Whose Am I ?

I’ve been on a pastoral sabbatical.

A rare 3 months to rest and unwind my mind and body from the rigors of bi-vocational service. I still have my ‘day’ job to keep up with, but I’ve been allowed to step back for twelve weeks to catch my spiritual breath. A first for me.

Sounds great! A chance to let go of some of the extra  commitments and obligations that come with pastoring a small church… but it’s actually been ridiculously hard. My free time has stretched me in ways I’ve never felt before and revealed areas of my life that needed to be attended to.

When I slow down, I fidget. I get uncomfortable and anxious without something to do, somewhere to be. When I stop, I have time to think… and when I stop moving I feel less important, less necessary…less needed.

Specifically… I lose my sense of value and purpose without running 100 mph every day. After decades of racing through life.. .this sabbatical has raised the proverbial hood of my souls engine and forced me to see what’s ticking underneath the drive to do and be more.

God is gently pushing me to re-examine my life, to take a survey of my identity. Where do I draw my value from? How do I see myself as a person as a man? Stuff I’ve not had to wrestle with for a very long time, issues that I never anticipated have become very much a part of my daily dialogue with God. He’s asking the hard stuff in my ‘down’ time. Just like Jesus did with His disciples, the questions reveal the areas of our life that need to be restored and renewed.

How about you? Have you had to wrestle with where you draw your identity from? As parents it’s appropriate to consider yourself as a mom or dad first. To take comfort in the role you’ve been appointed by God as a sacred trust. Caretaker, teacher, friend, and mentor to your kids. Those duties and obligations often push other commitments and pursuits away, and fill our lives with the daily work of family. 

For dads, we may find ourselves focused on our role as provider and defender. Taking our identity from our ability to work and earn a living. We draw our strength and value from the paycheck and security we provide our homes, and as we gain financial stability our self-esteem begins to keep pace. It feels good enough to our fragile egos  to seduce us into working ‘all the time’.

For pastors, lay-leaders and church ministry volunteers: the role we fill as teachers and shepherds can overshadow who we are. Our commitments to serve the body of Christ are noble and self-sacrificing, dutiful and sacred in their own right. We can gain self-importance and significance in our leadership roles and over time those strengths can become a part of our ‘false‘ self. A propping up of our self-worth and self-esteem with the external affirmation and encouragement of those we lead, a temporary fix that won’t work long-term. It’s the same core heart issue as the workaholic dad, but dressed up as ‘ministry’.

All of this is normal and predictable. Mothers gain their strength from the health of their family, dads from the financial contributions they bring, and pastors from the size of the congregations they serve…but there will be a time in each of our lives when those externals will be challenged by events and circumstances outside of our control. 

For parents, our kids will eventually grow and move out. The empty nest is a test for the marriage and identity of both parents, especially moms.

For dads, the career sacrifices and endless struggle to contribute to the bottom line will dry up or go completely away. The stress of being in-between work or career is life changing and carves deeply into the confidence and value of a man’s self-esteem.

For pastors, the expansion or contraction of their church body will temp them to feel good or bad about their performance as a spiritual leader, and in doing so falsely inflate or deflate their self-esteem based on a limited understanding of God and His faithfulness in spite of us.

The struggle is real. Where do we draw our confidence from? Who defines us? Where can I go to discover the truth about ‘me’? 

When I prayed over this and studied the scriptures multiple truths emerged. One question I was asked in prayer was this… Whose am I”? 

Am I ‘God’s man… or man’s man?

Am I focused and intent to spend my energy in knowing Him, of being in His presence? Am I more concerned with His feelings about my life or other people?

Whose… Am I?

Am I my wifes man?  Am I my bosses man? Am I my kids man? Do the people I lead love me? Do I only consider my own desires, or do I surrender my plans for God’s? ?

What I think He’s asking us all is this. Am I God’s man? 

The question is more than rhetorical. My identity is going to be very strongly associated with where my energy is directed and my focus maintained. Where my ‘treasure’ is, there my heart will be also, and my sense of self-worth will flow from that fountain – good or bad.

I notice that when I keep my heart and mind open to God’s daily & hourly whispers… I am at peace and looking for His direction on which step to take next. When I allow God to fill my awareness, I shrink and He grows.

The truth of being an adopted son and joint heir with Christ begins to take root and grow. My need to be seen and heard is stifled and the fears and insecurities fade. The weight of my life is shifted from my shoulders to His hands.  I can rest and I can trust in something much bigger than me.

Taking time to ponder and pray is more than a luxury of a sabbatical, it’s an essential process we all need. The struggle to slow down and simplify although difficult at first, has become an essential lesson for me. It has allowed for the deeper issues of the heart to be noticed, considered, and addressed.

God is active in my sabbatical; He’s pruning me. Preparing me  for a future with bigger fruit and more abundant living. He’s also rewiring me from measuring those things with the models of success that our world so strongly endorses. 

