Snow in the Mountains… Joy in my heart!

Day four and the end of my brief RoadTrip Revival.

I woke up in Alamosa Colorado… on the road at five am for a 2:30 pm out of Denver International.  Dark and cold, 13F and still as stone. Alamosa sits in a high arid mountain valley southwest of Great Sand Dunes NP.  Driving in the dark pre-sunrise was a cold and lonely moment for me. Saying goodbye is always hard. I prayed as I drove, afraid the ‘special’ moments I’d shared with God would dissipate as soon as I left the mountains and returned to ‘real life’.

As I drove North… I was praying and sipping hot coffee, occasionally snacking on wheat thins and dodging a few mule deer on the highway. Gradually as I rode silently in the darkness… I noticed the warm glow growing on my right horizon (east)

Sunrise over the Sangre de Cristo’s

It was framed by the Sangre De Cristos (Southern Extension of the Rockies) and the peaks formed a beautiful silhouette of stone and sky.  I slowed the car. This was worth seeing… another moment to savor. It took about 30 minutes to expand from a glow to bright light and sunrise. Spectacular!

I was grateful for the clear and cool skies, as the stars winked out overhead, the horizon grew into a display of golden orange. I could sense the symbolism in front of me… dawn was coming. The dark cold of night was fading… life and light were coming to illuminate the world again. 

The Promise of a New Day.

I reluctantly stopped snapping pictures and drove on to the North. Passing under the shadow of the Collegiate Peaks and the tourist town of Buena Vista, onto the legendary hi-country of Leadville CO. Here there was snow… about four inches of fresh dry powder. The temps were hovering at 10F and the early morning air was as still as my heart.

Leadville is one of the highest (10, 150 Ft) towns in Colorado (and the United States) … a historic mining town reinvented into a year round outdoor mecca for the enthusiastic among us. Its old west downtown and rambling Victorian homes makes for an eclectic sight as I drove, fresh snow padding silently underneath.

Heading North on Hwy 91

 

I kept heading north taking Highway 91 to join up with the masses and US Interstate 70 at Copper Mountain.  I was winding down. The trip was almost done, and once I hit the Interstate it would effectively be over. The two lane isolation would be gone as the four to six lanes of eighteen wheelers and minivans would crowd the pavement all the way to Denver and my flight home.

I was certain the intimacy and solitude I felt would soon vanish in the rush of speed and sound that was ‘real life’. 

Meanwhile I had some snow to deal with. The four inches in Leadville was now six or seven inches, and the roads had been plowed, but were 100% ice and snow pack, with sharp turns and steep grades up and down. I wound my way… slowly… through the twisting forest and saw the pristine beauty open up before me. As I drove, we gained altitude… crossing over the noticeably thin air of 11,318 foot Fremont Pass.

Passing through Fremont Pass into Summit County CO.

The snow was well over a foot deep now, and the mountains and forests looked like a scene out of Narnia. A gorgeous blue sky framed the wisps of clouds as they floated so close over my sunroof. The day was as perfect as I could have ever wished for… like a grand farewell. 

I teared up as I drove… wondering if this was all just in my head. Was this surprise storm in the night just God’s way of saying ‘goodbye’? Was it simply a matter of me being in the right place at the right time… a straight up coincidence of schedule and opportunity. No way to know for sure. I chose to believe it was more than that. I took it as one more sign of God’s love and extravagant detail for my little roadtrip revival.

The scene got more and more beautiful as I descended into Summit County Colorado. Fresh snow lay as thick as a blanket over every surface. No grey, only pristine white contrasting with the ever-green of forest and the indescribable blue of high country sky. I could feel the presence of God hugging my heart as I drove down the valley into the glory of creation, a warm reminder of the special time I had just shared. The perfect send-off if there ever was one.

It had snowed in mountains and I had joy in my heart. That was the lasting imprint on my memory. I still see it today…

It’s been two weeks since I drove those roads. God’s intimate presence and the ‘stillness’ in my heart remains.

Pastor B.

PS – My  prayer for you… take your own roadtrip. Ask God for a revival in your heart. Dump your electronics and distractions for at least 2 days… be quiet. Learn to listen… don’t fill your day or your mind with ‘stuff’. Just explore… stay in a day long conversation with “Papa’. He’s been waiting.

 

 

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Fear of the Unknown & Unknowable

Life comes at us full throttle. Events, experiences, relationships… each of them can be overwhelming and exhausting. We do our best to anticipate and prepare, but ultimately we’re going to run out of solutions.

For the Christian, we have the option to turn our impossible’s over to the God of the impossible. 

Recently our Life Group discussed the issues we face that are simply ‘overwhelming’. From old to young (65+ to 15 year olds) each of us described life circumstances that were stressing us out. For some it was their age and stage of life being ‘too old’ and their worry of future employment options, for others it was not knowing what to pursue, what to study or how to proceed past High School. Each person who shared noted their lack of control and fear of the future. Of not ‘feeling’ confident about their ability to manage their lives.

It’s pretty clear from this pastor’s chair that we ALL struggle with the fears of our future. The phrase that emerged from our discussion was this…Fear of the Unknown and the Unknowable.’ It doesn’t matter your age or stage of life, it’s a common thread that we share. It affects parents more than most… we’re facing the fear of our kids choices, the uncertainties of their future… a heavier weight than simply worrying about our own.

In one way or another, we all will face the ‘unknown and unknowable’ details of life.  Our futures may appear unclear, cloudy, and indistinct. Our past may seem wasted or irrelevant, but the truth is different than we ‘feel’. God is using it all.

For the Christian we can live with the confidence of God’s faithfulness to direct each of our steps into His perfect path. We’re flawed, broken, and inconsistent… but He is unchanging, good, and reliable. His plan for our life is moving forward, we can rest in His provision and purpose being realized at the precise moment we need it.

This ‘trusting’ God for the ‘unknown’ and ‘unknowable’ is commonly referred to as ‘Faith’. 🙂

We like to have a guarantee of the future, a clear understanding of how and why things are going to work out, but for the Christian that’s not an option. Instead we’re given a blank check by God to use whenever we need it… an endless supply of Faith that says… I don’t need to know, because He already does. 

Peace out, Pastor B.

For a reading reference, check out Matthew 6:25-34

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.

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.