Hearing the ‘whisper’ of God.

Elijah was a rock-star in the Old Testament. He was a prophet’s – prophet. No other prophetic life in the scriptures can compare to the astonishing events surrounding this man of deep faith. (see his story for yourself in 1 Kings 17 – 19 and 2 Kings 1-2)

He literally caused a three year drought, called fire from heaven, and never actually died on earth as he was taken up in a fiery chariot. This was a man of courage. Elijah, at the risk of his own life, called out a corrupted government and the sin of embracing openly pagan worship in defiance to God’s will and ways. (not too unlike the world we live in today) 

Yet we know this astounding man of faith also struggled with despair, depression, and anxiety. He too felt the fatigue of spiritual burnout, he got tired of all the struggles, all of the burdens that came with representing God to a hostile culture.  Much of his life he had to live on the run, a wanted man without the comfort and stability of a home or place to call his own. His life was filled with great turmoil and forced isolation.

Photo by Eric Sanman from Pexels

YET… he needed to learn to hear God’s voice, just as we do.

Elijah is the guy who hid in the wilderness, was fed by ravens, and eventually faced his fate completely alone and seemingly abandoned by God. It was in this place of deep despair that he and God had a remarkable encounter.

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” (1 Kings 19:11-13

 

It was in this whisper that God came to Elijah, in the middle of all his stress and anxiety, despair and chaos, God spoke quietly and calmly to Elijah. It wasn’t in the rush and hype of a busy work day or after a stellar worship service at church, it was one to one – alone – on the mountain of God.

If you find yourself like Elijah, overwhelmed, discouraged, and full of despair… it may be time to go to the mountain and get quiet. For some of you reading this, that may mean a literal place you need to go to. A quiet place of reflection and beauty, a place where God has spoken to you before. For others, this is a metaphor of life. It means setting apart some time to be alone in your day or week, to be silent. It will mean turning off the electronics, clearing your calendar and waiting for God to approach.

It seems that in the moments we need Him the most, God comes to us. But only after we quit trying to control the story we live in. It takes a posture of full surrender to be still, to get quiet enough to hear the ‘whisper’ of God. 

The Peace of Christ be with you.

Fr. Brad.

(for those of you with young children, this ‘waiting’ and listening is almost impossible in the normal chaos of your day to day. Ask for the Holy Spirit to provide you with opportunity, and then stick with the being ‘silent’ part until you ‘hear’ what God is whispering to you.)

Living as a Settled Soul

I need to share honestly… and I know I’m not alone or unusual. My last five years have been full of struggle and discouragements, tragic loss, and setbacks. I’ve felt the harshness of life and the ridiculously hard path of what I thought was a  simple existence.

It seemed that everything and everyone was resisting me constantly, and the weariness from the exhaustion that comes from trying again and again to get back up…is impossible to describe without going through it yourself.

The accumulated years of seemingly pointless sacrifices take their toll on our hearts. Sometimes they get so grim they choke out much of our optimism and left us more empty and numb than alive inside.  

As we ponder our lives, we have to wrestle with the point to our endless parade of difficulties and stress. We wonder, am I doing something wrong? Is God angry with me? Why doesn’t my life seem to be ‘working’?

If you’re finding yourself in a similar diminished state, weary of the struggles that never seem to be conquered… read on! I get it. I understand as much as any other human can.

Here are some hard won truths from my own private journal. Some are from podcasts I’ve listened to, some from daily devotionals, but most are from hours alone with God and His word.

Reminder #1: All difficult circumstances are not ‘God’s’ making. He doesn’t create and force disaster upon us, but when it comes… He is offering to be ‘in it’ with us.  He will redeem whatever we’re facing, irregardless of whether we deserve it or not.

Reminder #2: The places we go for comfort in our difficult days are only temporary substitutes for the true solace we long for.  Sex, Drugs, Alcohol, and Ambition can only numb us to the pain we feel inside. The deeper pain never goes away with external medications.

Reminder #3: The struggle allowed or endured is used by the Holy Spirit to remove the gunk in us and free up fresh real-estate in our soul for God’s presence to settle in and restore. Our hearts need made whole and that’s a inner work that takes time.

