Forgiveness…the Evidence of Love

For the Christian… the life and death of Jesus is the ultimate demonstration of love.

The ultimate ‘take-away’ truth of Christ’s life as lived out in front of his disciples… ‘Forgiveness’ 

For most, we would readily agree. Without forgiveness we have no possible way to pray or spend time with our Creator. No option to pursue greater intimacy with the lover of our souls… it takes the foundational truth of being forgiven to start this Christian pilgrimage.

We surround it with words like….Grace, Mercy, Long-suffering, Patience, Humility… but in the end it’s all about ‘forgiving’ sin. From the ‘Lord’s Prayer” to almost every gospel and epistle in the New Testament, we are constantly reminded and commanded to forgive one another.

Forgiveness is the practical and often painful part of redemption. 

Our pop culture senses the power of forgiveness… it stands in wonder at its strength and courage…

Don Henley (of the Iconic band the Eagles) says it like this…

“I’ve been trying to get down
To the heart of the matter
But everything changes
And my friends seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness
Forgiveness” (The Heart of the Matter – Released1989) 

We are ‘redeemed‘ is the liturgical response for many… it means we are the forgiven and restored ones. True. Yes and thank God!  But Christ’s work on Calvary is more than a theological event for all mankind… it’s also our personal moment of salvation.

This reality crowds out the ‘other‘ offenses in our life. When we remember our conversion to Christ… we instantly return to the realization of our own broken state.

It only takes a sobering second of our time to recall  just how messed up we were/are when we were ‘forgiven’.  We remember in vivid detail… the intense and painful brokenness we felt. The anguish at seeing the devastating effect of our sin. The shame at our wilfulness in disobeying our loving father. The despair of  how selfish we were in thinking only of ourselves.

That is the moment of our transformation, when our despair and darkness was pushed aside by the blazing glory of Christ and His offer of forgiveness. An offer of freedom. 

Yet it’s this reality that often eludes us when we encounter the brokenness of others in our lives. Our spouses, kids, bosses, and mothers… all fail. All of them leave us torn up and wounded by their sin and shortcomings. Yet… we struggle to forgive. 

It’s only when we ‘forget’ the sorrow and grief of our own sin… that we delay offering the grace and gift of forgiveness to others.

source – Money Matters

St. Paul said it like this in his letter to the Colossians (chapter 3).1Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

Tired of Waiting…the AcheDeepInsideOurSoul

The greatest single threat to a family’s health… is divorce.

As a pastor and a parent, I get it.  We all understand the temptation that promises to bring excitement and passion when we feel ‘nothing’. The allure of being free again….to leave what we have for something… ‘better’.

NBC – source

But sometimes we get tired of trying.

We just wear out inside. No more desire. No more determination to stay… we just surrender to the dull and relentless… and seriously consider its time to simply ‘give-up’.

 

We feel only a little…  and it all adds up to just an empty AcheDeepInsideourSoul.

St. Augustine tells it like it is in his classic, “the Confessions” … “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” (source link)

For those who are grieving… those who lost a spouse… a parent, or a child. The grief that consumes is identical in its impact to our psyche as when a marriage runs off the rails… For those reading who are openly contemplating divorce… the truth is, you’re already grieving.  In your sorrow, you can lose all sense of time or purpose. You can lose your colors and taste, no flavor… personality dried up. We simply ‘exist’.

The need to ‘feel’ again is overwhelming. It scares us. 

In those moments of panic and desperation we turn to everykindofcrazy option. Cutting, drugs, sex, alcohol, work, ministry, friends ,cars, boats, exercise, gardening, books, movies, music, porn, you name… if you hurt badly enough…  we give it a whirl.

The solution to the “AcheDeepInsideOurSoul” isn’t obvious or easy. It’s not ‘more’… but ‘less’. 

We can’t fill up our empty spaces with stuff, or pleasure, or pain… we can’t get back to being whole again by doing more or owning nicer things.

source – Readers Digest

Our pain is only resolved by living with less. Less of us. Less of me… more of God. 

We start a terrible and dangerous spiral down when we keep insisting on getting what we always wanted. We look at the stuff we don’t have and then we start a checklist of all the things that will be better without someone else holding us back… or weighing us down.

If we were free to do and be and go…  would we be happier…. ? Or would we be more MISERABLE?

