Tare Publishing?

Where’s the Justice?

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24 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ Mat 13

I have referenced this parable in church recently thinking a tare was just your average weed, like cheatgrass maybe. This week I decided to look up what a Tare is. Tares are actually a lot more cynical then cheat grass. Cheat grass is recognizable by most, (at least in the west) tares are not. They blend right in. Cheat grass will irritate the snot out of you if the heads get into your socks or worse, tares will lull you to sleep.

Here’s what I found:

Tares, also known as the bearded darnel, is a species of rye-grass, the seeds of which are a strong soporific poison. It bears the closest resemblance to wheat till the ear appears, and only then the difference is discovered. It grows plentifully in Syria and Palestine.

A strong “soporific poison”? What is that? Well, I looked that up too:

Soporific is ‘a type of drug that causes an overwhelming desire to sleep.’ Roofies anyone?

Jesus later explains this parable to his followers;

40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Mat 13

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Perhaps here, is an answer as to why there is so much suffering, why seemingly good people do bad things or have to suffer the consequences of those bad things. ‘Why do we have to put up with those who offend and practice lawlessness Lord? Where’s the justice, where’s the fairness, where’s the protection? I’ve been cheated, I’ve been maligned, I’ve been hurt. How can you let this happen?’

The Lord would tell us to be strong. We will have our day, actually, our day is the day of the Lord. In that day there will be no more tears, no more sickness and no more death. I do believe that is worth waiting for.

The day is coming when there will be no more tares in the field, the reapers are coming. But in the meantime we must do the best we can to grow alongside of them because to start hoeing out the weeds now could cause more damage to the grain then the weeds.

Hoeing

In summertime around south central Montana you can drive  by a beet field and see it full of migrant workers with hoes. They are hoeing out every third plant. The beets are planted close together and at some point they have to be thinned to allow the others to flourish. So they go up and down the rows with this thought in mind;Beet, beet, weed.” Every third beet plant is considered a weed and gets it’s top knocked off with the hoe, killing it.

God is looking for good fruit, he is looking for a harvest, we have to trust him, and be ready. Till then we will have to put up with some tares knowing that their day is coming.

Tare

Speaking of injustice; as many of you know I have had a few books published. For my latest book I had to use a different publisher then I did with the first two. My first publisher went out of business and the former CEO’s are now awaiting trial by the Oklahoma State Attorney General for multiple felonies stemming from fraud and extortion. They keep postponing the trial because they keep finding more and more people who have been defrauded by them, 1300 or so last I checked.

This was a Christian publisher, in business for years publishing Christian materials (though towards the end that was debatable) and in the beginning I think they were sincere. And I know they had some really good people working for them. But then they got greedy and the fruit they bore started reflecting what was in their hearts.

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They outright stole $1200. dollars from me. They had sent me an email with a promotion they were running, one they had run a couple other times in the last year or two, so I was saving up money just waiting for this opportunity because I was working on my third book at the time.

The promotion offered in this email was that if I bought $1200. worth of any of my previous books or pre-ordered future books, I would get a publisher for life addendum on my contract with them. This meant I could publish as many books as I liked in the future without having to pay any more fees. Services for my previous books had cost me much more than that so this was a great deal.

I called my connection at the Publisher and said I would like to do that. I deposited my hard earned and saved cash into my checking account, including my year end safety award bonus from my construction job, and had them charge the $1200. to my debit card, which they conveniently keep on file.

After a few days I never got a receipt so I emailed a reminder, no response. I emailed two or three other people finally emailing one of the owners whose connection info I had and finally got a receipt and an apology.

Less than two weeks later I got an email from another publisher offering their services to me because they had heard that my former publisher had gone out of business. What? No way, I just gave them a lot of money! I emailed everyone I knew there, I called every number I could find. No response to any of them. They had apparently just turned off the lights, locked the doors and left. Leaving me and many, many others holding the bag, and the bag was empty, as was my wallet.

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I am fairly comfortable in guessing that the people who ran this outfit might be tares. (In fact, if you replace one letter in “tare” you have the name of that publisher.)

They literally conned me out of $1200 knowing full well that they were never going to deliver, or at least that chances were pretty slim. I found out that there was already a two million dollar law suit against them. They had laid off most of their staff and it came to light that they had been spending cooperate money like it was their own, buying houses, toys and vacations. Since then their property has been seized and auctioned off to pay their debtors.

And, they knew full well that I am a pastor. That’s what bothered me. How can you call yourself a Christian and knowingly cheat a pastor, one whom you know works two jobs just to make ends meet? And I know I am not the only pastor they stole from. Being a pastor doesn’t make me any better than anyone else they stole from or make it more of a crime—but really; If I as a Christian, ordained or not, was going to cheat someone I’m pretty sure a pastor would be my last choice.