Reminder #4: God is good. His ways are odd to us, the solutions He prescribes seem to take the long way to our desired outcomes, but they are always the best possible route and a specific answer to each and every prayer we voice.

Reminder #5: The inner work of stillness is the mature work of a settled soul. God longs for us to shrug off our external distractions and focus on just being satisfied in Him. The bible calls this ‘abiding’ in Christ. It is the deep and permanent work of the Holy Spirit to settle a soul.

These are truths we must recall in the dark night of the soul. Those days and weeks, months and even years that we feel abandoned by God and alone in our struggle. We are not alone, it’s a lie, and the truth can be so hard to remember when our world seems to never change.

Be strong dear one, God is working… and whatever new and awesome assignment that’s right around the corner,  you can bet it requires us to go through whatever we’re currently wrestling with. God never wastes our pain or suffering, He uses it to prepare us for the greater influence and responsibility sure to come our way.

The temptation is to simply find ‘the’ solution to our angst, but in the end I’ve found the discipline of ‘stillness’ is the surest course to find Peace and a settled soul.

Pastor B.

Faith grows, One generation to the next.

“Preserving our Faith, one church, one family, one generation at a time” 

There are a variety of secular forces at work in our society that seek to undermine the Christian faith. Specifically, these voices criticize the authenticity and authority of Scripture as well as the incarnation / resurrection claims of Christ.

Educated voices are claiming the bible is full of antiquated teachings and inaccurate texts. Our biblical beliefs are being generally discarded as fables and myth instead of being respected and revered as actual historical and spiritual events.

These forces are effectively disrupting thousands of years of church history and orthodoxy in only a few generations. Those impacted most include the 2 latest named generations. (Millennial’s and GenZ) – the erosion of faith is becoming clearly evident in the habits and beliefs / values of families with young children. (*stats from Barna Research, Huffington post, and the Orange Group.)

50-75% of students raised in the “church” leave for college and never return.

Over 65% of families are either blended or single parent – there are very few traditional, same parent homes left.

Approximately 50% of Millennial’s raised in the church believe the Bible is a irrelevant, inaccurate, and an outdated text, no different than the Koran or any another religious historical text.

The stories of heroic faith and miraculous phenomena described in scripture are disregarded by today’s young adults as myth and exaggeration.

The deity of Christ is directly damaged by the erosion of scripture as the divinely inspired history of God and mankind. The virgin birth and resurrection tradition become invalidated if the scripture can be undermined as inaccurate and unreliable. Additionally, we see culture discarding the moral codes dictated to Moses (The 10 commandments) and St. Paul (Romans) as they transcribed Gods laws to hold mankind accountable to a higher standard of divine justice and holiness.

Photo by Emre Can from Pexels

When we as a society disregard scripture as a moral authority, we allow ourselves to become our own “gods” – which gives us the presumptive powers to re-write” the moral rules to fit our own preferences. That is EXACTLY what we are seeing today. The original – divine – blueprint for life and human purpose has been literally rejected, erased, and rewritten according to our own personal opinions and reinvented “truth”.

The overwhelming rejection of all things “Christ-ian” has permeated the public sphere and is directly affecting our laws and social behaviors. The church finds itself in full retreat and assuming a defensive posture. This is due in part because of the rapid social transformation external to us as well as the growing publicity of our own internal moral failures of our leaders.

The net – net is this, we face a time of growing hostility to the church and its closely guarded and previously sacred beliefs. The church is seen as a compromised and hypocritical voice with no moral authority to speak to our modern culture.

The light we were meant to bring to the darkness has been greatly diminished – the darkness is growing and gaining momentum and widespread influence in our time. (Romans 1-2) Not a new phenomenon, something Paul was facing in the first century church as it engaged with Pagan Greeks and Romans and later St. Augustine faced with the widespread corruption of the church in the 4-5th centuries as it sought to offset the ways of the pagan culture it existed in and among.

It is and always has been the role of the church and the faithful believer to endure and remain steadfast, immovable, always prepared to give a reason for the hope within us. We are not going to change the world in a decade, but over time the “testimony” of faithful men and women that speaks louder and stronger than any media messages or false claims of truth.