Here’s what I’ve learned….To fill the empty ache, you need to shift your focus. When we give up our rights, and our petty little wrongs…we gain life. Real life. Jesus said that. He meant it. 

Take whatever it is in your life your so weary of.  That thing you’re so tired of waiting for… Maybe it’s the option to walk away from an empty marriage or a dead-end job that you know you’re supposed to keep. Are you willing to consider another option?

Would you take another day… another week and sincerely ask (Pray) for God’s help?

Do something radical… don’t run away… trust God and stay. What if you chose to sacrifice your ‘wants for someone else’s needs? What would God do with such an act of faith?

(Disclaimer – It takes 2 to make a relationship work, and if you are the only one who wants to try, you’re going to have to pray for a change of heart in your spouse – and there are definite times to walk away from marriage – abuse – infidelity – addictions etc… God knows your specific circumstance – ask Him – listen – wait – He’ll show you what to do)

You won’t regret it and neither will your family…

Peace out, Pastor Brad.

Need some extra encouragement and practical support? … Check out a “Weekend to Remember” with Family Life.

 

 

 

 

The Family Business

For thousands of years families have handed down more than a name to their children. Business and commerce, skills, and trades have all been passed from one generation to the next… one family at a time…for millennia.

For Christians, we look to pass our heritage of faith down to our kids like our ancestors did their livelihoods.  As a part of each family’s identity, these ‘family businesses’ were associated with entire regions of a country or state; blacksmith, jeweler, bakers, scholars, tailor, sailor, farmer, and mayors.

Source – Bloomberg News

The idea of families being engaged in the same enterprise of life has been the ‘normal’ for most of our history. Jesus as a carpenter… passed on by his earthly father to him is probably the most notable example, but also the idea of the disciples as fisherman etc… the cycle of living and existing continued with the skills and expertise of a lifetime of learning shared to the next generation with care and dedication.

Today we still see son’s and daughters’ stepping into their parents shoes, professionally and personally. Our kids will eventually adopt what we live (believe)  for their own.  (Proverbs 22:6)

My reminder today is to encourage you to take the time to consider carefully what you plan to pass on to your kids? Not just money and a car for college, but what will you actually transfer to them for a lifetime?

We get so busy. We are so busy. We run all day and then collapse… it’s easy to surrender to the overwhelming sense of being out of touch and ineffective as a parent. But the fact that you are a family is a huge – big – ginormous – deal!

God is for you. He is prepared to send whatever help you need to share your faith and your biblical beliefs with your kids.  That means no matter how weak or weary you may be, God’s strength is there to pick you up,! He promises to provide you with just the right ‘thing’ to say or do with your obstinate tween or teen, able to soothe your frustrations in the heat of any emotional moment and calm your fears for the future!

In short, God is our anchor to life and wisdom. His perspectives are  “the’ perspective, when we can ‘see’ our kids through ‘His” eyes, we’re on track as parents.

The family business is a faith business. We’re all training our kids to grow in their faith. No matter what your professional or career path is, we all share the father’s love and as Jesus said.. “I Must be about my Father’s business” – (Luke 2:49)

And so should we!

Blessings, Pastor B.

 

Finish strong

Being a family is like running a very long – long – long way… think a long-distance marathon… not a sprint.

source – podiatry.com

For those who didn’t run track… Parenting is more like getting a Ph.D. A long – very expensive – time-consuming – exhausting and overwhelmingly difficult pursuit.  Add marriage to that mix and you’re effectively getting a double Ph.D at the same time. 🙂

It’s a really big deal to get married and start a family.

I think we often underestimate the extraordinary accomplishment it is to live the traditional family life. Lots and lots of us get married. Lots and lots of us have kids… but less and less of us are staying married and even fewer have been able to maintain a healthy adult relationship with our kids. (source article

Why is that…?

Not trying to be trite here. Not trying to look at this from an elevated perch of maturity and wisdom. Truly examining this question as I reflect on my own life. Why is family such a huge challenge?

First observation; Family is more than a life milestone to shoot for. It’s a calling from God to fulfill. If we approach it as another ‘to-do’ on our bucket list of life, we may dramatically  mistake the obvious. If this is a ‘blueprint’ for living – as handed down by  God himself to the children of Adam / Eve… then it’s going to be challenged and resisted.

