The Barbarian with a Bible

The kingdom needs more barbarians-

 I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise.  So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. Romans 1:14,15 NKJV

During the dark ages, Europe was caught in the grip of the feudal system, living in squalor as peasants; controlled and used basically as slave labor and soldiers at the whim of a few very wealthy people—the nobles, who controlled all wealth and land. But even they served an even higher power; the Church, the final— yet powerful— vestige of the Roman Empire; the Holy Roman church, holding the power of heaven and hell to be dispensed at their will, often to manipulate and embezzle.

Then along comes the Vikings; raiding, burning, and killing. Free men who bowed down to no one, taking what they wanted with ferocious and terrifying efficiency, striking out of nowhere and disappearing again on the waves of the sea in their dragon headed long ships that would come to be the stuff of nightmares for generations.

“Save us, O Lord, from the wrath of the Norseman!” –barbarians-new-logoA prayer on the lips of many for generations.

Their prime targets were those very same churches who had themselves pillaged an entire populace using the threat of hell like a double edged sword. Their imposing high steepled churches and their monasteries— where all the wealth they had absconded was hoardedwere easy pickings for those who answered to no one, certainly not to those who called themselves priests of some foreign God. They had no respect nor fear for this bunch of soft bellied weak limbed men, whose hands craved the feel of gold and but blanched at the steel of the sword hilt. Men who had never torn their hands pulling on an oar yet, worshiped a God whose flesh had been ripped to shreds by the so called civilized.

But as these easy targets began to be fewer and farther between, these freebooting barbarians began to see that there was more money to be had—a better lot for their families and a much better chance of going home at the end of an adventure— if they turned their energies to trading. Thus they became the first to tie the world back together after centuries of fracture; the east to the west, England to France and Germany, Russia to Constantinople.

They discovered new lands in the west; Greenland, Iceland and Vinland and established trade routes between them and Ireland, Scotland and Wales, even building port cities such as Dublin, York, Kiev and Reykjavik which still thrive today. Suddenly Bagdad and Constantinople could trade with Iceland, Greenland and Vinland and all points in between.

Isolated, dark corners of the world, where people had only heard legends and fables of other far-away places, became international hubs for trade as those long ships they once feared, carried goods, news and people from exotic places they never dreamed existed, let alone could trade with.

Because of a bunch of barbarians the world became a much smaller place, as the Scandinavians became the distributers of the world’s wealth and resources. Languages and information were shared across the world, the lost wisdom of the ages, of Socrates and Plato, ferreted away in the quickly shrinking Byzantine empire of the east, was once again sparking a desire, and laying the groundwork, for all of Europe and the middle east to once again seek out and understand that there is an order and a science to this world we live in; that an intelligent God did create this world to be a good and just place for us to live.

Because the barbarians rocked the boat, broke down the barriers, the world began to see that there was so much more to this world—to this life—than just surviving another day. That man could achieve and improve his lot, and low and behold; the renaissance happened, followed closely by the reformation and of course the Christianization of those Viking barbarians as they put away the sword of conquest in favor of the living sword- the Bible. Yet the conquest continued.

Once those barbarians got a hold of the truth, there was another revolution as the Germans, the Saxons and Celts- the Brits, the French, and Scandinavians—and so on—sought out and fought for their right to worship their God; to live as free men and women who could work hard, pray harder, and live the life they chose while benefiting from the fruits of their own labor.

All of this culminating and finding it’s truest expression in the land and country called America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, extending across a continent first seen as a cold and unwelcoming distant land by those barbarian raiders and traders almost 500 hundred years before the first civilized Christian ever knew it existed; the land once called Vinland and inhabited by another race of barbarian that the Vikings had decided to let have the land, the Vikings called them Skraeling—wild men. Columbus would call them Indians. At least the Vikings were smart enough to know they weren’t in India.