He uses the cross of Christ and an invisible Kingdom as His measuring stick and the presence of Peace in our turbulent existence  as proof it’s all for real.

Pastor B.

PS (the use of ‘man’ in this blog is not meant as sexist, simply as a generic term for mankind)

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Silent and Still

Busy doesn’t even begin to describe our lives.

Does it feel like you cram a week worth of life into just 24 hours? Our pace of life can be cruel, exhausting, and increasingly stressful.

Stressing out is more common than you think. (See 2017 study of American Workers Stressed Out Most of the Time – CNBC) Consider these facts… see if you identify with them.

“Participants were asked to rank their stress on a scale of one to five. One in four, 25.7 percent to be precise, said their stress was at a level four. And, 4.9 percent said it was at a five out of five. Altogether, more than 70 percent of respondents ranked their stress at a level three or higher. Over 60 percent said that they felt stressed three or more workdays per week, on average. This means that, on any given day, more workers are feeling stressed than not. This state really is the norm.” (2017 Study

 We are over-committed, over-scheduled, over-whelmed by our world and its relentless pace of life. As technology advances we get more efficient, more productive, and way less rest. 

thejesuschick.com

When was the last time you felt like you could actually ‘rest’?

It seems for most of us, we’re not feeling like we can really ever catch up. Our stress is bullying us into working harder, faster, longer. Work isn’t all bad, in fact I believe it’s a great and wonderful part of our existence, President Roosevelt said it this way… ”

“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Theodore Roosevelt

BUT, when our lives get overburdened and out of balance, we quickly burn ourselves out. If your like me at all, you live in the extremes of life. Seasons of life push us to do more than we thought humanly possible, followed by sudden lulls in the storm, and free time to binge watch Netflix and let our world fade into sheer entertainment and a lazy haze. Both extremes should cause concern. Finding balance is as much a discipline as jogging or daily prayer.

What I recently discovered on a four-day sabbatical to the mountains of New Mexico involved going a step further than speeding up or slowing down. It meant learning to ‘be still’. 

Have you ever done that? I had never actually gotten so quiet and detached from media, the world… work… kids… ministry that I could experience the utter calm and serenity of not moving, inside or out. So unhurried and undistracted within that I was able to live in the ‘moment’ without. I was unaffected by either my past or future, only ‘in’ the present. I was able to be ‘still’ inside my heart and my mind. Totally silent.

For four days.

I would have never believed it. I would have never chosen it. But God through the subtle touch of His Holy Spirit, led me to a place and time where I could be quiet enough and still enough to experience Him in a brand new way. 

Interested?

I’ll blog about the trip I took, where I went, what I saw, and how God showed up in totally different ways than ever before. Time to open a new door on our pilgrimage of Faith.

Pastor B.

 

Holiness and House Cleaning

As parents we’re often behind.

Late to school… late to work, to the dentist, church services, sports practice… We’re  overwhelmed more than we’re not. Gradually things start to slide… we’re exhausted, just trying to get through one… more… day. 

Dishes pile up… yet to be washed laundry grow heaps on the floor, bathrooms get gunky, and dining rooms dusty. We irritably notice each unfinished chore, knowing we’re already pushing our limit to cover the essentials of our day.

Families are rushing faster and faster… buried in the demands of the job, our kids… the home. We run low on strength and stamina, revving our little weary engine until it’s redlined and about to seize up. 

When we’re tired… doubt and despair start to gain traction. Our hearts start to slow and fade as our bodies and minds wind down. We lose our vitality. We start to get cynical, we feel sullen… and act irritable.

Our desire is less than it used to be. We love life a bit less each and every day. Our kids and spouses start to distance themselves to avoid the outbursts and interruptions of our barely contained frustration. 

What’s going on? Why – How did we get so cranky?

It might be time for some personal house cleaning. Yep… just like those annoying dishes and piles of dirty towels in the laundry room… our hearts can get cluttered with dust, dirt, and other unwashed items.

Fortunately there is a solution… a deep clean cycle for our hearts and lives. Step out of the crazy current and slow your mind and body down long enough to be ‘ still’.  Make the effort to reconnect with the word and with your faith.  Read the bible.  Pray. Wait on God’s Holy Spirit to refresh your weary heart with new life. 

Breathe in the ‘newness’ of creation. Replace your fatigue and doubts with clean air… direct from the throne of God above. Allow your myopic (near-sighted) vision to be refocused… moving our gaze from our own stuff to the bigger picture. As you do this… be ‘still’. Don’t just rush and gush a thousand wants and needs for your “sugar daddy in heaven” to give you … the Christian Life is way more than that!

Go deeper. Get quieter, ‘listen’ for His still – small – voice. It has what you really need. What your really want. Nothing else will resolve your deepest longings or banish your darkest fears. No one else can restore your broken heart, heal the wounds of life… or renew hope. 