It’s like stealing from the Salvation Army kettle or making off with your worship leaders guitar while he is watching. ‘Where you going with that?’ ‘Oh, I’m just going to get it re-stringed for you.’  then he takes it straight to the pawn shop—I mean, you just don’t do that right?

So I was incredulous and shocked; ‘Really? Lord, that was a lot of money!’ What can I do? I reported it to the Better Business Bureau and the Oklahoma Attorney General. But other than that there was nothing I could do. The AG is pushing for restitution, but as many people as they cheated and the huge law suits against them, there is small chance of anything being left to return.

But I could be really angry—right? Go all barbarian on them and seek the justice of the sword? I would certainly be justified.

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I could stew and fret, or pout and whine–or, I could just let it go, give it up to the Lord and let him deal with them. (In fact it has been two years ago now and this is the first time I have publicly told this story.)

I had to decide right away that I had to give this to the Lord or I would only be bitter and angry and that would accomplish nothing but to distract me from what the Lord wanted me doing, helping him sow more wheat. I cannot let the weeds poison me. “Lord, this is your money, it was for your work, I am only a messenger. I trust that you have a better plan.”

He did. I found a different and better publisher, Redemption Press, and I got to involve my church as I was blessed by many in their efforts to help me raise the funds to get Barbarians in the Kingdom ready for the printer. Because of that fruit was borne in many lives before the book was even published and the message of the book, resolve and determination to accomplish God’s purpose for you, was only reinforced. And, I believe, that adventure has just begun and there will be much more fruit. And best of all, I got to see God at work.

In the long run, God always takes care of those who look to him, who are patiently waiting for the final harvestharvest meme

 

Until then, hang on, be strong and stay awake, Jesus is indeed coming to harvest. And God will not be mocked!

 

 

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Be Ready (The slacker virgins)

Jesus himself said it numerous times, outright and in parables, I will return. In fact, the only thing he would say during his trial, and the thing that got him convicted of blasphemy, was his assertion that they would “see the Son of Man returning on the clouds of heaven.”

Jesus made this point well in the parable of the slacker virgins, (Mat 25)  —that we need to be ready. (Better known as the parable

10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.

11 “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ 12 But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

13 “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

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Being a preacher is a lot like being a construction foreman in the respect that I have to keep warning people to be ready, to follow the rules, especially when it comes to safety. In both case, it’s not a matter of what we can get away with, it’s a matter of doing what is right because it is right and can keep you out of a lot of trouble.

About this time last year the company I work for, after forty or so years in this dangerous business of construction, had their first fatal accident. It was kind of a freak accident but the bottom line is, a worker was in a place at the wrong time. A place that the  foreman had told him that very morning not to be, and a very large chunk of concrete came loose from overhead, falling and crushing him. One minute he’s working and the next he’s gone.

Of course it hit all of us very hard. I got the phone call from the boss telling me the bad news and after I was able to process the news, pray, and get myself together I stopped work on my project and called everyone together to tell them the news and to have a safety meeting.

We do safety meetings every week but I wanted to let everyone know what happened before they started hearing rumors and because even though it was not my project that had had the accident, I expected OSHA would soon be paying us a visit as my job-site was only a few blocks away from where the accident took place.

I reminded everyone of the general safety rules and the need to be extra diligent because we might be getting a visit from an agency who has the power to fine the daylights out of us. That, and “I do not want anyone getting hurt on this job.” I have never had a serious accident on any of my projects and I intend to keep it that way. I also told them that I pray for their safety every morning, a statement that I could see in their faces that they appreciated.

You know what happened then? All my subs—the electricians, plumbers, tinners, framers—suddenly were throwing away all their damaged electrical cords and calling for new ones. The missing guards on tools suddenly were not missing and it no longer seemed necessary to stand on top of a ladder or to be on the roof without a harness on—weird, all the things I had constantly warned them about and argued with them over, were no longer an issue.

Why? Mainly because the possibility of that dreaded OSHA inspector showing up was no longer just a remote possibility, it was imminent, and the even worse cost of not playing by the rules, the death of a fellow tradesman, was suddenly large in everyone’s mind.

OSHA didn’t show up on my project after all, but they did a months long investigation into the jobsite that had the accident and found that there were no violations directly related to the accident. But they did find a couple of other things to fine us for. OSHA is like the IRS, if they want to find something, they will.

If you have ever seen an OSHA regulation book, you know that the rules are extensive and complicated, you are surely always in violation of something just by showing up every day. But, generally, if the inspectors know you are doing your best to comply, they will not bust you.

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Photo by Life Of Pix on Pexels.com

Slackers?

That’s what the Lord is asking of us, that we just do our best to comply with his ways. He has a very extensive set of guidelines and we are almost always in violation of something just by being human in this messed up world, and he understands that, he was here with us and as us for a while.