The Spirit of the Barbarian

So when I talk about being a barbarian; it’s the spirit of adventure and courage, the desire to make things happen, to advance and enhance whatever agenda I have determined is worthy of my efforts no matter what or who would try and stop me. I know my ancestry and that I am descended from many of those northern tribes once called barbarian. Primarily the Scandinavian, Dutch, Irish and English all delightfully mixed together and deposited here today in the middle of Montana as a sort of Barbarian smoothie. 

But I am a “barbarian with a Bible meaning that barbarian propensity towards getting it done, making it happen; ‘I have made up my mind and you had better not get in my way’ spirit of freedom— is tempered and directed by the black and white, ‘this is right and this is wrong’— Laws of my God and by the Spirit of truth that lives within my heart, and I no longer live and fight to gratify the desires of the flesh, but my energies are now expended towards living for the Spirit and advancing his Kingdom, and you still had better not in get in my way.

No doubt many of you also, are descendants of some of those barbarians as well, and you have that same heritage and spirit. In reality pretty much every race and people has a barbarian past, some older, some more recent. The ones north of Rome just happen to be the ones who got the name Barbarian. I believe that deep within the heart of every person is the desire for a straightforward; ‘Don’t mess with me or mine and we’ll be fine, tell me no lies and I’ll trust you with my life and give mine for you’ kind of spirit.

And when focused, empowered and tempered by the truth of God’s word and by the living word—Jesus Christ— we, the church, the gentiles grafted into the Kingdom to share in the inheritance first promised to the descendants of Abraham, are unstoppable, uncontainable, and will not be deterred- unless we choose to allow ourselves to be. And that is what this barbarian blog and my ministry is all about; learning to storm the gates of hell, set the captives free from their chains of slavery imposed on them by nobles and priests, and knowing when to stop, throw up our visors, wipe the sweat off our brows, and glory in the simple pleasures on the sun on our faces, the cool breeze in our hair, and the camaraderie of our brothers and sisters in arms.

The Kingdom needs us barbarians. The church has forgotten the fulfillment and the pure joy of victory that is to be had in fighting, and winning the right battles, the simple pleasures of a life of freedom and the importance of defending it. The church has enough politicians and philosophers; it’s time to take hold of the life to which we were called -to fight the good fight fearlessly and wholeheartedly.

12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the presence of God who gives life to all things, 1 Tim 6

 

Shameless

Shame Kills There is a Godly conviction that leads to repentance, it gives us the wisdom and desire to turn away from something, to turn to God for help—and he gives it. That’s different from shame. Shame makes us turn away from God, quite the opposite of conviction.

Conviction is the voice inside of you that says you are doing the wrong thing, it may be your conscience or it may be the Holy Spirit, in either case it is a good thing that hopefully prompts you to do the right thinshamelessg.

 

Shame on the other hand is a deep seated soul eating feeling of despair from which there may seem to be no escape and rather than prompting us to do the right thing it can quite often have the opposite effect and drive us right into the thing that caused the shame in the first place.  Worse, it keeps us running, and or, hiding from God.

Conviction makes us dig in and try harder. Shame beats us down and makes us give up; leaves us hopeless.  That’s not what our God offers:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”

Romans 10: 9-11

Poop on the floor

I remember when I was in 1st grade in the little town of Cloquet Minnesota we had our Gym Class in the cafeteria.  I remember very little about this class, but I remember well the day we were doing calisthenics and we were all spread out across the cafeteria/Gym in our designated spots and the teacher told us to get on the floor and do sit ups.  I looked down on the floor to where I was supposed to lay and saw what I was sure was poop.  I know this sounds gross and I have no idea where it came from but my 6 year old mind was convinced that somehow someone had left a couple of  brown nuggets on the floor.

Now maybe it was part of a brownie, I don’t know, but I was not going anywhere near it.  I raised my hand and explained to the teacher that I could not get down in my designated spot because there was poop on the floor.  Surely no one could expect me to sit in such unsanitary conditions.  The teacher came over quite brusquely, glanced quickly at the floor and declaring it poop free commanded me to drop.

I refused.  She became quite upset and began berating me, I don’t remember what she said, only that I was quite dismayed and quite bewildered that she would not recognize a turd for a turd; this was grade school, was it that absurd that someone may have had an accident and had something roll out of their pants?

