Grieving and Growing

Some of us have had an extra long and difficult year… full of sweeping emotional highs and dark, empty, lows. Engagements and weddings, divorce, death, and new birth. Life in its fullest cycle of the old and new. Some tragic, and some natural to the order of things… but ALL of it was exhausting. Left me feeling emotionally out of gas, living on empty.

As I look over the past nine months… it seems my mind is numb and weary from absorbing the epic transitions of an entire life crammed into just a few months. All of us will encounter life’s tragedies … and sometimes they stack up. Multiple tragedies in a short period of time… leaving many of us feeling destroyed by those losses, emotions so raw and deep that they linger long after the moment has moved by.

We can’t quite put our finger on what’s wrong inside of us. We feel “off”… but can’t express exactly why. We know it must be a part of the residue of our loss, but it’s fuzzy inside, shades of gritty grey instead of sharp and colorful like before.

DockYard – image source

We all get to choose how to move forward. We can decide to grieve and grow, or we can stay where we’re at. Stuck and in the doldrums of life. (Doldrums – a nautical term for a boat caught at sea without any trade winds to fill its sails. Stuck in a dismal malaise of floating in circles, no power to move forward or back.) 

It may be we need some extra ‘help’ with these things. More than just a gallon of our favorite ice-cream and a Netflix binge weekend, we might need a lot more in fact. It maybe that we need to grieve and grow from the injuries we’ve lived through.

My encouragement to you… don’t deny the emotions or lack of emotions you’re feeling. Look at the hints you might be suffering a silent tragedy of your own. Are you withdrawing from activities that used to attract you? Are you losing sleep or sleeping way too much? Are you struggling to finish things you started… lacking in energy or excitement for life? How’s your appetite? Are you finding yourself doing self-destructive activities… drinking too much, cutting, or starving your body of vital nutrition. Maybe you’re acting out sexually, obsessively eating or drinking more than you should, fixated, driven to stay busy with activities and unable to rest or be quiet.

These are all potential symptoms… or signs of unresolved issues with grief and mourning.  Natural in their own way, but destructive if left unchecked and unresolved. 

74211.com – source

It may be time to go and talk with someone about your situation. A counselor or therapist – (grief counselors are great!) – a pastor or priest,  a close and trusted friend. Someone who can listen carefully, and respect your feelings. Someone who can help you process through the pain and emptiness inside.

It’s so easy to get stuck here. So easy to do nothing… restless in your ‘doldrums’ , in danger of becoming like the bitter and cynical water you’re floating in.

Don’t give in to the pride and shame stuff, instead take the plunge to trust someone else with your grief, someone who is equipped to help you. It’s time to confide and release this pain. Include prayer and scripture reading in your plan for recovery. Jesus was known as the “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief“. He can sympathize, comfort, and encourage you in ways no man or woman can.

The 5 stages of grief and loss are: 1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5.Acceptance.

People who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them.

The stages of grief and mourning are universal and are experienced by people from all walks of life, across many cultures. Mourning occurs in response to an individual’s own terminal illness, the loss of a close relationship, or to the death of a valued being, human or animal. There are five stages of grief that were first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.

In our bereavement, we spend different lengths of time working through each step and express each stage with different levels of intensity. The five stages of loss do not necessarily occur in any specific order. We often move between stages before achieving a more peaceful acceptance of death. Many of us are not afforded the luxury of time required to achieve this final stage of grief. 

All, keep in mind — all people grieve differently. Some people will wear their emotions on their sleeve and be outwardly emotional. Others will experience their grief more internally, and may not cry. You should try to not judge how a person experiences their grief, as each person will experience it differently.

Source – https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/

Struggling with grief is natural and normal, but it is also the place of choosing. It’s  where life begins again or drags us down. Moving forward takes courage and faith, but it causes us to grow in both. Something we all can take hope from!

As parents, we’re not only working through things for ourselves…but we’re doing so with an audience. Our kids are always watching us… learning and growing too.

Pastor B.

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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.

 

Fighting back from despair, a pastors confession of faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RED leaders network – source of image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be amazed. Be restored. Be made new again…

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

What about you?

Pastor Brad.

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

The Family Business

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

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

Source – Bloomberg News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so should we!

Blessings, Pastor B.

 

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.

 

Why life can be so hard.

Life is hard. No denying that… but why?

livewellmagazine.org

Deep question… lots of ways to respond to that statement…but here are couple of thoughts to consider.

  1. Our own ‘Free-Will”. 

  2. There is a “Villain” in our story

  3. Other People’s “free-will’ 

Could it be that simple? I believe it really is…

Item #1 – “Our Own Free Will”.  We make choices. Everyday -it’s free-will that allows us to decide who to live with or run from,  when we will go to bed and what we’re going to eat or wear. All of these choices have a consequence. Each consequence is ours alone to bear. That’s hard. I make bad choices every day. We can’t ‘duck’ our part in the play – so to speak.

