From empty to ‘overflowing’

Preached recently on 2 Kings 4:1-7… a passage about a widow with two children, facing the most extreme of poverty and desperation. In those days, debt was paid off by slave labor, not with a payment plan. Her only available option was to seek out the man of God in her time. 

Entering the scene is the prophet “Elisha”. His answer to an impossible situation was unexpected… Let’s listen in…

2 “And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” Then he said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few.” 

When I’m in crisis, when my life is falling apart, when things get crazy bad… I’m praying for a miracle for sure, just like this single mom… but I often ask for God tobring something into this situation. Some tangible supernatural solution, like a ‘winning lottery ticket’ or an anonymous donation in the mail box for ‘just the right amount‘ of money.

Here we see a glimpse into the way God works in our crisis moments. Instead of looking at all the things ‘we don’t have‘… God asks us to inventory what we ‘do have’. A significant shift in perspective occurs when we do that. God is going to do a miracle for this single mother of two, but He’s not going to do it the way we ‘logically’ think. Nope.

Instead God is asking for us to give up the ‘one’ thing we have left. Let Him have it and then trust that in our obedience to His direction, He will bless and anoint the little we have to make it grow exponentially. Not just to multiple it… but supernaturally expand it -( 2 + 2 = 20,000) 

Here’s how the story ends…  4 “Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside.” So she went from him and shut the door behind herself and her sons. And as she poured they brought the vessels to her. When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another.” Then the oil stopped flowing. She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on the rest.”

The point of the story?

  1. If you find yourself facing an impossible situation…. look for what you ‘do have’. Don’t obsesses about what you lack.
  2. Let God have the one thing you have to work with. It may be as simple as cooking or heating oil, but in God’s hands its divine fuel for a miracle.
  3. Watch as God takes your little and makes it grow into something of great significance and value.
  4. Expect God’s solution to be bigger than your need. Prepare your vessels to receive His extravagant provision, and trust that not only will you’re need be met, but so much more!

All of us face moments in our lives when we can’t figure a way out. A dead-end job. A broken relationship or marriage, a failed ministry. Each of these can consume us and erode our faith and hope. 

Let’s remember the single mom story of 2 Kings 4. She received an “Overflow” of God’s blessing for her obedience and faith. Jesus repeats this same idea when He feeds the 5000 with a few fish and pieces of bread.

Our God has ‘style’. He’s way beyond the obvious, instead He uses the common to do something uncommon, working miracles with the ordinary and average things of our lives to show He truly is a faithful provider.

Peace out, Pastor B.

 

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Breaking up the Fallow ground

Growing up in Illinois I saw a lot of cornfields.

My horizon was filled with tracts of  vast farmland as flat as any pancake, and those fields were planted every spring with corn, soybeans, and wheat. Each October the John Deere’s showed up to harvest the crops and take it all to the silos. After years of regular crop cycles, a farmer would often choose to leave a field dormant. The land would be left to its own devices, no tilling, no seed planting and no fall harvest. Just a year to rest and recharge its nutrients and ensure its productivity for the years to come. (In scripture we would call that a “sabbath” type rest or a year of ‘jubilee”)

midwest cornfield

If that land remained unused for several seasons,  the weeds would take over along with some odd, old, sprouts of past plantings. All of these would compete for some purchase in the hard soil. Corn and bean shoots growing side by side in a mish-mash of unproductive weeds, each uneven and erratic. The only crop would be a useless mess of seedlings from a bygone era.  Among the chaos the soil would become dry and hard on the surface, a crust would form and then crack with lack of use. Land like this was considered unproductive and the term used by farmers for millennia has been “fallow”.

This agricultural term is the idea or image used in the scripture to describe the condition of our hearts when we’re drifting away from our faith.  “Fallow ground“.

What an amazingly accurate description of our hearts and emotions. You know… the areas of life where we’re not planting things any more… we’re tired and done. Hopes and dreams, relationships, kids, and marriages. Those things we had such optimism for when we began, but slowly we surrendered those pieces of our heart to despair and doubt. 

According to scripture, we can ‘break up our fallow ground” and prepare the soil of our heart to receive new seed. We don’t have to live with pieces of our heart barren and dormant. God’s calling each of us to trust Him with these, after all He is  the ‘resurrection and the life”.

Practically speaking… we may need to ‘break up’ the patterns of our days and weeks. Take new risks with old relationships. Alter our habits at home, less media and more meals together, more conversations and less polite small talk. Breaking up those places we’ve been afraid to visit takes courage and conviction. God supplies us with both.

It’s not easy torisk in the areas of our life where we’ve been hurt. But it’s the only way to break up our fallow ground. The scripture warns us to do a thorough job of digging out the weeds and thorns of our hearts if we want to grow a healthy and fruitful life. So… to clean out the heart we have to dig out the deep-rooted weeds, removing the stubborn beliefs about ourselves and each other that threaten to choke out anything new and living in us. sprout1

We can’t move forward if we still linger on the past hurts and wounds of our life, and while we’re ‘fallow’ … things in the present miss the chance to take root and grow.

