Joy in waiting… Christmas on pause

Waiting is so odd to us.

We’re instant society folks… living in a push button culture. We find what we want in minutes, not hours. Days of delay, a totally foreign concept. We linger little. Time is tight.

Schedules are crammed full, social Holiday parties, church Christmas specials, school choir events, rushed shopping, shipping, spending… the pace of life pushing… squeezing.

USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Couple with Christmas shopping

Waiting is not even an option anymore. We have to sprint to stay ahead of the freight train that is our life…endlessly bearing down on us. Exhausted and numb, we scratch at the shimmering screens that surround us. Looking, hoping to find the spark of our old life to ignite some Christmas spirit.

Tired of too many things… we need something more. 

We’re longing to find the reason for rushing, the purpose behind the presents. Christmas shouldn’t be so thin and harsh. Whatever happened to the Joy of it all?

Where did the thrill of the anticipation, the waiting to discover… the wonder each gift reveals.

Slow the show mom and dad. 

Sit down.

Bake.

Watch TV with your kids.

Drive the neighborhoods for Christmas lights.

Go make something crafty for Aunt Bev 🙂

This season comes once each year. It’s not like the other weeks and days we ram through. This is important. Priceless. Take a deep breath… say “NO” to something. Maybe four or five ‘somethings’,  loose a few ‘ extra’ obligations this Christmas. 

Jesus-Mary-Joseph-1Lets remember the big picture? Christ came… Christ is coming… Christ will come again. Faith flickers in our fatigue… now could be a good time to rest and refresh our hearts. Christmas break is coming. An opportunity to slow down enough to enjoy the beautiful and fleeting moments. Resist the temptation to fill every moment of your holiday. Leave large spaces of unscheduled time available for family… oh and mute your smartphones.

The rewards of unplugging are enormous… including the ultimate Christmas gift for a family… your being ‘present’. 

Merry Christmas from RTP and Pastor B.

 

Long Hard Winter

Ft. Wayne - Winter '14

Ft. Wayne – Winter ’14

It’s been a long… hard…. winter.

Somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas, a polar shift occurred moving the center of frozenness from the Arctic to Ft. Wayne IN. Said polar vortex hovered for four months as snow-storm after snow-storm pounded the upper mid-west. Record breaking snow-falls hammered Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit… and Ft. Wayne as the cold drained countless car batteries and many people of their sanity.

I watched from my relative comfort of Nashville as forecast after forecast was posted on FB about the “next” cold blast that would dump 6-8 inches at a time, sometimes 2-3 a week! My cousin/slash/sister, Heather kept me informed of the never-ending parade of ice and snow as more frozen despair settled down over the city that was Ft. Wayne.

I made seven trips to Indianapolis and Ft. Wayne / Chicago this winter, five of them were legit adventures in winter survival as 8-12 inches of snow would land sometime during each visit. The cold was arctic – “freeze your face off” – kind of cold and the snow was morphing from powdery white to ash colored concrete as each push of the plows turned the salt and dirt into a hellish frozen slushee.

The clouds were gray, hanging just over the tree-tops and cold wind kept your “un-cool” winter hat firmly on your head. Sunshine became a myth. Only weak patches of dim light ever glimmered through the winter haze, and the locals became at first despairing, then angry and sullen…until finally desperate, they started to wonder if they were trapped in a perverse version of a “ground-hog day” movie set.

snobbymoviereviews.com

snobbymoviereviews.com

It was a difficult season for me personally as I had dark challenges at home that weighed heavily on my mind and heart. As I would drive up from Nashville to Indiana, I would listen to books on tape and drink Red Bull, checking out what the latest on pop radio had to offer. But it was the big-ticket payoff in Ft. Wayne that brought the true light back into my otherwise darkening world.

My six month old cousin/nephew/Godson – “Andreas” was waiting at the end of each 8 hour drive. His presence was like a glowing warm blanket on a bitter cold day, hearing him laugh was amazing! His toothless smile brightened any bad-day, fresh and full of life…just holding him lifted all our spirits.