If we are doing our best, he will not bust us, he just asks that we act as though he can show up at any moment, that we don’t just see what we can get away with, throw caution to the wind for expedience sake and hope that we get some warning as to when he’s on his way so that we have time to straighten everything out.

Imagine if you are engaged and your fiancé, your pure sweet lovely soon to be bride in white, is running wild, collecting beads at Marti Gras and winning wet T shirt contests in Cancun during Spring break?  “Oh that’s fine sweetie, just make sure you gargle before the wedding to cover the smell of Tequila and vomit and let’s pretend none of that never happened. Tell your good-time boyfriends they need to go home now, I’ll wait here until you’re ready to just be mine.— Isn’t she wonderful?”

Or the groom who thinks the bachelor party is his last chance and excuse to. . .you know, be stupid. “That’s okay honey, boys will be boys, take a shower before you put on your tux.”

I’m sorry if any of that offends anyone but that is just wrong, just as putting off our commitment to faithfulness to the Lord is just wrong. Jesus wants and deserve a pure white bride ready when he’s ready, not when we feel like it. He deserves it because he offers it, he gives us the means to be pure and holy and just wants us to take it, to take him, seriously—to love him as he loves us.

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That’s the bottom line—love. We want to be ready, we long to be ready, for him to return, because we relish the incredible love he has for us and want more than anything to be acceptable and pleasing to him long before and during the wedding feast that will surely come.

Don’t be a slacker.

 

What does a Christian look like?

A young lady who is part of our church family in Red Lodge wrote and posted this on Facebook, I felt compelled to share it here, especially in light of my last post on the need for “Barbarian women” to stand up and be heard in the church. This is what I’m talking about!

From Danielle

“Ive been catching a little lip lately due to my recent using of facebook for uplifting, and many, posts about Christianity. Its such a huge platform to be using as you wish and what better way to try and touch somone than using it for good. Somone recently told me “I just love how you preach the gospel but look like you just got out of a rock concert. Maybe you should see what the Bible says about hypocrisy”

Good news!! No, I’m not jumping off a cliff. and My faith in what I know to be he true has not waivered a smidgen. If anything some clarity was given, and I genuinely pray for that person since they are obviously stuck in the muck of religion and what we think it should look like. This is not about religion, it’s about Jesus. All these tattoos have given me some pretty thick skin, but being a strong outspoken Christian has made it awesomely resilient and stronger then its ever had to be.

Yes, a good part of my body is covered in ink, Yes, my head is shaved, Yes, I have piercings that reside in more then just my ears, I have dabbled in my fair share of extra curricular substances, and most days, especially when working cows, my mouth is anything but innocent and my sense of humor can be as rotten as last weeks trash. I aslo try to be honest, I try my best to love without prejudice, I try to be genuine to myself and who I was handcrafted to be, I try to see the beauty in who others are and all they have to offer. I try to be the best form of me that I can be, and live with the mindset and willingness to lay it all down openhearted to the One who gave it to me. So….Ive realized they were part right.

I AM a rebel… a rebel for Jesus.

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No I don’t look the “part” and most of the time I come in hot and in a totally different way then the way (they) say is the “right way”, but I am doing it the way I am being told to. I make sure to! by asking Him daily… in almost everything I do and that feels more right then anything friends. I rest easy because I TRY beey hard to stay faithful and let Him guide my day and major decisions. And that is all He asks of me…. and you. TRY and try and try and try again. My main man David in the good Book lives true to this . (Its a good read that I’m sure you can also relate to im sure😉)

Maybe I’m supposed to be the one who brings needed Hope to a stranger in the Rock concert or foul mouthed cattle pen. Afterall it may look a little more familiar and comfortable coming from somone who looks like me, then sweet little rosey cheeked grannie smelling of cookies and myrrh in her button up doily shawl and beaded Rosery.

I am exactly where and who Im supposed to be. And make no mistake, I’m am humble, confident, and true in it.I am beautifully and perfectly made. Perfectly, Imperfect.” – Danielle Hall, Montana

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This was my response to her:

“Just last week I was standing with a group of ironworkers on my job with my hard hat, dirty Carhartt coat and the overall look of someone who has been in construction for 35 years going on.when the foreman of their crew said; I heard you are a preacher or something?” I said, yes I am. He then said, “I just can’t picture that.” “I replied, I’ve been a construction worker a lot longer then I’ve been a preacher.” And, I must confess, sometimes I talk more like an ironworker than a preacher. Yet this same man, just a few days earlier was confiding in me troubles he was having in his family and asking me what he should do. I have only known him for a few weeks, yet he saw the Jesus in me through the concrete dust and black iron smudges- so just what does a preacher or a Christian look like? Likesomeone people can talk to, that’s what. You go Danielle, you are God’s chosen vessel right where you are!”