So, let’s “pull some weeds’ and break up the fallow parts of our life. God is just waiting for each of us to trust Him enough to replant truth and hope in our heart.

Pastor B.

 

 

Holiness and House Cleaning

As parents we’re often behind.

Late to school… late to work, to the dentist, church services, sports practice… We’re  overwhelmed more than we’re not. Gradually things start to slide… we’re exhausted, just trying to get through one… more… day. 

Dishes pile up… yet to be washed laundry grow heaps on the floor, bathrooms get gunky, and dining rooms dusty. We irritably notice each unfinished chore, knowing we’re already pushing our limit to cover the essentials of our day.

Families are rushing faster and faster… buried in the demands of the job, our kids… the home. We run low on strength and stamina, revving our little weary engine until it’s redlined and about to seize up. 

When we’re tired… doubt and despair start to gain traction. Our hearts start to slow and fade as our bodies and minds wind down. We lose our vitality. We start to get cynical, we feel sullen… and act irritable.

Our desire is less than it used to be. We love life a bit less each and every day. Our kids and spouses start to distance themselves to avoid the outbursts and interruptions of our barely contained frustration. 

What’s going on? Why – How did we get so cranky?

It might be time for some personal house cleaning. Yep… just like those annoying dishes and piles of dirty towels in the laundry room… our hearts can get cluttered with dust, dirt, and other unwashed items.

Fortunately there is a solution… a deep clean cycle for our hearts and lives. Step out of the crazy current and slow your mind and body down long enough to be ‘ still’.  Make the effort to reconnect with the word and with your faith.  Read the bible.  Pray. Wait on God’s Holy Spirit to refresh your weary heart with new life. 

Breathe in the ‘newness’ of creation. Replace your fatigue and doubts with clean air… direct from the throne of God above. Allow your myopic (near-sighted) vision to be refocused… moving our gaze from our own stuff to the bigger picture. As you do this… be ‘still’. Don’t just rush and gush a thousand wants and needs for your “sugar daddy in heaven” to give you … the Christian Life is way more than that!

Go deeper. Get quieter, ‘listen’ for His still – small – voice. It has what you really need. What your really want. Nothing else will resolve your deepest longings or banish your darkest fears. No one else can restore your broken heart, heal the wounds of life… or renew hope. 

 

This is “cleaning house“. It removes and rinses the grime and grease of our lives and restores us to a healthy view of the world and our part in it. It brings back our vitality and strength to full ‘power’! You’ll feel better than a great workout in the gym, or a huge shake from Sonic. Cleaning house is deeper and more meaningful than a binge night with Netflix  or the next career promotion…it’s a reconnection with life itself.

None of us can slow everything down, or control ‘all‘ the uncontrollable details of a day, but when we spend time regularly with our creator… we gain strength and balance for everything that’s sure to come.

Blessings. Pastor B.

Links to scripture. 

Living like you mean it!

2017 has been a tough one for our family.

I know for many of you…it’s also been a time of struggle and loss, a year of milestone moments… some of deep joy, others of bitterest grief. 

The massive and rare full solar eclipse this August (in Middle TN) followed immediately by two major hurricanes in as many weeks, and you start to think. Maybe things are a bit odd, even turbulent. From the recent astronomical event and intense weather pattern to the divisive trends of our culture, life is spinning faster and faster. It seems like the world is running parallel to my own life.

2017 isn’t going to be soon forgotten by our family, or the millions affected by the catastrophic hurricanes of Harvey and Irma.  These moments of tragedy and triumph help us ‘clarify’ what’s important. We can see what really matters in the breadth and depth of our lives.

It has helped me to drop the petty crap and leave behind the little offenses of humanity, and focus instead on the ‘good’ stuff. Things like….taking extra time to enjoy a sunset, lingering for a moment to snuggle in bed… the prompt decision to get a new bed instead of enduring another awful night of so-so sleeping on our 11 year old mattress. Don’t put off those things you’re ‘planning to get around to’.

It’s the proximity of loss that brings our senses to fullest alert. We start to really “live” when we see the danger of dying and loss so close by. 

As parents, it may be time to reconsider. Maybe it’s not as important to overachieve at work while letting your home life suffer.

Maybe… we shouldn’t continue to risk the relationships with our spouse… or deny our kids our fullest attention any longer. Maybe the goal of providing for a better ‘future’ needs to slide back on the priority scale…?

Instead, why not flip those things. Maybe it’s time to make some sacrifices with our career to stay connected and healthy at home. Maybe it’s more important to spend time with our family than anywhere else…?

Maybe…It’s not about how much money we save, or how deep our 401K grows.

Maybe…we need to stop running so hard for the ‘what if’ of tomorrow and start living the life in front of us…TODAY!

Colour of Life Photography

Our spouses.

Our kids.

Our nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles.

Our friends and those we love… these are the greatest treasures we can ever know. It’s not the stuff of life that matters. It’s how much life we can ‘stuff’ into our days that truly counts.

DON’T LIVE LIKE YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE TOMORROW. LIVE LIKE YOU ONLY HAVE TODAY.

#NoRegretsLiving

Pastor B.

Scripture Reference: Matthew 6:34 “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (NIV) 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.