Giggles and a sing-song, drooling baby voice woke me up every morning, laughing to himself contentedly in his crib across the hall. I found myself laughing along, crying quiet tears of gratitude at his simple innocence and love for life. Bouncing curls of red and blond kept his little baby face framed with the beauty that only a baby has. His dimpled cheeks and glowing skin reminded me of the freshness of new life, and I realized the heart-beat of this child, was gently restoring new hope to this “old” soul of mine.

A baby was all it took for God to change my dark winter of despair into a beautiful, life-giving sacred retreat for the few hours I had to share.

After each and every trip to Ft. Wayne, I would leave with a  skip in my step, renewed vitality in my soul, eager to live again. It seemed that in the middle of despair,  hope was re-born. Literally and figuratively, as my God-son jump-started my heart again.

Bundle of Joy !

Bundle of Joy !

I was reminded of how God is so faithful to send us the “perfect” encouragement… a light into our darkness. He brings spring breezes blowing into our dark winters and He will bring hope back into our exhausted lives.

I know I’m not the only one who had a long, hard winter… and you may feel ‘stuck” and that life is only dank & gray, but it’s not true. God is always at work, moving- shaping and remaking things all around and within us. He’s just about to surprise you with new-life, you watch and see ! Hang on dear one!

Spring is coming….

Pastor B.

 

How well do we celebrate being a family?

Listening to a recent CD called “Campfire” by the  Rend Collective experiment, I was struck by a simple truth they point out in their opening track… Isn’t it time that we learn to “Celebrate” and begin to enjoy our lives…?   Isn’t it time as families and pastors and “serious” adults, to remember the hope and fun and Joy that our Faith truly affords us ? To actually attract people to want be involved with us, to honestly be allowed to explore our faith and engage with the authentic communities we share as Christians.

Rend Collective CD

Rend Collective CD

The CD’s metaphor of choice is the “Campfire” itself… a place of light and warmth and comfort in a dark world, the campfire is meant to reflect the truest nature of the church as God intended – a place of honesty, intimacy and safety for all who come to gather in it’s flickering illumination.

Get this CD/MP3 if you don’t have it.

I highly recommend these guys as legitimate ministers of inspired music and it’s clear they are full of God’s Holy Spirit. They as a group are FUN, REVERENT and IRISH all in ONE SUPERCOOL Musical Celebration moment!

I LOVE THAT!

The Rend Collective project reminded my dad’s heart to be more intentional about celebrating my family. To make the extra effort to carve out time for us to go and have fun, to be silly and break our routines with something unique, unexpected and memorable.

skyline-canada-toronto-night-scenery-1080x19201

Toronto Skyline – Canada.org source

So… our family is going to Niagara Falls this Fourth of July ! We’re going on a Roadtrip. Piling into the now iconic Honda Pilot (The same we took to Canada in 2010) and driving up to New York and into Ontario Canada to spend 3 days exploring the shore of Lake Ontario, Niagara and Toronto. I have a TV interview / appearance outside of Toronto for the book (Road Trip to Redemption) on the national Christian TV series 100 Huntley Street ( a major Canadian TV talk show)

Parents… let’s be sure we relax our grip a bit this Summer! We can let down our guard and slow down enough to enjoy our kids, our spouses and our lives as God intended.

This summer…  be intentional about chilling out… GO HAVE FUN, let down you hair and eat fatty – sugary – un-healthy things with your families… relax your rules for a few moments and watch as your kids respond with surprise and then open joy at the opportunity to live with you in the moment. A priceless and incredibly important area of our lives that many of us need to grow in.

Peace and Grace RTP!

Pastor B.