Apparently it was and I was dubbed a fool.  At the end of class she had me stand next to her in the hallway after my classmates had gone back to their room and declared to the next class that was coming in that ‘I was naughty and would not listen to the teacher’— Something to that effect. All I remember for sure is that she was doing everything she could to embarrass me, to shame me.

But I was not having it because I knew I did not deserve it.  She was not about to shame me because I would not accept it.  All she did was make me hate Gym class and convince me that she was mean and unreasonable.  The worst part to me was, no one cleaned up the floor for the next class.  Gross!

Thots

We are trained from earliest childhood to accept shame whether deserved or not.  We are trained to dish it out, deserved or not, every chance we get.  In the classroom, on the playground, in our homes and even in our churches. Too many lives have been destroyed, too many people have been alienated from the church when they needed them the most because they were put to shame.  I find it all very disturbing.

Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame”  A pretty bold statement, yet how often do we judge  people in the light of shame, how long do we hold them there?  How can we do to our brothers and sisters what the Lord says cannot happen?  Can believers do shameful things? Yes, it’s called sin and as John said,

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8

But they can be forgiven, the very next verse says:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

And thus the shame is removed, the stain is gone, the page torn out and thrown away, at least from God’s book.  How about yours?  Do you have a book of offenses?  Offenses you have committed and offenses others have committed against you?  You need to tear out those pages and throw them away “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified” not your actions, and the same goes for those around you.  You are not their judge, only God can see the heart.

He sees yours— and he loves you.

 

Seek Wisdom

 

“…personal Charisma replaced the charismata.”heart-fire

We’ve been talking lately here, and in our church, about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, believing and praying that there will be a new and powerful outpouring that will embolden and equip the church in a very real and tangible way. We have that Spirit available to us already, and the Spirit of the Lord has— as Paul worded it to Titus—been poured out on us generously.  

He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. Titus 3

But I am contending and believing that there will be a fresh anointing in the church; that there will be new life breathed into weary hearts, and that people from all walks of life will be drawn to the church, drawn to Jesus, as they see and feel the Spirit of God reaching out to them in an irresistible way so that they surrender to his love and compassion. I am praying for and preparing for a revival within and without the church.

To facilitate this, to be in a place where we can be used by the Lord —to witness that Love and compassion to people— we must not be simply charismatic, loud and proud, which is where some of the church who has embraced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit—found in the baptism of the Spirit—ended up. If you were moving in Pentecostal circles or watching some of the TV Evangelists back in the 80’s and 90’s, you know what I’m talking about.

Speaking in tongues became an end in itself instead of a means to facilitate the will of God. And the gifts of the Spirit— prophesying, healing, words of knowledge— became something to flaunt and make a spectacle of, as it seemed Spirit filled Christians were just trying to outdo one another or to prove their Holiness by virtue of how they could be used by God to perform signs and wonders. Experience took precedence over the wisdom found in the word of God.

Honestly, from what I have witnessed, even in Pentecostal circles, the scriptural understanding of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the gifts, the process— the hows, the whys and the what-fors—  are still being debated, as the theological explanation for what the Lord has done and what we have been experiencing is still playing catch up. Everyone assumes that it has all been explained or figured out by someone else smarter than they are and, to me, some very obvious misunderstandings have been perpetuated.

I think it may be because people looked to other people for wisdom instead of going to the source. God has a way of quickly outgrowing all the neat little boxes we try to put him in to match our own limited experience and understandings. Anyway, I digress.

The 80’s and 90’s were kind of the wild west as far as the Spirit filled parts of the body of Christ went. I know, I was there, and I kind of got caught up in it also. We began to lose sight of what the gifts were for, and that they were not a stand-alone thing. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that facilitates the release of his power to allow the Kingdom of God to move in this realm of the natural, must be accompanied by a strong sense of the desire of God’s heart to love, bless, heal and serve others.

