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.

 

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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.

Finding “Papa”

Driving is my favorite. I am captivated by ‘exploring’. The next bend in the road… the rise of the horizon, what it might reveal. Glorious.

I feel like I’m not just a driver… but I’m driven. 

Driven to do better, to achieve. I feel the need to work harder, longer…to gain just one more yard, one more mile. It’s a deep and insistent restlessness. I wish I could make it turn ‘off’ when I’m trying to rest or slow down. I’ve never really been able to make it go away,… until this trip.

Day Two dawned grey and cold.

Leaving Montrose heading south on Hwy 550

Montrose sits on a high (Elevation 5807)  flat desert region, edging some of the highest peaks in the Western Rockies of Colorado. It gets warm in the daytime like the desert… and very cold overnight. I woke to 20F after a balmy 67F the afternoon before. The sun wasn’t going to come up for another hour, but I started off to the south, looking to catch the sunrise glowing off the breathtaking beauty of the snow capped peaks near Ouray, CO.

I was disappointed. Grey clouds obscured most of the sunrise that morning. Never breaking long enough to shine its pink hues on the grey granite angles below. Highway 550 is a ‘must’ see for any roadtrippers out there. Take it from Montrose to Durango and bring a camera. Unlike any other road in the lower 48 that I’ve travelled, this is a winding two lane strip of heaven. Three passes pushing 10,000 feet each are the reward of the three hours of second gear driving necessary to get there. Snow is almost always present – year around. You will need to stop and take pictures or you might make a one way descent over one of the hundreds of 15 mph cliff side turns.

I love mountain country. I don’t care what season or condition you find it in, you’ll suck in your breath… over and over… as you glimpse the grandeur of the alpine vistas.

Today was cold and cloudy, so I saw and admired the hard rawness of these granite monsters, marvelling at their strength and unpredictable nature. A snowstorm or a sleet squall was almost guaranteed, followed by five minutes of golden sunshine and glorious white curtains of snow. It’s more than I can describe here.

But, even in the midst of all this glory and magnificent creation, I was feeling my restless nature lurking still.  Somewhere below the adrenaline and excitement of seeing my old friends the Rocky mountains I was unsettled. 

I drove the curves, caught the fresh – cold – near zero chill of air and the scent of pines as we descended into Durango… broad wooded valleys with winding creeks and rivers stretching out below. It was so calming and pure. I can still see it in my mind’s eye…

Hwy 550 Colorado Peaks - March '18

Hwy 550 between Ouray and Silverton Colorado

I wanted to capture these moments and hold them forever… to wrap them up and tenderly hide them deep inside me. I could go back anytime I wanted and unwrap the beauty and let it warm me when I felt cold or stressed and tired. This was my unspoken desire. I dreamed of breaking the restlessness once and for all with the beauty surrounding me, to tap the peace and power of creations majesty when life started stressing me out. 

God answered my prayer. But like always… He has a sense of humor. 🙂

In my hotel room I drowsily flipped the channel to find a weather report. “The Shack” was playing… a book I had read and enjoyed years before, certainly not on my ‘must watch’ list, yet something compelled me.  I lingered for a minute, then ten… an hour. God works in mysterious ways.

That night I dreamed. I dreamed of ‘Papa’

God was speaking to me in new ways. He was sharing something vital to my scarred heart and soul. Something intensive and personal, an intimate salve for my deepest shame and sorrow. He wants me to call Him… “Papa”. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever done that… but I hadn’t. I know lots of people who feel like God is their ‘papa’ – artsy and emotional people talk like that. Not me. I didn’t have that kind of relationship with my earthly father, so being so familiar and vulnerable with my heavenly father was foreign. Uncomfortable.

But when I opened up inside, to let Him see how uncomfortable I was…it made me cry. Deep rivers of pain and sorrow tumbling out… prayers half formed bubbling up with my snot and shame. I cried. A lot.

I could feel God holding me. Like a dad holding his frightened and worn out boy. That moment of warmth and intimacy breaking through the cold and hidden parts of me in a heartbeat.

I felt Him. He ‘was‘ my “Papa”.

The sadness and the restless sickness fled. I only had comfort and peace. No great prayer or spiritual discipline unlocked this for me, no awesome sermon or quote… just some time and my silence and a willingness to let Him touch my heart where it hurt.

Tomorrow: Day 3… Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico.

 

The Battle to be still…

Day one started rough.

Battling through the remnants of food-poisoning I barely made the morning flight to Denver. Stomach roiling and exhausted, I was so worn out I seriously considered scrapping this trip before it began.

Southwest flights all seem sold out, so the idea of squishing into a seat with my Six foot Four frame wasn’t exactly appealing or ‘restful’ in my mind.  I was right. Almost three cramped hours later I arrived in Denver, greeted by spring warmth and sunshine. Despite my mashed legs and twisted up back, I was glad to be here… it was a nice change from the rain and wet of Middle TN.

