Fighting for our Lives

I was reminded recently that God takes ‘sin’ very seriously. Seems obvious, the entire landscape of the bible is rooted around this reality… but our culture seems to be overlooking the obvious.

I was sparked by a recent Instagram post of a Francis Chan quote. He mentions the two biggest lies of our culture, that God won’t punish sin because of His loving nature and the belief that we’re essential all ‘good’ people.

Image – Pinterest (Jacob Roberts)

Our modern Christian world has pushed back the old school ‘hell and brimstone’ approach and instead has embraced the ‘grace and space’ approach to our personal faith. I admit, I love that ‘new’ approach as it gives me the flexibility to approach God on  my own terms. I like this more familiar territory with an emphasis on Grace and dismissal of the seriousness of sin, but does it hold water?

The turbulent world of the Christian evangelical has shared it’s conflicting views between the progressive and orthodox schools of thought. They have vented their sharp disagreements in various books and beliefs, but in the end ‘sin’ is a reality that needs to be defined for each and every believer. We after all will need to ‘account’ for our sins individually, no author or outspoken pastor will be on the judgement seat of God with us when our day comes… 

IF sin is a big deal, and I believe it IS. (thus the radical rescue operation of Jesus and the Cross) We can’t permit ourselves to simply dismiss our personal sins as the unavoidable by-product of our old nature.  There needs to be an urgency in us, we should be aggressively fighting back and pushing forward in the arena of personal holiness.

God is calling us to be like His son. We’re tasked with being ‘Holy like He is Holy”. An impossibility for us accomplish by sheer will and effort for sure, but the pursuit of holiness should be the heartbeat of the believer.

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Are we ‘fighting’ back in our resistance to old habits and temptations? Are we battling the personal attacks on our moral character or are we allowing our old sins to exist and persist? God’s calling us to overcome. He wants our old self to become less and less, and for each of us to become fully ‘alive’ as we give up our old identities and embrace the new.

Today let”s agree to not settle for simply repenting all the time, let’s commit to fighting for our freedom from sin, not in our own strength but in His.

Our lives can be transformed from the inside out, we can be different than we were and God is working out His perfect will in our imperfect lives.

Fight for Holiness.

Pastor B.

Slow Down. Please.

I can’t help but push a little more, I can’t stop the need to check one more item off the ‘to-do’ list of my life. It’s my nature to stay busy, to distract myself from tomorrow by filling my ‘today’.

Maybe you can relate? 

The world we live in doesn’t help. Our instant communication and remarkable technologies have opened up worlds of discovery and detail that compel us to discover and ‘do’ more with each day.

Parenting is easily the hardest and best work of your life. Of any life. Our immediate desire is to protect and provide, to make sure our offspring are safe from harm and well cared for. Later we engage with our kids, teaching and mentoring them into the ways of life and the wiles of our world. We have dreams and desires for them, we have hopes that they will go where we couldn’t, do what we didn’t dare to try. (parenting doesn’t require a biological child, many parent those in need around us)

The struggle to find ‘rest’ in the world of parenthood is real. It seems the days are so slow… yet the years fly by. Our work as a parent never seems to end, we just shift gears as our kids get older, always busy, always engaged with the work of life and family. 

I have been told by almost every older parent or pastor I’ve ever known to ‘slow down’. I’ve known intellectually that life is more than a series of goals to be accomplished, but in the nitty – gritty of day to day living, it really didn’t sink in.

I imagine that many of you could say the same.

So what can we do to realign ourselves and reconnect with our deeper purpose and meaning beyond parenthood…? Isn’t there a purpose to life beyond raising our children?

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Here’s what I’m learning as a newly minted 50 year old grandfather of two little ones. ‘Slow down’ was/ is wise advice.  I’m learning to accept and apply it over all my natural instincts to the contrary. 

Slowing down is a spiritual discipline for those who are ‘wired’ to keep moving. (not so much for those who like to stay still) It’s difficult to do without extenuating circumstances, we don’t ‘choose’ to slow down, we are ‘forced’ to slow down. God in his infinite mercy works in His mysterious ways to push us back into a proverbial corner. We may find ourselves stuck in a situation of His creation that forces us to stop thrashing and simply ‘be still’.

On first glance we feel like we’re being punished. God must be ‘angry’ with us. But as we slowly unclench our hearts and open ourselves up to His voice we soon begin to sense the exact opposite.