Everything God does is motivated by his love, even his rebuke and correction is motivated by that love just as a parent’s discipline of a child is. We have to be smarter about the coming glory, we have to seek the wisdom of God that is available in greater and greater measure as his power in our lives increases, as we learn to move in him.

So how do we know? How do we know what we are to do with the things the Lord gives us, how and when to use the gifts, to not just be a receiver but a giver as well. God doesn’t bless us, fill us and heal us just so that we can sit back and be fat and sassy—God fills us so that we can give to others. His gift are tools to build his Kingdom and the more we give, the more we pour out what he has so generously given—the more we will receive.

This works for everything, blessings are blessings whether it’s our money, our time, our talents, or our spiritual blessings—your healing and wholeness can be shared, your joy can be shared, your life—the life that you have received from Jesus—can be shared. That’s what the supernatural gifts are for. Everything God gives us is motivated by love but it is also to equip us to share that love, to give love.

So how do we know? How do we know how to do any of this. How can we share these things? What do I do with the outpouring of the Spirit? You might think: I’m not sure I want it because I won’t know how to handle it. That’s what happened to the last revival, the Azusa street revival, people lost track— not all people, much of the church is still alive and well and moving powerfully in the power of the Holy Spirit—but many stopped seeking the wisdom of the Lord, they just wanted the glory.

Large churches that initially drew people by the droves because they were moving in the power of the Holy Spirit became seeker sensitive and pushed all vestiges of the Holy Spirit’s power aside, depending on the show and the charisma of the pastor to keep people coming. Personal Charisma replaced the Charismata —the Greek word for the secondary pouring out of the Spirit that brought with it the gifts that equip the church to be Jesus to a dying world.

So how do we know? —Ask.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. James 1

 

The Final Loosening

Christian dove

“One act of courageous  obedience will spark the fire”

I believe the Lord is readying his people for a fresh outpouring of his Holy Spirit, one in which we shall see his glory in new and irresistible ways that will shake this world to its very foundation as we await the return of our Lord to avenge and rescue the martyrs and the persecuted as the church is being slaughtered in unprecedented numbers in much of the world.

So what will spark this final great revival? The obvious answer to getting us to a place where the Spirit of the Lord is free to move among his church in a new and powerful way— a fresh outpouring if you will— is to pray. We are all praying, I won’t insult you by railing on you to pray. We pray for our families, we pray for the nation, the world, that people will come to know the Lord the way we do and know the joy of their salvation— we fast and pray, making our requests known to God in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving.

But I believe there is another key, one that I have heard spoken prophetically over the church recently, and one that is certainly scriptural; That one courageous act of obedience would spark the fire that will engulf the world in the glory of Christ.

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. 1 Sam 15:22

All the Lord has ever wanted from us, whether under the Old Covenant or the New, is obedience to his word. Courageous obedience that originates from the heart, not the outward show of obedience that comes from religion.

Riding the wall

I was visiting with another old Construction hand the other day whom I have worked with on and off for years—Steve—trying to remember when we first worked together and he reminded me of when we built the GSA building in Billings back in ’93. “Oh yeah, you were there when we were doing the foundation, how could I forget you flying through the air on the wall!”

Under the GSA building there is a parking garage, which meant the foundation walls were 24 feet high. In order to save time and not have to assemble and disassemble a whole bunch of concrete forms every time we poured another section of the wall, we built what we called gang forms. So we had these big panels, 24 feet high and 24 feet wide made up of Simon’s forms, 3 forms high and 12 forms wide, with all the stiffeners and scaffolding planks and handrails on them so all we had to do was stand them up on either side of the rebar, with a big crane, poke the snap ties through the hole in the forms to tie them together, brace them off and pour the concrete.

Sounds a lot easier than it is, there is a saying in the business, “There is nothing easy about concrete.” Anyway, the day after we poured we would then pull the gang forms off the wall and move it down the footing for the next section. This was done by hooking cables to the top of the form to be held up by a crane while we knocked all the keeper pins loose from the snap ties—hundreds of them. Once all the pins were loose the crane could pull the forms back off the wall and then pick it up to reset it.