Barbarian Women?

The mindset of the barbarian of old was one of simplicity of purpose, singularity of mission, and determination of spirit. Attributes that influenced the early church and made her strong, and, I contend, attributes we need to reclaim to save the church today.

This includes women; ladies, stand up and claim your place in the Kingdom!

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Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful;  it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

          To me this verse says everything you need to know about the Barbarian woman in the Kingdom. She is love personified, not the mushy everything is sunshine and roses fragile kind of love that can be shaken to the core at the first sign of trouble, but the passionate deep down ingrained love that can overcome anything the world or the enemy throws at her. A love that can bear all things and come out stronger in the end. A love that is patient and rational when all others around her are lost in emotional chaos or jealous pettiness.

She does not rejoice in the hurt of others but is strong enough to allow even those she loves to experience the consequences of their own foolishness should they refuse to listen to her warnings. And she will be there to pick them up when they land in the mud face first, with a firm hand and a gentle smile offering another chance to choose the right.

The Barbarian woman is not given to hysteria or panic. Her emotions, though deeply felt, are not on the surface causing her to lose control; if she does you had better run for the hills, but for the most part she is in control. This allows her to think through, to listen and observe, seeking truth and resolution before running or attacking. The fight or flight mechanism prevalent in the man is controlled in the woman by an instinct to protect and nurture. She knows that she can best serve her family by remaining calm, she often has to be the eyes and ears of her Barbarian man to direct his sometimes-misguided fury. She is the radar he needs to hit the mark without destroying the village. I’ll let you figure that one out…

The woman hears and understands things—call it a spiritual discernment or woman’s intuition—that men sometimes blissfully miss. The danger in this is that women can also be offended a little too easily and hold grudges way too long. They are very tuned into the perception of others, particularly what others think if them.

This brings me to a very important point. The key reason why we need to adopt the Barbarian mindset in order to engender emotionally healthy women in the Kingdom of God, women who are able to accept the love of a Father God who loves them for who they are; if you want to be a woman that is able to be strong and courageous, even-keeled—even stoic when need be, while at the same time loving passionately and unselfishly—you cannot, and must not, allow your sense of self-worth to be determined by what others think of you.

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Barbarians do not connect their self-worth to what others think of them. They do not care if everyone does not like them. Barbarians know what is inside of them, what is in their hearts, because they have been taught what is right and wrong, it is written on their hearts and the person laughing at you, calling you stupid and ugly does not, cannot, know what is in your heart—only you can. With the exception of one other Person; Jesus.

The Barbarian Woman

The barbarian woman shares the passions of the barbarian man- feels and fuels them longer and deeper than her male counterpart and fights to defend her own in her own way. She loves deeper, laughs louder, burns fiercer and is unconcerned with the pettiness of the civilized. She is comfortable in her own skin and does not measure her worth by what you think of her or by how expensive her wardrobe or accessories are. She loves her man, her children and her God and speaks her mind.

She says what she means, means what she says and doesn’t say anything just to be mean. If she lays you out with her words than you needed it. Like the barbarian man, she prefers her life to be uncomplicated and uncluttered. Her weapons are her even tempered determination, unshakable sense of what is right and true, and a steely eyed look that will put the fear into the heart of any who would get in her way.

The Barbarian woman perseveres through times of hardship and trial, her resolve is strengthened by challenges, she faces them head on and alwaysholds on to hope because she knows the sun will always come up tomorrow and she will have another chance to live, laugh and love, without shame and without apology.

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That’s why we need Barbarian women in the Kingdom!

(Photos from Shutterstock)

Adapted from my book Barbarians in the Kingdom

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Available today from your favorite online bookseller in print or digital form.

 

 

The Simple Gospel

First Things First part 2

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The church of Jesus Christ, I believe and see evidenced, is going through a period of shaking and refining to determine who really believes, who really loves the Lord and who is just giving him lip service; presuming on grace while making no real attempt to live by his word. We are seeing a renewed call to holiness by the Spirit of our God. The call to holiness should not be for just a season, it is basic to being a follower of Christ and has always been a prerequisite to being a believer in the one true God. We do the best we can and his grace covers the rest.

That is why, as we start another year, I urge you to remember and look at the gospel, the simple and beautiful gospel. The gospel cuts through the fog of theology and cuts to the chase.

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins 

If we keep this first, and foremost, if this is always before us, not just a tale that gets lost in lofty theologies and pop psychologies, we will have a much more difficult time justifying or not recognizing our sinfulness.

Sin?

Jesus died for our sins. What is sin? Well, I’m glad you asked. Sin is anything we do that goes against the standards and rules laid out quite clearly in the scriptures; The Old Testament and the New. If you want a blow by blow list, read Exodus and Leviticus.  If that is too extensive just read the summary we call the Ten Commandments— and memorize them. Then measure everything you do or think against them. You will figure out pretty quickly that you are a sinner.

