Waiting, Resting… and other ‘odd’ requests.

The Christian life in our modern world is so convoluted with the secular it’s almost impossible to sort things out.

The way our world works seems normal to us. It seems logical, even wise… but it operates on principles foreign to the Holy Spirit.

The world is about self-preservation, promotion, accomplishment, and gain.

Christ led us by example into a new way, a Kingdom built out of self-sacrifice, humility, service, and loss.

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He promises that if we will follow after His way, we’ll find what we’re all searching for… a new life, one that’s abundant and free.

One of the first things we’re often asked to do by God is to ‘wait’. He doesn’t assign us a prominent role in the ministry, He doesn’t place us in positions of great influence or authority, He often puts us in a ‘time-out’. 

He’s not punishing us, He’s loving us. His voice will often urge us to ‘rest’. It seems odd. It seems out of place for us to ‘not’ pursue after our ministry, or work, or family. After all our entire life has been in ‘pursuit’ of something!

What is this weird request?

We may feel like we’re aren’t ‘needed’ for His purposes? Did we misunderstand Him. Did he misunderstand us? It’s so unusual to slow down and to actually stop running around that we feel useless, and irrelevant when we do. So we don’t.

Yet God asks us to be still.

The point I believe is we’re being ‘un-taught’ our worldly ways. In our world the harder we push the further we get. In God’s Kingdom, the way up is down. His ways are opposite of our ways, the slower we get the quieter we become. The less we do, the more we can hear. 

When we learn to ‘hear’ clearly we can proceed with conviction and confidence. If we’re learning to live and work in ‘his’ strength, then knowing His will and way is far more important than working out the ways we’re going to accomplish things, or pondering the “how to’s” of our ministry.

God is speaking to us, it’s essential that we learn to slow down and stop. To rest and be quiet, it’s in these moments that we learn the most. His will is all that matters.

Blessings, Pastor B.

Isaiah 30:15 (ESV) “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling,” 

A promise in the wilderness

The Solitude and sanctity of Consecrated living

This internal work of the Holy Spirit is active in the wilderness season. It’s very presence and function an indication of our being prepared for a future work and service. Our spiritual senses are awakened as we begin to experience the presence of God, and the wilderness is where we are most keenly attuned to God’s whisper.

Our life begins to take on a sharper focus as we recognize the forces at work within and without us and we slowly accept and even embrace the intentional nature of our circumstances.

This awareness is the growing culmination of our decision to stay on the path, the expanding vista of our upward journey in faith.

The removal of the old and of our self makes space for the new and spiritual to grow. This consecration transformation is overseen by the Holy Spirit and is specific to the precise detail of our circumstance. The purposes of God are rarely revealed in their entirety to us, we are kept in the dark for many reasons, but not the least is the trust and the faith that the mystery of His work instills in us.

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We cannot move deeper and closer to God without allowing this growing sensitivity of our need for consecration to take center stage within our consciousness. When we do,  we make different choices, we shy away from those old and deeply ingrained habits. Replacing those old patterns we find a surprising but  growing hunger for more time in His presence, for His plans more than our own. This inner transformation wipes away the decay of selfish pursuits and reorients us to a life spent for service.

This new motivation provides us a growing sense of inner calm and tangible assurance of who we are, where we’re going, and who we truly belong to; which is in essence the ultimate goal of our wilderness journey.

A growth in our personal discipline and dedication to Prayer is the natural byproduct of living in the presence of God, motivated by such a season of life as the wilderness we grow and grow. It (prayer) becomes the vital connection and intersection of our lives and Gods presence here on earth – it’s more than learning to take authority or a process of removing life obstacles – God is inviting us into deeper intimacy and longer conversations. We have to see prayer as time spent listening and talking. At stake is the will of God in our lives, and consequently here on earth. Our sensitivity to Gods will and way should become the most important part our day.

As Dr Tony Evans says, “we need to discover what God is up to each day – we need to listen and respond by asking Him what He wants to do and where we should be within His will, within His plans” (my paraphrase) “We are not meant to simply “visit” with God in prayer, but to learn to “abide”. We cannot fully enter into what God is doing here on earth without learning to listen and hear when we pray.”

 The bigger picture is this… as we learn to live in the wilderness, we will grow in our inner desire to follow after and become like Christ. This expanding thirst for holy living will draw us into a closer and deeper faith, a positive cycle of shedding the “old” and putting on the ‘new’. Our transformation starting within expressing itself without, not for appearance sake or the affirmation of others, but for the preservation and growth of our communion with God.

The circumstances of our life may wax and wane, but by leaving behind the old false and fake self we make space for the new and liberated self. This frees us from our fears and opens the door to a growing practice of living within a constant presence with God. This is what the saints have long called ‘walking with God’. It’s habitual practice in our lives means we can not only endure our wilderness season but learn, grow, and expand.

