealed the differences between hypocrisy and authentic faith.

Jesus transcended the history and influence of all holy men, prophets, and religious leaders who ever lived in 3 brief years. His message of new life still vibrant over two thousand years later. So what validated what He claimed was the truth?

Miracles validated Christ’s claims.

What is going to validate our faith to this generation…?

quietkinetic.wordpress.com

quietkinetic.wordpress.com

For me, it’s the miracle of a heart transplant. That I could give up my old broken heart for a new – pure true one. The spontaneous regeneration of my character, morality and compassion from the ravages of sin and compromise. God re-arranged me from the inside out. Every atom realigned to become something ‘different‘ than I had been. Like a flash of lightning, my life was turned inside out and from wrong to right.

A legitimate miracle.

Since that day… my life has been one transformational moment after another. First in me, then my family and now in the church I help lead.

The Holy Spirit untamed as ever, has pushed me from all things comfortable and familiar as I follow…. seeking to just keep up.

I believe we need more of the miraculous and less of the safe stuff we call Christianity. We need some transplant theology to radically revive our collective hearts and to show a watching world that God is still very much alive.

Peace out,  Pastor B.

 

 

Hope deferred…

Parents… don’t you hate it when we allow ourselves to get our hopes up and then what we truly believed in, what we desired the most…un-explicably disappears… ARRGGHHH !!! And as much as we hate that when it happens to us, we hate it a thousand times more when it happens to one of our kids. Maybe a zillion times more, more than anything else it eats us up inside, relentlessly taunting us for ever daring to hope in something beyond us, for being so foolish as to allow ourselves or our kids to believe that a dream they have nurtured for months or years might actually come true, no matter how slim the odds…

Proverbs 13:12 (a) NIV "Hope deferred makes the heart sick,.."

It can lead us to really get angry, bitter…resentful. Angry at ourselves, at the circumstances we find ourselves in and at God. After all isn’t it God who “allowed” it to happen? Isn’t He supposed to be ALL powerful, ALL knowing and ALL everything in our life? In our kids lives…? That’s what we all say on Sunday at church and Wednesday night’s when we make it to the weekly bible study, or is it just a hope too?

Careful here.

There is someone right behind you… subtly pushing your buttons. Whispering in your ear and calling to your heart and it’s not God, or a friend or a confidant to listen to… it’s much darker and he’s a master at manipulating every emotion, every fear and frustration we have into a fever pitch of doubt and anger and faithless regret. Don’t surrender to his lies, don’t give up on God and don’t give up on your dreams. No way, No how.

The truth is we often make it so easy for him to manipulate us, we run after things and then ask God to bless it. Only to find it fails in the end because we lacked the courage to be totally honest with ourselves and God. Knowing deep down we pushed ahead of His will for our own and then in desperation we blame Him for our personal and selfish choices.

But what about the things you truly, completely and totally surrender to God… only to have Him seemingly give it back to us, perfect and beautiful and pure, we eagerly grab it and run to enjoy it…only to sense He’s asking for us to give it back to Him for just a bit longer.

The heartache, the suffering, the agony we feel when our hope is taken… is enormous, unbearable and crushing in its intensity. It threatens to consume us if we don’t pull back, distancing ourselves from the situation just long enough and far enough to get some spiritual air in our lungs and remember the truth about God, about His promises… to reflect accurately about our often premature assumptions on life, and our hope and personal dreams.

What is the truth?

No matter what it feels like, regardless of our ability to understand or comprehend what’s happening to us… the truth remains steady and sure… God loves us, deeper and more sacrificial than we can comprehend, the closest thing we have to grasp the depth of His love, is the story of Jesus and the cross, or Abraham and Isaac; who after a lifetime of waiting for a son, an heir… is asked to give his child up to God as a sacrifice, without explanation, without preparation, without any warning whatsoever… and he does it!

HOW COULD HE DO THAT ? Seriously, how could Abraham actually surrender willingly his only child to God, physically let him be taken to his own death and be o.k. with it? I mean we kind of get that Jesus being God and Man has the spiritual DNA to overcome, but how does a flesh and blood ancient ancestor of ours ever get to that level of hope in God?