The world is searching harder than ever for answers. They desperately want to know why they exist, what life is all about, what comes next?

We actually have those answers available within the church and carefully secure within the history and stories of our past. Each generation of Christian families and their testimonies carry the gospel message forward. Millennial’s and GenZ adults are desperately seeking to discover more than the “moment” can offer them, “They long for meaning, for anchors to secure themselves and their lives to, something timeless and eternal”. (*Fr. Dan Scott Ph.D.)

This (current) aging generation of faithful Christians have carried their values and beliefs with them, and the treasure of those carefully preserved traditions and beliefs are not “outdated” or erroneous, they are in fact as valid as ever. The structure that has provided safe haven for those beliefs and values is the Church itself, just as Paul said it would be. 

In the church we see our orthodox beliefs secured inside the traditions, liturgy, and common prayers of our historical creeds. These have been passed down reverently from one generation to the next for hundreds and thousands of years irregardless of the rise and fall of society and culture.

When we celebrate and remember the perfect work of Christ on Calvary each week, we are carrying those truths and traditions forward. The essentials of our faith are wrapped up in those familiar phrases, prayers, and declarations, and are carefully positioned in  the history of our church liturgies to preserve and protect them from the whims of popular opinion and personal interpretation.

The vitality of the worship we share with each other during each Sunday is more than for our own personal edification, those moments serve our children and grandchildren as protectors and incubators of faith, safekeeping and extending the influence of the gospel with continuity from one generation to the next.

I believe the churches finest hour is yet to come, as the hour approaches so will the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit to His people.

Blessings;

Fr. Brad.

Slow Down. Please.

I can’t help but push a little more, I can’t stop the need to check one more item off the ‘to-do’ list of my life. It’s my nature to stay busy, to distract myself from tomorrow by filling my ‘today’.

Maybe you can relate? 

The world we live in doesn’t help. Our instant communication and remarkable technologies have opened up worlds of discovery and detail that compel us to discover and ‘do’ more with each day.

Parenting is easily the hardest and best work of your life. Of any life. Our immediate desire is to protect and provide, to make sure our offspring are safe from harm and well cared for. Later we engage with our kids, teaching and mentoring them into the ways of life and the wiles of our world. We have dreams and desires for them, we have hopes that they will go where we couldn’t, do what we didn’t dare to try. (parenting doesn’t require a biological child, many parent those in need around us)

The struggle to find ‘rest’ in the world of parenthood is real. It seems the days are so slow… yet the years fly by. Our work as a parent never seems to end, we just shift gears as our kids get older, always busy, always engaged with the work of life and family. 

I have been told by almost every older parent or pastor I’ve ever known to ‘slow down’. I’ve known intellectually that life is more than a series of goals to be accomplished, but in the nitty – gritty of day to day living, it really didn’t sink in.

I imagine that many of you could say the same.

So what can we do to realign ourselves and reconnect with our deeper purpose and meaning beyond parenthood…? Isn’t there a purpose to life beyond raising our children?

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

Here’s what I’m learning as a newly minted 50 year old grandfather of two little ones. ‘Slow down’ was/ is wise advice.  I’m learning to accept and apply it over all my natural instincts to the contrary. 

Slowing down is a spiritual discipline for those who are ‘wired’ to keep moving. (not so much for those who like to stay still) It’s difficult to do without extenuating circumstances, we don’t ‘choose’ to slow down, we are ‘forced’ to slow down. God in his infinite mercy works in His mysterious ways to push us back into a proverbial corner. We may find ourselves stuck in a situation of His creation that forces us to stop thrashing and simply ‘be still’.

On first glance we feel like we’re being punished. God must be ‘angry’ with us. But as we slowly unclench our hearts and open ourselves up to His voice we soon begin to sense the exact opposite.

God is pleased with us. He wants to reveal something new and essential to our identity. We are now more than just parents or spouses, we are created children of a heavenly father. More than pawns in a cosmic struggle for power, we are invited to be a part of this divine story of redemption and love.