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The distractions and struggles of our lives are like the swirling wind for an eagle’s wings. We can fight the turbulence or learn to ride the currents trusting in the power of God to lead us. The other option…? We can stubbornly resist and insist on a vain attempt to maintain control of our trajectory until we reach the point of complete exhaustion and despair.

The struggle for each of us to draw near to the Creator is real. Our need to exert control is deeply ingrained, but Gods Holy Spirit is the patient and perfect tutor and will realign our hearts to His.

The process of consecration and preparation requires from us a voluntary surrender and release of our protective grip on those false confidences and comforts that counterfeit His provision and presence. This often means a season in the wilderness, a time of isolation, transition, and frustration in the short-term, but greater peace and deeper intimacy in the long run.

In the end, we must learn to rest while we find ourselves living in the wilderness. Not confident in our tenacity to stick with it, but in His patience to work within us, to perfect us in the midst of it all.

Pastor B.

PS – the last 5 posts have been an outline of a new project I’m working on for publication.  I trust they provide hope and encouragement to any who find themselves in a wilderness season of life.  Much of the biblical insights I am drawing upon can be found in the book of “Hebrews’. This epic summation of the New Covenant in Christ is the road-map for any who wish to find ‘rest’. Hebrews points directly to the completed majestic sacrifice of the long promised messiah… Jesus Christ.

Standing Still

For me… the idea of movement and progress is equated to purpose, value, and success.  I’m learning to reconsider that premise.  

It’s no secret I am active and busy 18 hours a day / 7 days a week / 365 days a year. I’ve made a lifelong habit of getting up early and working before the day even dawns and then pushing through until I drop at the end of my day. I’ve worked two jobs most of my life, each stressful and exhausting in their own right.

I’ve even taken pride in my work ethic, inwardly satisfied with my extra effort and confident in my ability to push through difficult moments when others would just quit. 

This is a reflection of the American ideal, a shadow of the family heritage I inherited of hard work, dedication, and extra effort to do things with ‘excellence’.  It was a trait my dad carried to his grave, and his dad before him… and his great “Pop” before him… many of us can identify.  

Here’s the rub. It’s not healthy or even seen by God as a spiritual strength, but rather as a hindrance, even a deception.

The culture we live in has long celebrated the achievements of the independent and hard-working, noting that success doesn’t happen by accident… “that luck is merely a matter of preparation meeting opportunity”. (Oprah)  

It’s all true. We can work harder, go further, and do more with extreme effort and tenacity. But it’s NOT a spiritual principle that Jesus taught or the bible supports.

The first chapters of the bible illustrate the need for rest…  with the conception of a seventh day.

The power of God is repeatedly revealed to the nation of Israel when they would stop, and stand still. THEN… they would see the salvation of the Lord. 

The stepping back and going away habit of Jesus is repeated in every gospel book in the bible. He is constantly hiding from the crowds, and his disciples to sneak off to a mountain where he can find relief from the hurry up. 

The power or strength of God is released in our weakness according to Paul.

The question gets very specific when we look directly at these ideas and images… how often do we ‘rest’. How frequently do we allow ourselves to stop working, stop tinkering with stuff, and just be ‘still’?

There will always be something of God absent in us until we do. 

“Be STILL”

 

 

 

 

The Battle to be still…

Day one started rough.

Battling through the remnants of food-poisoning I barely made the morning flight to Denver. Stomach roiling and exhausted, I was so worn out I seriously considered scrapping this trip before it began.

Southwest flights all seem sold out, so the idea of squishing into a seat with my Six foot Four frame wasn’t exactly appealing or ‘restful’ in my mind.  I was right. Almost three cramped hours later I arrived in Denver, greeted by spring warmth and sunshine. Despite my mashed legs and twisted up back, I was glad to be here… it was a nice change from the rain and wet of Middle TN.

Forbes Photo Credit

My Enterprise rental wasn’t ready, so they upgraded me to a Audi Q3 Quattro. 🙂 NICE.

This brand new luxury compact SUV was a beauty for a rental. Featuring a full panoramic sunroof and posh leather it was a fantastic surprise for me, combined with a sport tuned turbo 2.0 Liter engine and heated seats, and I was suddenly feeling much better!

Until I realized halfway to the mountains that the Bluetooth interface wasn’t working with my phone… which had all my music and podcasts, and Audible book library… etc. I tried for an hour on the side of the road to sync it up – finally accepted the Galaxy phone I had wasn’t going to play nice with the Audi system. On top of that the satellite radio wasn’t turned on – so I only had AM/FM radio and nothing else. To say I was bummed doesn’t begin to describe my state of mind. This trip was supposed to be a time to relax, refresh, and unwind for a few days from my insane schedule. Didn’t look like I could do one of my favorite things… listen to a great book or rocking tunes while driving through the mountains. (Radio – doesn’t work in the high country)

I seriously considered driving back to the Airport to swap vehicles…after all I carefully selected several books and podcasts / playlists just for this trip. I paused in my frustration as something soft inside (Holy Spirit)  whispered it was all ok… seems like it even suggested it was better for me if I kept going, to stick with the car I had been given. So… against my better judgement, I did.