Remembering to “unwrap” All the presents

Like most fathers, I can remember waiting anxiously each Christmas as my kids excitedly worked their way through the boxes of wrapped presents scattered like confetti all over our bonus room floor. Screams of excitement and peals of laughter as they joyfully embraced one loving family member after another for their “AWESOME” gifts. I was anxious to see if they had found the “special” gift yet. Knowing that there would be one super amazing and perfectly chosen present that would be their “favorite” of all time, yet to be discovered.

I was anxious to see if they would be half as excited as I was for their new prize, and I was anxious to not “miss the moment” with my camera, to capture their pure joy for all time. Usually they were every bit as satisfied as I had hoped and in those seconds of unprotected happiness , my Christmas present was delivered.

Joy, Gratitude, Fulfillment.

When I could see the absolutely amazing looks of shock and awe as they tore open the ” I didn’t think anyone would ever get me” present! It was my super-thrill moment of the year as a stand-in for Santa Claus. I know you understand what I mean.

I would be careful to make sure the “special” gift was hidden in the deeper part of the present pile under or even behind the tree, and  sometimes I wrapped it in an odd sized box or padded it with something soft to hide it’s shape. Knowing the kiddos would be making repeated investigations before dawn on Christmas day, sneaking to shake all their presents each night for hints as to what lay hidden inside.

Funny how as parents, we get to see a side of God that our kids can’t yet. The side of His amazing delight at our finding His “special” gift. Of our surprise at the odd and surprising way He wraps it up for us to finally discover.

Matthew 7:7-11 (ESV) – source Biblegateway.com

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Christmas is a story within a story, one that never stops being “unwrapped”. We celebrate those we love, and the Joy of Life and Family together. We remember the “first special” gift that came from above and we learn over a lifetime of how amazing and incomparable that gift of TRUE LIFE, really was…is and will be for us.

Virgin and baby Jesus by Andrea Mantegna

Virgin and baby Jesus by Andrea Mantegna

Let’s remember to “unwrap” our “Special gift” this year and to help our kids do the same. It’s the gift of Joy and Peace and true satisfaction. The gift that comes in so many various odd sizes and in an infinite number of hidden ways, just like the baby born to a poor, unwed mother in a barn near Bethlehem two thousand years ago.

Merry Christmas RTP!

Pastor Brad.

Advent week 3 – How Pink are You?

Week three of advent is upon us… the first two were HOPE and LOVE, and now it’s time for JOY!  This third candle is pink in color and is known as the “Shepherd’s Candle”, symbolic of those who first heard of the Christ child’s birth.  After church yesterday, I was reminded that Christmas is supposed to be full of “JOY”… and according to traditional carols… “Good Cheer”, not stress and fatigue and pressure. It was so when I was a kid,  but it seems as an adult… things are a bit more complicated.

I’m sure we all can remember the JOY of our kids waking us at insanely early times to force us to get up. They couldn’t WAIT to see what was under the family tree, they’re “expectation, they’re barely restrained anticipation for the Christmas presents about to be claimed. My children went crazy waiting to discover what was wrapped up just for them. They were more than exuberant, more than just loud, they were relentlessly annoying & unstoppable in their giddy excitement until my wife and I would finally surrender and go discover with them the treasures yet to be. Sound familiar ?

Do you remember the current, the buzz in the air that is almost palpable each Christmas morning, homes full of nervously anxious energy streaming off of the kids, burning bright… ready to get started with the greatest day of their lives… It was as if Nothing could dampen their joy, their excitement that oozed from them in torrents of excited words and pajama clad dances, all accelerated in the early morning euphoria that only Christmas or a snow day could inspire.

Now imagine a sleepy, un-inspired, shivering shepherding group, alone at night, herding the dirty sheep. Outcast, isolated and alone, these were the lowest of the low in Hebrew society and the Roman’s considered them to be slightly above a slave. These shepherds were considered inconsequential by the educated, the wealthy and the middle class. They would have been careful to avoid confrontations or social interaction and would most certainly have avoided the religious class of their time out of fear and shame if nothing else.

