The Manic Church

For it is:
Do and do, do and do,
rule on rule, rule on rule;
a little here, a little there.”  Isaiah 28:10

-The church I pastor everythingin Red Lodge is not my first rodeo.  Of my almost 55 years on this earth 33 of them now have been spent earnestly trying to spread the gospel through various ministries and with my life—to share the life and freedom I have found.

I decided it was time to get serious about following the Lord when I was 23 and long story short, went from one day being someone who was all about the party to the next day being a completely sold out for Christ believer, a Jesus Freak.  I hit the ground running on a mission to save the world. At age 40 I answered the call to be a pastor and soon after helped plant a church on the south side of Billings while I was still attending night classes in a Bible Institute, raising three girls and working full time as a job superintendent for Fisher Construction—where I still am today.

So yeah, I’ve been around and I’ve been busy. In fact, let me give you a peek into a little snippet of my ministry life just before I started this church— A day in the life of pastor Dan. Just to help you see where I’m coming from.

 A Busy Man

I’m standing in the front office at my former church talking to the secretary slash person who really runs the church.  There’s no time to sit as I have things I need to get done but she has a request. “It would be great if you could lead a break out group for the women’s Beth Moore bible study I am doing Saturday.” She says. “There are some husbands who said they would like to be a part of this study.”

I know I am supposed to know all about this study because she has talked about it at the leadership meetings and I don’t want to admit that I don’t really know what she’s talking about so I say; “Yes, I could probably do that.” Thinking it’s one Saturday evening, no big deal. Turns out it was ten Saturdays in a row.

So I’m committed to yet another program for another ten weeks- “Oh you poor baby”- right? Here’s the deal. I was the children’s pastor which meant I Was in charge of everything from the babies to the—for much of the time I was there—teenagers.  That means curriculum, teachers, supplies, recruiting, training and screening. I led kids worship and taught the kids- two services on Sunday and for the Wednesday night kids program. In a church of a couple hundred people that alone kept me real busy.

All of my Saturdays were devoted to I practicing the kid’s worship songs and setting up everything for Sunday, Sundays I was at the church by 7 and didn’t leave till 1 or 2. On Tuesday evenings—after working all day at my real job—I practiced my music and set up for Wednesday night Friends Club.

Once a month I led worship and taught at Celebrate Recovery. I preached on Sunday mornings when the pastor needed a break. Every other Monday night we had a 2-hour leadership meeting. Every summer I organized either a Kids camp or a VBS—and then led them.

And I also did most of the maintenance and repairs on the building that I had literally remodeled after designing and drawing the floor plan myself.

And of course whatever program I was talked into being a part of or leading. Counseling, planned and unplanned and all this on top of still working full time construction and raising three girls.

I am not complaining or blaming anyone, no one made me do anything but that was the way I operated, that was what all my heroes, role models and leaders did. That was the church model I signed up for– as foursquare founder Sister Aimee Semple McPherson said- “Win the lost at all cost.”

Trio

So a few weeks later I’m sitting there in a room with friends Ricky Steve and Aaron, in one of our break outs at the women’s bible study—ironically titled Breaking Free—and Steve and Rick start talking about how they are getting burned out, there is just no more joy in serving the Lord. So I have the solution- I talk them into doing another Hillbilly Trio Concert.

We have always had a lot of fun and great fellowship as we practiced for the shows. So the five of us in the Trio, (a Trio by Hillbilly count) spend the next several weeks practicing for a benefit concert to send the youth group to Thailand. We raised the money but the trip never happened in part because too many key players, including the pastor in Thailand, were suffering burn out in one form or another and, in fact, within a year nearly everyone in this story had moved on or moved away.

You see anything wrong with all of this picture?

My solution to being burned out was do add something else to do!? And my church buddies, who love the Lord and just want to serve and make a difference are right on board with me. And all the while I’m also getting little jabs from here and there intended to make me feel guilty for not being a part of this prayer group, or this life group, or taking a day or two to do something with my family.

The Lord had to get a hold of me in a big way, that’s another story, one with many parts and most of you have heard them or even lived them with me, but he woke me up and opened my eyes–thank you Jesus–before I imploded or simply threw up my hands and walked away in anger like so many church leaders I know, and this church is the result.

So when I struggle with trying to find the balance between filling the needs of the people I have been entrusted to minister to, and demanding to much of them and myself by programing them right out of a relationship with their families and their Lord—you know why.

Too busy

From where I stand the church as a whole has become too busy. The church has also become very, very tired.  And if people are very, very tired for too long they become very, very discouraged and eventually become disillusioned, disengaged and soon they’re walking while away the rest of us say: “Well I guess they weren’t that committed after all, too bad, they seemed to be so on fire for Jesus—hey look at Joe over there, maybe he can take their place!”