Second: Family requires healthy relationships to work. Healthy relationships require respect, patience, selflessness, and humility. Not character traits that can just be easily downloaded like a new phone app. These lessons are life-long  and are continually being refined, tested, and improved by the circumstances we share. Living for someone else is not easily  sustained. We can do it for short bursts of time, but with extended pressure we’re forced to admit how far short we fall. Grace may be most important missing ingredient in most long-term relationships.

Third: Family is all about finishing strong! It’s not how well we get started, It’s not about how few mistakes we make or how organized our homes appear to be… it’s about the determination to get back up when we fall. The resolve to never – ever – stop trying to ‘be’ a family. Our lives are full of dead-end opportunities, broken promises, and people who disappoint, it’s up to us to push past our offenses and pain. Like a long distance race, we have to set a pace to finish. We have to ask God to give us strength when we have nothing left in the tank.

source – muzmatch.com

I’ve done most of my marriage & parenting  ‘completely wrong’. I did great at the starting line, crashed and burned at year 9 and by God’s redemptive grace year 11 was a fresh start. It’s now year 26, and by the power Christ within, my faith, marriage and family are stronger than ever. (See my book; Roadtrip to Redemption )

It’s not that we’re blessed to live ‘safe’ lives, quite the opposite in fact. We’ve seen one crisis after another hit our family, but we’ve also seen God faithfully meet us in each desperate hour. It’s the strength of a shared faith and mutual determination to live out of a spirit of love and not fear…those factors made a huge difference in our family.

My prayer for you. No matter how bad you feel you’re doing…”Don’t give up!” 

Don’t give into the guilt and shame, don’t surrender your family to frustration and fear. God is present. ALL THE TIME. It may be time to shut out the other voices and just listen to His. After all… He invented Family and Marriage, He might just have some helpful advice to share 🙂

Peace out, Pastor B.

 

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.

 

Politics and Parenting

Seems every week I write on this blog we have a different ‘crisis’ in the news.  From the threat of Nuclear War in Asia, to Ukrainian incursions by Russia, to the threat of ISIS in the public square… media is selling us ‘fear’. I’m not suggesting their reports are only ‘fake’ news, but I am saying they emphasis the ‘fear’ more than hope. On purpose.

As parents we’ve got a choice to make. We can buy what their selling… or not.

I choose to ‘not’.

Here’s why.

Politics is a murky world of hidden agendas, manipulation, half truth, and outright deception. Our worlds issues  are complex. Most issues are way past making simple ‘right/wrong’ judgements within a few minutes. Broad determinations on a person’s character or the wisdom of an action probably need more than a soundbyte. Judgements made  from a 5 minute news flash are not a good way to inform ourselves or determine our ‘positions’ on the latest politics of our day.  

Stepping back even further it’s clear that your source of information affects the ‘tone’ and perspective dramatically. Fox News or CNN…? Flip back and forth one day… listen to identical events being portrayed in polar opposite ways. One dissects the actions of the day from a ‘conservative’ or ‘Republican ‘perspective, the other in a ‘progressive’ or Democratic posture. Both are stridently ‘right’. Reading the news or hearing the radio talking heads go further into the weeds doesn’t help… each side props up their positions with selected facts and opinions to bolster their audience’s already decided positions on the latest drama.

How are we as parents going to help our kids navigate the mess that is our modern political culture?

Couple of thoughts. 

  1. Prejudice is well understood in the context of racism… but what about political parties? Conservatives and Progressive thinkers… Republicans and Democrats. Are we being pushed into yes/no answers based simply on  past stereotypes?
  2. Is the media messing with us? Are we being ‘played’ by a savvy business model that intentionally creates panic and fear to sell airtime and news? Hmmmmmnnn… I think so.
  3. As a Families of Faith, we should be careful to assign blame or pre-judge people, events, or news items simply based on what news cast we caught says. What about searching the scriptures… or praying. Or even saying nothing about the latest political foofaw to our kids.
  4. How much of what we’re hearing today… is going to even matter in a month? What about next year….? Can you remember what was happening last year this week on the world stage of news? I didn’t think so. (Freddie Gray – Baltimore police controversy – US News & World Report – May ’16)

In my opinion, when we allow politics to push into the sanctity of our homes… we are risking more than high blood pressure. Is it worth allowing the hype and fear and anger invade our lives? Is it wise to let a media driven culture subtly steal our peace and unity as a family of faith.  

