The Light of Laughter!

My grandson has the best laugh… like his mother, he can cackle from deep in his belly and light up a room in a heartbeat.

His laugh is contagious and full of genuine joy, it warms the coldest heart and breaks through the chill of any dour day. It’s magical and supernatural and wonderful to hear, and God designed it exactly so. 

Life can be so challenging, so stressful. We live day in and day out with clenched fists and anxious minds, ducking and weaving our way from one crisis point to the next. Laughing is the last thing on our mind, work, finances, strained relationships, health  issues… those are the things that get our attention.

pixabay.com

This Thanksgiving, my grandson (14 months) arrived with all the jovial chatter of a plump  little cherub, cackling and hooting his way around our Tennessee house. He was mesmerized by the lights and sounds, nuzzling our soft furniture and pillows, blankets, toys and trinkets. Stuff we took for granted.

His blue eyes sparkling with excitement, he rumbled from room to room. He was simply thrilled to see and touch, to try and catch our little dog or strut out some new steps on the fireplace sill. He roamed and rolled in hidden places and spaces, experimenting with everything he could. Awash in new tastes and touches, life was thoroughly exuberant, fascinating and full of hooting joy with all that could be discovered. He was a glowing spot of hope and happiness, a wonder to behold.

Sometimes we get so serious we forget to laugh. To enjoy our life. It’s really that simple.

We adults get so grown up we forget to savor the tastes of our wonderful existence. Grandkids can break that fallow space up for us, allowing new light and flavors to renew our heart and refresh the mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank God for our little grandson!

If you don’t have your own grandkids, godson, toddler, or nephew… go borrow one! (with permission of course) Freshen up your day with some toddler living and a cereal box full of tender laughing, the contagious joy you unleash won’t wear off for a long -long time. (I’ve been told, granddaughters are just as good as grandsons 🙂

No one can spread joy and happiness faster or further than a toddler… it’s no wonder God used children to exemplify HIS KINGDOM in the gospels*.

Given the gospel illustrations* that Jesus used with his disciples… there must be something truly special, something amazing and hilariously joyful about redemption. I mean let’s truly stop and think about how much laughter must be going on up there, full joy and hilarity, nonstop  celebration in Heaven that we can’t really comprehend yet. Makes you wonder, shouldn’t we start seriously practicing down here?

Merry Christmas and may you have a very HAPPY New Year!

Pastor Brad.

Scripture Passage: *Mark 10:13-15 (BibleGateway.com)

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Seasons Change

It’s been quite a run.

Middle Tennessee has been home for over fifteen years. We’ve raised three kids here and helped plant a new Anglican church. We helped care for and bury my dad and dear sister-in-law. We’ve had the honor to stand side by the side with those who grieved and those with reason to celebrate. We’ve been blessed to be included in the lives of hundreds of amazing men and women, kids, and students since moving here in 2003. A huge part of our lives was invested in the formation of iShine, the Tween Gospel Alliance, and Bema Media.

Mathias Family Circa 2017

The call to the Priesthood and pastoral ministry with NewSong Christian Fellowship, Four Winds Mission and the AMIA all were birthed here. The blood, sweat, and tears we shed for the unique and beautiful family that is the church at Four Winds Anglican Mission, was a constant part of our past nine years.

To leave these things is to leave a part of our own identity behind and unthinkable. Yet the voice keeps coming… and the images of Maine are never far from our minds. When I prayed… I felt it, when I slept… I saw it, and when I began to investigate… God revealed it.

It started a few months ago when we  (Paige and I) visited the state of Maine, and had an unexpected sense of displacement, a familiar connection to something we shouldn’t have, in an area we’ve never been before. (Ellsworth / Acadia)

An old and faintly familiar nudge began coming into our thoughts from somewhere outside of us. A kind of gentle whisper that wouldn’t go away, coupled to a ridiculous implication that didn’t make any rational sense. The idea inside those thoughts was just too crazy to seriously consider.

“We both felt we were supposed to live in Maine”

We knew being empty nesters meant some major life changes, but this was a bit much. After all, we have a grandson two hours away, our kids, friends, and church family were in middle TN. Our life had been built around and for this beautiful and warm place we called home. To leave now, just didn’t’ make sense.

The insanity of the idea was clear to any rational mind. To willingly decide to leave the familiar and comforting parts of our life and go to a place we know nothing  and no one… just didn’t make sense. 

In the end it was proven true, and confirmed by everyone in our life. After four weeks of intense and persistent prayer for confirmation, it came. First from our Bishop and then from our immediate family, we talked with our bosses, friends, and fellow pastors. They all sensed the truth of this and affirmed our decision to leave.

Acadia National Park

The crazy call of God to go to Maine wasn’t just some bout of indigestion or a momentary impulse. It was a genuine ‘calling’ to go and serve in a far away place. To be His servant in a strange land, to minister and laborer for His Kingdom and not our own. It felt scary and exciting… like a sneeze and a hiccup in one deep breath.