This almost never worked, inevitably a pin would get missed somewhere or a tie would hang up on the forms and somebody would have to get up on the scaffold planks and look for the errant pin or go up on top with a spud bar and some two by fours and try to work the forms loose from the wall while the crane held it up. I was the lucky volunteer a couple of times and it was always quite a rush when the forms suddenly came loose and you were standing on a moving scaffold 20 feet up in the air.

We had learned to be very careful about how much tension we put on the wall early on after watching Steve, this was the memorable flying wall episode, get up on top to see what was hanging up. He got the top of the form pulled away from the wall and was looking down into the gap trying to see what was holding it up, way down he saw one tie that was snagging on the form and not letting it go. He had already signaled the crane operator to put tension on the line to try and pull it out and away as he was working it loose.

Now, the thing about really big cranes, there is a lot of flex in them, if something is not budging and you keep pulling there is some give in steel, and when you have a hundred feet or so out there that flex can really add up. So Steve sees the errant tie— he told me the other day; “Yeah, I saw it down there and thought: ‘Well, if I drop this spud bar just right it will hit that tie and hopefully bust it loose.’”

He did, and it did, and all of a sudden— I will never forget this as long as I live, and neither will he— that gang form cut loose and he shot what looked to be about 15 feet straight up into the air and then swung back many more feet away from the wall. He was holding on to the scaffold hand rails for dear life as we ran to grab the tag lines and stop the swinging.

Thots

I think we are at the stage in the redemptive history of mankind where we are one keeper pin away from all heaven breaking loose.

The wind blows where it will. You hear the sound of its coming but you don’t know whence it came or whither it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.  -Jesus

I don’t know what that pin is, I don’t know what the Lord is going to require of us that will constitute a courageous act of obedience, as a church where we see the Holy Spirit poured out on us in a new and unmistakable way, and I don’t know what it will take in your own life for God’s power and blessing to be fully released in you, but when the choice is presented you will know.

Listen for the wind and don’t be afraid to follow.

 

Whose Glory?

 

Church is not entertainment…Abstract burning cross

Those of us who live out of town sometimes take for granted just the ability to see the stars. There are many places in the world where you cannot see even a single star for the lights of the city, there are people who have never seen the milky way, the Big dipper, Orion’s belt or even the planets of our own solar system—have never seen a falling star or even a satellite streaking across the sky.

I’ve been camping even with people from Billings who marveled at seeing the Milky Way for the first time and I think: “How sad that you grew up not knowing what you were missing right above your head.” I know I never stop being amazed at the glory of the heavens as we are blessed to live far from any bright lights up on our hill in the middle of nowhere. Often we’ll come home late from somewhere, or when I’m leaving for work in the early morning and just look up on a clear night and say: “Wow.”

There is just nothing on this earth that compares to the grandeur of the lights the Lord has put in the heavens, especially knowing just how unimaginably far away and spread out all those lights are—and we are seeing but a tiny fraction of them.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalm 19:1

Back on the Heyu-cow Ranch I used to go out in the evenings just before I went to bed during calving season to make the rounds to see if anything was calving. I would do a head count as the cows would all be bedded down in or near the barn for the night and if there were any missing I would know that they had gone off somewhere to calve so I would go look for them to make sure they didn’t need help.

I always loved being out there in the night because it just seemed like I could see every star in the heavens and after my eyes adjusted to the dark. Even without a moon I was always amazed at how much even just the stars would light things up. There was even a couple of years there when we had a couple of comets in the sky that were visible for weeks on end it. One year it was Hale Bopp and I don’t remember the name of the other one but they were both pretty awesome— this huge star with a big illuminated blur behind it that was the tail.

It must have been the late 90’s I guess. But anyway, I would head out into the pasture to find the cow with my flashlight and the moon and stars for a guide. I remember always wishing I could turn off the big security light we had near the house because, as nice as it was to have light right near the house, it just messed me up everywhere else.