Not to drift too far into the theology, but we generally won’t stay ‘still’ for long without a deeper understanding of the presence of God. We need to learn to seek Him out for more than a few minutes each day. He is inviting us to bring Him along ‘all’ day. This shift from accomplishing things to ‘being’ is essential.

photo courtesy of Pixabay

The presence of God in our lives is where we find true meaning, purpose, and thus ‘Satisfaction’. Yes, the elusive sense of peace and contentment that is promised in scripture is truly out there. It just takes time to discover. 

So, be encouraged if you find yourself ‘hemmed in’ by life. God is in it. He is conspiring to bless you, to force you to rest and be ‘still’. It’s the only way forward.

Slow Down! Please.

Pastor Brad.

 

Teen Stress Today

Teen Stress: One Powerful Way to Help Your Child Stand Strong

Today, I welcome Pastor Brad Mathias of Bema Media, Road Trip Parenting, and the Brilliantly Brave Parenting Podcast.  (You can catch my interview HERE!) His latest work, Storms of Life, is a study for students. And friends, it’s a tool we want and need in the hands of each of our young people today.”

Teen Stress Today

How we see ourselves is a huge struggle for most people, no matter our age or stage of life. We are naturally critical, especially of our own lives. Our self-image or self-esteem is the third highest stressor for students according to surveys and recent studies.

The Age-Old Struggle With a Twist

Statistically, self-esteem ranked as our third highest stressor for students in college or high school and higher for adults. We know that many are struggling with the way we see ourselves and how we perceive others see us. The pressure to achieve and be successful is a huge unspoken stressor for any stage or age of life.

From well-meaning high school counselors to your aunts and uncles, everyone is asking the question; “What do you want to be when you grow up?” or “Where are you going to attend college?” As we get older, the questions get more obvious, where do you work? Where did you go to school, where do you live?

The demands of our society push unbelievable expectations on us.

The additional pressure of fitting in, finding somewhere to belong and be accepted is just a part of our journey. School and culture have already created specific stereotypes for us to pick an identity from. For parents and adults, the struggle continues on with new names and places, but the same old sense of ‘not-fitting in’.

And each identity has a specific clique or club with its own rules and hierarchy in how to belong.

Finding the group that accepts and affirms you are uncertain in the fickle world of social popularity. No one really has a chance to relax and assume they are “in” for long. The ongoing and daily battle of social media is unprecedented and the allure to be accepted and liked offsets the risk of rejection for most. From what you wear to the color of your hair, everything you say or do is on display for anyone to like or dislike. The social media culture of today puts our identity on trial each and every post.

Perfection Required

This daily demand to be perfect is impossible to sustain especially when we add in the pressures of a society that is visual and we feel the need to be beautiful and handsome 24/7/365 to be acceptable. Here is where the dissatisfaction with our appearance grows from an annoyance to an obsession for some. We fret about the smoothness of our skin and the thickness and texture of our hair to how we look in jeans. We seek to adapt ourselves to fit the mold of our society. How others respond to our appearance has the capacity to make or break us, and we truly aspire to be the very best we can be, not for our own health, but to simply survive without total humiliation and shaming.

Many are so worried about their size and shape that they are actively measuring and managing their diets to manipulate their basic body types, height, and weight to fit the norms of the local style. We no longer know who we are or what we want. We just hate to be bullied or demeaned by those who are skinnier, prettier, and more popular. And we live unsure of anything but the fact that we don’t measure up.

The struggle for our identity and value is a struggle for the truth

We have voices that are talking to us all the time. Some are predictable and hopefully encouraging. Some are our insecure peers at school or work who are immature and selfish, critical and demeaning. Those we can ignore. Their opinions, although vital for popularity, are not truly meaningful in the long run. And then there are the voices we hear when we look in the mirror. Those demeaning and ugly voices that tell us we’re ugly or worthless. Those are lies.

God’s voice is the one that:
  • We have to learn to hear and trust.
  • Will never condemn or demean us. He will never reject or ridicule us. Never, ever.
  • Reminds us of our priceless value, of how He traveled across the universe to meet us, how He chose to suffer and die for sins we committed.
  • Resonates with the warmth and joy of a proud Papa who can’t wait to tell us how much He loves us and longs to see us again.