 

This is “cleaning house“. It removes and rinses the grime and grease of our lives and restores us to a healthy view of the world and our part in it. It brings back our vitality and strength to full ‘power’! You’ll feel better than a great workout in the gym, or a huge shake from Sonic. Cleaning house is deeper and more meaningful than a binge night with Netflix  or the next career promotion…it’s a reconnection with life itself.

None of us can slow everything down, or control ‘all‘ the uncontrollable details of a day, but when we spend time regularly with our creator… we gain strength and balance for everything that’s sure to come.

Blessings. Pastor B.

Links to scripture. 

When you can’t love anymore… Love Fatigue

“Love Fatigue”.  

A term of my own creation. Love Fatigue – “Refers to ‘a chronic or enduring feeling of being unable to love anymore.”

Spouses, Parents, Teachers, Friends, and Pastors are all affected by the presence of this often un-diagnosed condition… a subtle but devastating condition known as ‘Love Fatigue’.

What are the symptoms? 

Lack of affection for others. Lack of interest in sharing life. Lack of emotion, especially an absence of compassion or empathy. Reduced awareness of the needs of those around you. Lack of concern for most anything or anyone. Self absorption and brutal self criticism. Lack of patience for others, especially those we live with or work around.

What causes it? 

Emotional fatigue. Chronic stress of an unrelenting nature. Spiritual isolation and independence. Pride. Unresolved anger. Unforgiveness. Feelings of relational despair and hopelessness. Stupid (annoying) people.  

Love Fatigue is all too common for men and women in long-term relationships. (Friendship, Family, Marriage, Church body) Usually the condition grows more invasive over time, starting from a simple mis-understanding or mis-communication into a distorted and perceived pattern of injustice or abusive behavior. Untreated, it forms deep roots in the cardiac and cerebral tissues as repeated opportunities for intimacy are rejected or avoided and a general frustration with other people grows uncontrollable.

boldomatic.com

boldomatic.com

 

Can it be treated or cured? 

Yes. Love fatigue is treatable with the regular (minimum of once a week) application of a spiritual soaking procedure; including exposure to the presence of God, the sacred word, and the Holy Spirit. This treatment has been proven  to help those afflicted to reduce the conditions crippling symptoms.

Research has shown,  only the removal of the ‘justification gene’, can cure the Love Fatigue condition permanently. This genetic & inherited sin-factor chromosome has been linked directly to behavior markers identified as ‘pride’ and “presumption‘.

Unfortunately the genetic factors responsible for “Love Fatigue” must be replaced with new DNA from a unique and rare donor type…Specifically an individual who has never been infected or affected by the condition. (See the your local pastor or Christian friend for more information on Jesus Christ – his history and claims of divinity).

In addition to finding an appropriate donor, the ‘tainted’ genetic mutations must be aggressively treated to prevent re-infection. Fortunately, once the donor procedure is completed… the remnants of the Love Fatigue virus can be easily flushed from the patient.

A simple, self-application of an oral and bitter tasting medicine known as Humility’ has been used and proven effective in long term studies. The treatment can be quite painful and only works when combined with a complimentary pain-reducing ingredient, “Grace.  When used together, an effective tonic is made and Love Fatigue can be completely cured.

Love Fatigue can be easily misdiagnosed, and is fatal to relationships if left untreatedSpecifically at risk are those who misinterpret their symptoms as external or environmental in nature, and simply seek to avoid exposure or aggravation. For successful treatment, a daily self-examination is required to see if any residual presence of the “Love Fatigue” gene remains. (Source – Dr. St. Paul – Epistle to the Romans, circa AD 55)

I had fun writing this…but only partly. It’s obviously an illustration far too close to the literal truth to be denied. Feeling some ‘love fatigue’ in our long-term relationships is normal and human. Just don’t let it grow deeper and consume you. Scripture clearly provides us with the best advice possible…”clothe yourself with humility and grace” and watch your love grow strong again.

Pastor B.

When we run and hide…

Met with a dear friend and fellow pastor the other day. We talked and caught up… he shared of his summer and the struggle he’s had with isolation and the allure of pulling back from his church community.  Of his battle with feeling alone and wanting to avoid others… it was a familiar story.

He eventually recognized this internal struggle was more than just an emotional pull or some sort of ministry fatigue. It was spiritual warfare. His church was growing, having just walked through a very difficult season of transition things were finally gaining momentum… the Kingdom of God was pressing forward into their local community and suddenly there was just a sense of unexplainable spiritual fatigue. 

The result… he pulled back from meeting with others in his community of faith for coffee or prayer. He took a ‘break’ from reading his bible. He re-arranged his personal life to allow him to ‘miss’ regular church events and generally pulled away from all things “Christian’ in order to get some ‘space’.