Good questions. Lots of folks like to debate, discuss, and dialogue about the latest events and news. Great. Awesome. Me too… but as parents we’re faced with the dilemma of creating a space that is safe for our kids. A place that we can focus on the most important issues of life. 

I love that some parents use politics as a way to engage their older teens with an education narrative to teach values and truth from the exaggerations and deceptive reporting, but in the whole… let’s avoid being manipulated by media. Let’s agree it wouldn’t be wise to take sides prematurely on issues that may never matter. I’m talking to everyone here… Republican, Democrat… Conservative, Liberal, Progressive, Independent, Constitutionalist… etc… let’s pull back from the hype machine we call media and re-focus ourselves on the truly important things!

Peace…

Pastor B.

PS – I know there will be lots of opinions against my blog today. That’s cool… no problem. My views come from a “Via Media” approach to life. (The Middle Way – in Latin) Scripture reference for this blog… Psalm 2

 

 

When the path isn’t clear…

Life comes with it’s own set of crazy choices. Options galore.

For Americans it’s worse than almost any other nation or people group… we have mega stores and megamarts with an enormous diversity of choices and and options to consider.  

I’ve spent ten minutes wrestling with my choices in the grocery storey… which wheat is best for bread? Whole milk, organic cheese, greek yogurt or bulk cereal?  So many products to consider. Literally hundreds of brands and labels to read, look for and price out.

The point is… the more options we have available… the less obvious will be the ‘best’ choice.

Can we identify God’s ‘choice’ in the mix of life? How do we know if God’s choice is the same or different than my own? What if that voice in my head is really the ‘devil’ and the advice I don’t like is from the Holy Spirit…? How can we truly know? 

These are truly frustrating moments for the father or mother whose tween or teen is acting… well, like a teen or tween. Rebellious. Angry. Disrespectful. Moody and mean. Do we ground them, take away their smartphone and change the wi-fi password… or do we send them off to a counselor… camp… or crazy aunt? All of these options are decent in their own way… but which of them is “God’s’ will?

How can a parent know?

Couple of thoughts for you today;

A. We ‘CAN’ know the will of God. We can hear His voice. But only if we listen. Only if we discard our personal preferences for His plan. 

B. We ‘CAN’ rely on the provision of God’s wisdom to guide our thoughts and inspire our ideas. Especially if we include others in the process. 

C. We ‘CAN’ trust the Holy Spirit to send us clear markers along the way of life. People, pastors, sermons that confirm or affirm the path we’re taking is ‘good’ or…. we can experience slammed doors and the unrelenting unease of uncertainty in the moments that matter. 

Over the process of prayer, counsel (with Godly mature leaders in our life) and patient consideration... there will emerge a clear consensus among your team. (Wife and Husband, Pastor and Leadership, Board and CEO etc…) That clarity will come with a sense of context as well. Timing… location, people, purpose, duration, intensity etc…

Road to Nowhere

But sometimes… a vague response will emerge from everyone on your team. Things  will be uncertain… foggy. Unclear. The path ahead dark and foreboding. What then?

If and when everyone on your team says something like this… God isn’t speaking clearly to me on this matter. I don’t hear a “Yes” and I don’t hear a “No”. The proper response should be to ‘wait’ for things to become clearer. Don’t rush ahead… don’t seize the opportunity…

NEVER ACT IN THE MOMENT OF ANXIOUS – URGENT – CONFUSION.

Sometimes, God is intentionally slowing us down to protect us… or to direct us in a new area that isn’t quite ready to be initiated. Sometimes, he’s simply eliminating our options so the choices are much simpler and straightforward. 

Either way, it’s essential that we trust our father to speak when it’s time for us to know. Until then, my advice is to “carry-on” in the same manner and direction that you started from. (Provided it was inspired and confirmed to be of God)

These are some of the hardest and yet richest moments of our lives. A time of uncertainty grows our faith, sharpens our hearing, and strengthen our resolve. We learn to expand our self-control (Saying ‘no’ to our emotions and impulses) and we gain patience and wisdom in the waiting.

It is hard to pray and hear ‘nothing’… but it’s meant to be a blessing, so keep asking, keep praying. God’s going to bring clarity. He will answer, and when He does it will make so much more sense than it does right now!

This blog was inspired by the following text: James 1:2-8 ESV. 

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Love you all, Pastor Brad.