Whose Am I ?

I’ve been on a pastoral sabbatical.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I ‘God’s man… or man’s man?

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

Whose… Am I?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor B.

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

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Parenting through an eating disorder

*Statistics say that 3 out of 4 women struggle with an unhealthy relationship with food.

Ever ask yourself if that might be you? Or your daughter… wife, best friend?

Might be time to consider expanding your circle of trust and risk sharing that struggle. What about taking the step to engage with someone or something that has helped thousands get free? It takes courage and humility to admit our need for help, and it takes the support of someone who walked before us.

Let me introduce a friend and expert on the subject, Constance Rhodes – she’s the founder and CEO of “Finding Balance” and she can help.  Her help saved my daughter’s life six years ago and it might do the same  for you or someone you know. Someone who’s fighting in despair and feels all alone and about to give up.

Eating disorders and poor self-esteem related to body image are arguably the most common and painful struggle any parent with teens will ever face. 

I’ve done it. It’s rough. Seriously dark stuff to wrestle with by yourself.  No one wants to over-react, to provoke things further, but if you’re noticing a pattern… a trend, then its very likely real.

You may wonder if this important enough to risk the anger and resentment? It is.

First step... admit there might be a problem. 

Second… ask for help. 

Third… listen to the Brilliantly Brave Parenting podcast and reach out to Finding Balance and get some honest and tested advice. 

With all my heart…

Pastor Brad.

*FindingBalance interview – BBP Podcast.

In your opinion….

We all have opinions. We all have experiences… and we need your help!

Would you be so kind as to take time to share yours. I’m posting a TGA (Tween Gospel Alliance) survey today for parents. We need about 90 seconds?

Colour of Life Photography

For your trouble… we want to reward you! Two lucky folks will win $50 from Chik-Fil-A / or Hobby Lobby.

This blog is affiliated with the TGA, and we value your opinions and ideas, this information will be used to help create new resources for ministry and parenting. Your helping us…. help you 🙂

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/JZQYYFG

Thank YOU!

Blessings,

Pastor B.

Fear of the Unknown & Unknowable

Life comes at us full throttle. Events, experiences, relationships… each of them can be overwhelming and exhausting. We do our best to anticipate and prepare, but ultimately we’re going to run out of solutions.

For the Christian, we have the option to turn our impossible’s over to the God of the impossible. 

Recently our Life Group discussed the issues we face that are simply ‘overwhelming’. From old to young (65+ to 15 year olds) each of us described life circumstances that were stressing us out. For some it was their age and stage of life being ‘too old’ and their worry of future employment options, for others it was not knowing what to pursue, what to study or how to proceed past High School. Each person who shared noted their lack of control and fear of the future. Of not ‘feeling’ confident about their ability to manage their lives.

It’s pretty clear from this pastor’s chair that we ALL struggle with the fears of our future. The phrase that emerged from our discussion was this…Fear of the Unknown and the Unknowable.’ It doesn’t matter your age or stage of life, it’s a common thread that we share. It affects parents more than most… we’re facing the fear of our kids choices, the uncertainties of their future… a heavier weight than simply worrying about our own.

In one way or another, we all will face the ‘unknown and unknowable’ details of life.  Our futures may appear unclear, cloudy, and indistinct. Our past may seem wasted or irrelevant, but the truth is different than we ‘feel’. God is using it all.

For the Christian we can live with the confidence of God’s faithfulness to direct each of our steps into His perfect path. We’re flawed, broken, and inconsistent… but He is unchanging, good, and reliable. His plan for our life is moving forward, we can rest in His provision and purpose being realized at the precise moment we need it.

This ‘trusting’ God for the ‘unknown’ and ‘unknowable’ is commonly referred to as ‘Faith’. 🙂

We like to have a guarantee of the future, a clear understanding of how and why things are going to work out, but for the Christian that’s not an option. Instead we’re given a blank check by God to use whenever we need it… an endless supply of Faith that says… I don’t need to know, because He already does. 

Peace out, Pastor B.

For a reading reference, check out Matthew 6:25-34

Conquering the Comparison Curse

Struggling with the feelings of inadequacy, shame, guilt… weakness, all a normal part of the human condition. When you’re a parent, it amps up. The incalculable burden of our kids success is added to the already tenuous personal struggle of affirmation and healthy self confidence. 

If your awake, you know there’s an ongoing struggle around social media and the constant bombardment of filtered images showing ‘perfect‘ mom’s and dad’s on perfect vacations with perfect kids. We can’t allow the highlight reel of other people’s lives to eclipse the reality and importance of our life. My parenting identity has to be built on way more than popularity and sweet photos of us all ‘winning’.

Our kids need so much more than another sports medal or scholastic scholarship to post about on Facebook. Mom and dad’s influence can’t be reduced to how close we are to our ideal weight, having perfect hair,  or raising our children in postcard perfect homes and fashion forward wardrobes.  Please!

Parents, let’s stop this nonsense. We have to fight through the counterfeit lives we see on social media  and break the curse of comparison living. 

Couple of ideas to consider if this all sounds way to familiar.