This radical idea had gone from a general concept to startling reality in a few short weeks. The truth of our calling was hard to apprehend, yet the implications obvious. The idea of getting our house ready to sell, of unplugging our lives and moving a thousand miles should be terrifying… but it wasn’t. A strange but peaceful atmosphere  was settling over our home and lives. God was miraculously forming a path out of the fog, a new road for us to follow, a journey for Paige and I into a new season of our life.

What had been a seemingly random idea was morphing into something quite solid, touchable, and true. A miracle that was taking shape right in front of our eyes. The reality of relocating our lives had hit ‘home’, and it felt ‘right’. (The transitions of our life may be sudden, but in God’s hands, we can remain peaceful.)

So here we are today, moving forward in faith. Our house is for sale, and we’re looking in Maine to find our next residence. We’re living proof that God continues to use broken people to serve Him in unusual ways and in unexpected places.

Paige and I are about to embark on a grand adventure, to explore a new and much ‘colder’ place with new challenges and experiences sure to be ahead. The path forward has been revealed, but the details are still foggy. We don’t know when exactly, we don’t know what exactly, but we do know where.

It turns out…St Thomas Anglican in Ellsworth Maine is in need of a Priest, and we believe it is to become our next stop. This obscure and distant place is strategic to both the Kingdom of God, and to our lives.

We’ve learned since hearing from God, that New England and the specifically the state of Maine are suffering greatly from a famine of churches*(see sources) and pastors to serve them. We know that Maine has few churches to meet the needs of God’s people and that around fifty percent of pastors are giving up their pulpits within three years of serving a church. This remote state and region matter to God, and the need for pastoral care is clearly reaching a critical stage. We didn’t know all that before we said yes… but we do now. Things are beginning to make sense.

St Thomas Anglican

God is constantly leading people all over the world to do seemingly radical things for Him. Just like the unknown fishermen He found on the shores of Galilee… He’s asking people to ‘Come and Follow Him,” and He will make us into  ‘fishers of men’.

I wouldn’t dare presume to know for you, but for some… you’ve been hearing the whisper of God already, but were afraid to respond. I get it. To trust God so completely is scary, but it’s also an honor and a privilege to be asked. For Paige and I, it’s time to hit the pavement and start on a brand new and totally EPIC Roadtrip to the great state of Maine. 🙂

We’ll see you there.

Pastor B.

PS – This blog and my work at Bema Media/ iShine will continue, the podcast (Brilliantly Brave Parenting) and work of Four Winds Anglican are not ending. God has provided a way for each of those to continue on and to thrive. Some of it will include us directly and some will not, but each effort is secure in the shadow of God’s divine providence and sustaining power.

*Sources:

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/jared-c-wilson/why-new-england-is-the-new-american-missional-frontier/

http://philwaldrep.org/retreat/

https://factsandtrends.net/2017/08/25/survive-pastors-graveyard-new-england/

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/05/18/religion/got-faith-maine-the-least-religious-state-in-the-nation/

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/29/how-religious-is-your-state/?state=alabama

https://news.gallup.com/poll/232223/religious-regions.aspx

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.

 

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)

Parenting through an eating disorder

*Statistics say that 3 out of 4 women struggle with an unhealthy relationship with food.

Ever ask yourself if that might be you? Or your daughter… wife, best friend?

Might be time to consider expanding your circle of trust and risk sharing that struggle. What about taking the step to engage with someone or something that has helped thousands get free? It takes courage and humility to admit our need for help, and it takes the support of someone who walked before us.

Let me introduce a friend and expert on the subject, Constance Rhodes – she’s the founder and CEO of “Finding Balance” and she can help.  Her help saved my daughter’s life six years ago and it might do the same  for you or someone you know. Someone who’s fighting in despair and feels all alone and about to give up.

Eating disorders and poor self-esteem related to body image are arguably the most common and painful struggle any parent with teens will ever face. 

I’ve done it. It’s rough. Seriously dark stuff to wrestle with by yourself.  No one wants to over-react, to provoke things further, but if you’re noticing a pattern… a trend, then its very likely real.

You may wonder if this important enough to risk the anger and resentment? It is.

First step... admit there might be a problem. 

Second… ask for help. 

Third… listen to the Brilliantly Brave Parenting podcast and reach out to Finding Balance and get some honest and tested advice. 

With all my heart…

Pastor Brad.

*FindingBalance interview – BBP Podcast.

Suffering that leads us to Surrender

Reading through the scriptures you can’t help but notice a pattern… the histories and testimonies of the patriarchs, prophets, priests, and kings all point to a common thread they share.

Suffering.

Sounds ominous, but it seems to be ‘the’ process God allows or uses to accomplish His will, His purposes in our lives.

