Waiting, Resting… and other ‘odd’ requests.

The Christian life in our modern world is so convoluted with the secular it’s almost impossible to sort things out.

The way our world works seems normal to us. It seems logical, even wise… but it operates on principles foreign to the Holy Spirit.

The world is about self-preservation, promotion, accomplishment, and gain.

Christ led us by example into a new way, a Kingdom built out of self-sacrifice, humility, service, and loss.

Photo by Zukiman Mohamad from Pexels

He promises that if we will follow after His way, we’ll find what we’re all searching for… a new life, one that’s abundant and free.

One of the first things we’re often asked to do by God is to ‘wait’. He doesn’t assign us a prominent role in the ministry, He doesn’t place us in positions of great influence or authority, He often puts us in a ‘time-out’. 

He’s not punishing us, He’s loving us. His voice will often urge us to ‘rest’. It seems odd. It seems out of place for us to ‘not’ pursue after our ministry, or work, or family. After all our entire life has been in ‘pursuit’ of something!

What is this weird request?

We may feel like we’re aren’t ‘needed’ for His purposes? Did we misunderstand Him. Did he misunderstand us? It’s so unusual to slow down and to actually stop running around that we feel useless, and irrelevant when we do. So we don’t.

Yet God asks us to be still.

The point I believe is we’re being ‘un-taught’ our worldly ways. In our world the harder we push the further we get. In God’s Kingdom, the way up is down. His ways are opposite of our ways, the slower we get the quieter we become. The less we do, the more we can hear. 

When we learn to ‘hear’ clearly we can proceed with conviction and confidence. If we’re learning to live and work in ‘his’ strength, then knowing His will and way is far more important than working out the ways we’re going to accomplish things, or pondering the “how to’s” of our ministry.

God is speaking to us, it’s essential that we learn to slow down and stop. To rest and be quiet, it’s in these moments that we learn the most. His will is all that matters.

Blessings, Pastor B.

Isaiah 30:15 (ESV) “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling,” 

The Choice to trust…

It’s always a temptation to doubt.

Life often doesn’t go like we planned, relationships get tough, finances strained, our work fails… we wonder where we’re going.

The struggle gets real with the news of cancer, loosing your job, a spouse who considers walking out, life can seriously strain one’s sanity at times. Parents get caught in the middle of this all the time, juggling one or more of these major stresses, yet needing to keep the ship balanced at home. The question becomes…how do we make sense of our faith when nothing makes sense anymore?

We get to decide what we’re going to do. The truth is, we’re not victims caught in the rush of water and helpless before the flood. What we can do is choose to ‘trust’. But when we can’t ‘see’ or ‘feel’ God, when our circumstances push us to the limits of our logic, God is near. 

How do I know that? Many – Many – Many times I’ve been caught in desperate moments. I have struggled ‘wondering’ where God was in my hurt and loss. I’ve not always trusted God in those moments of confusion and pain, I’ve often allowed myself to ‘thrash’ emotionally, blaming myself, others, and God for the struggle or issues at hand. It’s exhausting and unnecessary.

Photo by Ali Arapoğlu from Pexels

But no matter how overwhelmed, shocked, or stressed out I may feel, I still retain the consciousness to recognize my free will. I have a choice to make. A decision for how I will respond. I’m not caught in a one way tunnel of darkness, I can still pull my gaze away from the nasty stuff around me and focus on the light of God’s word, and remember the power and love of my Savior.

It takes a massive effort to deny myself the satisfaction of being a victim, of living in the gutter of self pity. Instead I have to choose to remember God’s faithfulness. I have to deny my emotions and not allow them to rule over me. I have to embrace my faith within my own mind and heart. I have to decide to trust God, to acknowledge He is ‘good’. 

These moments of choosing are the moments that build our faith. We can’t avoid our struggle, we can’t always flee or run and hide, we have to face it and we can do it in our own strength or in His. The struggle is to allow God to lead us when we can’t see or feel His presence… that takes ‘faith.

