Unanswered Prayers

Paul writes of his ‘thorn’ in the flesh. It’s in his second letter to the church at Corinth, he’s describing an experience he had with God, confused by an unanswered prayer for relief.

 How many of us feel like God’s not listening when we pray? 

How many of us struggle with the weight of circumstances and situations that we can’t escape, the powerlessness of being caught in a dilemma of someone else’s making?

It’s incredibly hard to stay encouraged, ‘up’ or full of faith when we’re praying for relief and finding nothing but more stress and overwhelming pain in our lives. But Paul gives us a very helpful and encouraging insight into these moments of struggle.

Listen to his words… “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”(2 Corinthians 12:7-9 ESV – Biblegateway.com) 

Paul gains the understanding in the midst of his frustration, pain, and bewilderment at God’s failure to remove the obstacles to his life. Instead of growing angry and resentful, He grows closer and more intimate with God. A peculiar response to a prayer denied. I long for that kind of trust and faith.

dwellingintheword.wordpress.com

For me, it’s a struggle to just trust God sometimes. To just believe He is up there. To let go of my control for His will. I wrestle with the difficulties and attacks that seem to never end in my life. I wonder at the wisdom of such persistent stress and spiritual oppression, it seems so overwhelming. So pointless.

But then a passage like 2 Corinthians 12 comes along and light breaks into the darkness of my despair and I ‘see’ again. I remember the goodness of God and His infinite capacity to take the attacks of the enemy and use them for good. Not just “his” good, but ‘my’ good.

Paul illustrates the point of unanswered prayer so succinctly here you can miss it without taking the time to dig a little deeper. God’s grace and power are released in these ‘thorny’ moments of our life. Released in a very unique and permanent way that no other life experience can create.

It’s in these struggles of faith and circumstance that God transforms and abides with us. Our strength is sapped… and His is tapped. 

Powerful grace overshadows the overwhelming despair and defeat we feel… we gain character (for Paul it was humility) and we gain it permanently. We lose our fear and grow courageous, full of anticipation for how and where God will show up in our circumstances. Paul was convinced that the grace and power released in his struggle would so far overshadow the pain of it all that he was encouraged by the setbacks in his life.

So, if you’re in the midst of a rough spot, feeling beat up and abandoned, don’t give into the doubt, God is with you. If he’s not answered your prayer yet, He will. And like Paul’s triple request for relief, if God in his wisdom chooses to leave you in the situation, it’s’ because the outcome is going to be so much better than you can imagine, that it’s worth the wait.

I pray for that atmosphere of faith to rule in my heart.  “Lord I believe… Help my unbelief.” 

Pastor B.

Additional notes and links:

John Piper has multiple sermons and resources at DesiringGod.org on 2 Corinthians 12 – This is the one that was most helpful for me –  

BibleHub.com has a great array of Commentaries as well – the one by Barnes was so helpful in providing the detail on how these thorns create permanent changes in us.

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Facing our Fears

Fear can consume us…

As a pastor. As a dad. As a leader I’m supposed to be fearless.

I feel the weight of others watching, waiting on my words… wondering what I’m going to do. It may be a bit myopic, but it’s a very real, and very heavy burden.  I know many of you feel the same weight on you.

Newsflash… I’m not fearless.

I’m full of doubts and fears like everyone else. I don’t have supernatural courage or resolve, I wrestle with my anxieties, walking the floor late at night..wondering where God is, figuring the angles, calculating my options.

Does that mean I’m failing in my ‘faith’ walk? If I roam the house restless and full of dread, does that mean God’s forsaken me for my doubts? Does that mean we’re unworthy of His presence…?

No. Absolutely not. It simply means we’re human and not up for pretending anymore. Some Christians feel like they are failing if they admit they have fear… I promise you, if the disciples wrestled with this… if Abraham and David wrestled with it, we will.

Life is scary. Stuff gets crazy and out of our control very fast and very intense. From a bad lab result to an unexpected change in your job, life hits hard and sudden. We get caught off-guard and unprepared. It scares us… sometimes it just freaks us out! 

