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)

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.

The Gospel according to A&F

I’m re posting excerpts from a tired story, but it’s important. Abercrombie and Fitch (A&F) has a history of sexuality as a status symbol for fashion and their provocative ads leave nothing to the imagination. It’s no big deal unless you  have kids… then it’s a BIG deal.

 World • Sean Levinson • May 3, 12:14pm

World • Sean Levinson • May 3, 12:14pm

In the recent online article from Elite Daily, A&F CEO Mike Jeffries makes things extra clear for consumers,…

In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he told the site. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either,” he told Salon.

He is transparent about his desire to sell the A&F brand as social status and a pay to play – popularity – for sale! His words make it clear, that he tries to intentionally and blatantly exclude anyone who doesn’t live up to his ideal physical size and appearance standards…, all to protect his brand image.

That’s pretty seriously messed up morality and explains a lot about the rise in eating disorders, teen plastic surgery and anxiety our kids are experiencing in their tween and teen years. Brands like A&F are preaching to this generation to accept the fact that if they are not able to wear A&F, then they are “deficient” and less valuable.

A&F CEO Mike Jeffries

A&F CEO Mike Jeffries

I saw this story debated on a Christian FB thread last night and it really bothered me… here is what one of the comments on the threads said. (my paraphrase) …“I think it’s really effective, excellently designed to reach a specific demographic, regardless of what it’s message is, I think A&F is being wise in their marketing strategy… it’s not realistic for Christians to expect secular companies to have a moral compass“.

I’m convinced that who-ever that FB commentator is… He definitely doesn’t have any children of his own.  Moral compass or not, I’m voting with my wallet, and won’t be buying any A&F products for any of my three teens.

Here’s the reality check for Parents;

Our society is actively and intentionally speaking to our kids about what they should look like, act like and be like. Retailers like A&F are not just trying to be hip…they are actively seeking to preach their own gospel of life to our kids, and it goes something like this…. “IF YOU DON’T LOOK LIKE US, YOUR LIFE IS DEFICIENT

That’s marginally okay to recover from, IF you’re an adult with decent self-esteem and some perspective on life and the effects of age and gravity on one’s waistline.  However for a kid who has little self-esteem,  this “gospel of A&F” can become a very dark road of personal despair that can’t be ignored for long without tragic results.  trash

As parents, we must be consistent and persistent in refuting the “lies” our culture tells our kids. We must regularly remind our kids about their created and unique personal beauty, of how much they are valued and priceless in worth.

Our teens and tweens must look beyond A&F to find their self-esteem and value and identities. If we don’t actively make an effort to deny the  deceptions that attack our kids hearts and minds… we are by default letting someone like a Mike Jeffries; teach our kids what’s really valuable and what’s really trash.

I’m committed to taking out my trash…I do it every Tuesday night. How about you ?

Peace out, Pastor B.