No Turning Back

“…we all need something to keep us from kicking the cat once in a while— don’t we?”

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In my early days of following the Lord, when I finally decided to get serious about it—to trust the Lord with my life and my heart and not just for my salvation—I thought about this saying of Jesus a lot:  “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

I believe the Lord had put it on my heart to encourage me to stay the course, to keep my eyes focused on him because at that time in the early days of my recovery, I was tempted often to reminisce about the days of no holds barred, party hardy and cure tomorrows hangover with the next nights party, guilt free ‘aren’t I the popular one’ lifestyle of altered consciousness.

It was indeed a miracle that set me free in a moment’s time from a years long life of substance abuse—pretty much any substance would do me for a while there, but weed and whisky were my fall back favorites—but even after the Lord set my heart on fire for him and surrounded me with his sustaining love, I still was not convinced I could stay free for the long term. It was a process of changing my way of thinking and letting my heart convince my head that I would never allow myself to be lured back into the embraces of Mary Jane, Jose, Jack or Johnny. If you don’t know who any of those are, God Bless you!

So I initially set one month as my goal—drug and alcohol free for one month—and that was blown after only one week I when I gave in to a buddy who came over and convinced me to smoke a bowl or two with him. I was sitting in my living room minding my own business, my newly rediscovered bible sitting on the coffee table where my bong used to sit, when a friend came over, asked me about the Bible and wondered where my bong was—“I’ve got some good stuff here.”

“I don’t do that anymore, I’ve found something better—the Holy Spirit has filled me with everything I need.” “Well, that’s great. But what happens when you have a really bad day? You still need something to mellow you out once in a while don’t you? I mean, we all need something to keep us from kicking the cat once in a while— don’t we?”

That is literally what he said, and yes that was all it took to convince me to get stoned. I mean, I really didn’t like cats and I was tasked at the time with taking care of my roommates cat while he worked out of town.

The devil is a crafty one and the flesh is ridiculously weak.

So, since I didn’t produce the bong he was hoping to use, he pulled a pipe from his pocket, filled it up, lit it and handed it to me and I, probably from force of habit more than anything, took it and smoked that smoke. I got good and stoned, laughed with him for a while, then he left and I found myself alone—I mean really alone. I had never felt so alone. The presence of God that had been on me like a warm pair of flannel pajamas on a cold winter night for the past week—was gone.

I was stoned and the Spirit was quenched. So I vowed right then and there that I was not going to get stoned for a month if the Lord would only come back—I did not want to be alone.

You might be saying “A month? big deal.” But I took a vow to the Lord very seriously and I did not want to take a chance of being damned because of a broken vow to the Lord if my foolish and weak flesh could not resist more than a month—I mean I had already blown it after just one week. And, after having been stoned literally every day for five years—5 out of only 23—a month seemed like a very long time.

And I suspected that if I could go that long, I would be able to keep going on, weed free and Spirit filled, without the fear of a broken vow tempting the enemy to keep poking me with stupid cat analogies. It’s no wonder I don’t like cats. By the way, the Lord’s presence did embrace me once again and gave me the strength to keep, my vow, and then some. And the cat died just to spite me, and no I did not kick it.

I have been free from substance addictions for 30 years now.

No Looking Back

And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”

No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:61—62

The enemy is always looking for an opportune time to drag us back, even if it’s only in our minds. Just don’t go there.

Jesus is making with his response here I believe. telling those listening—’there is nothing back there worth going back for, pining for, or clinging to, if it means not answering my call to follow. . . now.’

Jesus calls us when he wants us to follow. It is not a preemptive call; ‘Get ready, I’ll be back in a year to lead you on.’ Or, ‘Go out and party hardy, make a bucket of money, eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow the work starts. Jesus knew that this particular gentleman’s final farewell was an excuse to postpone his call, a longing to cling to, or go back to, what he had, and it would probably have delayed him longer and longer until it was too late. His own heart disqualified him before he even started. Sad.

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Keep your eyes on the prize, no turning back. You have not missed anything that is worth more than the prize at the end of the road—not by a long shot. St. Paul would come to the same conclusion and said as much often.

…forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Phil 3:13, 14

Forget those things back there, those technicolor remakes of black and white memories that our brains keep replaying in our heads.