God is pleased with us. He wants to reveal something new and essential to our identity. We are now more than just parents or spouses, we are created children of a heavenly father. More than pawns in a cosmic struggle for power, we are invited to be a part of this divine story of redemption and love.

Not to drift too far into the theology, but we generally won’t stay ‘still’ for long without a deeper understanding of the presence of God. We need to learn to seek Him out for more than a few minutes each day. He is inviting us to bring Him along ‘all’ day. This shift from accomplishing things to ‘being’ is essential.

photo courtesy of Pixabay

The presence of God in our lives is where we find true meaning, purpose, and thus ‘Satisfaction’. Yes, the elusive sense of peace and contentment that is promised in scripture is truly out there. It just takes time to discover. 

So, be encouraged if you find yourself ‘hemmed in’ by life. God is in it. He is conspiring to bless you, to force you to rest and be ‘still’. It’s the only way forward.

Slow Down! Please.

Pastor Brad.

 

When your about to give up and give in to despair… DON’T!

We all know the struggle is real as a parent. The struggle to keep hope alive. To choose to ‘believe’ that God is up there and watching, engaged in our lives and actively seeking our good.

But there are days when that belief is strained to the breaking point.

There are dozens and dozens of days that I look back on and wonder how I made it through. How did I not just chuck it all and bail? How in the world did I stick it out and not give up?

Simple answer… GOD’S GRACE.

It’s always a temptation to give up – throw our proverbial hands in the air and just surrender to despair and doubt and walk away. For parents you can do everything right and still seem like you’ve failed.

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For parents who are raising teens, this can be a daily or weekly event. Those promises of God you scribbled down on sticky notes and taped to your desk or fridge, don’t forget them. The word of God highlighted in your bible until the pages tear… it’s real.  The faith we’ve so carefully nursed along through missed mortgage payments, cancer,  and marital strife, it’s true and tested no matter how we feel.

Yet…it can seem so fragile.

But hang on a sec. Our lives and circumstances are usually crazy. The forces that push us around can seem overwhelming and dark, but that’s only if we forget whose we are. Our strength was never based on how well we performed, never built on a foundation of self reliance and personal will power. If we’re a Christ-follower, a believer in the savior and Messiah – Jesus, then we’re supposed to rely on HIS strength.

That means we’re NOT the key ingredient in our lives or our faith. HE IS. Our eternal destinies and that of our kids are NOT dependent on us. It is the irresistible pull of God to align us and our families into perfect sync with His Kingdom. In His time, and in His way. 

So… unclench your fists. Take deep – slow – breaths… God is still GOD. HE is still at the helm of our lives. His will is going to occur and His plans are going to succeed. We are not victims lost in the floods of life, we are protected and purposed by Him.

Go get your promises out and lay them before God in prayer, remind Him of your need for hope, for encouragement, for peace. Make it a regular habit to ask Him to show up in your despair, to believe He’s going to miraculously realign your life and circumstances according to His will.  As you ask for help remember to choose to praise Him for the answer. To look forward in anticipation for His perfect solution… even before you see it.

It is the ‘goodness’ of Gods character that we are being trained to trust in.  The outcome of our lives is not depending on our merit or hard work, just HIS GOODNESS.

For our mental perspective to shift all we have to do is recall to mind and more importantly our hearts, the faithfulness of God to meet ALL our needs. He was God over the impossible in the past and He will be God over the impossible today.

 

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Remember we are but dust, and when our faith is only an ember, it is HIS strength that will carry the day.  St. Paul said it this way… “His strength is made perfect in our weakness”.

So parents – what could be more reassuring than that?

Peace out!

Pastor B.

Suggested link: Here is a great interview with one of my spiritual fathers, Pastor Duane Sheriff. He and his wife Sue have a fantastic perspective on parenting when we feel like a failure. Available at Brilliantly Brave Parenting on Soundcloud, iTunes, and YouTube.

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,” 

The Choice to trust…

It’s always a temptation to doubt.

Life often doesn’t go like we planned, relationships get tough, finances strained, our work fails… we wonder where we’re going.

The struggle gets real with the news of cancer, loosing your job, a spouse who considers walking out, life can seriously strain one’s sanity at times. Parents get caught in the middle of this all the time, juggling one or more of these major stresses, yet needing to keep the ship balanced at home. The question becomes…how do we make sense of our faith when nothing makes sense anymore?