The choice is only ours to make. No one can do it for us, it’s deeply personal and painfully intimate. Once we make our choice, we can experience ‘peace.

My prayer for you and myself is this… “Lord give us the grace to hang on to the words you spoke to us, to remember the special promises of your scripture, to look for your salvation in this moment. Lord provide me the strength and wisdom to move forward in faith and open the doors you want me to enter and shut the ones not good for me. I trust your goodness, I believe in your sovereign power, and I look forward to seeing your miraculous solution to my impossible problems.” 

Psalm 100:5 “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Pastor Brad.

A promise in the wilderness

The Solitude and sanctity of Consecrated living

This internal work of the Holy Spirit is active in the wilderness season. It’s very presence and function an indication of our being prepared for a future work and service. Our spiritual senses are awakened as we begin to experience the presence of God, and the wilderness is where we are most keenly attuned to God’s whisper.

Our life begins to take on a sharper focus as we recognize the forces at work within and without us and we slowly accept and even embrace the intentional nature of our circumstances.

This awareness is the growing culmination of our decision to stay on the path, the expanding vista of our upward journey in faith.

The removal of the old and of our self makes space for the new and spiritual to grow. This consecration transformation is overseen by the Holy Spirit and is specific to the precise detail of our circumstance. The purposes of God are rarely revealed in their entirety to us, we are kept in the dark for many reasons, but not the least is the trust and the faith that the mystery of His work instills in us.

Photo by Rene Asmussen from Pexels

We cannot move deeper and closer to God without allowing this growing sensitivity of our need for consecration to take center stage within our consciousness. When we do,  we make different choices, we shy away from those old and deeply ingrained habits. Replacing those old patterns we find a surprising but  growing hunger for more time in His presence, for His plans more than our own. This inner transformation wipes away the decay of selfish pursuits and reorients us to a life spent for service.

This new motivation provides us a growing sense of inner calm and tangible assurance of who we are, where we’re going, and who we truly belong to; which is in essence the ultimate goal of our wilderness journey.

A growth in our personal discipline and dedication to Prayer is the natural byproduct of living in the presence of God, motivated by such a season of life as the wilderness we grow and grow. It (prayer) becomes the vital connection and intersection of our lives and Gods presence here on earth – it’s more than learning to take authority or a process of removing life obstacles – God is inviting us into deeper intimacy and longer conversations. We have to see prayer as time spent listening and talking. At stake is the will of God in our lives, and consequently here on earth. Our sensitivity to Gods will and way should become the most important part our day.

As Dr Tony Evans says, “we need to discover what God is up to each day – we need to listen and respond by asking Him what He wants to do and where we should be within His will, within His plans” (my paraphrase) “We are not meant to simply “visit” with God in prayer, but to learn to “abide”. We cannot fully enter into what God is doing here on earth without learning to listen and hear when we pray.”

 The bigger picture is this… as we learn to live in the wilderness, we will grow in our inner desire to follow after and become like Christ. This expanding thirst for holy living will draw us into a closer and deeper faith, a positive cycle of shedding the “old” and putting on the ‘new’. Our transformation starting within expressing itself without, not for appearance sake or the affirmation of others, but for the preservation and growth of our communion with God.

The circumstances of our life may wax and wane, but by leaving behind the old false and fake self we make space for the new and liberated self. This frees us from our fears and opens the door to a growing practice of living within a constant presence with God. This is what the saints have long called ‘walking with God’. It’s habitual practice in our lives means we can not only endure our wilderness season but learn, grow, and expand.

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad from Pexels

The distractions and struggles of our lives are like the swirling wind for an eagle’s wings. We can fight the turbulence or learn to ride the currents trusting in the power of God to lead us. The other option…? We can stubbornly resist and insist on a vain attempt to maintain control of our trajectory until we reach the point of complete exhaustion and despair.

The struggle for each of us to draw near to the Creator is real. Our need to exert control is deeply ingrained, but Gods Holy Spirit is the patient and perfect tutor and will realign our hearts to His.