Only the lies of the enemy make the parties we missed look attractive—“Oh the fun I could have had if I wasn’t a follower of Christ trying to live righteously” 

Ever thought that? ‘If I only knew now what I didn’t know then, the fun I could have had.’ Or more like; ‘If only I didn’t know then what I knew, I could have had a lot of guilt free fun and memories to cherish in my righteous doldrums today.’

Only a dog returns to it’s vomit—I know that’s gross but that’s the way the scriptures describe a fool returning to his sin after being delivered.  ‘Hmmm. It was good the first time, I sure miss it, hey there it is, let’s. . .’—I’ll stop there.

22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

You were made for so much better.

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Check out my latest release; Barbarians in the Kingdom

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The Work of my Hands

Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. 3 John 1:2

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Midnight Sparky

Do you believe that the Lord cares about your life and will intervene on your behalf to prosper the work of your hands and give you success in your endeavors? I believe he will—so long as we acknowledge his help and recognize that we must praise him regardless of whether we feel we had a good day or not.

It was 2005. I was in my fourth year of serving as the children’s pastor at Hope Center and in my third decade of working construction. I was doing some remodel work at the United Methodist church in downtown Billings. Because the church had a day care center that was open all day and the work we were doing was noisy and messy we were working nights—never fun, but whatever it takes to get the job done and done right.

Part of the job involved putting in an elevator for handicap access to the lower level. To do this we had to cut a hole in the concrete floor of the basement to create a pit for the Hydraulics that would run the elevator. I had a concrete cutting contractor come in a saw the floor, and in the midst of the cutting there was a loud pop, a puff of smoke and sudden darkness.

We immediately knew what happened, we had cut through a conduit under the floor cutting the power to many of the basement lights. Luckily it threw the breaker right away and no one got hurt—no one but the power feed anyway. We plugged in some temporary lights and finished the job, pulled the concrete from the hole and sent the cutting contractor on his way.

So then, I’ll never forget this, it’s about one o’clock in the morning and I’m standing there looking at the severed conduit in the bottom of my hole thinking, ‘now what am I going to do?’ Even if I could fix this myself I cannot get the stuff to do it, it’s the middle of the night and everything is closed and all the electricians I know are no doubt home in bed.’

It wouldn’t matter so much except that the basement was where all the rooms were that they used for the day care and the dozens of kids would start arriving bright and early—to a dark basement. So while I’m standing there pondering this, and halfway praying at the same time, more an expression of exasperation: “Lord, now what do I do? I need a sparky!” Suddenly someone walks into the room and says, “Hey Dan, how ya doing?” It’s Jamie, a sparky!—an electrician I know from previous jobs whom I know is also a believer. I looked at him shocked and said, “What are you doing here?”

He said, “I’m doing some night work in the bank across the alley and I recognized your truck so I snuck in the back door to say hi.”  I said, “Boy am I glad to see you! I have a little problem here.” I pointed down to the severed conduit and said, “Do you have time to fix this for me?” “Sure, it’ll just take a few minutes, let me run out to my truck and grab some stuff.”

Problem solved. There was no doubt in my mind that God sent Jamie there at just the right time to take care of my problem, not just that, but to remind me that he is always looking out for me, and that he indeed hears my prayer every day before I go to work that he “bless the work of my hands.”

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I could tell you many stories just like that, and I could also tell you stories about the times things have gone south because I got cocky and started thinking my efforts prospered because I was awesome, I’m not awesome but I have a God who is and that is much better in the long run, and the short for that matter.

Fast forward to this week.

I had my mind blown this week, what started as a seriously stressful week with all that’s going on in my job and ministry, God showed up.

Wednesday I got a call from the owner of the company I work for—Jim. He asked if I could come to the office after work, he needed to talk to me about something.

I said ‘okay, I’ll swing by on my way home.’ It sounded way too serious so I was suddenly real nervous racking my brain, “What did I do wrong? Or, maybe he wants me to do a funeral or something for someone in his family, uugh, no fun.”

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So a couple hours later I jump in my old work truck and head to the office. I pull in the yard and walk into the shop, just as I’m about to pull open the door to the office area the door opens and there’s Jim, the big boss. He says, “I saw you coming. Come with me and he motions me to the back door.” My heart starts racing and I’m thinking, “Oh no, it’s so serious he wants to make sure no one else hears.”

