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)

Why Thirteen?

Kids do eventually become young adults, they grow and change… and ‘mature’ over time.

The most significant transition of life occurs during adolescence. An individual’s personal identity (or view of ‘self’) forms between 10-14 years of age,  a critical factor in forming a personal belief and value system. 

For the church and families of faith, this stage of life lies smack – dab-  ‘in-between’ childhood and youth ministry programing. (thus the term… ‘tween’)

Parents are stuck with kids who are either too old for ‘kids’ church… or not quite grown up enough for ‘youth’ group. This non-critical issue may lay distantly in a parent’s mind, but fades to the background as ‘other’ more pressing concerns take center stage, like sports, scholastic pressure, or dating!

The challenge for the church is this, if over 80% of our youth are actually walking away from the Christian faith community in their late teen years, what has changed?                                  (Barna Research) 

The mass migration of young adults ‘out’ of the faith must have some ’cause’ and ‘effect’ to it. What is different? Why are so many of our college age kids discarding their Christian beliefs? Studies suggest that our kids made their decision before the age of…

Thirteen.

The age of Thirteen is the approximate year most form their core beliefs, values, and identities. The stage of adolescence when we try out our growing ideas and opinions beyond the safety of  home or church.

image – courtesy of armadamusic.com

It’s real life experience a growing mind needs… peer stuff begins to crowd out the voices of authority figures. Parents, pastors… teachers all lose their influence while friends, social media, and pop culture gain ground.

Adolescents are growing into independent adults, in the process they evolve and adapt to their environments, forming initial beliefs that haven’t been tested or fully embraced as an adult. This process of ‘discovery’ is natural and normal, and helps them establish an ‘identity’.

It’s somewhere between fifth and seventh grade that social pressure starts to sway kids more than they ‘fear’ their parents wishes. It’s a part of the normal maturing process of kids to pass through various ‘crisis’ points in the development of identity – as they literally ‘try on’ new ideas and beliefs like we would a new hairstyle or clothes outfit. They just want to ‘see’ if things ‘fit’… if a parent knows this is ‘normal’ and expects it, the process can be stressful but not a ‘crisis’.

If parents are already stressed out, distracted, and overwhelmed by life… this adolescent ‘stuff’ can drive them over the proverbial ‘edge’. It’s here that faith and culture collide.

Thirteen.

What our kids decide is ‘real’ and of value, what they perceive to be ‘true’ of themselves and the world begins to slowly solidify. 

Their identities are being shaped in this ‘in-between’ time of the late grade school and early junior high years. We all learned this in biology or sex ed when we were teenagers, but as parents and pastors this presents new dangers and opportunities.

 The formation of identity is effectively reinforced by the stability of their social environment (according to studies) and the actions of parents in the home. What we say, and more importantly what we ‘do’… impacts our kids as much or more than anything else… before the age of ‘Thirteen’.

We have a short time with our children. a fixed period during which we can teach, prepare, and then ‘model’ our faith. They are going to struggle with the truth, they will make erratic and unpredictable choices…but in the end,  studies and experience (and the promise of God) predict their identities and beliefs are seriously affected by the health of their home life and the respect kids have for a parents faith. 

Not a spiritual perspective, this entire blog post is based on secular educational studies (see references below). The need for ministry to pre-teens and tweens has never been greater as media and access to digital platforms is now a normal part of childhood. Our kids need to know and ‘see’ the faith of their family and church. They need to know that we’re serious about Jesus Christ being the ‘center’ of our lives… they don’t need us to be perfect or polished, but they do need to know we’re sincere and dedicated to following the principles of the bible.

B413 the ‘No-Filter’ tour is all about equipping families of faith with the inspiration and biblical truth they need to help navigate this critical stage of parenting and life!

Let’s make EVERY effort!

Pastor Brad.

Links to references: http://www.rcgates.com/psyc/c16_pv.html  http://www3.uakron.edu/witt/adol/selfidentity.htm

 

 

A uniquely complicated, but very intended individual. 

Disclaimer for this post:  There is/was no anger or fresh personal experience that stimulated this blog post. Instead… I wrote this blog after noticing a series of deep relational issues that kept coming up in my pastoral marital ministry. Couples who were coming to me for counseling exhibiting issues and patterns of verbal / emotional conflict that had specific behaviors in common. It was from these experiences that I began to research the ‘root’ causes of some of this… this blog post was a response to what I felt impressed into my heart and mind. It rang true to me and my prayer would be for this post to help you understand yourself and others better. Marriage is all about seeing ‘past’ the shortcomings of others.