The Christian isn’t immune to fear or anxious thoughts, we just have another option. We can retreat, blame God, our parents, or a spouse… become a victim and isolate or we can face our fears and learn to get past them. We can do this alone, proud, and defiant… or we can surrender our pride and ask for help. Help from God, help from our friends, help from our spouses. Facing fear requires the courage of humility to overcome. 

What is abundantly clear is this… we are going to be afraid. There are going to be moments that are overwhelming and super intense, we are going to have to move forward or retreat inside when those moments come. Our faith will grow or shrink. We will trust Him again… or we won’t.

My encouragement…Don’t run. Don’t hide. Face this stuff head on, but don’t do it alone. Ask for help. Pray. Read the word. Share with your Life-group, share with your pastor and friends, access the community of faith and the strength we share together.

Fear has a way of crushing our hope and strangling our faith, but when we walk together through the storm, we find solace and support. When we choose to trust despite our frustration and fear… I promise we’ll find Jesus, and He brings Peace and He brings comfort.

From Genesis to Revelation, the entire narrative of the bible speaks to fear. It tells us to be of ‘good courage’, to ‘fear not’, it talks of God’s provision and protection. It reminds us of God’s will and the destiny of God’s plan for each life. It gives us confidence that we’re not alone, that our lives matter… that we have a way forward no matter how bad it looks. 

Facing the facts with the promises of God brings light into the darkness and hope to our despair. Remembering God’s words of hope gives us courage to hang on, to trust Him one more time for ‘this’ crazy situation. ..we grow our faith roots deeper and we gain strength from confronting our fears. We gain confidence and great Joy from seeing God provide a miraculous solution to one more impossible problem. 

This is the life of a Christian, it is full of stressful moments and impossible odds… but also ridiculously cool surprises and lavish blessings. In the end, it is my belief that we will discover a God who does the impossible and does it with style!

Peace… out! Pastor B.

Links to checkout – Faith vs. Fear 

40 Bible verses about Fear 

Faith conquers Fear

Top 5 Scriptures that banish fear 

 

When faith isn’t fair…

Just finished a sermon on “A Theophany of Hope” – (Four Winds Anglican Mission)

Sounds scholarly, but it’s far more muddy than that. Life and faith can be such a huge struggle, and issues of personal injustice seem to hit me the hardest. When life just isn’t ‘fair’.

Source – David Ould

The text for the sermon centered on Mark 4 and Job 38. Both are passages about storms and stress, they focus on issues of drowning and sinking boats as well as the unresolved and unanswered questions of a faithful man (Job) in search of God’s presence. In short… they are the moments of our life when we can’t figure out what’s going on anymore.

Life moments can  coalesce into the all to familiar struggles we have with “Fear” and “Frustration”. Those moments of our faith life when we can’t find God or any answers to our unresolved circumstances. You know… when our lives don’t make sense, and God seems to have abandoned us. The moments when we’ve been working faithfully to serve and obey… and no one seems to even notice our sacrifice. That’s the moment when we cry out!

That’s the ‘storm’ moment, the time when life is lashing us with fear and frustrations, doubt, anger, resentment, and a hailstorm of regrets! 

But that is also the moment when we have to choose… we can draw closer to God to or walk away in disgust and despair. IF you make the leap to get closer… so will He.

The moment of the storm can become a THEOPHANY. (a visible manifestation of God to man)  We can experience God in a new way… if we  chose to stay. In our persistence, we will ‘see’ Him. We will gain a new revelation of His character… of His faithfulness, of His wisdom, and His compassion. 

I don’t know what God will show you in your storm, but He will show up… and He will bring peace and calm. For the disciples in Mark 4… He was the God of the Storm. For Job He was the God who Sees the details.

Whatever your pain. Whatever your frustration and fear… God has an antidote in Christ. It’s the perfect mixture of truth and hope and it’s been custom designed just for you. I know it doesn’t seem fair. I know it absolutely does not make sense… but it will. 

