Seasons Change

It’s been quite a run.

Middle Tennessee has been home for over fifteen years. We’ve raised three kids here and helped plant a new Anglican church. We helped care for and bury my dad and dear sister-in-law. We’ve had the honor to stand side by the side with those who grieved and those with reason to celebrate. We’ve been blessed to be included in the lives of hundreds of amazing men and women, kids, and students since moving here in 2003. A huge part of our lives was invested in the formation of iShine, the Tween Gospel Alliance, and Bema Media.

Mathias Family Circa 2017

The call to the Priesthood and pastoral ministry with NewSong Christian Fellowship, Four Winds Mission and the AMIA all were birthed here. The blood, sweat, and tears we shed for the unique and beautiful family that is the church at Four Winds Anglican Mission, was a constant part of our past nine years.

To leave these things is to leave a part of our own identity behind and unthinkable. Yet the voice keeps coming… and the images of Maine are never far from our minds. When I prayed… I felt it, when I slept… I saw it, and when I began to investigate… God revealed it.

It started a few months ago when we  (Paige and I) visited the state of Maine, and had an unexpected sense of displacement, a familiar connection to something we shouldn’t have, in an area we’ve never been before. (Ellsworth / Acadia)

An old and faintly familiar nudge began coming into our thoughts from somewhere outside of us. A kind of gentle whisper that wouldn’t go away, coupled to a ridiculous implication that didn’t make any rational sense. The idea inside those thoughts was just too crazy to seriously consider.

“We both felt we were supposed to live in Maine”

We knew being empty nesters meant some major life changes, but this was a bit much. After all, we have a grandson two hours away, our kids, friends, and church family were in middle TN. Our life had been built around and for this beautiful and warm place we called home. To leave now, just didn’t’ make sense.

The insanity of the idea was clear to any rational mind. To willingly decide to leave the familiar and comforting parts of our life and go to a place we know nothing  and no one… just didn’t make sense. 

In the end it was proven true, and confirmed by everyone in our life. After four weeks of intense and persistent prayer for confirmation, it came. First from our Bishop and then from our immediate family, we talked with our bosses, friends, and fellow pastors. They all sensed the truth of this and affirmed our decision to leave.

Acadia National Park

The crazy call of God to go to Maine wasn’t just some bout of indigestion or a momentary impulse. It was a genuine ‘calling’ to go and serve in a far away place. To be His servant in a strange land, to minister and laborer for His Kingdom and not our own. It felt scary and exciting… like a sneeze and a hiccup in one deep breath.

This radical idea had gone from a general concept to startling reality in a few short weeks. The truth of our calling was hard to apprehend, yet the implications obvious. The idea of getting our house ready to sell, of unplugging our lives and moving a thousand miles should be terrifying… but it wasn’t. A strange but peaceful atmosphere  was settling over our home and lives. God was miraculously forming a path out of the fog, a new road for us to follow, a journey for Paige and I into a new season of our life.

What had been a seemingly random idea was morphing into something quite solid, touchable, and true. A miracle that was taking shape right in front of our eyes. The reality of relocating our lives had hit ‘home’, and it felt ‘right’. (The transitions of our life may be sudden, but in God’s hands, we can remain peaceful.)

So here we are today, moving forward in faith. Our house is for sale, and we’re looking in Maine to find our next residence. We’re living proof that God continues to use broken people to serve Him in unusual ways and in unexpected places.

Paige and I are about to embark on a grand adventure, to explore a new and much ‘colder’ place with new challenges and experiences sure to be ahead. The path forward has been revealed, but the details are still foggy. We don’t know when exactly, we don’t know what exactly, but we do know where.

It turns out…St Thomas Anglican in Ellsworth Maine is in need of a Priest, and we believe it is to become our next stop. This obscure and distant place is strategic to both the Kingdom of God, and to our lives.

We’ve learned since hearing from God, that New England and the specifically the state of Maine are suffering greatly from a famine of churches*(see sources) and pastors to serve them. We know that Maine has few churches to meet the needs of God’s people and that around fifty percent of pastors are giving up their pulpits within three years of serving a church. This remote state and region matter to God, and the need for pastoral care is clearly reaching a critical stage. We didn’t know all that before we said yes… but we do now. Things are beginning to make sense.

St Thomas Anglican

God is constantly leading people all over the world to do seemingly radical things for Him. Just like the unknown fishermen He found on the shores of Galilee… He’s asking people to ‘Come and Follow Him,” and He will make us into  ‘fishers of men’.