The process of consecration and preparation requires from us a voluntary surrender and release of our protective grip on those false confidences and comforts that counterfeit His provision and presence. This often means a season in the wilderness, a time of isolation, transition, and frustration in the short-term, but greater peace and deeper intimacy in the long run.

In the end, we must learn to rest while we find ourselves living in the wilderness. Not confident in our tenacity to stick with it, but in His patience to work within us, to perfect us in the midst of it all.

Pastor B.

PS – the last 5 posts have been an outline of a new project I’m working on for publication.  I trust they provide hope and encouragement to any who find themselves in a wilderness season of life.  Much of the biblical insights I am drawing upon can be found in the book of “Hebrews’. This epic summation of the New Covenant in Christ is the road-map for any who wish to find ‘rest’. Hebrews points directly to the completed majestic sacrifice of the long promised messiah… Jesus Christ.

Hearing Clearly

“My Wilderness Maine – A 90 Day Journey of Faith”

Prologue:

Our 90-day journey into the Maine Wilderness began with a crisis. As most of the dramatic moves of God in our lives, He worked his mysteries in the darkest spaces and places to bring us light and inspiration.

August of 2018 was a whirlwind of raw emotions; confusion, doubt, and despair. Life as it often does had thrown us an unexpected curve-ball, and we were completely unprepared. We needed to withdraw and reassess our lives and so we did. A sabbatical ensued and without a compass or plan my wife and I rented a cabin by a quiet lake in Maine.

We needed to retreat from the chaos of our life and reconnect ourselves to our Father and each other. As parents and pastors, we had been running hard for a very long time. 10 years without a break from ministry is not heroic, it’s foolish. We needed a place to rest. We needed to recharge and reorient ourselves around Gods word and attune ourselves again to the Holy Spirits voice. The still and small was hard to hear where we were, and we desperately needed to hear.

The voice was clear when it came. We both heard it and understood.

Although we didn’t know the details or any of the particulars of this new plan, we were convinced it was from God. After a short season (12 weeks) of discernment and prayer, God confirmed His redirection of our lives and opened door after door to allow us a rapid release from the commitments and concerns of our previous life.

We would gradually grow to understand that Gods leading us into the remoteness of Northern Maine was not random, but a prescribed path to a Consecrated Heart and Mind. The relocation and isolation of Gods plan for us forced a deeper contemplation of where we were individually and as a couple.

The pressures of our transition allowed circumstances to reveal the condition of our hearts as they truly were.

A period of instability and uncertainty that gave us the opportunity to take a prolonged gaze at our motivations and beliefs that lay dormant behind all our assumed disguises.

This process was difficult, and I guess must be so. As change by its very nature is unsettling, disconcerting, and painful to our egos. It erases the vestiges of our false self, and demolishes our carefully constructed denials.

Not only was our new journey away from the past divinely prescribed, but precisely so.

And we are not an isolated example, God has been active in rearranging the trajectory of His disciples lives for millennia. The process and principles are essentially the same for all of us, but the specific details and circumstances He uses are as diverse as our DNA.

We like you, are walking out our Salvation with fear and trembling, the journey towards our creator serves as the defining work of every believer’s life. Some of us are struggling to just start the divine pilgrimage and others are seasoned and weary from decades of effort and self-examination. No matter where you may find yourself on this spectrum of Sanctification, the wilderness experience is a “given” for each of us. This barren place of personal testing and self-denial is also a place of deep intimacy and amazing growth & breakthrough.

The struggle to draw near to our Creator is real… but I believe the journey to contentment and fulfillment is worth whatever it costs. 

This small story of “Our Wilderness Maine” is our part of a much bigger plan, it assumes we are in something epic and awe-inspiring, a thread of life cast in “THE” story.

What we’ve learned and are learning follows… more details of our journey are coming in future posts. Blessings my friend.

Pastor Brad.

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)

 

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

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.