This busyness, this manic state of the church, has had the unintended result of hindering the very discipleship that it was intended to foster. Believers can become so preoccupied with trying to keep up with all that’s expected of them that they stop paying attention to what Jesus is doing. It may grow a church but it soon becomes a monster that collapses under its own weight. The bigger the machine the more that is required to feed it and the hungrier it gets.  The very thing most churches state they are trying to avoid, getting religious and losing sight of Jesus inevitably happens.

We stop being disciples and become worker bees. We work ourselves right into the very thing we thought we were working so hard to get away from.  You see the irony here?  It’s like the people who build themselves a cabin so they have a place to go and relax but all they ever do is go work on the cabin.  What was supposed to be a place of repose is instead a place of exhaustion.

This busyness and burnout isn’t a new dilemma.

Isaiah 28:9

Who is it he is trying to teach?
To whom is he explaining his message?
To children weaned from their milk,
to those just taken from the breast?
10 For it is:
Do and do, do and do,
rule on rule, rule on rule[;
a little here, a little there.”

 11 Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues
God will speak to this people,
12 to whom he said,

 “This is the resting place, let the weary rest”;
and, “This is the place of repose”—
but they would not listen.

So then, the word of the LORD to them will become:
Do and do, do and do,
rule on rule, rule on rule;
a little here, a little there—
so that they will go and fall backward,
be injured and snared and captured.
Is 28:13

 

The Lord was a little upset at the teachers of Isaiah’s day and you may recognize the theme here as one that Jesus would reiterate over and over to the religious leaders of his day.  The teaching and expectations of the teachers had become so complex, burdensome and untenable that they were no more than gibberish to most people who had given up hope of ever attaining the slim chance at righteousness they promised to the perfect. The word of the Lord had become nothing more than a religious code that was held out there so far that everyone fell short of it and ended up disillusioned and hurt.

Sound familiar?  Pretty sad that we are still there.  That what was meant to be a “resting place…the place of repose.” Has become the place of;  “Do and do, do and do,  rule on rule, rule on rule.”  That resting place is supposed to be our place in relationship with God, that place of repose is supposed to be the kingdom of God, the kingdom of which all of us who call on the name of the Lord belong.

Our gathering places are supposed to be places where the word is brought to life by leaders who are encouraging the redeemed to boldly follow the Lord unrestricted by fear of failure and judgment. The church is supposed to be a place where we can sit at the feet of Jesus and be encouraged, refreshed and released to do what the Lord would have us do.

The sad part is that the Kingdom of God itself suffers in this because if you are not taking the time to hear what the Lord would have you do, it will not get done. Only you can do what the Lord would have you do, only you can fulfill the purpose and the plan that he has for you. Think about that for a minute.

Please don’t go…

Many of you have, or have been tempted to, give up on the church and walk away for good. I can’t blame you for that. But please don’t give up on Jesus, he still has a plan and a purpose for you and he still loves you, no matter what. And please don’t give up on the family of God, ask him to show you where your church family is—we need each other.

 

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Be the Dad

 

A Secure Fortress


daddy daughter

-Not so many years ago, Donna and I were sitting in the office of a modular home dealer when we got a phone call from our oldest daughter Cally.  She was calling to tell us she had just been in a wreck, after she assured us she was okay we headed to the scene and arrived to find her and her friend Sarah standing on the sidewalk talking to the elderly gentleman she had run into.  She was 17 or so and still fairly new at the driving thing and while driving down busy 24th street west in Billings, she had gotten distracted by a radio station’s set up in the Mall parking lot and didn’t notice the car in front of her stopping until it was too late… wham!  She rear-ended a car on in the minivan we had just given her to drive.

She was very shaken up, mostly from being slammed in the face by the air bag and worried about wrecking the van.  Donna gave her a hug and made sure she was ok.  I then talked to the man she had hit, made sure the insurance info had been exchanged, the cops had been called, the toxic airbag dust had been cleaned off her face, checked the damage to the vehicles and assured Cally in my best daddy has it handled voice that everything was going to be ok.  All the things that needed to be done were done- or so I thought.

As we stood together on the sidewalk waiting for the police to arrive I saw that she was still visibly shaken so I grabbed her in a big bear hug and she just fell apart- sobbing and shaking as I held her until she got it all out.  Then she was ok.

In the days to follow I found myself going back to that moment over and over, dwelling on that moment when Cally had melted in my arms; and it made me feel good.  It was a special moment; why did it make me feel good?  I mean, this was probably one of her worst days to this point, she felt awful and I certainly took no delight in her anguish.  But it was special to me because I knew at that moment, that she trusted me.  It was special to me because I was a refuge for her, a place where she felt safe, safe to fall apart, to be scared, to be weak and to let those things go.