We get to decide what we’re going to do. The truth is, we’re not victims caught in the rush of water and helpless before the flood. What we can do is choose to ‘trust’. But when we can’t ‘see’ or ‘feel’ God, when our circumstances push us to the limits of our logic, God is near. 

How do I know that? Many – Many – Many times I’ve been caught in desperate moments. I have struggled ‘wondering’ where God was in my hurt and loss. I’ve not always trusted God in those moments of confusion and pain, I’ve often allowed myself to ‘thrash’ emotionally, blaming myself, others, and God for the struggle or issues at hand. It’s exhausting and unnecessary.

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But no matter how overwhelmed, shocked, or stressed out I may feel, I still retain the consciousness to recognize my free will. I have a choice to make. A decision for how I will respond. I’m not caught in a one way tunnel of darkness, I can still pull my gaze away from the nasty stuff around me and focus on the light of God’s word, and remember the power and love of my Savior.

It takes a massive effort to deny myself the satisfaction of being a victim, of living in the gutter of self pity. Instead I have to choose to remember God’s faithfulness. I have to deny my emotions and not allow them to rule over me. I have to embrace my faith within my own mind and heart. I have to decide to trust God, to acknowledge He is ‘good’. 

These moments of choosing are the moments that build our faith. We can’t avoid our struggle, we can’t always flee or run and hide, we have to face it and we can do it in our own strength or in His. The struggle is to allow God to lead us when we can’t see or feel His presence… that takes ‘faith.

The choice is only ours to make. No one can do it for us, it’s deeply personal and painfully intimate. Once we make our choice, we can experience ‘peace.

My prayer for you and myself is this… “Lord give us the grace to hang on to the words you spoke to us, to remember the special promises of your scripture, to look for your salvation in this moment. Lord provide me the strength and wisdom to move forward in faith and open the doors you want me to enter and shut the ones not good for me. I trust your goodness, I believe in your sovereign power, and I look forward to seeing your miraculous solution to my impossible problems.” 

Psalm 100:5 “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Pastor Brad.

Moving through the Wilderness is Moving Past Me.

Moving past Me

We may be starting to appreciate the design in our wilderness circumstances, even begin to understand the strategy in all our struggles, but the battle to survive the process we’re caught up in will require us to lift our gaze further than we have before.

The journey of faith we’ve been invited into cannot simply be focused on our situation, it’s larger and bigger than us. His presence in our lives is meant to be more than a means to an end. He cannot be approached without shrugging off our selfish and ambitious nature.

We cannot proceed any further in our upward ascent to following God if we insist on retaining what remains of our old self and sense of control. Thus the need for us to be driven into a desert / a wilderness moment of life, a place of being sorted out from the contamination of our world and the sins that so easily clings. (Hebrews 12:1-3) (Romans 12:1-3)

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The maturing focus of our spiritual journey requires a shift from our plans and promotion, to the relationship behind the entire belief system. Christianity is not a path for personal enlightenment or purification for our own merit – but rather as a process of being sanctified and consecrated for the creators presence. We are not our own.

Our relationship with God must become greater than any other preoccupation of our hearts. We can’t simply pursue His favor and blessings, we won’t progress any further than we are. To move deeper and higher we must relinquish our very identities to Him. Finding our strength and value and purpose in our time we spend within His presence.

He is not a means to an end… HE IS THE END.

Tozer quote: “We must be concerned with the person and character of God, not the promises. Through promises we learn what God has willed to us, we learn what we may claim as our heritage, we learn how we should pray. But faith itself must rest on the character of God.

 Is this difficult to see? Why are we not stressing this in our evangelical circles? Why are we afraid to declare that people in our churches must come to know God Himself? Why do we not tell them that they must get beyond the point of making God a lifeboat for their rescue or a ladder to get them out of a burning building? How can we help our people get over the idea that God exists just to help run their businesses or fly their airplanes?

 God is not a railway porter who carries your suitcase and serves you. God is God. He made heaven and earth. He holds the world in His hand. He measures the dust of the earth in the balance. He spreads the sky out like a mantle. He is the great God Almighty. He is not your servant. He is your Father, and you are His child. He sits in heaven, and you are on the earth.”