Yet it was to these less influential one’s that the host of heaven’s armies came to announce the birth of MESSIAH. To celebrate the fulfilment of the greatest promise made by God to humanity. Redemption, restoration… salvation from our sin. The gift of gifts, His son Jesus as the perfect sacrifice for our failings as a race and as individuals falling and stumbling our way through life. I’m confident these shepherds were ignorant of the eternal significance of their visitation, but you can be sure they were aware that something special had just occurred and they were not able to restrain themselves. After all, these angelic representatives of God had visited “THEM”. Not the king, not the high priest… shepherds. That was indeed GOOD news. God was making Himself accessible to the humblest of man, not the most accomplished, best educated or prosperous. The same is true for us today.

The JOY of heaven became the shepherds own, it was infectious and it was shared. God had arrived, He had shared this special announcement with them! God was now with mankind… “EMMANUEL” (God with Us) It was worth a celebration then, and it still is now. So, let’s get a little pink this week as we remember and focus on Advent. The pink candle is our reminder to share the JOY of Christ with our world. To live our lives as if we’re actually excited to be here. To express the hope and love of Christ to those who may be struggling to feel anything, let alone JOY. To share the Good News of a God who chose to be with us. It’s time to put on the pink this advent week and share the LOVE.

Pink to you all,

Brad.

Faith Dare

Matthew 19:14 (ESV) but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  

As any father will tell you… holding our kids in our arms when they are  little, creates a lifetime memory of that moment. It captures the strength of our love for them, of the pure joy and happiness without any guile that cannot be duplicated or replaced. I still remember holding each of my three children at different times in their lives, the look on their tiny faces of complete trust, love and contentment to just be held by their daddy. It warms me still to this day…even as I write this.

As parents, we would never just walk away from our little one’s, never allow them to come to harm from a stranger or misplace them, we are careful to cherish and hold and cuddle and coo and wrap them up as the precious and irreplaceable gifts of life they are.

As kids once ourselves we can remember the simple “joys of our innocence”. The days and years of not having to worry about our lives, our mortgages or the price of gas. We just took each day as it came, anxious to get up and explore and learn and live and grow with our families and friends and neighbors. “Those were the days”… we say.  

I believe when we choose to simply trust God at his word, we re-experience both the profound love and peace of being comforted by our “daddy” (Abba) father in Heaven, and the innocence of living life today, not concerned or worried for tomorrow.

It’s Jesus himself who reminds us to just  follow His father along with him, like we did as kids. Sort of like a toddler would, full of simple innocence and complete trust as to the motives and nature of our heavenly father.It’s really only when we allow ourselves to revert to such a childlike state of being, that we truly begin to experience the Kingdom of God for ourselves.

So, it’s no surprise that when we continue to try to live our lives as “adults” we live with such frustration and fear and exhaustion that we often just settle for trying to simply exist. We rise slightly nauseous each morning with the fears of the day immediately attacking our minds and robbing us of our happiness. We live off balance from the moment we awake until we drop back into our beds in a state of sheer exhaustion, hopeful “some day” things will change.

When you stop to think about this…for most of us…It’s truly a huge effort to even gather a smile for life, or to muster up sincere  affection for our loved ones or to take the time to genuinely compliment someone at work.  After all, we’ve spent everything we have just in the struggle to constantly push back the darkness and despair that comes at us from every side

Information is always interrupting us, forcing us to figure out how, when, why we might somehow cope with all of the terrible and miserable news of our world. I mean with the 24/7 / 365 news alerts about the onslaught of Economic collapse, Global warming, Natural disasters or the latest research about our kids spiraling Moral decline. It’s killing us. It’s strangling our hope, and our love and our joy and it’s relentless, insidious and oh so cerebral. It hints to us, that life is really all up to us to figure out and solve and fix… but we can’t.

What’s the solution then ?

Look to the little one’s… they hold the secret of living life well in their chubby little hands. Let go, and Let God. It’s that simple and it’s that profound. I dare you… I did. And it saved my life… Just like Jesus said it would.