But Pastor, we are not bound by the law, we are not judged according to the law, we are in the period of grace, of freedom and love.’ Yes pilgrim, you are correct, what I am asking you to do as we head into this new year, and what I believe the Lord is wanting to remind us of, is the reason that we are not judged by the law, the reason we are in a period of grace, is because Jesus died for our sins.

 

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The Cost

This is the cost of our grace, this is the price of our freedom, this is our redemption. You cannot have this picture in your mind, not if you truly love the Lord and understand the magnitude of his love for us, proven to us by the stripes on his back and the blood on his brow, you cannot have this picture in your mind and be comfortable sinning.

This is the gospel, this is of first importance in the life of a true believer, it is the only hope of humanity, that they know and understand this simple truth; that God became a man and suffered the horrendous death, both physically and spiritually, that we all deserve.

You cannot know the command; “thou shall not commit adultery”, and all the nuances of that, spelled out in the various parts of scripture— even put into the realm of lusting in the heart just by thinking about it by Jesus—and blissfully pursue the whims and the lusts of the flesh outside of the marriage bed; not if you know what your failings cost the Lord to purchase your forgiveness.

You cannot know the command “Thou shalt not bear false witness…” and relish in telling embellished tales about people you know, stretching the truth or putting a certain spin on things to make another look bad and yourself look better; not if you know the pain those who bore false witness caused Jesus.

Jesus Cross

You cannot revel in games depicting slaughter or turn your back on those who are in mortal danger from war, terror, famine and disease, if you know the command “thou shalt not kill.” Nor can you shout curses at, or belittle and mock your enemies when you know that Jesus said just calling your brother “Racca” is a murder in your heart, a heart filled with hate—the hate that put Jesus on the cross and reveled in his death.

I could go on—sin is sin and it always has a price.

 

Wages of sin

The gospel, knowing the reality of what Jesus did for us, the horrible price he had to pay for our forgiveness should compel us to desire above all else to live a life that honors him, that desires to not add to his suffering for our sake. It’s more than just the pain he endured in the flesh, it’s the grief he still suffers when he sees us suffering as a result of our poor choices, of our refusal to take his precepts seriously and to realize the consequences of sin.

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 6:23

It’s a simple law, the wages of sin is death, our death, if we stay in our sins, or— the death of the Lord if we receive the grace offered as a gift in spite of us, and because of his willingness to take that death from and for us.

Don’t let his grace be in vain. Believe the gospel, remember the gospel, I have said it many times to my church and it is a founding principle of my ministry, that I will come to you each week knowing nothing—at least nothing with absolute certainty—but Jesus Christ and him crucified. -1 Cor 2:2

If we like Paul recognize that we are sinners saved by grace, and live as those who appreciate and understand that, our faith will not be in vain. God can then, and will, use us to do things we never imagined we could, because we can’t, not apart from him.

I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

If Jesus is first, all the rest will follow. Jesus is the rock that our rope is tied to and by which everything hangs. (See last weeks’ Rappelling Story) Don’t lose track of that, throw off the sin that so easily entangles and be free to enjoy the ride.

How do you get rid of it, how can I be free of sin? Repent, turn from it and turn to Jesus and find the strength to overcome and the grace to get back up when you stumble.

Chains and freedom

by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; 1 Cor 15:10

What am I? I am a child of the living God who loved me so much that he sent his only son to die for me and I will not be undone. Jesus didn’t just die for me, he conquered death! And that same power that enabled him to do so, now resides in me. I am an overcomer, I am His.

I, Dan Swaningson, am a Jesus Freak, a barbarian with a bible, a witness of the grace I was so freely given that was purchased by the blood of the Lamb. And I shall never forget.

How About you?

Grandpa n Quiny

May your days and your heart be full– Have a Blessed New Year!

First Things First

“You know I’ve been to the edge, and there I stood and looked down. You know I lost a lot of friends there baby, I got no time to mess around.” –Van Halen, Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love

I am what I am

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures 1 Cor 15:3

So here we stand, on the precipice of a new year. A fitting term I guess because ready or not it’s happening, and we can either fall into it headlong and hope for the best or we can try to control the descent knowing that we could still lose control at any given point.

(I’m not sure what that means but in light of the past year it made sense when I First wrote it.)

We can plan and hope all we want but ultimately we cannot control the future, all we can control is our response to events that we incur along the way, and really—that is everything. Because if we lose control of that, we are undone and I for one refuse to let anyone or anything undue me because as Paul wrote:

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; 1 Cor 15:10

Chains and freedom

Rush Limbaugh, (whom you can love or hate, don’t miss my point here)  has said of President Trump; “The press did not make Donald Trump so the press cannot unmake Donald Trump, only Trump can undo Trump.” —referring to his support in the eyes of those who voted for him.