Item #2“There is a Villain in our story. Don’t forget you’re in a larger ‘story’ called the Gospel. In that context there is a good King and an evil prince. One is looking to protect and provide for you… the other is stealthy and deceptive, seeking to steal and destroy. For the Christian, our life is a constant heaven and hell skirmish. We’re fighting a two front battle all the time; (1) we’re pushing past the resistance of our own selfish ‘old’ self as well as the (2) demonic push back of Lucifer (the villain) who has lost everything in his rebellion from God. He is ruthless and persistent in the attack. Bad things are thrown at us all the time… without knowing who it is that’s out there, we could be fooled into thinking it’s us, our friends,… or worse, God to blame.

Item #3 – “Other people’s Free-Will; Yep… you know what this means. Other people in and around our story can make totally lame choices that will definitely affect us. From walking out of a marriage to stealing money from our company… each individual can and will fail us from time to time. Understanding that as they fail us… we’re likely to fail them too… we may choose to come to ‘peace’ with that reality or we’ll isolate. We’ll try to run and run and run… until we can’t run any longer. Simply avoiding the risk of being injured by others.

As Christians we must walk out our lives in the same context as everyone else… however, we have an optional fourth item to consider. The Christian’s helper / comforter is the Holy Spirit in us. It radically affects our perspective, infuses us with supernatural power, and warns of danger with discernment and wisdom.

With the presence of the Holy Spirit, we’re well equipped to respond to the world of free-will and the randomness of our lives, and we’re protected from the viciousness of our soul sworn enemy. The Holy Spirit along with God’s truth (scripture) gives us more than an edge in living our lives with victory.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another,

If you’re feeling overwhelmed. If you’re soul tired… you need some newness of life.

I recommend the prayer of the Holy Spirit to jump-start your day.

Start with a spiritual song… sing along to it (out-loud).

Engage your heart and mind in this effort… allow several minutes to pass. Linger in the presence of God, soak up the words you’re listening to and then quietly Pray for God to grant you the grace and strength for your day,  ask the Holy Spirit to ‘fill’ you afresh.

Read in scripture or listen to it on a podcast. Hear the truth. Let it remind you again of God’s plans and purposes for your life… let it’s warmth push out the lies and agreements that may have crept into your psyche. God’s word freeing us from bondage and false accusation, opening us up to restoration. Ask for God’s protection and power to live your day in a posture of optimism and hope. .

Wait. . .

if necessary, ask for forgiveness as any recent sins may come immediately to mind. Don’t avoid this. Then Repeat…

Wait. . .

when God’s’ peace and purity flood your heart… resume your day.

Repeat again tomorrow.

Watch you ‘hard life’ suddenly change. It will steadily keep changing as your days start to morph into a series of satisfying and beautiful ones. A profound change in attitude and posture will start to show in you, as God through his redemptive supernatural power changes you.

A changed “you”… will begin to choose differently. A changed ‘you’ will respond to attacks without fear. A changed ‘you’ will grow in patience for those who  live selfishly. Not because you had a profound breakthrough or read the right book, but simply by seeing your life as it truly is. 

This is the Christian “LIFE”.

Pastor B.

Reference Verse for this blog; Romans 15:4-5a ” 

Ruth’s story…

Some days our faith hangs by a thread so thin we wonder why we even claim to be a Christian. Despair is a the door, hope has left the building and we are all that remains. Our hearts merely empty shells… echoes fading of our past professions of God’s goodness and grace.

If those words resonate… you’re not alone. 

Studying the book of Ruth for a sermon series, I felt the powerful parallels between her story and mine. Her faith and story serving as a powerful source of hope and inspiration, especially for those caught in heartache, loneliness, and a season of profound injustice.

If that’s you… then STOP for a few minutes… read the book of Ruth. It’s only four chapters long. A novella of sorts, written 3,000 years ago from the perspective of a still young widow woman without a country, a family to call her own, or any semblance of a future. Destitute, facing starvation, and homeless… she resisted the temptation to run and chose to stick it out with God.

Her act of faith a heroic tale full of every emotion one can feel. Despair and hopelessness mixed with redemption and restoration. A true story of one woman’s selflessness and God’s intimate and tender touch. 

I can only introduce you to Ruth.

To know her, and possibly yourself… you must explore the passages on your own time. Reading under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit… trusting God to reveal to you the ancient details as they relate to your own tragic moments and empty faith. Watch in wonder and fascination as utter loss and shame becomes renewed hope and a sure future.

image source - sandyfreckletongagonartblog.wordpress.com

image source – sandyfreckletongagonartblog.wordpress.com

In the end Ruth is vindicated for trusting in her God. She is accepted, loved, adored, and exalted to the highest place of honor possible… the great-grandmother of the Messiah.

Her journey is our journey. Her determination to follow after God ‘no-matter-what” resonates with me on so many levels. 

God’s word is like that. Filled with story after story of men and women like us, feeling the same struggles of life and experiencing the personal attention of a loving Father who intervenes and validates each individual moment of suffering and loss as part of His perfect plan.

Ruth renews my trust in God. I hope it does the same for you today. 

To discover more about Ruth and her amazing story, read on at Biblegateway.com !

Pastor B.