I had arrived and taken care of business and that was important, but that was not enough.  Because I had established a relationship of trust with her over years, she knew she had a safe place to turn−a refuge.  And it told me that I had done my job as a father.  That is why it was special to me.  If you ask me, any man that does not want to be his child’s hero is no man at all.  Being that hero means being there.

As the old proverb says:

 “He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress and for his children it will be a refuge.” Proverbs 14:26

I believe every man has a God given desire to protect, defend and provide.  He is naturally jealous for those he loves and given the opportunity, or the provocation, this instinct can be a passionate, all-consuming drive.  It is knowing how to channel this drive, how to keep it going in a healthy direction that is hard because there are many other things wired into us that confuse our good intent.  Some of these other things are good, some are bad.  This desire to protect, defend and provide are a reflection of the Lord in us as men who are created in his image.

A famous old preacher named G. Campbell Morgan once wrote:

“Sometimes we say that God has taken our name “father” in order to teach us what he is. That is not a correct statement.  God has lent us his name, Father, in order to teach us what we ought to be.” 

It is by sticking close to the Lord, meditating on his word, that we keep that father drive in us headed in the right direction.  It’s more like a hard drive in us, and like a computer’s hard drive it can get viruses and even be wiped out.  That is why fathers sometimes hurt those they are supposed to protect, why they give up and leave, they have let the lies of the flesh dominate their thinking, the selfishness instead of the selflessness of the spirit.

The best way to operate correctly in the father mode of the Lord is to tap into the Spirit of the perfect Father, the Father who loves, protects and provides.  The Father who lets us choose our way and teaches us the consequences of bad decisions, who teaches us that life is hard but that we will get through it, even enjoy it, if it is lived in him, with him, and for him.

Women have this desire to love protect and provide but it manifests itself in a very different way; a way that compliments the father’s way and brings balance to a child’s life.  A woman’s protecting, nurturing and providing is best done under the umbrella of the husband, this is the submission and respect part in the scriptural roles of a functional family.  Mother’s provide primarily from what the father has provided, they protect while being protected by the father, the strong fortress, and they love sacrificially while being loved sacrificially.

Dad’s, you have a solemn duty to guard the fortress you have been entrusted with, use the weapons of the Spirit to guard, and your hands to provide and bless those within your fortress- Never to hurt or do harm.

I guarantee you, your children will one day face monsters much bigger than fender benders in front of the mall−will they still come to you? If you are there with a loving and strong arms today−they will.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Eph 6:13

Adapted from the book: Hope For Families by Dan Swaningson

Happy Father’s Day!

 

Daddy’s Girl

 

-Last week my daughter Jessie called me while I was working in Miles City and asked: “Do you feel like being real nice to me?” “What do you need? I asked. “Can I borrow your truck tomorrow? Mine is broke down and I need to go to Billings to babysit for Cally (Her sister) dadand it’s supposed to be really hot again and the air conditioner in the car is not working.”

What do you suppose I said? Yes, you can use my truck, just tell Mom, she knows where the keys are.

I was thinking about this later, how she asked: Do you feel like being real nice to me? I thought, I always feel like being nice to her, how could I not? She is my daughter and I love her, as I do all my girls. But she called me and asked, she explained why and because I know her well, I knew she would take care of it, respect it and appreciate it. She knows I will always want to help her but she respects and fosters that relationship by bring considerate enough to ask, without fear and without a snarky attitude of assumption.

Our Father is the same way— he always feels like being real nice to us but we don’t always make it easy. Sometime we just presume on his goodness, take advantage of and disrespect him. Our prayers are more like demands than requests and when we do get the truck we don’t appreciate it, “Yeah, whatever, can’t you get a newer truck for me to drive?”

God wants to bless you, to trust you, he just asks that we be holy, be repentant when we mess up and come to him for help and renewal.

As much as I love my daughters I never let them get away with being disrespectful to me or their mother or ungrateful for what they have and what they are given. That’s the way we raised them.

That’s the way your Father is trying to raise you. God loves you too much to let you get away with anything less than being the best you can be. But if he knows you are honestly trying, he will bless you.

My wife Donna told Jessie’s fiancé before they got married: “You’re marrying a girl who is used to getting what she wants.” She was referring to my reluctance to say no to her. Yet all of you who know her know that she is not spoiled, none of our girls were or are, just loved. Daddy’s girlswe can all be daddy’s girls or favored sons of the King, if we just strive to be in our Father’s will, to be disciples of the Christ.

Never fear to come into the holy of holies, be cleansed by the blood of the lamb, accept your place as a child of God, a child who now can come to the Father at will and receive your commission, discover the plan he has for you, not because you deserve it but because you said yes!  Yes, Lord, here am I -send me!

Reminds me of an amazing story in the book of Isiaiah

1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

    4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

    5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

    6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”   

  8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”   Isaiah 6

Isaiah thought: “That’s it, I’m toast- I’m a dirty rotten sinner and I live amongst a bunch of dirty rotten sinners.”