Forbes Photo Credit

My Enterprise rental wasn’t ready, so they upgraded me to a Audi Q3 Quattro. 🙂 NICE.

This brand new luxury compact SUV was a beauty for a rental. Featuring a full panoramic sunroof and posh leather it was a fantastic surprise for me, combined with a sport tuned turbo 2.0 Liter engine and heated seats, and I was suddenly feeling much better!

Until I realized halfway to the mountains that the Bluetooth interface wasn’t working with my phone… which had all my music and podcasts, and Audible book library… etc. I tried for an hour on the side of the road to sync it up – finally accepted the Galaxy phone I had wasn’t going to play nice with the Audi system. On top of that the satellite radio wasn’t turned on – so I only had AM/FM radio and nothing else. To say I was bummed doesn’t begin to describe my state of mind. This trip was supposed to be a time to relax, refresh, and unwind for a few days from my insane schedule. Didn’t look like I could do one of my favorite things… listen to a great book or rocking tunes while driving through the mountains. (Radio – doesn’t work in the high country)

I seriously considered driving back to the Airport to swap vehicles…after all I carefully selected several books and podcasts / playlists just for this trip. I paused in my frustration as something soft inside (Holy Spirit)  whispered it was all ok… seems like it even suggested it was better for me if I kept going, to stick with the car I had been given. So… against my better judgement, I did.

God was beginning to talk to me already.

He was inviting me to join Him on this trip… i wasn’t inviting Him to join me. It’s a subtle but important distinction. I had been drawn into something ‘different’ than any of the dozens of road trips I’ve had before. This was unique and I could sense it right away. 

I was afraid. This felt uncomfortable. It felt odd to be on the road and not have any media or music, or phone, some conversation to listen to. Something, anything to distract my mind. I was about to do a four-day trip without any ‘entertainment’ or company. I was alone and “silent’ in the mountains. No plans, no schedule, no structure. That’s ‘frightening’ for some of us. 🙂

The gentle tug on my heart kept insisting that I would be ‘ok’. I felt a strange but comforting impulse to try this road trip without my normal distractions and noise. Maybe God was asking me to be quiet for a reason…. turns out he was! 

I was surprised by the warmth and sunshine and limited snowpack. For mid March, the snow wasn’t as deep as you would expect in the Rockies. It made for some beautiful driving conditions and I opened up the sunroof and began to let the beauty and warmth sweep over me… I was ready to unwind, to decompress. 

Something indistinct was happening, I was slowing down inside while I drove through the mountains at full speed, the only sound…the wind as it rushed over and around the windows. I could smell the fresh air and pines, the hint of woodsmoke and the distinct songs of birds, but nothing else intruded.

I was alone.

No one to talk with.

No music, no book, no podcast… just hours and hours of solo time.

It was weird at first, but under the oddness it felt good. God was there with me, I felt His presence subtle and strong at the same time. I sensed  I was being invited into something brand new. I had no idea what that would mean or be… but I wanted it.

Travel Recap: Day One:  SWest Flight from Nashville to Denver, drive up to Buena Vista CO and Gunnison, skirting the high desert plains to crash in Montrose. (Trip Link)  Stayed in Montrose CO – had a great meal at Ted Nelson’s Steakhouse.  (TripAdvisor)

Day two coming up next, Montrose CO to Santa Fe NM… stay tuned.

Pastor B.

PS – if you’re sensing you need to slow down and get still… it will be a battle. It means pushing through and past obstacles to your being alone and quiet. I almost didn’t go due to illness. I almost turned the rental back in due to tech issues… and I almost missed the blessing God was inviting me into. Be careful to trust the leading of God more than your comfort zone. He will most likely ask you to do something uncomfortable and not in your plan.

 

 

 

Is LESS really MORE?

In our modern American society… we’re taught to be an overachiever. Our success model is based on doing more, working harder… outperforming our competition. Winning is everything.

Career Resume Consulting

Our culture respects the independent and dedicated worker, parent, or athlete. We get extra rewards with extra effort. That in turn pays off with greater levels of success and money becomes the main tool to measure our progress.

 

Some call this… the “American” dream.

But what does the Bible say? Specifically what does the bible teach about work and rewards, sacrifice and success… it may surprise you.

The bible describes our lives differently than we do. Instead of measuring our financial achievements, the bible measures our hearts and character. It measures our relationships and personal development. Not our bank accounts or balance sheets. 

In that light… we may see more clearly what God is up to in our life.

For instance, if we measure our success like the culture does, we’re probably going to feel pretty miserable. The vast majority of us are not climbing an esteemed corporate ladder to fortune 500 status. We’re not retiring in our thirties or buying a summer home in the mountains, we’re scrambling to cover the cost of new tires on our family SUV and hoping we can squirrel away enough cash to take a vacation this year.