  1. Pull back from the Social Media outlets take a break. Sign off and stay off for 30 days. The temptation to troll through twitter and Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest will fade and your contentment will grow!
  2. Remember who you are, and ‘whose’ you are. God made you to be the mom or dad of your kids. Nothing by accident. No random assignments as parents. We were ‘picked’ by God as the ‘best’ parent possible for our specific children.
  3. Celebrate the “ordinary” moments of your life – and make them ‘extraordinary”. I was interviewing a wonderful lady on our podcast and she made this statement on living with Joy and inspired a portion of this blog today. (Carol McLeod) – Her comment stuck with me and I’m sharing it with you.

In summary – we’re all facing the frustrations of life not going ‘quite’ the way we planned. The struggles of feeling like we’ve failed our children or dropped the ball on our perfect plans for the next birthday celebration or school event. We need to back up a bit and remember we’re not going to ‘ever’ get it perfect.

God save us from those who think they do. 🙂

We have to live by ‘grace’ and in doing so we have to share it with each other and ourselves. The fake world of social media presents a compelling story for sure, but it’s not real. We know what we see from Hollywood and the weekly rags is a sham, we know that movie stars have teams of hair and makeup specialists, wardrobe consultants, and fashion designers to make their lives look amazing.  But, it’s easy to forget that our friends on Facebook have clicked off 34 pictures and deleted them all before posting the ‘one’ we get to see. That’s not real life either. It’s staged.

Let’s quit comparing our lives… we’re not supposed to live any other life but our own. Trust me, we’re all struggling out here, no one has this parenting thing all wrapped up. So, let’s agree to stop ‘posing’ for the parenting camera, and let’s truly ‘live’ as we are, and I think that’s pretty darn spectacular!

Blessings, Pastor B.

Holiness and House Cleaning

As parents we’re often behind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Blessings. Pastor B.

Links to scripture. 

Rolling Stone Theology

Dylan… man, you gotta love the lyrics this genius of music creates! He’s an icon and rightly so… one of his most famous lines…

“How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be on your own, with no direction home
A complete unknown, like a rolling stone” *

We’re tempted to dis-engage with the church. Tempted to walk away and watch things from a safer distance. I get it. Community is a rough and weary commitment, but it’s also a huge strength and support in times of struggle and loss. Mostly… community is important because it’s God’s way of expressing Himself to our world and helping us grow.

Solo living seems easier. It feels safer. Our instincts tell us that we’re better off avoiding the entrapment of shared intimacy and the implied burdens we carry as a group. It would be cleaner and simpler to just have our own stuff to worry about and leave it that. church-e1506439459166.jpg

I believe that’s why Mega-Churches thrive. They provide a place for faith to exist without the intrusion of being noticed. A place to attend when we’re up for it,  church on neutral ground without the weight of accountability and personal responsibility. (please note – Certainly not meant to imply that everyone who attends a large church falls into this category)

But the bible keeps pushing for us to recognize the masters blue-print for our life. The architectural plans have been designed and drawn up, now it’s building time!

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5 ESV) 

The plans of God include you and I… not as ‘single’ pieces in a puzzle, but us as ‘the” puzzle together! The picture of God’s Kingdom includes the coming together of multiple people – places – and passions. We’re meant to share in the struggle, to walk through the pilgrimage of faith as a tribe. Not simply as solo artists and individual rocks.

We’re not called to be ‘Rolling stones’… we’re called to be part of the wall that makes up a living temple, a testament to God’s majesty and humanity. (i.e. the Local Church)

Bob-Dylan-005

Bob Dylan – Live For Live Music

I shudder to think of what I would be like today if I had just bailed on the concept of being a part of the church after a few ‘dust-ups of misunderstanding and offense.

Parents, we are all tempted to isolate and avoid. But we know the examples we’re setting will impact our kids for a lifetime. If we regularly come home from church venting our frustrations and offenses from our local spiritual family in front of them…and then expect our kids to be enthusiastic about services… we’re sending some mixed signals.

But consider the truth of God’s word… the reality of life without a spiritual anchor or community of faith is uncertain. Your family needs you as a parent to plug-in. Parenting is one of the heaviest burdens we will ever carry, there will be moments when you would give up or walk away… moments that will need encouragement and perspective to stay the course. Others will need your experiences to make it through their struggles… we can’t always figure things out alone. We’re not meant to.

So… my strong encouragement is this; Fight for the relationships God has gifted you with. Don’t walk away… don’t deny the friendships and faithfulness of your brothers and sisters in Christ. People will let us down… they will offend and ignore us, but push through the pain and trust God to bring you through. There is a profound strength that comes from reconciliation and renewal, friendships that have been tested and tried are stronger still.

Don’t do a Dylan… instead let’s strive to be a “Paul” (**see below).

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[c] and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. ( Apostle Paul – Letter to the church at Ephesus – Chapter 4: 11-16 ESV) 

** Extra Favorite Scripture reference on the subject of community is this… Colossians 1:15-20: “We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body. He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.” (MSG)

*(Lyric Source for this blog – Songwriter: Bob Dylan – Like a Rolling Stone lyrics © Bob Dylan Music Co.)