We walk out the back door to where his big fancy truck is parked and he abruptly says, “get in.” So we’re going for a ride. Now I’m thinking, okay, he has some nasty welding job he wants me to look at, just what I need on top of the big job I’m trying to ride herd on now. We start heading west on East Laurel road and just before we get to King Avenue he says, “I suppose you’re wondering where we’re going?” —Uh, yeah.

He says, “I don’t know if we tell you often enough how much we appreciate you and all the hard work you do for this company. We consider you one of the big dogs. You always get your jobs done and done well and everyone wants to work with Dan.

I said, “Wow, thanks but to tell you the truth that kind of adds to my stress, that’s a lot to live up to. But I also have to tell you that I cannot take the credit, the Lord just blesses the work of my hands, I pray that every day, and I just show up and do the best I can.”

He says, That’s what we love about you.” He then reaches into the cup holder in his console and hands me a fancy electronic key fob and says’ “Here’s the key to your new truck.” My jaw dropped and I stammered something or other, we then pull into the local Ford dealer and he says “There it is. If you push that button right there is will start remotely.”

I push the buttons and all the lights flash and it starts. We walk to the truck and he tells me to get in and starts to run through all the bells and whistles, it pretty much has them all. It’s a 2019 F250 with an extended cab, four wheel drive of course, back up camera, an activated Sirius radio with Bluetooth hook ups, and myriad other things I am still trying to wrap my brain around–I mean, my old work truck didn’t even have power windows and locks, let alone rear window defrosters and power side mirrors–It’s just big and bad and beautiful.  He says ‘Drive it home and show Donna and tomorrow we’ll take it in and get it outfitted with a grill guard, tool box, floor mats and, the company logo.’

I don’t own it but as long as I work for them, I can drive it like I do.

I tell him, “I don’t even know what to say. I have never had a new vehicle in my life.” As I’m driving home in shock I think to look at the odometer and it has 12 miles on it and I am overwhelmed. “Thank you Jesus!” You have indeed blessed the work of my hands and caused me to prosper.

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And his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Gen 39

I continued to pray: “Let me never forget that the primary reason I am here, that my work is being blessed, is because I am yours and you are mine and my primary mission is to be a light for you in all I do and say. Thank you that my diligence is a reflection of you and your character.”

Barbarians in the Kingdom by Dan Swaningson

Choose Joy

Jolene Meme

Down in my heart

The other day I was driving home from work, honestly, my job is intense, both physically—making every joint in my body hurt—and mentally, as I deal with people who are all driven, busy and under pressure all day long. Running a multi-million dollar project, trying to keep all the pieces and all the players moving in the right direction at the right time, while still being a craftsmen working with my hands can be hugely stressful.

So I was driving home from work with all this stuff running through my mind, my back, knees and neck killing me, trying to shift my focus to the sermon I know I have to start writing when I get home. I already knew I was supposed to talk about joy and I’m thinking; I sure don’t feel very joyful right now.

I thought of that new song from King and Country, kind of a play on the old children’s song I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. . . and I remembered my daughters singing along to this song on a cassette tape they had full of silly Sunday school songs. I can still hear their high little girl voices singing, I think it was Cally, not really sure of all the words, but she would hardily sing the last few words “. . .down in my heart Tuesday” And of course the ‘Where!’

And I started to smile.

So I started to sing; I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, where, down in my heart, where, down in my heart. . . to stay.

After a few choruses of that I was actually laughing, how can you sing that and not be happy? Especially with everything that is associated with it, especially the truth that it espouses. A simple song reminding us of the most significant truth we can know as human beings.

I’ve got the wonderful love of my blessed redeemer way down in the depths of my heart. Where?. . .  Just singing about joy, about the Lord brought the lightness back to my heart. Light always displaces the dark.

Sing it with me; Now I’m so happy, so very happy, I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart! Yes I’m so happy, so very happy, I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart!

If that did not make you smile, you could be a fuddy duddy.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Gal 5

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In praying about this message the Lord told me; “Joy is a byproduct of being loved.” Which explains why it is the second fruit of the Spirit right behind love. If you know you are loved by the one who created you and holds your fate in his hands, if you truly understand the depth and the significance of that love, how could you not have joy?

And if you have joy you will have peace and as a result of that joy and peace you will have no reason to be anxious, in a hurry, so you will be patient—long-suffering— and a happy patient loved person is more inclined to be kind and gentle, putting others before himself leading to self-control  which is simply telling the flesh to be patient and kind, that there are more important things than fulfilling it’s selfish demands.