The voice we hear is the one we will follow.

It’s imperative we learn to hear God’s voice above all the other voices in our lives. He will not disappoint, lie, or pretend with us. He tells the truth and knows what we need and truly want. If we trust His voice, we will follow Him.

As you grow in your faith, believe that God:
  • Can patiently stick with you through all the ups and downs of your day. He does and He will
  • Doesn’t grow closer when you do good and pull back when you do bad
  • Stays near you all the time
  • Will provide you with strength when you’re tempted to compromise
  • Gives you courage when you’re afraid
  • Will provide wisdom when you are uncertain

Teen stress is more prevalent than ever before and social media has a lot to do with that. How do we help them stand strong in their faith? How do we help them navigate beyond stress and overwhelm? #teens #teenstress #stress #socialmedia #parenting #biblestudy #hope #stormsoflife #identityinchrist #identity

Take your prayers with you.

Don’t just pray at home in the morning and before bed but pray all day long. As long as you can pray silently in your mind, you can pray at school all you want. Start asking God for help in the moments you need Him. When those “trigger moments” occur, He can be right there with you, providing you with the help you so desperately need.

Jesus has gifted us with unique and beautiful attributes.

His gifts of personality and skill make us irreplaceable to Him. We don’t need to follow the pack because we can be our own individual person, seeking after the One who knows us best for our satisfaction and value. Young women tend to struggle with self-esteem issues more than young men. We know our society puts enormous pressure on ladies to look a certain way, to be loved or treasured, but Christ has a different perspective. It’s essential for us to model that acceptance and love of the uniqueness we each have.

We cannot let the world define our worth in possessions or sex appeal. As Christian, we can invest our energy and personal affirmations in the people in our lives. Pointing our peers and families to the One who holds the keys to life is providing them with a lifelong anchor for their soul.

Summary and Closing

We live in a time of instant criticism or admiration where social media can make or break us in a moment. We will need to learn how to fight for our identities and encourage each other using the devotional power of daily prayer and Scripture to give us added perspective on our value and identity in Christ. The world is restless and unsettled, but we can live with confidence and at peace. We don’t have to be condemned to living stressed out and overwhelmed!

Blog post is an adapted excerpt from the Storms of Life Study available now at iShine Live.


About the Author:

Author of Storms of Life: Living Beyond Stressed Out & OverwhelmedPastor Brad Mathias is the president of Bema Media and a pastor for over a decade. He and his wife were survivors of a near divorce, and now are actively engaged in public ministry to families and students in crisis. Brad and his wife Paige have been married for over 28 years and are the parents of three adult children and two grandchildren.

His blog Road Trip Parenting.com (WordPress) and book, Roadtrip to Redemption(Tyndale/Momentum) have laid the groundwork for his latest project, a new study on Life and how to navigate the storms we will all face. He is also the Co-Host and Executive producer of “Brilliantly Brave Parenting” the podcast.

Waiting, Resting… and other ‘odd’ requests.

The Christian life in our modern world is so convoluted with the secular it’s almost impossible to sort things out.

The way our world works seems normal to us. It seems logical, even wise… but it operates on principles foreign to the Holy Spirit.

The world is about self-preservation, promotion, accomplishment, and gain.

Christ led us by example into a new way, a Kingdom built out of self-sacrifice, humility, service, and loss.

Photo by Zukiman Mohamad from Pexels

He promises that if we will follow after His way, we’ll find what we’re all searching for… a new life, one that’s abundant and free.

One of the first things we’re often asked to do by God is to ‘wait’. He doesn’t assign us a prominent role in the ministry, He doesn’t place us in positions of great influence or authority, He often puts us in a ‘time-out’. 

He’s not punishing us, He’s loving us. His voice will often urge us to ‘rest’. It seems odd. It seems out of place for us to ‘not’ pursue after our ministry, or work, or family. After all our entire life has been in ‘pursuit’ of something!

What is this weird request?