God was beginning to talk to me already.

He was inviting me to join Him on this trip… i wasn’t inviting Him to join me. It’s a subtle but important distinction. I had been drawn into something ‘different’ than any of the dozens of road trips I’ve had before. This was unique and I could sense it right away. 

I was afraid. This felt uncomfortable. It felt odd to be on the road and not have any media or music, or phone, some conversation to listen to. Something, anything to distract my mind. I was about to do a four-day trip without any ‘entertainment’ or company. I was alone and “silent’ in the mountains. No plans, no schedule, no structure. That’s ‘frightening’ for some of us. 🙂

The gentle tug on my heart kept insisting that I would be ‘ok’. I felt a strange but comforting impulse to try this road trip without my normal distractions and noise. Maybe God was asking me to be quiet for a reason…. turns out he was! 

I was surprised by the warmth and sunshine and limited snowpack. For mid March, the snow wasn’t as deep as you would expect in the Rockies. It made for some beautiful driving conditions and I opened up the sunroof and began to let the beauty and warmth sweep over me… I was ready to unwind, to decompress. 

Something indistinct was happening, I was slowing down inside while I drove through the mountains at full speed, the only sound…the wind as it rushed over and around the windows. I could smell the fresh air and pines, the hint of woodsmoke and the distinct songs of birds, but nothing else intruded.

I was alone.

No one to talk with.

No music, no book, no podcast… just hours and hours of solo time.

It was weird at first, but under the oddness it felt good. God was there with me, I felt His presence subtle and strong at the same time. I sensed  I was being invited into something brand new. I had no idea what that would mean or be… but I wanted it.

Travel Recap: Day One:  SWest Flight from Nashville to Denver, drive up to Buena Vista CO and Gunnison, skirting the high desert plains to crash in Montrose. (Trip Link)  Stayed in Montrose CO – had a great meal at Ted Nelson’s Steakhouse.  (TripAdvisor)

Day two coming up next, Montrose CO to Santa Fe NM… stay tuned.

Pastor B.

PS – if you’re sensing you need to slow down and get still… it will be a battle. It means pushing through and past obstacles to your being alone and quiet. I almost didn’t go due to illness. I almost turned the rental back in due to tech issues… and I almost missed the blessing God was inviting me into. Be careful to trust the leading of God more than your comfort zone. He will most likely ask you to do something uncomfortable and not in your plan.

 

 

 

Silent and Still

Busy doesn’t even begin to describe our lives.

Does it feel like you cram a week worth of life into just 24 hours? Our pace of life can be cruel, exhausting, and increasingly stressful.

Stressing out is more common than you think. (See 2017 study of American Workers Stressed Out Most of the Time – CNBC) Consider these facts… see if you identify with them.

“Participants were asked to rank their stress on a scale of one to five. One in four, 25.7 percent to be precise, said their stress was at a level four. And, 4.9 percent said it was at a five out of five. Altogether, more than 70 percent of respondents ranked their stress at a level three or higher. Over 60 percent said that they felt stressed three or more workdays per week, on average. This means that, on any given day, more workers are feeling stressed than not. This state really is the norm.” (2017 Study

 We are over-committed, over-scheduled, over-whelmed by our world and its relentless pace of life. As technology advances we get more efficient, more productive, and way less rest. 

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When was the last time you felt like you could actually ‘rest’?

It seems for most of us, we’re not feeling like we can really ever catch up. Our stress is bullying us into working harder, faster, longer. Work isn’t all bad, in fact I believe it’s a great and wonderful part of our existence, President Roosevelt said it this way… ”

“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Theodore Roosevelt

BUT, when our lives get overburdened and out of balance, we quickly burn ourselves out. If your like me at all, you live in the extremes of life. Seasons of life push us to do more than we thought humanly possible, followed by sudden lulls in the storm, and free time to binge watch Netflix and let our world fade into sheer entertainment and a lazy haze. Both extremes should cause concern. Finding balance is as much a discipline as jogging or daily prayer.

What I recently discovered on a four-day sabbatical to the mountains of New Mexico involved going a step further than speeding up or slowing down. It meant learning to ‘be still’. 

Have you ever done that? I had never actually gotten so quiet and detached from media, the world… work… kids… ministry that I could experience the utter calm and serenity of not moving, inside or out. So unhurried and un-distracted within that I was able to live in the ‘moment’ without. I was unaffected by either my past or future, only ‘in’ the present. I was able to be ‘still’ inside my heart and my mind. Totally silent.