I wouldn’t dare presume to know for you, but for some… you’ve been hearing the whisper of God already, but were afraid to respond. I get it. To trust God so completely is scary, but it’s also an honor and a privilege to be asked. For Paige and I, it’s time to hit the pavement and start on a brand new and totally EPIC Roadtrip to the great state of Maine. 🙂

We’ll see you there.

Pastor B.

PS – This blog and my work at Bema Media/ iShine will continue, the podcast (Brilliantly Brave Parenting) and work of Four Winds Anglican are not ending. God has provided a way for each of those to continue on and to thrive. Some of it will include us directly and some will not, but each effort is secure in the shadow of God’s divine providence and sustaining power.

*Sources:

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/jared-c-wilson/why-new-england-is-the-new-american-missional-frontier/

http://philwaldrep.org/retreat/

https://factsandtrends.net/2017/08/25/survive-pastors-graveyard-new-england/

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/05/18/religion/got-faith-maine-the-least-religious-state-in-the-nation/

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/29/how-religious-is-your-state/?state=alabama

https://news.gallup.com/poll/232223/religious-regions.aspx

Breaking up the Fallow ground

Growing up in Illinois I saw a lot of cornfields.

My horizon was filled with tracts of  vast farmland as flat as any pancake, and those fields were planted every spring with corn, soybeans, and wheat. Each October the John Deere’s showed up to harvest the crops and take it all to the silos. After years of regular crop cycles, a farmer would often choose to leave a field dormant. The land would be left to its own devices, no tilling, no seed planting and no fall harvest. Just a year to rest and recharge its nutrients and ensure its productivity for the years to come. (In scripture we would call that a “sabbath” type rest or a year of ‘jubilee”)

midwest cornfield

If that land remained unused for several seasons,  the weeds would take over along with some odd, old, sprouts of past plantings. All of these would compete for some purchase in the hard soil. Corn and bean shoots growing side by side in a mish-mash of unproductive weeds, each uneven and erratic. The only crop would be a useless mess of seedlings from a bygone era.  Among the chaos the soil would become dry and hard on the surface, a crust would form and then crack with lack of use. Land like this was considered unproductive and the term used by farmers for millennia has been “fallow”.

This agricultural term is the idea or image used in the scripture to describe the condition of our hearts when we’re drifting away from our faith.  “Fallow ground“.

What an amazingly accurate description of our hearts and emotions. You know… the areas of life where we’re not planting things any more… we’re tired and done. Hopes and dreams, relationships, kids, and marriages. Those things we had such optimism for when we began, but slowly we surrendered those pieces of our heart to despair and doubt. 

According to scripture, we can ‘break up our fallow ground” and prepare the soil of our heart to receive new seed. We don’t have to live with pieces of our heart barren and dormant. God’s calling each of us to trust Him with these, after all He is  the ‘resurrection and the life”.

Practically speaking… we may need to ‘break up’ the patterns of our days and weeks. Take new risks with old relationships. Alter our habits at home, less media and more meals together, more conversations and less polite small talk. Breaking up those places we’ve been afraid to visit takes courage and conviction. God supplies us with both.

It’s not easy torisk in the areas of our life where we’ve been hurt. But it’s the only way to break up our fallow ground. The scripture warns us to do a thorough job of digging out the weeds and thorns of our hearts if we want to grow a healthy and fruitful life. So… to clean out the heart we have to dig out the deep-rooted weeds, removing the stubborn beliefs about ourselves and each other that threaten to choke out anything new and living in us. sprout1

We can’t move forward if we still linger on the past hurts and wounds of our life, and while we’re ‘fallow’ … things in the present miss the chance to take root and grow.

So, let’s “pull some weeds’ and break up the fallow parts of our life. God is just waiting for each of us to trust Him enough to replant truth and hope in our heart.

Pastor B.