Well, the world did not make me, the enemy did not make me, circumstances did not make me, you did not make me—the grace of God made me what I am so only he can undue me, so long as I understand and cling to that. And I chose to do so. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is my rock and I will not be shaken. So bring it on 2019, let’s see what you got. I’ll go into it safe in the grace that made me, and I’ll come out of it still safe in that grace, stronger for having survived another year.

So, as Van Halen once said, “You know I’ve been to the edge, and there I stood and looked down. You know I lost a lot of friends there baby, I got no time to mess around.” (When was the last time you heard Van Halen quoted by a preacher?) But it makes my point exactly.

As we stand on the precipice of tis new year, we need to stop messing around, for a bit anyway, and remember what is important because we have indeed all lost a few friends who perhaps just fell headlong over the edge, forgetting what’s important, not keeping the first thing first. We can’t get hung up on things that can destroy us or neuter us. —And yes, that’s exactly what I mean.

Hung Up

Speaking of precipices, I used to enjoy rappelling back in my younger days; going off a cliff backwards while hanging from a long robe looped though a carabiner attached to a nylon strap tied around my waist and between my legs to create what we called a diaper.

I think they have more specialized gear nowadays, fancy riggings, but it worked for us, a rope, a strap and a couple of carabiners, mixed with some knot tying skills, and a little courage. It was all we needed. It was simple and basic but it did the job. We would tie one end of our second hand fifty dollar rope to the bumper of a truck, a tree or a rock, toss the other end over the side of the cliff, and off we would go, descending like we knew what we were doing with ultimate faith in our equipment.

I did have a couple of close calls; like the time my front shirt tail got pulled into my carabiner by the rope. There is no going back up the rope, it only goes down. The only thing I could think to do was cut off my shirt tail but I couldn’t get into my pocket to retrieve my knife because of the way the diaper was tied around my leg.

I called out for help and one of my buddies still on top peered over the edge. “I need a knife!” “How am I going to get it to you?” I didn’t dare try to catch it with one hand as my other hand was keeping the rope securely pinned behind my back to stop my descent. If I missed it we would really be up a creek without a paddle and the motion of trying to catch it could have set me to falling until I was hanging there off the rims over Billings with my heavy shirt pulled into my rigging until I was hopelessly stuck, or my shirt just ripped and I fell.

Then it would have been—”Run and find a payphone to call 911, Swany’s hanging off the rims like a scarecrow tangled in a clothesline!” Remember the good old days before cell phones? At least I wouldn’t have become a YouTube video.

Well, luckily I wasn’t that far over the edge so I yelled, “Lower it down to me somehow—use your boot laces!” So he hastily pulled the laces from his heavy 1980’s waffle stomper hiking boots, tied those together and then tying that to the belt from his pants he finally had enough length to lower me his pocket knife so that I could cut off the chunk of my shirt that was getting pulled into the ‘biner.

I was very relieved, needless to say, and I continued my descent down the cliff face—good times. Tell you what, I never rappelled with my shirt untucked again, I could hear my high school shop teachers’ voice ringing in my ears as I was stuck there on the cliff side; “Never wear loose clothing around machinery kids.”

man wearing a suit jacket and stripe necktie
Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

Anyway, it was a pretty basic rescue for a pretty basic operation, but it worked and we conquered many more cliffs with that same simple equipment in the months and years to come. We kept it simple. It was simple, life was simple. No high dollar custom harnesses and safety backups. No helmets, no GoPro’s, no Facebook pages to brag to the world about how adventurous we were. No YouTube videos to study or to post to, no classes, certifications or permits.

‘Here’s your rope, here’s your diaper and ‘biner, just back off the cliff and keep a firm grip on that rope, you’ll get the hang of it. Oh yeah, wear a pair of insulated leather gloves so you don’t get rope burn.’ It was a blast. Once you became comfortable with it, and got out there on your robe a ways you could push yourself out from the cliff face with your feet at the same time you were letting out some rope and just feel like you were flying in midair. What a rush.

Of course getting good instructions from someone who was there to guide you through the process was essential. You didn’t just jump off the cliff and hope you are doing things right.

Basics

So, as we get ready to jump into 2019,let’s try to do things right. I think the best way to get off to that right start is by getting back to the basics here to start, peeling off all the advancements and extra paraphernalia we have accumulated that keep us from truly experiencing the moment and only serve to disconnect us from the rawness and realness of it all anyway, and just remember what’s important, what is critical—what is the rope we hang on too—because without that, nothing else matters.

A good sound rope with just enough stretch, that is tied off securely and reaches all the way to the ground—nothing worse then running out of rope before your feet touch the ground—because you are going down one way or another.

