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.

Advertisements

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably. Part 2

Arriving at the summit area, I drove to the nearly deserted parking lot and looked ‘down’ on the world. Gone were the valleys and hills, cities, and towns. Instead of seeing the vast vista of miles and miles in every direction, I could only see the clouds and fog blocking everything below.

I was at the top. I had reached my goal, but it hadn’t revealed all I had hoped for.  Instead of seeing with great clarity and perspective, I was limited to only what was immediately around me. My view was restricted, fogged in.

What a bummer!

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably. 

I made my way around the summit area, taking pictures and hoping for the clouds and fog to part, but after about 45 minutes I gave up. Asking God for his presence. For some kind of clarification on the path before me in life.

Mt. Washington Summit

I heard the wind blowing, I felt the chill in the air and my breath frosting in the breeze.. but nothing else.

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably. 

I drove down the mountain road slowly, carefully. The twisting turns and sharp corners demanding all of my attention, one distracted moment and I could be over the edge.  I could only navigate the space directly in front of me, not distracted by the wonderful horizon, just concentrating on the space ahead.

God was speaking. It was time to slow down. To pay attention to where I was. Not where I might be going or where I had been. He was subtly reminding me that even though the fog and clouds were thick and blocking my view of the horizon, I knew those beautiful vistas were still down there. I knew that the towns and cities below were there regardless of what I could see in the moment.

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably. 

God often gently prompts us to live in the ‘today’. To avoid the temptation to look way forward or way back. Just focus on the now. When your life is full of fog, it’s important to trust him for the future, and accept his grace for the past.  

When your life is filled with fog, pay attention to the steps you can see clearly. The stuff immediately in front of you, wait for Him to show you more – He will… when he knows we’re ready. The waiting is the point sometimes. Faith grows during the ‘unknown’s of our life, trust is gained when we believe even when the fog of life obscures our sight.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I just wanted God to be my personal ‘oracle’. A personal crystal ball that I could go to for answers when I felt lost or discouraged. I wasn’t nearly as interested in the relationship we share, but in the comfort and guidance he was offering.

God is there for me/us, but how we approach His presence will make a huge difference.  I was looking for answers, solutions to my problems… and I made the time and effort to come to seek Him out, but instead of focusing on HIM, my attention was completely wrapped up with ‘me’. 

We have to remember… for the Christian, God does indeed have a plan, our life is in his hands. Learning to trust His plan and timing is the pilgrim’s path, and we are all on various stages and ages of that journey. Let’s agree that when the time is right, He will clear the clouds and reveal what we need to know.

Until then… we learn to rest.

Pastor B.

PS – the next few days would review a nearly identical pattern of fog, clouds, and obscured views. God was speaking, but it took me some time to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ what was being said to me. Only after I got back did it come into perspective. Sometimes we have to be patient. God is speaking… we have to learn to listen.

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably.

Just recently spent a week alone with God to get my head straight. I felt led by the Holy Spirit to go to a ‘new’ place… somewhere brand new and undiscovered. An unfamiliar area with unfamiliar people, places… ways.

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably.

In search of solitude with God… I had it all planned out. Even printed my schedule out.  Not even close to what would be.

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably.

I had explored Mt. Washington in the eastern New Hampshire area years before, but never alone. I was excited to be driving up the mountain at dawn to see the sights. An epic drive with serious terrain, this elevation would provide views unlike anything else in New England. Sticking up out of the modest White mountain chain, Washington was a Rockies like 6,288 ft in height. It’s elevation so extreme from the valley below it included over a thousand feet of tundra and high altitude small growth – short season flowers and evergreens.

Mt. Washington NH

It’s top was bare rock face. Blasted free from any vegetation by the near hurricane force winds that roll over its massive top on a daily basis. Known as one of the windiest places on earth and holding the record for highest recorded wind gust for most of the 20th century… this peak had some juice. (For more on Mt. Washington)

When I wound my way up its alpine slopes, the scene grew from forested and peaceful to wide open vistas of valley and sky. This was going to be a promising day, I was getting excited to see the top. To gaze across the mountain ranges and most of the New England states, maybe if the light was just right… I could even get a glimpse of the Atlantic (about 65 miles to the south-east)

Mt. Washington Selfie – Pastor B.

That was the goal anyway. To see further. To gain perspective and clarity. My trip was meant to give some clarity on the future, on the path and plan God would have me follow. These mountain experiences were sort of metaphor for the actual life events around me and on me.

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably. 

As I drove higher the vistas grew hazy and the clouds and fog thicker, my view was being obscured by the weather. What only a moment before had been sky blue for dozens of miles was now hidden, and my winding road showed more and more fog and cloud ahead. My hope for a clear summit on the top was fading.