The scriptures are full of such moments as Theophany, full of the richness of God’s plan for our lives. He appears and reveals something precious that we would have missed if not for this storm. It’s a faith reminder, evidence that nothing with God is wasted or needless, He uses it all.

Press on dear one, God is waiting for you to draw closer.

Pastor B.

Parents! What do you believe?

We are working with the TGA (Tween Gospel Alliance) on a new book / resource project and need your anonymous input.

If you are a socially aware parent, and have an active and ongoing interest in our shifting Faith culture and parenting, we would LOVE and APPRECIATE your help with this ten question survey!

Take our 90 second survey – make a difference!

TAKE OUR SURVEY HERE – You could win some cool stuff from Chik-Fil-A !

Survey is fast! It only takes 90 seconds to complete the ten multiple choice questions and it’s going to help thousands of parents and kids! 

God Bless you and please share with your friends or family!

Pastor Brad / Road Trip Parenting – TGA team

Sometimes it hurts to care…

Life is easier on our own.

Alone is a simpler and less dramatic way to go. People are fine from a distance… but up close, things will get messy.

Parents have an amazing capacity to love their kids. I watched on the news this week as a mother was interviewed after her adult son had walked into a Nashville Waffle House and killed four random strangers. She still loved her son. She wasn’t condoning his actions, didn’t make any excuse for his behavior… but in her voice you could hear the suffering of a ‘mother’ and obvious heartbreak.

Spouses have an amazing capacity to love too. They can be lied to and cheated on, mislead, manipulated, and abused… but still the heart reaches out. The battered wife syndrome is a real ‘thing’. Women who are physically hurt by the one they love find it incredibly hard to walk away. They still ‘feel’ compassion and yes even love for their spouse despite the scars.  man in chair

Friends can love with great endurance as well. Suffering through the turbulence of being near the other. The passionate highs and lows of personal life can be abrasive and unexpected for a friendship to last. The ups and downs require patience and a long-suffering spirit, and thick skin.

Or not.

As a pastor, father, husband, and friend… I’ve seen all of the above from a distance and up close. From the parish I pastor to the kids I’ve raised, in my own marriage and with those I’ve walked through the fire with, there is no way we can avoid the pain of caring. People we care for and about are going to wound us.

The deeper hurt for me comes from those who misunderstand, from those who think the worst.

It’s awful when one who we once trusted decides its better for them to walk away.  The sorrow and injustice of such shame burns like fire, resurfacing like a glowing ember as we live it over and over, a fragmented memory smoldering in the heart and the soul.

We suffer when the bond of a life together is broken, the joy of sharing erased. We remember the snap of our hearts as they break…that moment when the full weight of rejection hits. Pain sharp as glass ripping our soul, an excruciating moment that lasts and lasts and lasts.

For some of us, we decide it simply hurts too bad to risk it again. For others… it’s an ongoing and unresolved debate. 

We can choose to run from relationships. We can walk away and close ourselves off, vowing to never ‘feel’ again. We can pretend and make our way numbly through what’s left of our life, avoiding the people and conversations that dig deeper. I admit… it’s tempting.

Or we/I can stop and face the pain. Invite others ‘in’. We/I can choose to let God touch us, let Him heal our wound. 

The Christian life is supposed to offer hope. The faith of Christ is supposed to be filled with grace. The Christian heart is supposed to be capable of supernatural love and forgiveness, but in my experience it’s very rare. The community of faith is supposed to be a ‘safe’ and honest place, a sanctuary in the storms of life. But is it?

The entire his-story of all human life is groaning for things to be set right. For our world and our lives to be restored. Somehow and in some unknown way God brings our dead hearts back to life. It’s the truth of the Christian Gospel and the promise of our own personal resurrection that has inspired men and women for millenia to get back up and take the risk of being hurt all over again. 