We may feel like we’re aren’t ‘needed’ for His purposes? Did we misunderstand Him. Did he misunderstand us? It’s so unusual to slow down and to actually stop running around that we feel useless, and irrelevant when we do. So we don’t.

Yet God asks us to be still.

The point I believe is we’re being ‘un-taught’ our worldly ways. In our world the harder we push the further we get. In God’s Kingdom, the way up is down. His ways are opposite of our ways, the slower we get the quieter we become. The less we do, the more we can hear. 

When we learn to ‘hear’ clearly we can proceed with conviction and confidence. If we’re learning to live and work in ‘his’ strength, then knowing His will and way is far more important than working out the ways we’re going to accomplish things, or pondering the “how to’s” of our ministry.

God is speaking to us, it’s essential that we learn to slow down and stop. To rest and be quiet, it’s in these moments that we learn the most. His will is all that matters.

Blessings, Pastor B.

Isaiah 30:15 (ESV) “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling,” 

Essentials for Parents #3 – A Heritage of Faith

Essentials of Parenting #3.Living out a Heritage of Faith

God calls us as parents to do amazing things with our lives! We can’t follow God and keep Him in a safe and well-defined box, He will call us to follow Him and into strange and often unfamiliar places. Yes, being a parent is often strange and unfamiliar enough, but God may be calling each of us to step further out and do more outside of the comfort of our home.  Our inspiration for this post is Patti Garibay, founder of American Heritage Girls, and her story is so encouraging for parents to hear!

As Patti shares of her story it becomes very clear, God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts… so the path God leads us to follow is often overwhelmingly big and seemingly impossible. God has a long, long, history of calling ordinary men and women to do extraordinary things.

Our talents and education, preparation and confidence have nothing to do with God’s ability to use us for His plans. As parents we may feel like we’re totally out of it, barely surviving our responsibilities and feeling very much like a failure, but God has a habit of using people like us to do impossible things. 

We can be used by God despite our shortcomings and fears and irregardless of our failures and frustrations. God works with those who will simply take the time to listen and trust it enough to follow.

As parents its our lifetime of learning and trusting God that creates the foundation of a genuine “Heritage of Faith’.  It’s not our ‘mistake’ free lives or career successes that will win our kids hearts, instead it’s the grace we receive and share that paves the way for God to work.

Patti Garibay heard God’s cry as a stay at home mother and obeyed in faith. The result, the formation of “American Heritage Girls” and twenty-five years later, hundreds of thousands of girls have been influenced and shaped by a heritage of faith, passed down from a stay at home mom’s obedience to God.

Source AHG

Some points of advice from her Season 1 interview:

  • We need to “listen’ and be aware of the subtle requests that God nudges us to do. It is NOT our life, we are on loan to God, and we can’t forget that God has plans for us that are bigger than our own. The same is true for our children.
  • Our lives as parents’ matter, we’re not in control but we are able to influence and shape our kids while we’re given the opportunity. What we do as spouses and parents will impact our kids for generations and passing along a heritage of faith requires parents who will consistently chose to put God’s will and plans above their own, both for themselves and for their kids.
  • Our experiences as parents and families will be less than perfect or ideal, we must trust that God can use us and our kids regardless of our ‘performance’. We can trust God to walk us into the opportunities and paths that we are meant to follow.
  • Our kids and our plans can’t be driven by our ambition or pride, it’s not about us. EGO is Edging God Out, and we can’t do that as Christians.
  • God will empower us to see beyond our own lives, to see the needs of those around us and to give us the strength and courage to act boldly!
  • Change is NOT a bad thing. The Lord has a plan for us, and change may be what is exactly necessary for us and our spiritual life. We don’t need to be afraid to follow the leading of God, we need to step out of the boat and walk on water.

About Patti Garibay: Patti Garibay is founder and Executive Director of the national character development organization, the American Heritage Girls. Educated at the Ohio State University with a major in secondary education and French, Patti shares a love of history and youth. Patti and her husband Pat, of thirty-nine years, are blessed with four grown children, three girls and a boy, five grandsons and two granddaughters.

Related Links; 

Podcast Interview:

American Heritage Girls 

iShine Ministries / Tween Gospel Alliance