Which means in a sense, a very real sense, that Love and joy has crucified the flesh with it’s passions and desires. The passions and desires that unchecked will leave us with no joy, no long-suffering patience and no self-control.

Wow, I never looked at the fruits of the Spirit as being dependent on each other like that before. The fruits are not just a list of virtues that God decided one day he would just give us if we asked for the Spirit, it is an understanding of who we are, who he is, our relationship with him leading to a chain reaction releasing one fruit after the other.

Joy Meme

Distress

But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You;
Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them;
Let those also who love Your name
Be joyful in You.
12 For You, O Lord, will bless the righteous;
With favor You will surround him as with a shield. Ps 5:11,12

Joy can maybe be defined as a lack of stress. I mean, think about it, if you are not worried, if you are not losing sleep over an issue, fretting and anxious, what are you?

So, why are you not happy, why are you not joyful? —Because you are afraid, worried, stressed. And why are you these things? It boils down to one thing to me, something I come back to over and over again in my walk with the Lord and have since the very beginning because it really is the very definition of salvation—and that is trust, trusting his love for us.

We must trust the Lord for our salvation, with our hearts and with our lives. And if we are truly trusting him in all of these things, then why, pray tell, do we stress?

The Lord has been working on this with me lately, big time. If you want to discover a whole new level of potential stress try pastoring a bunch of people, real people with real problems and issues, whom you have come to love, who have become a family, not just a church. A church that is just a church can only cause you so much grief because you can walk away from it. But you cannot and should not walk away from family.

Not if you have a heart that is attuned at all to the Holy Spirit with the instinct he plants in all hearts to defend their own.

But, I have to remember that you, this church, and my family whether blood or spiritual, are not my own, it all belongs to Jesus—I am just a steward, a shepherd, a father, a husband, brother, uncle grandpa, friend—what have you—all titles I am proud of and take seriously, but if I am not trusting all of those whom call me by those various things to the one who loves and knows them better then I could in a hundred life times, then I will only drive myself to drink, or worse, trying to protect, build and nurture them all.

My church belongs to Jesus. My family belongs to Jesus. My future, my hopes and dreams, my vision for this ministry, my job, my finances, my health and well-being—they all belong to Jesus and he alone is able to care for all of them, to strengthen me, to guide me, to quicken my soul in the right times and still it when need be.

The more I realize that, the more I trust and let go of the stress, transfer the burden over to Jesus, the more joy I am able to feel in my heart, the better I can sleep at night and the more able I am to love those around me who need loved, we all need loved.

Love brings joy.Just ask my Granddaughter Jolene whose picture graces the top of this blog.

Joy by King and Country

Take it Seriously (Wanderer part II)

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

-JR Tolkien; Fellowship of the Ring.

This poem is quoted a few times in Tolkien’s books, but it is first found in a letter from Gandalf to Frodo Baggins in reference to Aragorn, the raider destined to be King. Not unlike the King David of ancient Israel, the writer of many of the psalms, including the one we are going to look at shortly.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”  We who know the Lord are never lost because our Father is always right there with us. Either by our side as we walk with him or right behind us as we wander, or even try to run.

I took this picture of my grandson, with my shadow in it on purpose, because it reminds me that we are never alone. Our Father is always right there, by his Holy Spirit.

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You number my wanderings;
put my tears into Your bottle;
Are they not in Your book?
When I cry out to You,
then my enemies will turn back;
this I know, because God is for me.
10 In God (I will praise His word),
in the Lord (I will praise His word),
11 In God I have put my trust;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me? Ps 56

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The Father cherishes you so much that he collects and saves your tears. Wow, it actually says that “You number my wanderings;
put my tears into Your bottle
” God saves our tears, keeps a record of our hurts and pains. Numbers our tears and our wanderings—our pain and confusion driven wanderings—“Why Lord? Why have those I trusted turned against me? Why do I feel this pain? Why am I lost and alone?”

There is only one reason a loving God would keep track of our tears and ramblings—so that he can answer for, answer to, and redeem each and every one.

“When I cry out to You,
Then my enemies will turn back;
This I know, because God is for me.”!
Ps 56

 

We have to recognize that God is always with us, he hears our cries and even saves our tears, this knowledge alone can save us from succumbing to the desire to wander off and hide, knowing that God is always there to hear us, to give us courage and to rescue us.