 

 

Gates of Hades

Recently did some sermon prep on a famous passage in Matthew 16…

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock[b] I will build my church, and the gates of hell[c] shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[d] in heaven.” (ESV – Source – BibleGateway.com) 

A few details about this passage worth investigating further;

  1. Jesus went 30 miles out of his way to visit Caesarea Philippi, why? I believe it was because this place was deeply symbolic and very specific to his mission. 
  2. Peter and the disciples had already discovered or discerned Christ’s identity on the sea of Galilee a few chapters earlier.  (Matthew 14:33)
  3. The Gates of Hades was not a metaphor, but a literal place known for generations as a place of evil and pagan worship of Molech, Ashtaroth, Baal and Pan. It was in this particular place ( a cave with a deep pit) that Christ spoke his famous words of Matthew 16.
  4. The gates of Hades (or the dead) was also a ‘metaphor’ for those who were in bondage to living a life without ‘life’. Dead in their sins… captured and held by ‘gate’s that would not open. Life without Christ or his redemptive spiritual gift, left men and women without hope and full of despair. Caught by sin and self in a world that was chaotic and full of pointless pain.
  5. The ‘church’ that Christ references as ‘prevailing’ is known as “ekklesia” or the “called out ones”.
  6. In the context of this passage (Mt 16) the ‘called out’ would imply strongly those who had been rescued from ‘hades’ – not in the future, but the present. The power of Christ on earth – released through the ‘church’ to lead the ongoing ‘rescue’ of men and women trapped behind the proverbial gates’ of hades.
  7. The authority of God himself would be re-established to the ‘ekklesia’ to bind and loose the constraints of death and hades in the lives of men and women who were trapped in the hopeless patterns and self-destructive habits of a sinful nature and it’s consequences.

For me… the passage came ‘alive’ 🙂 (No pun intended – but appreciated here) It opened up a profound insight that the ministry we do as parents, pastors, as the Church – as people who have been rescued… (Ekklesia – Called out ones) is offensive, and not defensive. We are called to ‘break through the gates,’ to invade hell to populate heaven! 

Translated… the power and authority and promise of God in Matthew 16 is strong and reassuring. I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

liveforchristresources.com

Guys – we’re on the winning side here. No matter the hopelessness of your current situation, the weakness you may feel… or the doubts you carry… God is available to you. We just need to ask…  He is ready to stand by your side as we live out of our re-born hearts. Sharing ‘his’ hope and encouragement to a world empty of both.

It’s a reminder that our God has won, is winning… and will reign. He’s completing the recovery of all that’s been lost, broken, or defeated in us, our kids, and our world.

This passage contains an honest and pragmatic truth – the reminder that we are the church “Ekklesia” and as ‘called out ones‘ we too were once trapped in cynicism, and despair, broken by this world’s pain… as messed up and weak as anyone.  But with Christ as our savior… with Jesus as ‘Lord”, we’re assured of new life and hope that will not disappoint.

We are able to truly ‘live’ as we were intended to… now that is something powerful and brilliantly full of light. A promise of goodness in a very dark place, and it’s enough to prevail against the very gates of hell itself.

Thank you Jesus!

Pastor B.

 

Drilling Down to Get Vertical….

The path of our spiritual lives can and will lead at some point to some seriously dry ground. A desert in fact.

Turns out there isn’t any water in a desert. desert pic

Parched becomes a reality not a metaphor and very quickly our spiritual sensitivity evaporates as we go brittle. Our souls feel cracked, dry and empty of everything flexible and accommodating as we sense our soft hearts become rigid and dusty. Lots of us know what I’m talking about and the rest are in denial.

Life can suck all of the moisture out of our lives and leave us completely barren, empty of anything to share or live or love.

We won’t allow ourselves to live that way for long…. something will need to change, or we will die. Anything that gives us a chance for change will grab our immediate attention…ANYTHING that promises to make us happy. We’ll listen intently to anything or anyone that seems to know a way to show us a better life. We long to someday find hope and we strangle-hold onto anything we believe will bring some desperately needed refreshment to our desert. tears_of_sadness

It can be a new relationship or an old relationship (thank you Facebook)… a new life mission or worthy charitable effort to save the world. It can be an over focused obsession for our kids to succeed where we failed… or more knowledge, higher education, a new fashionable look or an alternative profession to replace our current dull existence. But for sure, if your in a real desert… we can’t, we won’t allow ourselves to suffer too long….it HURTS TOO MUCH.

Truthfully, our chosen distractions will bring some relief, they really do. Sometimes even for a long time. Unfortunately it/they don’t ever completely refresh us. We revive for a season…but eventually it wears thin, and then the light flickers out…. leaving us exactly where we began, alone and in the desert of our soul.

What if we chose to look to our Christian faith ?