I detest fake people.

You know ones I’m talking about… folks who always have a plastered smile on their faces…, never dropping their guard or relaxing their emotional control.  Always having a “fantastic‘ day or ‘gushing’ about how amazing their career is going, how accomplished their kids are… nothing negative, only awesome all the time!

Pinterest

Or… the maybe even worse…the fake people who rush to breathlessly confide in you. Whispering excitedly about the shortcomings of another in a somber tone of false concern, only to do the exact same bus-throw to you after you leave the room. Flitting from one conversation to another, always pointing out the problems of others, never offering to be a part of the solution, critical and duplicitous.

This is the wounded heart floundering through life. The insecure and insignificant soul reaching desperately to find purchase on the slippery edge of their existence, the ‘fake’ behaviors only symptoms of something much deeper. 

Let’s be honest here, we all struggle with both sides of this. Sometimes we’re the victim… sometimes the offender, all of us affected daily by relationships with people who are struggling to find their purpose.  People secretly afraid to admit their problems are real… hiding their shame in plain sight.

We’re all flawed, broken, and desperate for purpose and identity. We are longing to find the answers to the deepest issues of our existence, the reason we’re alive, the reason we matter.

The world is full of options and offers to pursue… knowledge, pleasure, possessions… honor. All of these can be valid to some degree, but what ties it to us? Where does our deepest identity spring from? Are we athletic, intelligent… beautiful, or spiritual? Do we allow ourselves to fail… or are we pushed to perfection in a wordless cry for value and significance?

Lots and lots of questions…

The Christian faith offers a simple consideration that can bring clarity and conviction to any life. An honest and enduring truth to build your entire existence around and on. 

Jesus Christ is in fact both man and God. His life an ultimate illustration of what life can be for each of us. What life should be for each of us.

The loss of purpose and value, the soul robbing power of fear and uncertainty gone in an instant. If Christ is who he claimed to be… (the one and only path to God) then what he did and why should matter.

It means we’re valuable. 

It means we matter. 

It means we can stop being fake. 

It means that who we are, the way we are… the unique and weak parts of us are all on purpose. They serve a function that’s essential and vital to our purpose as created ones. The things we hate about ourselves… our personalities, feelings, fears, and frustrations… our insecurities and stubbornness are all a mix of us… a uniquely complicated, but very intended individual.

The twist here… in our weakness, God reveals his strength.  That means… ultimately we’re not going to measure up on our own. That means… we’re going to get it (marriage/parenting/relationships) wrong. We’re going to fail each other and flounder around and foolishly fall on our faces.

So what! We are only HUMAN! Not GOD! Cut yourself some slack… cut others some too.

Here’s the punchline… there is only space for one “God” in our life…. and it’s not us. Once that reality sinks in… we’re off the hook. No more ‘pretending’ to be something we’re really not. No more posers trying to convince ourselves and everyone else we’ve got things in our life under control. 

What a relief that could be…

Peace out, Pastor B.

 

Tweens and Spirituality…

Tweens (kids from 8-13) usually grades 4 -8 are confronted with all kinds of decisions… Who to hang out with…what to wear, where do they fit in? Sports or Band… Science Club or Theatre?

Are they popular enough to be on the ‘inside’ or do they have to retreat to being on the outside, looking in? Have they given up on the popular crowd, taking bitter pride in their independent status as non-conforming and creatively superior?

Or maybe you catch them trying on different styles, looks, and attitudes like a fashionista – exchanging one interest or hobby after another, desperately searching for their niche. Anxious to find a place to ‘fit’ in the overwhelmingly tense structures of modern-day tween-teen social life. tween-slumber-party

These anxieties are centered around school and the elusive ‘popular’ designation and looking to peers as the ultimate validation for their identities. To find that affirmation, our kids are mixing it up with social media consumption at an average of over 9 hours a day, and check their ‘status’ now over a 100 times per day (*13 year olds – see study here) !

YIKES.

Seeing our kids struggling to sort it all out is painful to watch. As parents we remember what it’s like to get caught in the awkward transition from kid to adult. The tween years are painful, ugly, and intense under the best of circumstances…. add to the mess an uncontrollable surge of media and social critique and suddenly we’re in uncharted territory.