We don’t need to run away from our enemies. We do not need to hide from our fears, or hide our tears. Our Father is aware of all of them, he cares about them, he cares about us, and he is for us—we have no need to be afraid

Even in our wanderings, God always knows where we are, we are never lost.

Destiny

You have a destiny, a God given purpose just for you. The JR Tolkien poem we started with was written as a riddle about Aragorn, a man born to be a high King but living as a refugee under an assumed name, hiding not just from his enemies but from his own destiny. Afraid of the responsibility  and feeling unsure of his worth.

But when it became clear to him how many people were suffering because of his failure to fulfill his call, he embraced it and helped save middle earth from the evil orcs and wizards. Okay, that’s as nerdy as I‘m going to get here and I’m not sure I understand all the Lord of the Rings stuff anyway, but it makes the point.

There is a season to wander, and a season to take the trail to your destiny and to claim your inheritance. God has a better path for you, when you are willing and ready to trust. The imaginary Aragon and the historical King David had to wake up one day and decide to take their selves seriously, to take their call seriously.

Seriously

At some point we all have to take this stuff seriously.

I was thinking the other day while I was driving home from work in my company truck about another contractor in town who is rumored to be in financial trouble. I have worked with some of the people who are there now and they are a big part of that company. I also know that they got away with a lot of unproductive activity while they worked for us and no doubt have not changed a whole lot, so I was not real surprised to hear this. They did more wandering then working.

Thinking about my aching joints and weary mind from another long day of pushing a project for the people who trust me to make stuff happen, I actually said out loud, just spontaneously as I thought about the attitudes of these men as opposed to how I and the team I work with approach things—I shouted at my dirty lunch box on the floor of the truck; “At some point you have to take this stuff seriously!”

It’s that simple. If you want to succeed at anything, if you want to get anywhere worth going, accomplish anything accomplishing, make a buck or a name, build a home or a kingdom—just make a difference in this life to someone—you have, at some point, to stop wandering and pick a direction, preferably the one suggested to you by the one who has been following you around for so long, pulling you out of the tall weeds—and say, okay, this is my direction, this is my mission, and even if it’s uphill and the road long—I am going to put my all into accomplishing what you call me to accomplish.

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My passion is to fulfill my purpose in this life, the one I stumbled into, Father, while you nudged me from side to side while whispering in my ear along the way making sure I didn’t miss the wonders along the trail or get consumed by the wolves and the bears that also watched for their chance to carry me off.

David concludes his wandering psalm with this:

Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God;
I will render praises to You,
13 For You have delivered my soul from death.
Have You not kept my feet from falling,
That I may walk before God
In the light of the living? Ps 56

David was a man of his word, and a man of God’s word, he fulfilled his destiny. That’s why the Spirit calls him a man after God’s own heart.

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

 

 

The Wanderer

 

Not all who wander are lost

So I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.
Indeed, I would wander far off,  and remain in the wilderness. Psalm 55:6-7

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Wouldn’t you love sometimes, to just wander off into the wilderness and be lost? At least lost to the world. Just stop the world and let me off as the old song goes. Well that can’t happen, the world doesn’t stop. But—there are those very appealing mountains just up the road—deceptively inviting, dangerous, but impartial, and there’s just something appealing about that—isn’t there? The mountains don’t judge you, they will fill or kill anyone regardless of their character or social acceptability.

 

I have a fantasy of one day, when my time is near, of wandering off into the hills and dying in peace even if it means freezing or starving to death, rather than wasting away in a nursing home drooling in a wheelchair or drying up my families savings while prolonging the inevitable in my death bed. Hopefully they have all-terrain Hoverounds, by then.

Sorry, that’s just what I thought of when I read this verse from Psalm 55. This will get happier I promise.

Not Lost

There’s an old saying that came to my mind while I was thinking about this notion of wandering; “Not all who wander are lost.” It’s actually a line from a poem that can be found in The Lord of the Rings books by JR Tolkien that goes in part:

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

-JR Tolkien; Fellowship of the Ring.

It is first found in a letter from Gandalf to Frodo Baggins in reference to Aragorn, the raider destined to be King. A man hiding from his destiny. Not unlike King David, the raider become King who penned the words of the verse we started with.

All who wander are not lost. Reminds me also of my grandson Shane. He’s a couple months shy of being two years old, he loves the outdoors and likes to take big walks, he also likes to go where Shane wants to go. He’s never lost because you always have to chase after him. He’s a boy on a mission, he may not know what it is until he finds it, but it’s there for the discovering—out there.