Road to the top

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably. 

It’s clear in retrospect that God was speaking to me loud and clear on this road trip, BUT… in the moment, I just felt frustrated, alone, and isolated. I had made all this effort to put myself in just the right place and time to hear and see God. But he it seemed had other plans.

My expectation was for clear skies, a warm glow of spiritual presence… followed by a sudden and keen transfer of divine inspiration, and a spark of new confidence for the next season of life.

His plan was different. He was going take me a different path, and He chose to slow me down and shift my perspective from the future to the past, to somewhere more personal.

Symbolic. Prophetic. Probably. 

Part 2, tomorrow.

What did I find at the top of Mt. Washington & Why does it matter….?

Pastor B.

 

Facing the past as parents; 1988 to Now

I think every generation of parents has fear. Each transition of faith from one age to the next feels like a critical pass of the baton, a sacred trust that must be kept.

This age and stage of our society may be unlike any before…unique in the modern era. Not being a legit historian, I would hazard a guess that not since the rise of the industrial revolution has the fabric of life been so rapidly affected as it is with today’s technological transformation. 

Think back 30 years. (1988) Consider the state of society and faith, the condition of the family and what we considered to be ‘normal’. The personal computer had just become a product for us to consider. The internet wasn’t yet a public concern. Cellular phones came in bags and families of faith were focused on the abortion debates, and prayer in the classroom. Marriage was defended by both democrats and republicans as between a man and woman. Pot was illegal. 

Oh, change was occurring in 1988; generational shifts were rapid between music styles, MTV videos and late night television stars opened up the door to cable TV programming, and something called “hip – hop’ was being heard from those ‘boom boxes’ in the streets. We were fascinated by Top Gun, Beetlejuice, Michael Jackson, and Miami Vice. Big hair and Nike shoes were the norm as our values were shifting to focus on wealth, raw materialism and success. The party scene was focused on  a brat pack in southern California and the valley of San Fernando was the talk of every town. Eddie Murphy was coming to America, the Young Guns were big at the box office and Ronald Reagan was rocking America into a major economic recovery. The incomparable U2 was on top of the music world,  “but we still couldn’t find what we were looking for”. 

Today, life is shifting again. Parents who were once teens, are now facing tremendous strain. We who were the self absorbed children of the 80’s are now seeking wisdom on how to help our teens navigate a digital world of relativity and limitless opinions. 

If your not aware, here are some recent (2018) stats about Generation Z (kids currently 13-19 years old) from the Barna Research Group.

Barna Research Group (2018) Study Findings: Barna’s most comprehensive research study investigating the perceptions, experiences and motivations of 13- to 18-year-olds in Generation Z, reports the following:

  • 59% of students in this age group Identify as Christian or Catholic (down from 75% ).
  • 21% say they are atheist or agnostic (up from 11% )
  • 4% say they have no religious affiliation (up from 9% )
  • Students in this age group offer the following “barriers to faith”:
    • a. “I have a hard time believing that a good God would allow so much evil or suffering in the world” (29%)
    • b. “Christians are hypocrites” (23%)
      c. “I believe science refutes too much of the Bible” (20%)
      d. “I don’t believe in fairy tales (19%)
      e. “There are many injustices in the history of Christianity” (15%)
      f. “I used to go to church but it’s not important anymore” (12%)
      g. “I had a bad experience at church with a Christian” (6%)
  • Students in this age group struggle to reconcile science with the Bible.
  • 24% side with science (up from 16% ).
  • 31% believe science and the Bible refer to different aspects of reality (up from 25% ).
  • 28% believe science and the Bible can be used to support each other (down from 45% ).
  • 17% consider themselves on the side of the Bible (up from 13% down from 19% for “Millennials”)
  • Students in this age group hold negative perceptions of the church in the following areas:
  • The church seems to reject much of what science tells us  (49%)
    b. The church is overprotective of teenagers (38%)
    c. The people at church are hypocritical (36%)
    d. The church is not a safe place to express doubts (27%)
    e. The faith and teaching I encounter at church seem rather shallow (24%)
    f. The church seems too much like an exclusive club (17%)
  • When students in this age group were asked why they didn’t think church was important, they gave the following reasons:
  • “The church is not relevant to me” (59%)
    b. “I find God elsewhere” (48%)
    c. “I can teach myself what I need to know” (28%)
    d. “I think church is out of date” (20%)
    e. “I don’t like the people who are in church” (15%)
    f. “The rituals of church are empty” (12%)

So… reading those stats can sober a parent up.  At first glance it looks grim, things are clearly different than when we were teens. Reasons for this are debatable, but anyway you slice it, our kids are changing their values to reflect today’s pop culture, just as we did in the 80’s. I went a bit crazy in my early twenties, after college and the restrictions of my parents, I promptly set out to chase after money and success, reflecting the values and beliefs of my generation. I left my faith and family for a BMW and a swollen Edward Jones portfolio, but by my mid-30’s Christ had graciously derailed my selfish path and reconnected me to His perfect plan.