In time it affected his marriage, his kids and of course… his relationship with God. He was sharing with me in the ‘past-tense’ and I noted that he was embarrassed and upset with himself for letting it happen. Wryly he acknowledged he could see these same issues in others easily enough, but seemed so blind about himself…he was sharing out of accountability and support. Bringing it out into the open and letting me know he didn’t want to stay in this place of isolation any longer.

picture credit - www.doctormit.ro

picture credit – http://www.doctormit.ro

That took courage. It mean he had conviction and determination to follow Christ no matter what he was ‘feeling’ or not feeling on any particular day. It also meant, he was walking in humility and purpose. Recognizing he was fighting more than a personal battle, but experiencing spiritual resistance to the work that God was doing in and around him at his local church.

In his family.

In his marriage.

In him.

We all have felt this way in our lives. Many times I’ve wanted to run away and hide from ministry. To just get in my car and drive until I didn’t know where I was. To isolate and hibernate away from people… from problems. From the concerns of others and the petty annoyances of life.

Yet… somewhere deep within we know that’s not the better path. We sense that God is working in these empty moments of life. Developing something ‘more‘ within our heart of hearts. Growing us deeper roots for finding that ‘everlasting’ water and preparing us to serve in new ways. It’s in these moments of isolation that we have to choose to open the bible once more and read. Drinking deep of it’s wisdom and experiencing the grace of God afresh.

picture credit - thelaneblog.wordpress.com

picture credit – thelaneblog.wordpress.com

Faith is tested every day. Sometimes it’s the in-between of our lives that we are most vulnerable. The subtle shift in our attitude… the bitter taste of resentment or past injustice nudging us to pull back. To avoid.

Dear friends… we are desperately in need of each other. The battle for our hearts and minds begins with isolation and division. The enemy of our souls will seek to compromise us anyway he can. It’s easiest when we’re away from the strength and support of our spiritual family.

Stay close to your encourager’s. Don’t run. Don’t hide. Whatever your feeling…whatever you’ve done… God is already making it work for your good and His glory.

Hang in there. Stay close. Be where God has placed you.

Pastor B.

 

 

 

Why Your “Margin” Matters as a Parent…

Our lives are too busy. 

We live beyond our means financially and in every other way. Too many personal commitments. Too stretched to perform well. Too far behind on goals. Too deep in debt. Too late to be on time. We live too fast and on the ‘margin’ of insanity.

Some call it the ‘rat’ race.

Some say we’re supposed to ‘burn brightly” before we go.

mivajeonline.blogspot.com

 

Some are too emotionally anxious to slow down and deal with whatever chases behind.

In time we adjust our expectations to include near exhaustion as our ‘normal’. Burning, pushing, forcing ourselves to do ‘one-more’ thing. We extend ourselves beyond the breaking point and ask for God to give us strength. When we collapse at night we’re too tired to talk, pray, or listen.

Please understand… we were not created to live like this.

The idea of “Sabbath” is a sacred concept that has been slowing leaking out of modern life. 

We place our families in harm’s way when we violate the concept of ‘rest’ for ‘getting-ahead’. We cram more into our lives on the weekends, rather than less. We push harder when we’re supposed to stop.

So, let’s just STOP!

Carve Sunday out each week for you and your family to stop running. A sacred space to reconnect and simply rest. 

It’s a divine commandment that began at creation and remains today. We would be wise to heed the counsel of God and determine to move towards restoring a healthy ‘margin’ for our lives.

The space we need to recharge, to gather and worship with our communities of Faith has been slowly eroding inside the church and out, and we all suffer for it. Let’s stop filling our weekends and simplify our lives enough to truly slow down.

It’s hard to do, but totally worth it. Start by praying for wisdom and insight from God as to what things in your life are ‘unhealthy’ obligations. 

As parents… as families of Faith, nothing else really matters.

Pastor B.

Musings on Moods

Life is sudden and slow, abrupt and deliberate.

Moments of extreme happiness…followed by long dull marches through grey days.

It’s impossible to live and remain unaffected.

Emotions will rise and fall according to the chemistry and circumstances of our lives at any given moment. If we surrender ourselves to simply what we ‘feel’ like doing or being, we’re risking more than stability… but our very sanity. mood swing

Faith binds us to something ‘more’. It’s the antidote for the erratic shifts in our emotions and the anchor of our soul. Belief in truth that exceeds our senses, is a glue that will bind our behaviors to our beliefs. 

 

“The promise, made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits me to being true even if I cease to be in love. A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions: no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way. He might as well promise to never have a headache or always to feel hungry.” CS Lewis -‘Mere Christianity

Let’s take a deep breath. Take a moment to consider what we’re feeling vs. who we are by faith in Christ. Let’s re-attach to our savior before going any further into this day… banishing the mood monster from controlling our lives.

Peace,

Pastor B.