Wandering boy

While we were on Vacation last week we stayed at my Dad’s house. He lives on twenty acres in the middle of nowhere in the north woods of Minnesota. Our daughter Danielle and her son Shane went with us.

One morning Shane decide he wanted to go outside, to no one’s surprise. He had also decided somewhere along the line that Grandpa was his ticket to the great outdoors because every morning the first thing he did when he saw me was beeline to the door and reach for the handle while looking at me with those big brown eyes pleading for adventure as if saying—‘come on grandpa, let’s go!’

So I decided I really wanted to go outside also. It was a beautiful fall morning and I was ready to get out and enjoy the Minnesota outdoors where I had spent much of my childhood. Danielle had fallen asleep on the couch—you are always tired when you have a toddler—so I quietly dressed Shane, put on his coat and shoes and off we went.

We wandered around in the yard and in the woods close by before striking out on the county road. Like I said, Shane likes to go where Shane likes to go so I basically just followed and took pictures while making sure he didn’t get too far into the woods where you can get lost in the dense vegetation pretty quickly.

We ultimately ended up walking pretty far down the dead end county road, stopping occasionally to sit and play in the sandy gravel of the road or to pick up brilliant fallen leaves or acorns.

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As we wandered down the road we found ourselves going down a pretty long hill and I kept telling him, though I doubt he understood what I was saying; “You know, if you walk down a hill eventually you have to walk back up it.”  He would just look at me, jabber something and point at a wildflower or whatever happened to catch his eye at that particular moment.

Finally grandpa decided we had better turn around and head back. So knowing I was in for a fight I grabbed his hand and gently tried to turn him around. He protested and walked into the tall grass on one side of the road, got tangled and fell. I helped him up. Then he did the same thing on the other side, I helped him up again. Then he found a nearby field access road, ducked under a gate marked ‘Private Road’ and took off like he owned the place—anything to avoid going the direction I picked for him.

I retrieved him and set him back on the road. By now he had been turned around so many times he forgot which way he was going anyway and actually started walking with me back to the house. That is until he realized that we were now walking uphill and it was much more work.

So you know what he did? He stopped, turned to me, held up his arms and looked at me with those big brown eyes. What do you suppose I did? Scold him for being weak? Say, this is the path you chose, deal with it? Laugh and leave him behind?

I picked him up of course and was glad to do it. I then carried him all the way up the hill and pointed out all the wonders to be seen off a Minnesota back road along the way.

Shane and I are now fast friends and he trusts me implicitly.

Not all who wander are lost, because if they are loved, there is always someone following, someone who will even carry you back if you need it.

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He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say:

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?” Heb 13:4-5

We have to recognize that God is always with us, he hears our cries and even saves our tears, this knowledge alone can save us from succumbing to the desire to wander off and hide, knowing that God is always there to hear us, to give us courage and to rescue us.

We don’t need to run away from our enemies. We do not need to hide from our fears, or hide our tears. Our Father is aware of all of them, he cares about them, he cares about us, and he is for us—we have no need to be afraid

Even in our wanderings, God always knows where we are, that’s why we, the wanderers, are not lost.

You number my wanderings;
put my tears into Your bottle;
Are they not in Your book?
When I cry out to You,
then my enemies will turn back;
this I know, because God is for me.. . .
11 In God I have put my trust;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me? Ps 56

 

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Seasons and Passion

This is but a season.

shallow focus of clear hourglass
Photo by Jordan Benton on Pexels.com

Life is full of seasons and each and every one has a purpose if we are trusting the Lord. Even the ones imposed on us by the enemy or the wrong choices of others can become a God orchestrated, character building time that one day we will even be grateful for as we discover that because of it we have a renewed sense of faith—and an energizing passion that drives us to storm the gates in ways we never dared before.

King Solomon writes:

To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to plant,
And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,
And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
And a time to build up;
A time to weep,
And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones,
And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain,
And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
And a time to throw away;
A time to tear,
And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
And a time to speak;
A time to love,
And a time to hate;
A time of war,
And a time of peace.

What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? 10 I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.

12 I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, 13 and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God.   -Ecclesiastes 3

 

There are good times and bad times, times of building and destruction, sowing and reaping. Didn’t Jesus say a seed must die before it brings life? buried and gone only to one day become a beautiful plant, yielding a bounty to be enjoyed.