Why?

My parents. They prayed for me every day.

My wife stayed true to her faith when I wandered from mine. In the end, God won the battle for my heart and mind. It was the authentic beliefs and behavior of my family that eventually forced me to consider the Christian faith as ‘real’. Not a fantastic sermon or study, not a fascinating truth revealed in a engaging ministry event, it was the consistency and faithfulness of my family living out their faith when no one was watching that won my respect and ultimately my trust. God wasn’t in a hurry, He had things under control and He was unfazed by my wandering ways.

The truth…God wasn’t distraught over my prodigal diversions. He wasn’t ‘thrown’ by my generations pagan pursuits, He firmly and gently reclaimed what was lost and started the divine story of redemption all over again. I believe He can and will do that for this generation. I believe parents must live their messy faith in authentic ways to earn the respect of our teens, and sometimes we as parents must watch and wait for God to show up in our kids lives. 

Pastor B.

Source Link – Barna Research – Generation Z 

When you hate your job, but love your life.

We all want to find fulfilment.

When we were younger, we just pressed ahead with our life. We weren’t thinking too far, just focused on the ‘here and now’,  pushing to climb whatever ladder was in front of us. We worked hard to do our best, we wanted more for our lives and a piece of the ‘American Dream”.  School, career, family, church. Each option with its own unique set of struggles and issues to overcome, but oddly they are the same. 

We work and work to gain the next rung of whatever ladder we find ourselves on, pulling up one more level, determined to get further and higher than the others.

Somewhere along the way we notice this isn’t making me very happy. It may be sooner for some and later for others, but in each of our lives we notice.

The faith we’ve kept offers some vague promises about life being ‘full’ and having ‘joy’ in the journey, but it’s a bit hazy when we slow down our ladder climbing enough to think it through. 

We can get a bit surly inside, irritated by the growing dissatisfaction of our progress. The goals we set in our youth shimmer in the distance, unmet. We ponder with regret some of the decisions and compromises we’ve made. We wonder what could have been…

It’s about at this point that I begin to hear comments about how much people hate their jobs. It creeps out at first, bitter and seeping out from the inside. Working late, going in early, struggling to keep up… it’s clear why we run out of gas. Our work doesn’t always fulfill us. It may pay the bills but it doesn’t bring us lasting contentment or satisfaction.

Last night in church LifeGroup we discussed the idea of “vocational calling“. The concept of having a specific purpose and set of unique gifts that God himself granted us. It’s in this idea of a divine purpose that we can find some ‘light’ for this dark and disturbing tunnel we may find ourselves in.

For the Christian, our purpose and our calling go hand in hand. But, our occupations are often unrelated. So, when we work at the local supermarket but long to teach Sunday school… we begin to understand the dichotomy of loving our life but hating our job. Totally understandable. 

God wired us to be in ‘vocational’ ministry for our entire life. We will naturally have a ‘bent’ or leaning towards our calling. No matter where we live or work, we’ll find ourselves drawn to certain causes or people. We will always want to ‘teach’ others if we’re called to be a ‘teacher’. It doesn’t matter if we find work as a fireman or a judge, nothing we ‘do’ will provide as much satisfaction or ‘fulfilment’ as what we were created to ‘be’. Understanding that concept is a huge step forward!

Love this quote from Frederick Buechner “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” 

So, let’s discover what God created you to ‘be’ and don’t be confused that what you ‘do’ is the same thing as what your called to “be”. The distance between our paycheck and our hearts can be frustrating.  Remember, St. Paul was a tentmaker by day, Apostle by night. I’m confident it wasn’t ‘fulfilling’ for him to work as a common laborer, but it provided the path for his ‘calling’ to be realized. For some courageous few, we get to do both at the same time, but most of us have to work jobs that are not our vocations.

For those who are sick of the disappointments and pointless sacrifices made at work, it may be worth the effort to dig a bit and find what your ‘calling’ or ‘vocation’ really is.

Be careful on google, there are tons of people and groups who claim to have the magic fulfilment formula, but most are selling you something. God has been whispering to us all along who He is and what we were created to be.

Here is one resource I would recommend.

God bless! Pastor B.

Source Notation. “How to understand your vocational calling

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.

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