The struggle of our will against God’s plan seems to work as the catalyst for our transformation. (think Jacob with the Angel) 

We desire and direct our lives to a specific point, we include God and prayerfully ask for His blessing to our efforts, but often we find our way in decline and the struggle to proceed becomes harder and harder to sustain. It’s in this pain that we suffer and wait for answers, confused by the lack of progress or success and we wonder if God is against us.

Rembrandt – Jacob wrestling with the angel. Google art project

He’s not against us. NEVER ever accept that lie. All of History reminds us of His passionate pursuit of our hearts! The great struggle of our faith is to cling steadfastly to this truth.

I’m learning a lot about these struggles and suffering moments right now, finding that it’s in these ‘storms’ of life that I am redirected from pursuing God as a means to ‘my’ progress. He’s more than a part of my plan, He’s bigger than all my plans and ambitions, He’s the entire point of it all. We have to reorient our lives around HIM.

We grow when we surrender our need to ‘know’ and accept His goodness for today and trust it will continue into tomorrow. I believe things radically changed in my life when I admitted my divided heart. That I was only partially in love with God and partially trying to manipulate Him into giving me what I thought I needed… but definitely wanted. I believe in the end He wants to be the focus and center of all my desire. He’s passionate to give us His best, and He wants to become number one, the focus of our attention and love. 

The suffering of our lives puts those inconsistencies of our motives into the floodlights of God’s divine illumination – these personal epiphanies are the mile markers in our journey of faith. They become the moments of clear understanding and  lead us to repentance, but often only come when we are exhausted and overwhelmed. It’s in those depths of despair that we finally surrender to God and in doing so they become the keys to our spiritual growth and maturity.

Brennan Manning in his book ‘Ruthless Trust” notes that we desire to have ‘clarity’ in our lives, often praying for it… but he points out that God wants us to have ‘trust’ in His goodness and His plan for our lives. There is a difference. (my paraphrase)

Clarity is knowledge of what’s coming. Trust is belief that God is in control of the future and that His plans are better than ours. Surrendering control is the door to us finding His peace and freedom from fear… easy to type, hard to act on.

Lord Help us ‘trust’ you in our suffering, help us to continue to believe in your goodness and give up our need to know and simply accept your leading us to a better place, that your plans can replace our own.

Blessings to you – Pastor B.

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably. Part 2

Arriving at the summit area, I drove to the nearly deserted parking lot and looked ‘down’ on the world. Gone were the valleys and hills, cities, and towns. Instead of seeing the vast vista of miles and miles in every direction, I could only see the clouds and fog blocking everything below.

I was at the top. I had reached my goal, but it hadn’t revealed all I had hoped for.  Instead of seeing with great clarity and perspective, I was limited to only what was immediately around me. My view was restricted, fogged in.

What a bummer!

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably. 

I made my way around the summit area, taking pictures and hoping for the clouds and fog to part, but after about 45 minutes I gave up. Asking God for his presence. For some kind of clarification on the path before me in life.

Mt. Washington Summit

I heard the wind blowing, I felt the chill in the air and my breath frosting in the breeze.. but nothing else.

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably. 

I drove down the mountain road slowly, carefully. The twisting turns and sharp corners demanding all of my attention, one distracted moment and I could be over the edge.  I could only navigate the space directly in front of me, not distracted by the wonderful horizon, just concentrating on the space ahead.

God was speaking. It was time to slow down. To pay attention to where I was. Not where I might be going or where I had been. He was subtly reminding me that even though the fog and clouds were thick and blocking my view of the horizon, I knew those beautiful vistas were still down there. I knew that the towns and cities below were there regardless of what I could see in the moment.

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably. 

God often gently prompts us to live in the ‘today’. To avoid the temptation to look way forward or way back. Just focus on the now. When your life is full of fog, it’s important to trust him for the future, and accept his grace for the past.  

When your life is filled with fog, pay attention to the steps you can see clearly. The stuff immediately in front of you, wait for Him to show you more – He will… when he knows we’re ready. The waiting is the point sometimes. Faith grows during the ‘unknown’s of our life, trust is gained when we believe even when the fog of life obscures our sight.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I just wanted God to be my personal ‘oracle’. A personal crystal ball that I could go to for answers when I felt lost or discouraged. I wasn’t nearly as interested in the relationship we share, but in the comfort and guidance he was offering.

God is there for me/us, but how we approach His presence will make a huge difference.  I was looking for answers, solutions to my problems… and I made the time and effort to come to seek Him out, but instead of focusing on HIM, my attention was completely wrapped up with ‘me’. 

We have to remember… for the Christian, God does indeed have a plan, our life is in his hands. Learning to trust His plan and timing is the pilgrim’s path, and we are all on various stages and ages of that journey. Let’s agree that when the time is right, He will clear the clouds and reveal what we need to know.

Until then… we learn to rest.

Pastor B.

PS – the next few days would review a nearly identical pattern of fog, clouds, and obscured views. God was speaking, but it took me some time to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ what was being said to me. Only after I got back did it come into perspective. Sometimes we have to be patient. God is speaking… we have to learn to listen.