 

I whisper as the disciples must have whispered, with shaky and uncertain faith, sincere in my moment of doubt and pain, “Lord I believe… help my unbelief.” 

B.

 

Rain in the Desert

Some seasons of life are full of rocks, weeds, and dust. The ‘dry’ season can line up one after another until you’re living in the ‘desert’. A lonely time of life, usually with a prolonged cycle of frustration, unproductive labor, and unrelieved weariness.

From Abraham to Jesus Christ we see a regular pattern in the bible of the literal and metaphorical idea of ‘desert’ and famine, of isolation and wilderness. Each man or woman of God being inducted into the desert school of Holiness. 

For me, the desert was a place of beauty and suffering. A place of great extremes, searing heat without shade in the day, followed by plunging shadows and near freezing cold in the night. 

The danger of the desert is the absence of water. Exposure to heat and cold, searing sun and shivering nights leave you worn out, desperate for moisture and some safe place to hide… only there isn’t any. For travelers in the old west of America, learning the water holes and hidden reservoirs were the only way settlers could cross the vast stretches of dust and rock and survive. Spiritually we face a similar challenge as those early settlers. We have to learn to find water to survive.

My life… your life, each are composed of seasons. Some of our journey is full of abundant and fertile, filled with freshness and new life. Other seasons are stormy with turbulent changes and tragic transitions, wild and unpredictable like the spring… you get the idea. 

The season of life I had been walking through in the past seven or eight years had been quite dry. Hard labor with little tangible result. Day after week, week after month, month after year, serving without reward or visible change in my circumstances or life. Discouragement becomes frustration, frustration becomes bitterness, … and then resignation sets in.

This is the Desert.

Our souls are so thirsty. We long for more… we crave affirmation, we want to see some life growing, a hint of green in a sea of brown. 

San Luis, CO

My recent (March ’18) road trip revival was taking me through the literal desert to show me a metaphorical truth. Circumstances and conditions have been very dry in my life, no matter what I did or how hard I worked, nothing ‘seemed‘ to change. But God wasn’t absent, I was simply learning in a special school of faith. Common to every believer who has ever chosen to be a Pilgrim… committed to stay on the path of faith.

I wasn’t alone, millions of others have walked the pilgrimage of faith. Millions have faced this desert of the soul, and millions had been brought through the desert to see the life on the other side! The Exodus of the Israelites is a prime example.

But today I sensed something new and exciting for my life… Rain was coming. My life wasn’t dried up and my work wasn’t done. God had things to do in and through me. He set me on a path to San Luis, CO. Which is nowhere. It is the ‘oldest’ existing town in Colorado, 645 people and the county seat. On the edge of nothing, it has a unique Catholic mission on a high mesa overlooking the small town. There is a rocky path that winds up the side of the mesa, leading to a white adobe church, and along its trail are the Stations of the Cross. Cut in bronze sculpture, these stations are at approx 8,000 feet in elevation and the experience of walking the winding path will catch your breath in every way.

As I drove to San Luis… I remembered something I heard from God when first visiting here years before… He had put me on a pilgrimage“…. my life in Him and the ministry of being a pastor/priest wasn’t going to be a quick trip, but a long and difficult journey. Here I was coming back to the same exact spot, nine years later and decades wiser… it had all become true. Ministry and life had proven the point. But now I needed some water for my soul. I was tired and dry inside.

And as I drove, I saw something I’ve never seen before out here… “Rain”. It was raining in the desert! A large rainstorm was sweeping across the barren landscape and it was beautiful to behold! 

Driving rain washed over my car and the road, consuming the dust and dirt…covering the arid landscape in a haze of grey moisture and as it cascaded down, it was releasing the most amazing smells of sage and juniper, pinon and pine… it was amazing! A sweet and inspiring fragrance was covering the entire region and it felt like the countryside was celebrating with God for the long-awaited promise of water.  The dry was gone.

Was all of this a Foreshadowing for me….? I choose to believe so. 

