Sorting Yourself Out.

There are moments we dread.

Long pauses after telling someone we ‘love’ them…opening a certified letter from the IRS… or getting ‘the’ follow up call from our doctor. Each of these moments slows our life down to mere milliseconds of movement. Our breathing stops, the sweat beads up and we want to wretch. It’s awful.

Fear grips us, gut deep and gnawing as we realize our life is out of our control. 

These ‘moment’s sort us out pretty fast. 

It’s in these moments we discover what we’re really trusting in, who we really are and who we are not, and what we actually believe about God.

Pexel.com

I’ve recently been through another season of personal upheaval. Deep changes in my work,  home life, and ministry. I find myself in Northern Maine, serving God. I’ve been removed to a distant and lonely place, isolated from my friends and family. Here on the back side of nowhere…I’ve had to change my perspective as I’ve been given some ‘extra’ time to consider and process.

Each change hit me hard. (Think like a two-by-four) Rapid blows that deformed my safe and predictable life, knocking the air out of my plans, my expectations,  my path forward.

On reflection… God it seems was calling me into something deeper and in doing so, He was ‘sorting me out’.

I believe the bible shows evidence this ‘sorting out’ is a ‘normal’ and healthy process to experience for the Christian, however when it happens to you for the first time, it gets ALL your attention.

So what’s the deal? Why all the drama and unanswered questions? Is God having a game with us or is there something deeper going on? 

I’m not for sure yet… but it seems to circle around this fact; I can’t get a grip on the essence of grace and the nature of our heavenly ‘father’ until I am desperately ‘aware’ of how much I need Him. And every so often… I forget. 

I think for many of us (myself included) we first experience God through a third person perspective. Faith is ours, but only as seen through eyes of our pastor or parents. Unfortunately it’s usually not until we personally have a few ‘moments’ in our life that we get ‘earnest’ about our own personal spiritual life.

Pexel.com

 

It seems we either turn towards God and seriously start to examine our faith or we discard it and Him.

I’ve been through this a couple of times in my life. Each time I’ve had certain supports in my life to help me through. Regular encouragement from a parent or spouse, the comfort of a ‘position’ in my career, or the structure of a scheduled life. Each of these external constructs were very helpful to keep me stable and moving forward, irregardless of the turmoil within.

But not now.

Now I’m in a new moment of life. God has engineered a space of life where I have to function and exist without any props to hold me up. No external supports or affirmations… just Him.

The empty space and silence of my life right now is maddening. I would rather run and yell and fight. But to just be silent is ridiculously hard and so lonely. 

Yet… I sense this ‘sorting out’ is an essential part of growing up, and an unavoidable part of maturing beyond myself.

What about you?

If you’re like me, you may be tempted to fill in the blanks. Move faster, get busier, schedule more stuff – anything to push back the silence and awkward pauses of our life.

Don’t do it.

Let both agree to let this new pace realign our heart and mind to be more sensitive to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit. From Abraham to King David, and Saul to St. Peter, each of the men and women of the scriptures learned to become ‘less’ and let God become “more’.

Peace out, Pastor B.

PS – No, for those who do know me personally… I’m not having a moral crisis or marital implosion, God is pushing into new territory within my heart and it’s uncomfortable. Pray for me, and I’ll pray for you.

 

 

 

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Am I running the right race?

This week, we consider the metaphor of “Athletics” as our entrance into this passionate principle of Christian living.

Paul’s describing the (his) call to ministry as similar to running a race, an illustration that his audience would recognize and appreciate. Athletic heroes and achievements were as huge in Paul’s time as it is in ours. The influence of the Greek culture included the Olympic ideals of athletic excellence and the cult fame of being a champion.

Let’s consider something similar in our time… the cult of athletics is alive and well – fan worship is enormous. Just consider the recent success of the New England Patriot football team and the accomplishments of QB Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick. Their unprecedented record and longevity of winning has established  them as legends in the annals of the NFL.

Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The effort and sacrifice required to earn such a reputation and record on the field is enormous and widely regarded as obsessive. Such dedication and personal commitment is remarkable and requires a year around dedication to train, diet, and avoid unhealthy habits or behaviors to ensure their bodies and minds are free of any containment’s or conditions that might reduce their athletic strength or skill.