We were all placed here to do something. We are created in the image of God with unlimited potential and even given his Holy Spirit to overcome any earth and flesh imposed limitations. We are children of God and citizens of heaven.

So, are you enjoying the fruits of the harvest? Or, looking forward to the ones to come if you are in a season of planting and waiting—patience?  Or maybe you are in the just plain toil season, of plowing and weeding.

Whatever the season we must rejoice that we are still around to keep working, working with the knowledge that everything will be made beautiful in its time, rejoicing that we will eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of our labor—that’s a promise, that’s the gift of God.

In Christ, everything in our lives serves a purpose and has meaning. But outside of Christ everything has ramifications as well, the laws of cause and effect always apply. The scriptures call it bearing fruit. Either we bear good fruit, or bad fruit, abundant fruit or little fruit–withering until we just give up and fade away, certainly no satisfaction there.

The Farmer

In the old Soviet Union, the one that us of the baby boom generation grew up fearing during the cold war, communism was the rule of the land.  This meant no one owned anything- everything belonged to the state who in turn was supposed to divide everything up evenly amongst the people, no one was special, they were all “comrades”. This sounds like a fair system, right? Well, it was- everyone was equally hungry.  Except for the privileged few who had all the weapons and did the distributing, they always seemed to have much more.

I remember seeing pictures in the news of grocery store shelves with little or no food, people would stand in line for hours to buy a loaf of bread just hoping that they would not run out before they got there, they could only hope, they couldn’t pray– because that was not allowed.

Weird, that there was so little food-everyone had a job, whether they wanted one or not, there were just as many farmers—maybe more—there was just as much land to grow crops and raise livestock, but, there was no love for the land anymore, there was no desire to work the fields, to work all day and night to bring in the harvest.  No one wanted to stay up all night and make sure the new born calves or lambs didn’t freeze to death. Why?

Because there was no love for the land, there was no passion. There was no passion because it just didn’t matter to the people who were farming- there was no reward, everyone got paid the same, no matter. And there was no cost of failure– everyone got paid the same, no matter. 

People didn’t get to choose to be farmers, you did whatever your parents did- like it or not. So not only was there no reason- many people hated what they did and couldn’t wait to go home at the end of the day no matter whether they were done or not.  The whole system finally collapsed under its own weight.

At the same time, and yet today, the American farmerthey work round the clock, work themselves into the ground, often just to watch their work get destroyed by a single storm or swarm of bugs, but they screw their hats down tight and do it again, and if you ask them why- they’ll tell you they love it and there is nothing else they would rather do. And there is always hope, there is always next year.

silhouette of man sitting on grass field at daytime
Photo by Spencer Selover on Pexels.com

Why?  It’s their passion- it’s the life they chose- they love the land like it is a family member and everything it produces -they are proud to take to market and they hold their heads high when they take that check to the bank knowing that they earned every penny and that they are one year closer to passing the land on to their own children- to the son or daughter who chooses that life. And if they have the passion of their parents and grandparents planted into their souls– the farm will continue, and the people of this nation will still be able to stroll to the nearest store and choose from thirty or more different kinds of bread that they can buy for less money than the gallon of fuel it took to run the farmer’s tractor for a round or two in the field it was grown in.

The passion in the heart of the American farmer feeds the world and a bad year just makes them more determined the next.

What you love

Doing what you love, doing what you were born to do, doing what you choose to do, knowing that it makes a difference, that is what keeps you going, that is the passion we all need. The kingdom of Heaven is no different. Many of Jesus’ stories centered around farmers, because passion keeps the economy of the kingdom strong- God’s kingdom is strong when we are strong, we need passion.  The farmer is tireless, why aren’t we, the church, the keepers of the kingdom, working to bring in the greatest harvest of all?

37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  Mat 9

Please my friends, do not give up if you are in a trying season, there is always hope, this is indeed, but a season.

Taking ‘Me’ out of the Equation

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Phil 2

light shine

“That’s a lousy marketing strategy!”

Putting others first, a simple and noble concept but one that flies in the face of human nature—now there’s a term to ponder; “human nature.”  Human nature as we generally mean it refers to the tendencies of the flesh, the base instincts of the human condition which left to its own accord is pretty much just about, first of all, survival and then, secondly, fulfilling the cravings of the fleshfeeding the beast.