It has to be Abraham’s overall Faith in the character of God’s goodness. Faith that comes from the reality of a lifetime of watching a personal God keep every promise, every detail, every dream, every hope and every desire for Abraham intact regardless of the circumstance or situation. It was a summation of Abraham’s life to simply say…  he trusted God. In the big, the little and all the countless in-between issues of life. Including and most certainly as it related to his kid.

Prov 13:12 (b) " but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life" - courtesy of http://greatguys.org/stories

Time for us to wrap this up… I’ve struggled recently with one my kids being hurt by a bitter bit of hope deferred… and I’m helplessly watching from the sidelines as it’s making her heart-sick. But I know the God behind the promise to her, the truth of His character and the resolute strength of His power to make it all work out exactly as it was supposed to… but man as I wait in the in-between time of faith become reality… it’s hard. Really difficult to watch and trust that God can and will make something beautiful out of all this pain…

Hebrews 6: 13-18 “When God made his promise to Abraham, he backed it to the hilt, putting his own reputation on the line. He said, “I promise that I’ll bless you with everything I have—bless and bless and bless!” Abraham stuck it out and got everything that had been promised to him. When people make promises, they guarantee them by appeal to some authority above them so that if there is any question that they’ll make good on the promise, the authority will back them up. When God wanted to guarantee his promises, he gave his word, a rock-solid guarantee—God can’t break his word. And because his word cannot change, the promise is likewise unchangeable. ” (The Message)

But I choose to trust and believe that Hebrews 6 (above) is real and tangible for my life and my kids…and to keep trusting and believing that God’s words are true, and that satan is just a liar.

How about you…?

 brad.

Struggling to Spend the time…

Joshua 1:8

8This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (courtesy of the e-bible.com)

Wow… some days my time just evaporates… up before dawn, shower, energy bar, coffee, commute, work, dry cleaners, pick up dinner, eat dinner, dishes, meeting with someone at or with church, laundry, talk with the wife, kids and check on parents…  am I the only parent who finds that it’s a constant battle, a struggle to spend the limited time I have to be alone with God?

It’s really hard, harder than it should be.

It’s easier to sit on the couch, catch a few minutes of the local news… then pick up one of my mobile devices and re-check my emails, Facebook and twitter… it’s much easier for me to find the time to walk the dog, workout, catch a movie, re-arrange a closet or clean up the house. It’s more gratifying to do something that provides me with immediate and visible results, or something that actually entertains me or distracts me from life…than to go read the bible.

Out of water

Problem is… when I go more than a day or two without spending some time in the word, without being alone with God. I start to wilt… like a plant that goes a bit too long in the sun without being watered. I’m still there, kind of green on the outside, but weak and droopy. If I don’t re-immerse myself in the living water of God’s word I start to get dry and brittle. Irritable, short-tempered, inflexible.

Photo by: Andrey Armyagov

Joshua reminds us… don’t let this word of God depart from us, it should be all around us, in us… until we learn to abide. I’m learning that spending time with God is not only a dedicated time each day, but a constant re-focusing of my mind and heart throughout the day. To remember the bible verse  that encouraged me somehow in my last reading, to hang onto the key thought my pastor shared on sunday that I know was just for me… this effort of the mind to reconnect with Him all through my day is as legit a time with God as much as breaking out a thick journal and study bible on the kitchen table.

So, today on my way to work.. Instead of a Fox news broadcast with the latest in political scuttlebut…I tuned in a Christian radio station and listened as Chuck Swindoll encouraged me to never compromise… I took the extra 3 minutes to read my e-bible.com verse out of my email in-box and shared it online. When I get home tonight, I will take 15-20 minutes somewhere before I fall asleep to read the word, Not because I “should”, or “have to”, but because without it, I can’t survive…

Psalm 1:1-3

(ESV) “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers…”

I’m not able to negotiate anymore with my personal time and God time, I‘m going to make every effort to blend them into one. I don’t think we were ever meant to live outside of His presence, that’s why it’s so hard for me / us to segregate our faith during the day and then try to re-engage with God later. It’s not natural… and its way to hard to try to raise our kids well, stay in a healthy marriage and struggle to make a difference in the world we live in… all on our own. So let’s not.

Peace and Grace,

brad.