This extreme level of athletic effort and prolonged discipline of will is the exact context that Paul uses to describe his focus and attention to ministry and personal spiritual living.

Assuming then that our lives are full of options – of different paths to choose from, we have lots of possibilities to race after, from prosperous careers to  acclaim and celebrity – we have our pick of races to run in – The question becomes… what race are you and I running? 

“I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. “

Paul’s life had changed dramatically from that of a scholar to that of an evangelist. His focus and attention were completely captured by the truth of the Gospel. His experience with God had redirected his energies to serving the needs of others more than himself.

Many of us get caught running the wrong race…not that ‘other’ races in life are bad or wrong – but they are “less” than the pursuit of God’s Kingdom. Remember the words of Jesus…in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 7

 “31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Paul was not focused on “earthly” achievements – he was focused on one primary goal, to finish the work that God had given him to do. Paul’s work assignment of planting churches across the Roman empire was specific to him, but we all share the bigger picture – God has entrusted each of us with a series of unique and specific assignments to oversee in our lifetime.

Body Tithe University

 

We are all called to be a part of the Christ mission on earth. Each of us are prompted by the Holy Spirit to function as an ambassador and agent of our Heavenly Father. Like Jesus at the temple – Paul in His Roman jail – we all have a specific place – time – and specific responsibilities customized for our specific gifts and personalities.

For the Christ-believer, we must be in pursuit of the presence of God. It drives us to go and do and risk everything – to follow is to obey. For the Christian there is always a Christ-commission that is meant become the prime directive of their life. Everything else is meant to be measured by that – all other considerations are meant to be reduced under the divine commission.

If you’re not sure what that is…it maybe time to ask until you get an answer. When we ask specific questions , God will clarify specifically.

Romans 12: 1-2 “ I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 

 Paul is making the point to the church at Corinth, don’t just rush around without a specific purpose or clear assignment.  Don’t rush into ministries you’re not called or equipped to perform – those will only exhaust you and wear you out. It’s important to engage with your specific God breathed task or assignment.

Many times we want to be just “like” a leader or mentor we admire – we model our lives and actions to match theirs and assume God would want us to follow in their footsteps… rarely is that so. We can waste years of our lives in frustration and confusion trying understand why our hard work and dedication isn’t showing any fruit. Paul reminds us to be clear on what we’ve been called to be and do.

  1. Do we know we are in a “race” – or are we standing on the sideline?
  2. Are we running with a light enough pack – or is it too heavy to win the race?
  3. Are we clear on what our purpose is – or are we living confused and frustrated?

Life is full of “races” to run – but only one race is truly essential. We have to be careful to focus ourselves in winning the right race.

Father Brad Mathias – First shared at St. Margarets Anglican Church in Conway NH

“Saying YES to the dress”

Recently while serving as the parish Priest / Pastor of St. Margaret’s in Conway NH, I discussed the words of St. Paul in Colossians 3 regarding how to experience a ‘spiritual makeover’.

My wife and family loved watching the popular series “Say Yes to the Dress” (TLC cable) and despite my boredom with the topic and idea in general, I often watched along with the rest as drama after drama was displayed on the screen. Tears, fears, and frustrations were all put on vivid display as family after family struggled to agree on the best dress for each new bride to be. 

The process of trying on and shrugging off each new possible dress was agonizingly slow for me to watch, but the reactions from everyone involved was remarkably riveting. The expectations were so high for each new bride to find her ‘perfect’ fit and form, for her special – once in a lifetime – day.

So to the Kingdom of God and His bride the church. We are being asked to find our best fitting attire for our special day! Paul writes to the church at Colosse in chapter three to say these words….

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry…. 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. “(ESV – Biblegateway.com) 

The language here is reminiscent of the idea of taking off “old” clothing and putting on “new” garments. The removal of the past and the putting on of the future, a metaphor for the Christian experience of ‘New Life’ in Christ.

Paul’s writing to the local church (ecclesia) to actively remove the old, and actively put on the new postures and traits of Christ. It’s more than an act of our wills though. God has given us the ‘capacity’ to act differently in the presence of the Holy Spirit. We are no longer stuck in our past habits and passions, instead we’ve been given a newness of life from the inside out.