First things first. What is our rope? What is it that is critical to our faith, to our doing church, doing life as a believer? I hope you all know the answer here—just like the kid in Sunday school who knows that whenever the teacher asks a question there is a good chance that the answer is Jesus. In this case ‘you would be correct little Johnny, the answer is Jesus.

But it’s not just Jesus, what is of first importance? What is it about Jesus that is critical to our faith, our getting through this year, this life—eternity?

The answer is in our title verse of course;

 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures 1 Cor 15:3

cross tomb

Jesus died for our sins. —period

Nothing in this life, nothing in the universe, all the wisdom of the ages, the prophets and the sages, is more critical then this; That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. He made the promise, he is the promise, and he fulfilled the promise. He is our hope, he is our rope and no matter what else you know, no matter what else you do, have, or give away, nothing else will matter.

If you show up at the cliffs edge without your rope—you’re going to make it to the bottom, but you are not going to survive the journey.

So I want to start this year by remembering what’s important. Jesus Christ and him crucified—the gospel.

Put Jesus first and all else will fall into place.

Barbarians in the KingdomBAR COVER

 

How Can This Be?

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“For with God nothing will be impossible.” Luke 1:37

I don’t know about you but for me this has been quite a year. A year full of challenges, victories and heartaches, blessings and losses. It’s been a year full of promises, but at the same time a year that has challenged my faith and made me ask at times; ‘Did I really hear the Lord?’ And if I did; can I keep believing for the promises.

When everything and everyone says things are one way, and God says ‘No, this is the way it’s going to be’, can I find a joy in the as of yet unseen?

Honestly, I think I have reached a new level of faith in recent months, I had to, because to not would have meant my end. I am not strong enough to live by sightbecause what I see only discourages me often times—I have to live by faith. That is a lesson we all must keep learning and it is what those who took part in the events leading up to the birth of Christ had to learn. We indeed serve a God who specializes in doing the impossible—if we just let him, if we’ll just say yes.

Many years ago  two women, from different generations and towns, but who shared an uncommon faith believed, said yes, and the world was forever changed;

Luke chapter 1

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”

38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1

Manger and crosses
A wooden manger and three wooden crosses

The Bible is full of amazing stories, stories of the impossible happening—miracles. Often the people in the stories have a hard time believing what they hear from the Lord. But not these two women—Mary believed, I want to be like Mary. (This is Mary, Mary believes, be like Mary.) Elizabeth believed as well. Two common women who didn’t care what people said or did, they knew their God had spoken and they rejoiced in the hope they had.

Twins

I decided that since this might be the last Christmas our boys, Rowdy and Randy, are around, I am going to share the classic story that many who have known me for a while have no doubt heard; but a great story that bears repeating nonetheless.

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The boys, as we call them, are our twin geldings. We had all girls in our home as we raised our three daughters so there was the girls and there was the boys, and we all knew who we were referring to, and still do. Rowdy and Randy are 24 years old now, old for horses but not extremely, but considering they are twins that should not have even survived the womb, yes, that is very old.

They are having some health issues in their later years that may force us to put them down as their lameness causes them more pain then is fair to put them through. But then, we thought this day would come several years ago, and the experts thought it would come even long before that, so who knows?

The boys aren’t the only twins in our family anymore, we now have twin grandchildren, now three years old. So, apparently twins run in our family. Something that makes our other daughters real nervous, or maybe it’s just because I like to remind them of that.

Actually, twins amongst us humans isn’t that rare, not like it is in horses. In fact, most vets, and other horse experts, would tell you that it’s nearly impossible. Just like the birth of our boys should have been. I am certainly no horse expert, and 24 years ago I was much less of a horse expert; ‘Yeah, our mare had twins, great, two for the price of one, what’s the big deal?’ I had no idea at the time that it would be so hard for horse people to believe.

So, join me as we take a trip down memory lane to the Heyu-cow Ranch, Montana.

 Rowdy and Randy

One fine April day while I was out and about in the barnyard and I noticed that our Quarter horse mare, Babe, was acting peculiar.  She was nervously going in and out of the barn and neighing softly as if looking for something.  I wasn’t too familiar with foaling horses but I had been around enough cows at calving time to recognize that Babe, who was great with foal, was thinking of having that foal real soon. I put Babe up in a stall in the barn and kept an eye on her.  At bedtime she still had not foaled so I went to bed. We knew that Babe had thrown a few foals before we got her so we weren’t too worried about her.

At 2 am I dragged myself out of bed and went to the barn to check on her.  The first thing I saw as I peered into the stall was a bright eyed little foal lying in the straw and looking around at his brand new world. I then poked my head in to see the other end of the large stall and there stood Babe.  It was then that I noticed something very peculiar; Babe had eight legs!  I stepped into the stall to get a better look and there on the other side of Babe was another foal going after mother’s milk; Babe had twins!