 From his book; Faith Beyond Reason, 44.

The Stillness of Intimacy – a gift from the wilderness

 

In the Wilderness… we can grow into a deeper ‘Intimacy” with God. 

The process of the Holy Spirit is persistent and subtle in our wilderness season.

  • He asks us to follow the voice of God – to walk the path we have been shown despite our limited insights and understanding of the “purpose” or plan.
  • We are gently forced to let go of our stuff – our crutches that have propped us up. (Career – intimate relationships that hold us back from growing in faith – confidence in our financial strength – friendships – ministry roles) things that affirm us or give us perceived value. Things “other” than God.
  • We must willingly surrender these “other” things as we choose to “stay” in the place and path Gods spirit has led us. We cannot run away or hide – we must allow the work of the Holy Spirit to persist in our weakness.
  • Our dependence on the flesh for support and affirmation is reduced the longer we allow ourselves to be reduced. Our need for the flesh is weaned – and we grow in hunger and interest in the things of the Holy Spirit.
  • The loss of self is astonishingly difficult, but it removes our false confidences and pseudo identities and replaces them with a transparency of the soul. We block less of the Spiritual light within and begin to assume more and more of our identity from the one who inhabits our heart.
  • Here habits can be broken and false assumptions revealed. Here in this place we can be changed and transformed from what we were to who we are destined to be.
  • It’s also here that we can begin to hear and understand the work of the Holy Spirit within much better than we could otherwise. We can gain insight and wisdom from the suffering we’re experiencing.

The process* of growing in Intimacy requires us to become “still”. To learn to stop doing things to change our circumstances. God wants to teach us how to wait. He wants to train us to trust His plans more than our own.

2 Chronicles 20

This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”

 The struggle to draw near to the creator is real – everything in us resists approaching His presence. Our minds endlessly inventive for finding “other” options to pursue.

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Apprehension at His knowing gaze tempts us to run, to avoid being exposed for what we truly are. Our external and superficial defenses are powerless before Him. We desperately assemble something to prop ourselves up… we use our self invented identities and lean on personal successes to offset the weakness His gaze is revealing about ourselves. Lacking the strength to withstand or endure the penetrating power of His words to us, we are tempted to just keep retreating and hiding from the painful truth. Just like our forefathers we look for whatever fig leaves we can find to cover our nakedness.

The active effects of our wilderness circumstances and of His approach are effective in forcing a “sorting out” of our past presumptions and false assumptions.

We cannot retain our pride and false bravado for very long in the definitely engineered circumstances of His will. There is no room for the baggage of our past in the present, we are unable to deny the truth of our weakness and incompleteness. We must admit our need – accept His conditions or we must flee forever.

This process of growing in Intimacy requires a form of “sorting out” or refinement. Consider your life as you would a precious metal like Gold, Platinum, or Silver, this is how God sees us. The purification of this treasured substance (our hearts) is a large part of the human condition as experienced in Christ.

We are in nearly constant transition as we experience the fire and flames of being heated and then the abrupt change of being thrust into the icy waters. The repeated heating to the point of melting and then being plunged into one more baptismal trial after another is the tempering way for every believer to proceed in their faith. No other path will prepare us adequately for the prize we seek.

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It’s in this season of refinement, in the pain and suffering of our fearful transitions and abrupt life changes that we risk giving ourselves over to the darkness of despair and discouragement. Make no mistake, this is a choice! We have the capacity to chose life or death, Hope or despair and it’s in this that our life trajectory will rise or fall.

No one of us can endure the strain indefinitely, we are subject to the mortal nature of eventual fatigue and exhaustion, but this too serves the masters purposes and realign’s our understanding from fantasy to faith. We cannot continue to pretend or fake our way through the Christian life, we must dig in or bug out.

Despite all of the insight and growing personal awareness of our condition, we cannot remain myopic and self obsessed for long if we are to move forward. The journey is “upward” and if we keep clinging to Jesus, we will wind our way to greater heights and better perspectives than we have ever yet experienced. This isn’t a test of our strength, but rather our wills. Surrender is hard.

The Wilderness isn’t about being abandoned by God, it’s all about learning to be more intimate with Him.  An unavoidable place and space in every Christians story, the journey of faith expands for those who choose to stay in His presence, for those who trust enough to be still. 

Pastor B.