The Christian has the ability to say ‘no’ to the old ways of our flesh, and say ‘yes’ to the new and Holy ways of Christ. It’s more than a change of attitude, it’s a change in our altitude. 

God’s life within us, begins to transform us from the innermost part of our hearts to our minds and will. The more time we spend in the presence of God and His people, the stronger the seed will grow, the less time we spend… the more dormant it will become.

When we look at the overall changes in our lives, and the significant movements from who we were… it’s encouraging. If we only focus on the tedious struggles of the here and now, we can get discouraged into believing we’re not really any different now than when we started this Christian journey of faith.

NOT SO.

God will finish the work He started in us. He will not fail us, and we can take renewed comfort in the fact that our salvation and renewal is not based on our best efforts or accomplishments along the way.

Instead we’re captured by the power of Grace and Redemption. It’s these truths that unlock our most stubborn hearts and renews our warped minds into something entirely new and fresh!

Parents and Grandparents, don’t be discouraged if you’re not seeing any apparent transformation in your offspring. God is still active and engaged in the process – deep under the surface. The seeds of faith and authenticity you’ve planted with your life will grow, and in time God’s promises will be seen and displayed. Be confident of the truth of God to grow in the most surprising of times.

SO… take the time to spend in reading a devotional and or scripture today. Invest in your own spiritual makeover, it may be time to let go of some old stuff and start putting on the new … it’s time to say “Yes” to the dress.

Peace out, Pastor B.

Sources and Links: 

Daily Lectio.net 

Daily Audio Bible 

 

Adventures Ahead

Following the Holy Spirit’s leading is a risk.

For the believer in Christ Jesus, the road ahead is often obscured, no clear visibility or confidence in our path. Yet we sense the pull of something beyond us, something stronger and deeper than our mere ambition or desire.

God draws us to come closer, and often in His courtship of our souls He woos us with the gentle power and subtle attraction of the Holy Spirit. 

Let me be clear, I’m no expert on following God… but I am learning. Couple of quick observations about my own path.

  1. God often leads us to follow His plans and not our own. (usually a ‘curve’ ball – something completely unexpected and different from we had in mind.
  2. God through the Holy Spirit will surprise us with Joy in the midst of transition and turmoil. Despite our awkward and uncomfortable agitation in the circumstances we’re in, God will comfort us and gently encourage us to stay with it.
  3. God’s leading will push us into places and spaces we’re not familiar or confident in. Life experiences will not equip us for the next step, instead the past will give us context for God’s faithfulness to meet us in any situation at any time. Our confidence will grow in Him and wane in us.
  4. God’s direction will bring a deep sense of personal satisfaction and contentment despite the lack of any external success or personal affirmation.

The direction the Holy Spirit leads will not be a rogue and independent push away from God’s people or spiritual oversight. Instead it will be affirmed and supported by those we live with and walk out our faith along side of. (i.e. – Pastor, Friends, Family, Spouse will all affirm the direction we sense is God)

God will ask you to trust Him. That means we’ll have to take risks to obey His leading. There is nothing safe about following the Holy Spirit’s voice, it may seem radical and unbalanced on the surface, but as we discern and respond by faith the process will bring clarity and conviction that God is indeed behind it all. 

I recently was asked to personally put these ideas to the test, I am writing this from my new home off the coast of Maine. God redirected my life and ministry from the safety and comfort of middle Tennessee to the wild and unpredictable world of northern New England.

The question is… where is He calling you to follow Him? I don’t know the timing, details, or specifics for you…but I do know that whatever He asks of you, it will exceed your expectations and instead of dread… you can look forward to “Adventures Ahead!”

In closing, I leave you with possibly the most  the famous CS Lewis quote out there, from his classic book “The Lion the Witch, and the Wardrobe“,  

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Holiday Cheer in the New Year

Christmas… glorious CHRISTMAS!

I Love the entire season of Christmas and New Years! The joy is contagious, presents, food, family, and lots of fun! The triumphant day comes and goes, the food is abundant and full of carbs, the days are long and we spend hours watching movies, eating peppermint chocolates, sipping cocoa and generally having a blast with those we love the most!

New Years brings a fresh start, like it or not… we’re going forward, time stops for no one and the world is new once again.