But we are not subject to the flesh, enslaved by human nature. We are, at least we are supposed to be, subject to the Spirit. Because the flesh is corrupted by thousands of generations of sin and is deceitful beyond measure. An empty shell once created to house the spirit created in the image of God but killed by sin. But for those who have believed it has been remade, born again, even replaced by the Spirit of our God.

But, we still need to be asked on occasion:

Why do you do what you do? For whom do you do it?

Give it away

Let me give you an example.

When I wrote my second book, Hope For Families I had high hopes. Now here’s a book people need to read, will want to read, that will get me invited to places to speak, make me some  money so I can quit having to work construction. My name will be out there and my first book—To My Girls­— will take off because I am now an experienced author—“Lord bless this book!”

A few months after it came out, on the heels of a few disappointing book signings and virtually no response from the many organizations and church leaders I sent it to, Donna and I went to the Foursquare Conference in Anaheim, it was a rare opportunity for Donna and I, attending the annual convention, so I wanted to take full advantage. I brought along several copies of both my books determined to get them into the hands of people who may have some influence and get my name out there—all the Foursquare big wigs are at convention.

The second day of convention I was praying; ‘Lord show me who to give books to, give me opportunity’, and the Lord said; “Don’t give the book to people whom you think can bless you, give it to those whom you think will be blessed by it” Just give it away.

You know what I thought about that? “That’s a lousy marketing strategy!” No. I was actually relieved. I had been stressing about how to give books to the people that would ultimately generate book sales and forgetting why I wrote the books in the first place— to bless people.

The Lord had never promised that I would make the best seller list, he only asked me to write, to speak his heart and make it available—the rest is up to him. I suddenly felt free of the burden and was no longer disappointed that I wasn’t getting my investment back in dollars. And I had fun the rest of that trip just looking for people whom the Lord put on my heart to just give a book to, just for the sake of giving them a book—of sharing the message the Lord had put on my heart to write.

I got to give To My Girls to some very appreciative young ladies that were there serving on the worship team and as bus chaperones, hotel workers, and I got to give Hope For Families to total strangers, like a family from Uganda, to a youth leader I ran into at Starbucks, to a family in the airport whom we struck up a conversation with, to a frazzled woman in a fast food line who was asking Donna about her faith—the doors just started opening—it really was fun, because it was no longer about me—it was about other people—about being Jesus to the world.

Man and shadow
It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

Really, what it boils down to, what made all the difference was, the “me” was taken out of the equation. I stopped worrying about what I could get out of it and then I found the joy of the experience, ‘the joy of giving’, to use the corny old saying.

I did the same thing when I was working on a construction project in Miles City a couple years ago, I made it my mission to give away a couple of books every week, and I did. I was always amazed that people seemed genuinely grateful to what seemed to me like something that was quite forward and maybe even creepy, but like I said, I was sensitive to the Spirit in the process so the hearts were prepared to receive.

I think people just want to be acknowledged, we are all so wrapped up in ourselves so often that we don’t notice those around us, so to walk up to someone, say, I would like to give you something,  what is your name? Write it in the front page of a book that you wrote, sign it, and hand it to them and say, ‘”I just wanted to give you one of my books, be blessed.” Leaves them thinking, ‘wow, someone noticed me, and maybe even cared.’

That just dawned on me as I was writing this message, if we all were looking for others to notice instead of working to be noticed, the world would be a much different place, wouldn’t it? That’s the message of our scripture today, and actually, the message of the entire gospel.

But it’s funny looking back, I was building a multi-million dollar addition on a Catholic church, responsible for everything that went on there, and I would drive home at the end of the week and reflect on what a great week it was based on the smiles of those I got to give books to. I gave a few away at the church there by the way, starting with the maintenance man.

Just give it away. I don’t know that any of those free books led to anyone buying any books but I have no doubt that many were blessed and encouraged by the ones I gave away—and that makes it worth any amount of time and money I put into these books.

So, with my next book, I just went into it with a different attitude. After the whole barbarian notion was developed, preached to my church and seemed to really strike a chord with people I thought; “I’ll make this my next book, this barbarian series, because it really seemed to bless people, because I believe the Lord wants me to, and because I believe it is a message that comes straight from him and the church needs to hear it.’

Where it goes from there is entirely up to Him. I will do what I can and actually mean what I have always said; if it blesses just a handful of people then it was worth it.

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