Peace out,

brad.

Living from our Heart is Dangerous !

Living from our hearts is a dangerous option… its much safer to walk on the well-worn paths of life and to stay as far from “uncomfortable” as possible. Yet somewhere deep inside of us is an intangible yearning for something more. A whole lot more !  

More beauty, More passion and more Life. We seem to barely survive our days and weeks as life keep us off balance and exhausted. The enthusiasm we start out with fades as we accommodate to the stress of finances, extra-curricular commitments and ever-growing fear of the unknown. If we’re not careful, this reality we accept may become all we know to live for and all we’re ever going to be.

God NEVER intended for us to live as slaves to our safety. His design was for us to live from our hearts, from our deepest inner-desire and from our boundless creativity.

We’ve been ambushed by two powerful deceptions. First, that God is far away and aloof from our lives  and dis-interested as to our happiness. This lie says to know God we must live only on or own wits or as Holy “recluses” in poverty, passionless and without any satisfaction.

A second powerful deception is aimed at those who accept Christ as their Savior at some point in their life. We believe to follow Christ we must surrender our personal dreams believing that to become a “responsible” and mature Christian man or woman we should walk away from those longings…walk far away from the hopes and dreams of our redeemed hearts and “grow up” to embrace only the “practical” and realistic.

I fell victim to both of those lies as a young man,…many of us did, have…are. The result, we missed out on much of what we were intended to be and do. I personally inflicted such deep pain and heartache on myself and those I loved that it almost destroyed my life and theirs. It seems for most of us, the deception has gone all the way to our core beliefs about the very nature of God.

These deceptions I believe are intended to keep us away from God and to reduce us to live un-inspired safe and boring lives if we ever do get around to starting a relationship with God.

The sad thing…. we generally agree to accept this watered down version of faith and life and wonder why we can’t seem to ever grasp the “joy” and “power” of the Cross that’s described by others…

I mean, if we’re honest; our faith is often lived from a “fear-based guilt reflex”that we pass on to our kids as “Christianity” and wonder why they are so “non-motivated” to follow us into a lifetime of marginal living.

Its time we step back and really “re-set” our thinking as adults and as a parents. Our God is not safe. He is beyond passionate, He is intense at a level that cannot be comprehended. To know Him is not safe, but is the ultimate fulfilment of our lives. His desire is to be with us. He has relentlessly pursued us and has shown in every possible way he will do whatever it takes to win our hearts, to redeem our lives back into living color.

To know Him, we will need to risk it all. To get off the safe paths of life and out into the wilderness beauty of our purpose, we must throw back the pre-conceptions of who God is and how he has wired us to live.  I strongly recommend a regular diet of  consuming the word daily, and finding a group of “alive” believers who have a “common-unity” in Christ. From those two simple actions I am confident you will begin to see the early tendrils of beauty and excitement when it comes to your faith.

GO, drive, hike, walk, climb, paint, photograph, create. Wherever you live, look for the signs of life in your world. From the indescribable beauty of a sunset over the desert to the shimmering glory of a snow-capped peak, the evidences of God’s creativity are all around us.

Point these monuments of Gods love out to your kids. Embrace their beauty and encourage your family to experience God outside of our “safe” and comfortable lives. Risk something, go away from the common and ordinary for the irreplaceable experience of knowing God. In the summer of 2010, I took my family to see the “heart of God” just north of Lake Louise Alberta. (See photo in blog) We hiked the Bow Glacier Falls trail for about seven miles and it changed my family forever. It was literally for us a process of walking out of the common into the world of the extraordinary.  

For more on this subject of living from your “heart”, or to explore this concept of a  “passionate” life from a Christian perspective, check out one of my favorites groups and authors … at  http://www.ransomedheart.com

Could go on forever on this topic, but for now signing off. Helping to keep it real and to encourage you to “keep your family in between the lines and on the road of life

Peace out,

brad.