What if we choose to quit chasing an emotional thrill or the next “must have” distraction or possession and instead make a simpler determination, a less sexy – but- oh- so – rewarding choice to ask God to make us like His son Jesus…

King Solomon said it like this in Proverbs 3

Be not wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh[b]
    and refreshment[c] to your bones. (Proverbs 3:7-8 ESV) Biblegateway.com

Why not end living in a desert that endlessly repeats like an evil version of “Groundhog Day” and chose instead to let God work in our hearts to re-align our wants, desires and ambitions into something much better… something Jesus called, true life. cropped-leaf-water-desktop-background.jpg

That would be like digging deeper, or drilling down into our faith to get vertical.

I believe responding to Christ Jesus will be the only true solution to get rid of that brittle-about-life feeling that can start to smolder in our souls.

Peace out RTP!

Love you, Pastor B.

Rob Bell…heretic or hero ?

Rob Bell, the charismatic founder of the Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI. Known as an innovative speaker, pastor, teacher, lecturer and author. Deemed by some to be a hero, and to others a heretic. Pastor Bell’s book, “Love Wins” is in the middle of all out debate online, in print, on tv and among Christian theologians on the nature of Hell…he is as controversial as radioactive baby food. Is he a Heretic ? Or is he a Hero?

The Question I believe is actually deeper than that… instead of focusing on the media fire storm around the book, what about the actual discussion on the ideas in the book? For me, one detail has emerged far and above the rest, and that does not involve a discussion on Hell, but what about our understanding of “Heaven”?

Is it possible that we have been over-simplifying and under-emphasising the Hope of the gospel ?

After reading the book… (which to discuss intelligently is a MUST) I believe you will find yourself agreeing with and dis-agreeing with Mr. Bell on several issues. His avoidance of the significant issue of what Judgement is, or could be or will be for souls after death is notable in the book. So for now, the confidence to label the man a HERETIC is off the table for me.

As far as calling him a HERO… I’m not willing to go that far…yet. Jury is still out. For now, I’ll say no. (See Francis Chan’s Video Commentary on this… His comments are precisely what I felt but couldn’t articulate after reading Rob’s book… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnrJVTSYLr8 )

But what about Heaven ?

That is the most fascinating question, the critical “take away” reminder that Rob Bell brings to us from his book. As Christians in a culture of media and marketing and canned infomercial styled faith, we may be guilty of missing the point.  What if the gospel wasn’t just a “get out of jail” card for our soul after death, but a solution for life, practical and available in the “here and now” ? What if Eternal life, was describing what life was meant to be like, and is now possible for those who embrace Jesus as the savior he claimed to be?

What if the whole perspective on our lives was meant to be lived with the reality that everything old was made new, and that everything broken was to be made whole and that every loss redeemed? That the power of the cross was sufficient to re-birth our lives as they were meant to be lived. A fresh start, a radical transformation. Then, the punishment for those who reject that gospel of new life would have to be… old life. Dying… Hopelessness, brokeness, despair… Hell.

That’s fascinating, even likely. But not the point.

Does our understanding of the bible and Jesus then rule out the existence of Hell ? I do not belive so. Rob seems to imply he might go there… ?Not my concern, its debatable, unknowable and brilliant faithful Christian minds for over a thousand years have raised the same question with similar results.

In the end, for me its to some degree irrelevant, my concern is living my life now. I believe that Rob is right in this portion of his reasoning… God has provided us all with the option to “Choose” to live from a “New” source of life that is available only in a re-united relationship with God (Jesus). To choose not to do that is our freedom… and our responsibility. To reject that life leads to Hell.

To accept that leads to salvation… Such a “New” saved life should explode with vibrant and relentless love, hope and peace. That life would influence everyone around it, and that witness would provide to the poor, the dying and the oppressed of the tangible evidence that there is a savior. It would reek of Jesus and it would be impossible to deny that a life in Christ was literally like living as though we were in heaven now.

What I see instead for most of us professing Christians… is something closer to simple survival.

Rob Bell in his controversy, I believe is providing us all with a very powerful platform for further study… forget the issue of whether Hell is a literal or figurative concept. What about “Heaven”? Have you actually considered that the life Jesus promised for us all, is more than a harp and some blue sky… it might be right in front of you now, waiting for you to discover, today ?

In the end, you need to read the book and you need to read it with an open bible. Search the scriptures, find out if what you think you believe is what it really says. You might be surprised at what you find… I was.

Bit of departure from our usual parenting fare today, but I thought it was worth the time, and curious as to your own observations on this controversial subject.

Peace out,

brad.