I have to wonder what would have happened if he had not responded the way he did, if he had not been repentant. I don’t really know but I suspect he may have just had a great “Mountain top” experience with the Lord and then went on his merry way without the commission he received or at least without the anointing and the power and the holiness to complete it.

I think he would have lived, after all he was invited into the Lord’s presence, he didn’t just barge in.  But he did not presume upon the Lord’s grace.  He didn’t tell himself, “Wow, aren’t I cool, I get to hang with God for a while”.  This may sound preposterous but that is exactly what many of us do.

God is not just a casual buddy.  Jesus calls us friends but he is a friend who is worthy of respect and honor and a friend who has purchased our adoption into his Father’s family. It’s an acceptance in spite of us, one we can count on because of a blood covenant through Jesus Christ. As Paul would write; “You are not your own, you were bought with a price.”   (1 Cor 6)

God is our Father, not just another buddy, and our access to his throne was bought with a heavy price. We can rest knowing we will always have access but we cannot ever forget the price and get flippant about it.  If we do we will miss out, if we get too casual about our response to God we may even become hard and rebellious.  Your Daddy loves you, he just asks for respect- and he loves to hear your voice.

At the end of that phone call in Miles City I said to Jessie; “Love you, thanks for calling.” I then thought; that was weird, she called for a favor and I thanked her for calling? I then realized I just loved hearing her voice, and a thank you was a natural response, Daddy’s girl indeed.

Talk to your Father, without fear and with respect.

let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”  Heb 10:22

 

 

Holy Flying Marshmallows!

 

Marshmallows

 

Back when I was a kids pastor I was always coming up with new and entertaining ways to illustrate biblical truths.  One particular Sunday I had the great idea of turning stones into marshmallows to illustrate how Jesus took the sting out of death-“Where o grave is your victory, where o death is your sting?”  So after leading kids worship I got up in front of the kids to explain how Jesus has conquered death but even though we all will someday die, death is no longer scary because Jesus has taken the sting out of death by making sure we get to heaven.

I then held up a small stone and talked about how it would really hurt if I threw this at someone and just knowing that it was going to hit you would be scary.  Kinda of like death if we don’t know Jesus.  I then turned around and without the kids knowing what I was doing, I traded the rock that was in my hand for a large marshmallow and winged it at the group of kids in a dramatic attempt to make them believe I was throwing a rock at them when in reality it was a light fluffy marshmallow- at least that was the plan.

I discovered that a large, somewhat stale, marshmallow is not all that light and fluffy, in fact it can make quite an impact if thrown like a fast ball.  Just ask the kid who got it right between the eyes.  whap!  I’ll never forget the look on this kids’ face- a wide eyed look of horror- as he was trying to figure out if he was hurt or not after having what he thought was a rock smack him in the forehead.  I quickly assured him it was only a marshmallow and that he was not injured in any way.  Of course he had to be a new kid, one who had never been there before, that ended up on the receiving end of that fast pitch marshmallow- that was the last time we ever saw him.

The next service I used some fresh mini marshmallows and gently tossed them under hand to the kids, this time instead of looking at me in horror because I just scared some poor kid to death they were diving under the chairs trying to snatch up the marshmallows I threw out.

Just like I discovered that it’s not a good idea to wing stale marshmallows at unsuspecting kids I also learned, in my early days of following the Lord, that a sure way to scare people away is to throw the word at them uninvited or unexpectedly.  People don’t want to be hit between the eyes with scripture, they want to see that it’s making a difference in you, they want to see that it’s real and then I you have some fresh to toss at them they’ll be scrambling to receive it.

We need to keep our marshmallows fresh, stale marshmallows are hard; we need to keep the word fresh, fresh in our minds and fresh in our hearts.  If we do that it will just flow from us, we won’t have to try and muster it up and we won’t be making any ill-timed pitches.  If the word in our hearts is fresh because we are constantly going to the source and getting more, we will just naturally live the word, it will become a part of us and flow from us like a river watering the seeds that are being planted by us as a result of just living out our faith before people.

Fresh water can only flow from a body of water that has a constant source of good water.  Marshmallows that have been just sitting on the shelf for months are going to get stale.

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

John 7:37-39

People will want to know why you have a hope, why the lights are always on even when things around you aren’t all sunshine and roses, why you don’t get angry and lose it like you used to, why you don’t turn to the bottle to deal with the stress of life, why you don’t put your own needs before others- “Why are you such a freak, and -how can I be one?” 

The world is dying of thirst and we have the water.  Are you keeping it fresh?  Have you chosen the discipline of reading the word?  If not, you will not only not have any to share, your own souls will wither and blow away like the grass in our hay field this year.  You’ll be left with a bag of stale marshmallows and no one will want to come near you lest you start throwing them.