I always had to be careful not to look back towards the house when I was out searching in the dark because even from a few hundred yards away, once my eyes had become good and adjusted to the dark, if I looked at that bright pinpoint of light in the distance it would hinder my ability to see anything between me and that light.

All I could see was that light of the lights from the house and nothing more than a few feet beyond. I really like not having one of those obnoxious security lights where we live now because I can walk right out the door and look up and see the stars,  I don’t have to walk out away from that fake light.

When I had the power company install that light back at the ranch I thought: “Yeah, it will be nice to have a nice bright light out here.” And it is nice to be able to walk out and see the car or look out and see what might be prowling around too near the house, but what it really did was prevent us from being able to see the big picture. Ironically— the bigger the light the less you can see.

That’s why the big cites can’t see a single star in the heavens, they just have bright light after bright light on top of bright light: “Isn’t this grand, we have the whole city lit up and we can see everything!” No, you can’t. All you can see is what you have created, and what you have created is pretty paltry and pathetic compared to the glory of the heavens and the beauty of nature that has yet to be spoiled by anything that needs an artificial light to illuminate it with your garish light.

Thots

Maybe you’ve figured out where I’m going here. We build our churches and we build‘em big and beautiful. We do research and hire experts to figure out the best lighting to set the right mood in the various parts of the church, the best way to illuminate the worship team, the preacher. We spend thousands of dollars on spot lights, lasers, and things that go flash and change colors and create an environment that makes you say Wow! —as we appear out of the smoke like we just descended from heaven itself.

Many churches do not want any windows in the sanctuary because heaven forbid we should have any light coming in that we cannot control. And what do we get? An artificial glory, a pale representation of what is available if the Lord would just be welcome to reveal his glory.

Our paltry little lights leave us ignorant of the real glory of the heavens and even diminish our view. Our best attempts to glorify God are paltry and pathetic in comparison to what the Spirit of God can do himself if we just get out of the way.

…will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 2 Cor 2:8

The ministry of man is nothing compared to the ministry of the Spirit, the temple of this earth is but a representation of the true temple in heaven just as we are nothing but representatives of God. Sincere though we may be, empowered and anointed though we may be, it is still just a shadow of the real thing—no matter how hard we try to conjure up glory and inspire glory, we are looking through a glass darkly.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.      1 Cor 13:12

I don’t fault the pastor or worship leaders for this, it’s the culture, and it is easy to get caught up in the technology of putting on the best show you can. But that’s the problem, it’s become a show, because that is what people expect, and pastors have come to believe that that is what keeps people coming back. It’s not just church leaders who need to rethink what it means to see the glory, so does the rest of the church.

Next time you are in church ask yourself: Why am I here?— Church is not entertainment, church is Jesus’ time to minister to us, so that we can be Jesus to the rest of the world—get out of his way and let him.

 

It is well with my soul

There is an old hymn that has been on my mind going into the new year, a hymn that begin with the words: Peace like a river. I believe the Lord has promised me, and my church, that thisred_deer_river would be a year of blessings, among those blessings is a peace, a peace that as the scriptures say, “Surpasses understanding.” (Phil 4:7) The kind of peace we all long for, the kind of peace that is not dependent on external circumstances, the kind of peace that leaves us saying: “It is well with my soul.”

When peace like a river attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll,

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

Chorus:

It is well with my soul,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

          Thots

That is a peace that can only come from God, a peace that surpasses understanding, that is the power of grace. It is something I have experienced and something I have witnessed over and over, so I have no doubt that it is real and that is why I often pray—if I have prayed for you there is a good chance you have heard me say—Lord grant them the peace that passes understanding. It is not just an empty church platitude or an encouragement to screw up your courage, to somehow manufacture your own peace, it is an invitation for God to overwhelm you with a sense of wellbeing that can only come from him.

Only through the good shepherd can we walk along the still waters, only then can peace like a river be our guide—steady, true and unstoppable. Or, as the more contemporary composers, the Doobie Brothers sang, “O black water keep on rollin’ Missississippi moon won’t you keep on shining on me…gonna make everything, yeah momma gonna make everything all right.”