There are dark and unpredictable threats to even the most stable families, the most grounded kids are wrestling with personal value, sexuality, and self-worth.

Parents must step further into the adolescent equation than ever before. Gone are the days of ‘protecting’ your kids privacy, letting them form identities as they grow up through trial and error. Gone are the days of simply trusting your kids to have a ‘good-time’ with their friends at the game.

Today, parents must take regular and intrusive steps to review or monitor the social media on their kids phones… educating ourselves about the severity of the assault on our kids hopes and dreams. Attacks that hit everything about our kids that we love… accusations that undermine identities, self-worth, modesty, purity, character, personal beliefs, and of course… spirituality.  teary-teen-image

Kids need to explore their spiritual beliefs every bit as much and more than all of the ‘other’ stuff around them. For the churched kids, they learn to adapt, responding as expected to whatever questions pastors, parents, and religious kids throw at them. Not rejecting the faith completely, just slowing and taking a guarded – wait and see – approach to spirituality.

IF we don’t ask.. our kids just won’t deal with it.

As the parent of a tween / teen, you voice is the greatest voice in your kids life! Not the youth pastor, YouTube, or their friends. YOU!!!

So, take full responsibility and authority and face the uncomfortable silences as you wait for your tween to answer. ASK them about their faith. ASK them to articulate what it is they believe about God. About themselves… about how they see faith in their school stresses and how God helps in their relationships.

We have to connect the dots between church and real life. Our tweens must see and experience their faith in the day-to-day – struggle of being alive. It’s how true faith is formed for all of us.

Something to consider.

Pastor B.

 

Pausing for Peace

As a father and a husband I’m reminded of my responsibility to cultivate peace in my home. Peace not as the world gives…but Peace that flows from the proper relationship of myself with God and each of us with one another. Easy to understand, much harder to do. I call this, the Pause for Peace, an essential in every Christian home.  

 My kids are most likely just like yours, anxious, over-whelmed, impulsive and emotional to the extreme. Given to their own devices, they will in nano-seconds drift away from the real to the imaginary.

Their world of instant entertainment, technology and psuedo-relationships (via texting) will quickly overwhelm any peace or contentment with an agitated state of growing un-ease. Subtly they begin to notice all of the things they DON’T have. All of the things other prettier, and more talented people have. Their perspective becomes in-ward, selfish and small. They fail to realize the images and sounds that they are observing are not real. Its breaks down their concern for others, the truth that the world in fact does not rotate around them and the fun begins…

Often that’s when we arrive home, and although we can’t exactly figure out whats wrong at home, we can sense something is. The peace of our homes has evaporated while we went to work and our kids appear to have morphed into nasty little gremlins and the fights,insults and irritations explode. Those are the times we get to choose, either step into the situation with grace to uncover its cause or close our bedroom doors and have them microwave their own meal.

As parents, its our job to intentionally seek to break that mood and help everyone re-set. If we avoid it or simply react to our kids frustrations, fears and self-doubt we essential amplify the ill effects. If I arrive from work too tired to recognize my daughters or son have had a really tough day and simply respond to their irrational behaviors… its further charges the negative environment of our home and we all have a bad evening. Why does that seem to happen so often to so many of us…? It’s not a fun way to live and it’s certainly not what we were promised in the scriptures.

I believe its simply an issue of our daily time in reading the scriptures, prayer and contemplation. If I  do that regularly, I essentially live my life with a renewed sense of purpose, strength and patience. When I take the time myself to see beyond the obvious circumstances of my world into the realm of  faith, I am tapping into the power and grace of  my savior. Without it, I’m rushing off to battle without any armor, and without a refreshed heart, I’m going into a world and a day unprepared with only my own meager reserves of peace and joy. A prescription for exhaustion and frustration.

In those daily times of renewal and encouragement, we can simply allow God to speak to us directly and personally.  His word and our humility prepare us supernaturally for the very issues we will soon face in our day. We engage our day with unexplainable understanding and patience for our kids, our spouse and our work. If we skip that time, we are trying to run a marathon on empty and have nothing left to give when we finish our days and come home.

In the end, If  I’m living out the day peacefully myself… then I have a much better chance of ensuring my family will to. Parenting and Faith should be inter-twined daily, hourly in our lives, not segregated from Sunday to Sunday. No new ideas here, just a reminder to myself that I’m sharing today with the genuine hope to see my family and yours “keep it between the lines and on the road of life”.

Peace Out,

brad.