When you roadtrip with God, nothing is an accident. No detail is a coincidence. He’s talking all the time, it’s the listening and observing that extends the conversation.

Rain in the Desert

For many, the desert of life has been our most recent address, the idea of rain is a long distant hope we’ve forgotten. My encouragement to you dear reader…, the rain is coming. God isn’t leaving you to wither up and die, He’s coming with new life. Hang in there. The desert isn’t forever, the seasons do change, God is active and involved in your life no matter how little you see or sense.

Remember that intimacy is gained and power is released as we wander through the desert seasons of our life.

God’s word shows us the pattern of preparation that each suffering servant endures, the school of the desert is for our growth not our punishment. It’s in the desert that we learn to dig a deeper well… it’s in the desert that we learn to be still. It’s in the desert that we unload the junk of our lives… leaving the unnecessary weight behind. It’s in the desert that we are transformed!

Think I’m crazy… check out the Prophet Isaiah… he wrote about 3000 years ago. 🙂

Snow in the mountains is tomorrow, my last day on sabbatical.

Pastor B.

 

Living in the “NOW”

After my breakthrough moment with God in Colorado… I carried a deep and lingering sense of calm. A peaceful and contented acceptance.  A better way to say it…  I had insight, an ‘understanding’ of what God was really like.

As my “papa” he was tangible to me. I could reach out and ‘touch’ that presence anytime I allowed myself to be quiet and still. 

This truth became a ‘doorway’ to a deeper chamber of my heart. IF God was my ‘papa’… then I could rest. I could let down my defenses and pretenses. I could let go of the constant need to review and project, my mind scanning constantly for danger in my past or the future, never allowing myself to enjoy the present.

The idea of relaxing was as foreign as ‘rest’ to my mind and heart. I couldn’t relax… not really. I had to be vigilant, had to assess and project the probabilities of success or failure. The inherent dangers along the way or the review of past mistakes to gain insight . I wasn’t able to relax because I had no one to rely on but myself. I didn’t really trust anyone. Not completely.

The Shack (summit entertainment)

If God was ‘papa’. He is trustworthy. Safe. Present.

No father betrays his kids. No heavenly father would be negligent in caring for my life. I could let that long – held – breath  out… and begin to slow it all down, steady heart. Mind resting enough to notice the details around me. I saw the beauty of Santa Fe, an old – old – old place. Full of adobe and tile, leather and stone. Beautiful and serene, it’s age a testament to longevity and purpose. Built by the Spanish monks over four hundred years ago, their places of worship still stand. Pointing not to their ingenuity – but to the one who inspired them to risk it all and go to a foreign place and dangerous time to spread their faith.

I noticed all of that in a nano-second. Like a Matrix moment in slow-motion… I could see and smell, hear, and perceive details all around me. Thousands of colors and shades had been missing in my life. I was black and white, sharp-edged and fast. Moving through the days like a school project, missing the ‘life’ around me. 

As I began to slow my existence in the wake of knowing ‘papa… I could live in the ‘NOW” for the first time in a long – long – time. I hadn’t felt this  in so long it was a bit foreign to me… not since I was a pre-adolescent kid in the summer – riding my bike with Scott McCumber or Mike Middleton – catching Crawdads – playing army – I remember each day was a decade of fun – but that had faded with adulthood. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today, I was ‘present’. Santa Fe was beautiful… each shop and restaurant a new treasure to discover, fear gone… I was able to relax.

Today, I was able to enjoy just being there. No distracting anxieties no restlessness.  I drove from Santa Fe to Taos, using the ‘high road’ it was gorgeous. The sun was clear and bright, blue skies and breezes all day. I drove and explored and relaxed in the sheer delight of it. No guilt, no regrets… I was living without the weight of all that pressure to keep moving. I could finally ‘stop’ inside.

Thank you GOD!

Next… my last two days on this Roadtrip Revival. Each was another beautiful surprise… rain in the desert and snow in the mountains. Special moments to share, truths to help me along.

Pastor B.