Rivers

Peace like a river…Think about a river. If you grew up here in Montana you probably think of the Yellowstone. I think of sitting on the river bank up near Livingston casting lures into the water hoping to hook a big Brown or a Rainbow surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountains in the world—they don’t call it Paradise Valley for nothing.

Or I think of fishing on the Mississippi, as a kid, while camping with my Dad in Southern Minnesota—the river so wide and deep that you hardly even know it’s moving, watching a grain barge go by on the way to Minneapolis with another load of wheat destined for the mills that will turn it into flour to feed a hungry world, creating a wake that you watch heading your way for what seems like an impossibly long time.

Or later in after moving to New Mexico— I think of standing on a bluff looking down and seeing  the infamous Rio Grande for the first time as it reflects the last rays of the sun as it sets in the west, setting the sky ablaze with reds, golds  and purples— the river winding its way through a thirsty desert and stretching on as far as the eye can see— Marveling that a river, so small in comparison to the might Mississip’ would be called Grande yet marveling that a river could even exist in such a hot dry place.

There is just something about a river that brings a sense of peace. Perhaps it’s the quiet strength and dependability as it just keeps flowing, ever moving, always in the same direction to an unseen destination that you can only imagine, coming from a seemingly inexhaustible source, also far beyond your sight. A river brings life and is always going somewhere if you should choose to follow, yet if you choose to just stay and ponder it, it will still be with you as long as you choose to tarry, and is always there when you come back.

—Peace like a River. I think I just described our Lord.

Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!

11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Psalm 46:10,11

It is the presence of the Lord that brings our peace.

Peace is not always the absence of conflict, peace is often overcoming conflict. Peace is being in Christ, Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me, I shall not fear. It is well with my soul.

If the Lord is promising us a peace this year, then to me that can only mean he is promising to be with us, offering us a strong sense of his presence. If the God of peace wants to be with us than I want to do all I can to stay out of his way— trust and follow.

 

 

Stop Spinning

How do you fly this thing?-old-fighter-plane_gyrm-wk_

The standard question in the days after Christmas is: ”Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas?” I’m to the point in my life where I don’t care so much what, if anything, I get for gifts for Christmas. Yes it’s nice to get things, mostly because it means a lot to me that someone cared enough to make the effort, but to me I cherish much more the time spent with people I love, time is always a priceless gift.

And, if you’re like me, you probably get a lot more satisfaction out of being able to bless someone else with a special gift. That’s something that’s drilled into our heads as kids: “It’s better to give than to receive!” But seriously, how many of you when you were say; 10 years old, really believed that? How many nights did you lie awake dreaming of what you were going to find under the tree on Christmas morning, or start pestering your parents weeks before your birthday to make sure they knew exactly what you wanted for your special day.

That sense of excitement and anticipation is something you never forget and have a hard time replicating as an adult, where reality replaces fantasy and Santa Claus gives you the bill. But what a joy it is to help make holidays special for others, especially kids, not just with presents but by building traditions and memories that kids will treasure forever. The presents may soon lose their luster but the time you spent with them never will.

Cox

Speaking of toys that lose their luster. How many of you are old enough to remember the old Cox gasoline engine toys? Little scale model cars and planes that had little gas powered motors— great toys for little boys. The cars and trucks you just started up and set them down to watch them scream on until they crashed into something, no control whatsoever.

Then there was the planes. I remember walking through a department store with my Dad and seeing a P-51 Mustang  with WW II army paint and telling him, “That’s what I want for my birthday.” No doubt about it—he wasn’t so sure, a 12 inch long airplane with an internal combustion engine tied to a string didn’t strike him as the best toy for a kid turning 11 years old, and it was kind of expensive.

But sure enough, on my birthday, while visiting my Dad in Minnesota, I got my brand new Cox P-51 Mustang. I was thrilled beyond words and I couldn’t wait to try it out. I had to wait a few days till we could find a big empty parking lot that would make a sufficient airfield. So we break out the big bad airplane, squirt the fuel into the little bitty gas tank and start spinning the prop with a finger; Brbrbr, brbrbrr brbrbr—nothing, prime it again- Brbrbr, Brbrbr, Brbrbr Rmmmm, sputter Brbrbr. We did this for what seemed like forever until finally it roared to life.