For four days.

I would have never believed it. I would have never chosen it. But God through the subtle touch of His Holy Spirit, led me to a place and time where I could be quiet enough and still enough to experience Him in a brand new way. 

Interested?

I’ll blog about the trip I took, where I went, what I saw, and how God showed up in totally different ways than ever before. Time to open a new door on our pilgrimage of Faith.

Pastor B.

 

Is LESS really MORE?

In our modern American society… we’re taught to be an overachiever. Our success model is based on doing more, working harder… outperforming our competition. Winning is everything.

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Our culture respects the independent and dedicated worker, parent, or athlete. We get extra rewards with extra effort. That in turn pays off with greater levels of success and money becomes the main tool to measure our progress.

 

Some call this… the “American” dream.

But what does the Bible say? Specifically what does the bible teach about work and rewards, sacrifice and success… it may surprise you.

The bible describes our lives differently than we do. Instead of measuring our financial achievements, the bible measures our hearts and character. It measures our relationships and personal development. Not our bank accounts or balance sheets. 

In that light… we may see more clearly what God is up to in our life.

For instance, if we measure our success like the culture does, we’re probably going to feel pretty miserable. The vast majority of us are not climbing an esteemed corporate ladder to fortune 500 status. We’re not retiring in our thirties or buying a summer home in the mountains, we’re scrambling to cover the cost of new tires on our family SUV and hoping we can squirrel away enough cash to take a vacation this year.

Life is more than what we accumulate in our 401K. 

Jesus talked a lot about money, but not in the way we do. He used it as a reference point for us to see what we trust in, strive for, and how we steward it. His perspective is unique and helpful for us who are wondering if we’re getting life wrong somehow because we’re not ‘successful’. He said something odd – “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…Matthew 6.

Scripture Art

This concept or idea of investing is opposite of our culture. It points to giving things away as we receive extra, of sharing and investing in those around us who are lacking. It points to spending our energy in the lives of others, rather than building up our own nest until we can own a castle. It redirects our ambition to another place… outward rather than inward.

The goal of God is to make us all like His son. Not to help us retire early and avoid the struggles of month to month living. Sure, stewardship is a critical part of a healthy and balanced life, but in the end our provider is God. Of course we should still save money and plan for retirement, but it’s not something to put your ‘faith’ in.

The idea of less being more is key to understanding what God may be up to in your life. If you’re struggling with finances, you’re not being judged or dissed by God. He in fact is working in your something deeper and more profound than you can imagine… something eternal in fact. 

When we start to ‘get’ the idea of trusting God for our ultimate provision, we can begin to truly embrace the idea of “Sabbath”. We can authentically begin to explore what it means to ‘rest’. To enter into the offer of true peace and contentment that Christ refers to in the gospels and Paul highlights in Hebrews.

This is truly a countercultural idea. To slow down and to pause every week. To regain our physical, emotional, and spiritual balance with a day of rest and reflection. To trust that our ‘extra’ push to get things accomplished isn’t nearly as important as our confidence in God’s ability to get us what we need, when we need it.

Peace out, Pastor Brad.

PS (This is not laziness or taking a free-ride  through our life,  we can’t live on our couch and petition the state for money. I believe we’re called to be thrifty, industrious, hardworking  people, but in the end, we’re not driven by a thirst to accumulate wealth,  we’re focused on investing in lives not our mutual fund)

 

Guilty pleasures…

We run hard.

All the time.

Life pushes and stretches every free moment of our day. Work demands, school, sports, friendships, church, errands, bills, laundry, homework, cleaning the bathroom, the trash, the dishes, email, social media… the details of our everyday pile up and up as our free time evaporates. We never seem to catch up or slow down.

But when we actually do find a few precious hours of unscheduled, un-demanded free time… we may be confused. 

We can feel guilty. 

Uncomfortable with the unfamiliar freedom. 

It’s at times like this that I often find myself looking for something else to do. I feel so out of balance when life slows down that instead of enjoying the moment and resting,.. I rev up and chase after some distant almost forgotten task or meaningless assignment. Just to avoid the ‘uncomfortable’ void of doing ‘nothing. It’s as if rest has become a ‘guilty pleasure’ that I don’t deserve.

Ever feel that way…?

The truth is very different, the truth is we need rest.

The truth of God says we are commanded to rest every seventh day. In the Old Testament, we were supposed to take every seventh year off and enjoy the fruits of our labor. But we don’t. In fact we can’t really even allow ourselves to enjoy the few brief moments of unscheduled life that come our way.

Sabbath-2

Let’s stop rushing and filling our lives with stuff. Let’s agree to trust that our creator knows what’s best and start planning to not plan every hour of every day.  🙂 

Peace can be found in letting go of the need to be in control and resting in the assurance that God’s promises are true.

Simple as that. 🙂

Pastor B.