After getting over my astonishment, and comprehending the situation as much as my 2 am, half asleep brain could, I made sure everyone was okay.  Both the foals had already been cleaned up by Babe, I watched them both suck before I left them alone and headed back for my bed.

As I crawled back into bed satisfied that all was well and thinking that nothing too extraordinary had happened, Donna woke up. “What’s happening” she asked.  I told her that Babe had two new baby boys. “Ha, ha, very funny” she said, “what really happened?”  I replied, “She had twins, you know, Pete and Repeat, Thing one and Thing two.”  She exclaimed, “That’s impossible!”

Knowing more about horses than I did, she knew that for a horse to have twins, especially healthy ones, was virtually unheard of. I finally convinced her that I was serious by telling her that I could not possibly be that clever in the wee hours of the morning and that everything really was all right.

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Donna woke the girls up early in the morning to tell them the good news,   Cally, who was four, was only concerned with what color they were, she was hoping for a paint.  Jessie, who was two, was just excited to get to go see the baby horsies.  Shortly after sunrise we all went to the barn to see the new family.  They were beautiful; sorrel brown with a white blaze down the front of their faces just like their momma.  As is typical of new foals, they were all legs, necks and fuzz.

We promptly named them Rowdy and Randy, telling them apart by the white “sock” above Randy’s left rear hoof and the opposite white “sock” above Rowdy’s right rear hoof.  We then called our veterinarian to share the good news and he all but panicked saying, “Twins, what? They’re all right? They can’t possibly be alright, at least one of them has to be a runt!” We couldn’t convince him that he didn’t have to rush the 30 miles, all the way from  Shepherd to Blue Creek, but he insisted on coming out.

After looking them over carefully he finally conceded that they seemed to be alright and gave them each a shot of anti-biotic just to be safe, (or maybe so he could charge us for something to pay for his gas) all the while telling us how unusual and rare this was– “one in ten thousand” and that the chances of foals born as twins both surviving their first year was “one in fifty thousand.” He left us with some horse milk replacer telling us that we would have to help feed the babies because there was no way the mare would be able to feed both these colts.

Neither Rowdy nor Randy wanted anything to do with this phony milk from a bottle.  Apparently Babe hadn’t been listening when the vet said she wouldn’t be able to feed them both because they were both getting plenty, often feeding together, one on each side of Babe.

Babe's Boys resize

When they were about a week old we let them out of the barn for the first time.  They cautiously ventured out the door and then took off running, both in different directions. Babe was beside herself, not knowing which one to chase after first. She eventually managed to get them both rounded up and herded them back into the barn where they would stay out of trouble.

Around this time ol’ Bud, the owner of the Morgan Stud who sired the boys, came out to see them. As he stood admiring them in the corral he was as proud as a grandpa over these boys his beloved Morgan- Parade– had sired.  He told us his father and his grandfather had raised Morgans and these three generations of horse breeders had never seen a set of twins.

Boys n Bud resize

Rowdy and Randy grew up the best of friends, always looking out for one another. They are both retired now, but in their day Randy loved to work cows. And Rowdy, who would rather just stay away from the cows, just loved to be ridden, especially by the girls— The boys, twins that “couldn’t be” yet still are.

  Thots

When Rowdy and Randy were born the experienced horse people were truly perplexed at such a thing as a healthy set of twin foals born unassisted in a cow barn to an old mare, crossbred to an even older stud; “That’s not possible”.

This was the same sentiment that was expressed over and over again by the religious “experts” so long ago when they were told that the Messiah had been born in a stable to an unmarried girl from Nazareth.  Yet the lowly shepherds, living in the fields with their flocks the first to hear the news, had no trouble believing. They believed that that the Lord himself had come to earth as a baby boy, and they hastened to worship this heaven sent Savior.

Later it was the common working men and women and even some Roman soldiers, “tax collectors and sinners” as the experts called them, who embraced this carpenter from Nazareth as the Son of God he claimed to be.  The experts in the Law, who should have been the first to recognize and rejoice in the coming of the long awaited Messiah, instead had him crucified and then gloated over their success in stopping this threat to their precious religious traditions.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Another Mary, a woman who had formerly been possessed by demons, Mary  Magdalene, was the first to see this impossible Savior after his resurrection from the dead and quickly shared this information with the commercial fisherman who had devoted their lives to following him.  These hardened fishermen became the first to share the news with the world that this simple man born in a stable and crucified on a Roman cross was indeed the risen Savior.

Jesus laid down his glory, and then his life, so that all men might see and believe that God does indeed love every one of us; don’t let what is “not possible” get in the way! To many people who think they know so much end up missing out on the truth because they simply cannot accept the impossible.

“Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”.

Lord, I believe, help me to live I the joy of my hope, and help me to hear your voice in the year ahead, and give me the courage to say yes.

Nothin yet