Now the concept of the infamous Cox model airplanes was that you flew the plane on the end of about 30 feet of string, two strings tied to a handle which served as your control. If you moved your hand one way if would make the flaps go up and if you moved the other way it would make the flaps go down, making your plane go up or down.

And of course the only way you could do this was to stand in one spot and fly your plane around in a big circle until your plane ran out of fuel and you gracefully glided it in for a landing.

So while my Dad held on to my now running airplane I ran to my control handle carefully laid out thirty feet away, and my Dad lets go of the plane, as I skillfully manipulate the flaps sending my little P-51 about 15 feet into the air. Now these little gas powered things really cruise which means to keep up with it you have to start spinning in circles as this things flies around you on the end of your marionette style strings.

This is all good and well until you get dizzy. I don’t know how many times I spun around in circles but I was dizzy long before the plane ran out of fuel and I lost control causing my plane to make a very ugly emergency landing— a crash in layman’s terms. The plane was a little scuffed up but still intact and, as my head stopped spinning, we packed up my plane and went home.

Gee, that wasn’t near as fun as I thought it would bemaybe next time. A few weeks later back home in New Mexico I grabbed my best buddie and off we went with my treasured plane to the paved school yard determined to conquer the skies over the Land of Enchantment.

I fueled her up, spun the prop, Brbrbr, brbrbrsputter, sputter— this went on forever. I’ll bet it was a good 45 minutes before we finally got it to start, and keep, running. When it did my buddie held the plane while I ran to grab the controls determined to not let myself get dizzy this time but before I knew it I was wobbling and my plane was going up and down, higher and higher with each pass as I was losing all control of myself and my plane until it just nosedived into the asphalt.

That was the end of my pilot career. My precious P-51 was broken into several pieces. I literally spent years—it still crosses my mind now and then— wondering; “How in the world are you supposed to fly one of these things without getting dizzy?!” I still haven’t figure it out.

Maybe no one did, that might be why you don’t see them anymore.

Thots

Apply that to a church—how do you fly one of these things without getting dizzy? I hope I’m doing better with my church. How do you pastor one of these things without getting dizzy? Well, I guess the short answer is, stop spinning in circles. Most would argue you can’t do that with a Cox model plane or with a church, but the Lord tells me otherwise— at least with the church.

Preparing my sermon for the week—the first of the new year, a time when I like to look ahead at the year and seek the Lord for guidance, maybe a theme for the coming year— I was reminded of this scripture from Psalms:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city,
the guard keeps watch in vain.
Psalm 127

I can’t control this thing for very long any more than I could control that airplane for more than a few rounds, it’s beyond me, it’s supposed to be beyond me—it’s supposed to be Jesus— he is the pilot, and he has state of the art radio controls that allow him to fly this plane anywhere he desires—if we’ll just cut those strings and let it fly.

Most churches struggle with that, most pastors are afraid to do that, and I contend that is why most pastors at some point crash—trust me when I say this, I have witnessed it over and over again many times, they are getting dizzy and crashing, left and right.

We strive to be a Spirit led church— not program driven, not agenda driven. The Lord has given me an overall vision and direction for this ministry but the only way to be true to that is to follow Jesus step by step and day by day. Otherwise we will spend all our time planning and scheming and then stressing over implementing our plans.

Yes we need to do some planning but our plans must always fit into the mission the Lord has given me for our church to be a place of healing, restoration and hope, and all our plans have to be brought before the Lord in prayer and for guidance and wisdom.

Of course the best plans are the ones that develop as a result of the Lord planting something in our hearts.  In that case, more often than not, it’s a matter of being ready, and patient, at the same time, as the Lord works to bring his plans into fruition while we are ready to move when he says move.

Where is he taking you? Let go of the strings and just follow.