After the New Year…’real-life’ returns, and we slowly lose our lightness of being. We start to feel the ‘weight’ of our normal world push back in and over us. The daily grind of school, work, and our lives quickly shrink back into perspective.

We may start to feel the slow burn of regret cloud in as we begin to anxiously wait for the bills to arrive. We may feel sad, depressed, and full of fatigue. The Holiday ‘high has come and gone, and we’re left with a profound ‘low’.

This Christmas was unusual for our family. We found ourselves in a moment of ‘transition’, waiting to move into a brand new home over 1500 miles away from our life in Tennessee. We were set to journey to an unfamiliar world, a new and uncertain home and place in Maine.  The result, we were not only feeling emotionally and relationally displaced, but we were literally and physically (albeit temporarily) living through the holidays without a home to call our own.

As a result, the struggle to gather was greater this year.  We ended up renting a small house in the woods through VRBO.  A small 3 bedroom 1.5 bath renovated home in the rural countryside of Primm Springs, TN. It was marvelous, and it was close. All eight of us squeezed into a 1200 sq. foot home and made the best of our Christmas week. Three nights we had together, eight adults and a 15 month old grandson.

Our family had come together in this magical moment of Christmas time, our daughters and son-in-laws, our son, and grandson… all very much together again. It was marvelous and wonderful to see the whole gang at once. A rare treat now that our oldest and her husband were living in Oregon, we all sensed how precious the time was and no one took a moment for granted.

In those special moments we shared some time watching classic Christmas movies and sharing our favorite snacks as we lounged on the couch and wrapped ourselves in warm blankets and snuggled our way through once iconic scene after another. 

On Christmas day we watched the “The Nativity Story (2006)“. No one had seen it before, and it became an instant ‘favorite’ of our family. Ignoring the negative reviews we watched this amazing story of Mary and Joseph as they wrestled with the enormity of the life God invited them into. That’s all amazing and epic stuff, but I never truly considered the cost of them accepting such a calling.

The movie illustrates with remarkable clarity the rigors of life in the time of the Roman occupation of Israel, the shame of an unexplainable pregnancy and the overwhelming weight of being rejected by the religious elite. The Nativity story, makes you wrestle with the multitude of impossible challenges Mary and Joseph had to overcome to survive as a couple, not even fully married, but nevertheless they were branded by their ‘illegitimate’ child, an inescapable scandal that marked them for the rest of their lives.

Talk about lives in transition! Mary and Joseph were thrown from all that was familiar and safe and tipped top over teakettle into the dangerous currents of God’s Holy Spirit. An ocean of uncertainties filled their horizon, they faced rejection by family, by faith, by friends, the danger of a paranoid and violent Roman King who ruled their world,  life was at risk at any time, finances were non-existent and their future was grim. Yet, they were obeying God. Trusted by the Holy Spirit to carry out the most important human assignment in history.

Such honor! Such shame.

The movie made the case very clear… these saints were far from living an idyllic existence; their lives were marred by every kind of stress, anxiety, and pain. They endured months of pressure, struggle, and acute suffering. As the iconic vessels of salvation, favored by our God Most High, I’ve always glossed over this part of the Christmas story.  I sort of filled in the blanks of the gospels with my own version of how things went. I wasn’t being very honest with myself or with the narrative of the bible. Life wasn’t magically lifted up and amazing simply because they obeyed God’s call… in fact, it got harder and more tenuous.

That sounds a lot like my life. 

My take away from this movie was significant and timely. God’s will is going to be accomplished, and He’s inviting us to be a part of His story. No we’re not being cast as the heroic lead, we’re not starring in a spectacular – hollywood scripted show, but we’re asked to follow Christ in our everyday, flawed, and anxious lives! Our world doesn’t magically shift from daily struggle to the ease of a superman when we obey God’s call.

It’s becoming more and more evident, despite being chosen by God to carry out His will here on earth, we’re still going to hit the same obstacles and issues as everyone else. No free pass, no eternal Holiday bliss of Christmas, but the difference is… we’re going to see God do amazing things. He is going to show up in the fine details of our existence. He’s not our magic genie in a bottle, prepared to grant our every wish, but He is the God of our fathers, and He won’t let us fail or fall.

Happy New Year from  Pastor B.

 

 

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.

 

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.