Life is more than what we accumulate in our 401K. 

Jesus talked a lot about money, but not in the way we do. He used it as a reference point for us to see what we trust in, strive for, and how we steward it. His perspective is unique and helpful for us who are wondering if we’re getting life wrong somehow because we’re not ‘successful’. He said something odd – “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…Matthew 6.

Scripture Art

This concept or idea of investing is opposite of our culture. It points to giving things away as we receive extra, of sharing and investing in those around us who are lacking. It points to spending our energy in the lives of others, rather than building up our own nest until we can own a castle. It redirects our ambition to another place… outward rather than inward.

The goal of God is to make us all like His son. Not to help us retire early and avoid the struggles of month to month living. Sure, stewardship is a critical part of a healthy and balanced life, but in the end our provider is God. Of course we should still save money and plan for retirement, but it’s not something to put your ‘faith’ in.

The idea of less being more is key to understanding what God may be up to in your life. If you’re struggling with finances, you’re not being judged or dissed by God. He in fact is working in your something deeper and more profound than you can imagine… something eternal in fact. 

When we start to ‘get’ the idea of trusting God for our ultimate provision, we can begin to truly embrace the idea of “Sabbath”. We can authentically begin to explore what it means to ‘rest’. To enter into the offer of true peace and contentment that Christ refers to in the gospels and Paul highlights in Hebrews.

This is truly a countercultural idea. To slow down and to pause every week. To regain our physical, emotional, and spiritual balance with a day of rest and reflection. To trust that our ‘extra’ push to get things accomplished isn’t nearly as important as our confidence in God’s ability to get us what we need, when we need it.

Peace out, Pastor Brad.

PS (This is not laziness or taking a free-ride  through our life,  we can’t live on our couch and petition the state for money. I believe we’re called to be thrifty, industrious, hardworking  people, but in the end, we’re not driven by a thirst to accumulate wealth,  we’re focused on investing in lives not our mutual fund)

 

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

Conquering the Comparison Curse

Struggling with the feelings of inadequacy, shame, guilt… weakness, all a normal part of the human condition. When you’re a parent, it amps up. The incalculable burden of our kids success is added to the already tenuous personal struggle of affirmation and healthy self confidence. 

If your awake, you know there’s an ongoing struggle around social media and the constant bombardment of filtered images showing ‘perfect‘ mom’s and dad’s on perfect vacations with perfect kids. We can’t allow the highlight reel of other people’s lives to eclipse the reality and importance of our life. My parenting identity has to be built on way more than popularity and sweet photos of us all ‘winning’.

Our kids need so much more than another sports medal or scholastic scholarship to post about on Facebook. Mom and dad’s influence can’t be reduced to how close we are to our ideal weight, having perfect hair,  or raising our children in postcard perfect homes and fashion forward wardrobes.  Please!

Parents, let’s stop this nonsense. We have to fight through the counterfeit lives we see on social media  and break the curse of comparison living. 

Couple of ideas to consider if this all sounds way to familiar.

  1. Pull back from the Social Media outlets take a break. Sign off and stay off for 30 days. The temptation to troll through twitter and Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest will fade and your contentment will grow!
  2. Remember who you are, and ‘whose’ you are. God made you to be the mom or dad of your kids. Nothing by accident. No random assignments as parents. We were ‘picked’ by God as the ‘best’ parent possible for our specific children.
  3. Celebrate the “ordinary” moments of your life – and make them ‘extraordinary”. I was interviewing a wonderful lady on our podcast and she made this statement on living with Joy and inspired a portion of this blog today. (Carol McLeod) – Her comment stuck with me and I’m sharing it with you.

In summary – we’re all facing the frustrations of life not going ‘quite’ the way we planned. The struggles of feeling like we’ve failed our children or dropped the ball on our perfect plans for the next birthday celebration or school event. We need to back up a bit and remember we’re not going to ‘ever’ get it perfect.

God save us from those who think they do. 🙂

We have to live by ‘grace’ and in doing so we have to share it with each other and ourselves. The fake world of social media presents a compelling story for sure, but it’s not real. We know what we see from Hollywood and the weekly rags is a sham, we know that movie stars have teams of hair and makeup specialists, wardrobe consultants, and fashion designers to make their lives look amazing.  But, it’s easy to forget that our friends on Facebook have clicked off 34 pictures and deleted them all before posting the ‘one’ we get to see. That’s not real life either. It’s staged.

Let’s quit comparing our lives… we’re not supposed to live any other life but our own. Trust me, we’re all struggling out here, no one has this parenting thing all wrapped up. So, let’s agree to stop ‘posing’ for the parenting camera, and let’s truly ‘live’ as we are, and I think that’s pretty darn spectacular!

Blessings, Pastor B.