No Turning Back (Kenworths and Zombies)

I find this statement from Jesus  about not looking back kind of perplexing and frankly a little disturbing but I have recently come to see it in a new light. An encouraging one at that.

fog-mist-walking-journey-path-400w-tn“I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

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

Years ago I was Elk hunting up in Paradise Valley south of Livingston MT. It had been a long weekend of early mornings and very long hikes, unsuccessful unfortunately, so no, this is not really a hunting story. Driving home in my ’77 Chevy short box with my hunting partner Dale, it felt good to be on the road sitting in a soft seat and moving at a pace faster than a trudge up a mountain in the snow.

We got past Livingston and onto the Interstate heading home and the fatigue started to set in. I knew I was tired but I didn’t realize I was also sleepy. I remember this well because it scared the snot out of me. As we cruised along I saw on the other side of the highway a Big ‘ol Kenworth coming down the road and as he passed I looked in my side mirror to get a last look at what I apparently thought was a real pretty truck.

Problem is, apparently I forgot to look back up from the mirror. Next thing I know Dale is yelling Dan! And I looked up to see that I was starting to drift off the road. I had fallen asleep and didn’t even see it coming. I quickly regained my wits and corrected course but I was embarrassed and stammered; “Oh, Sorry, I was just looking at that truck in the mirror.” But, as I came to the realization that I had fallen asleep and if I had been alone I may not have waken’ up—l was suddenly wide awake. That was probably 30 years ago now and whenever I start feeling sleepy while driving I still remember that experience and I pull over as soon as I can to walk around or take a nap.

Thots

An interesting statement: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9 I used to always say, if you’re looking back while your plowing your rows will be crooked. But this seems to be much more serious than that. It’s not just a matter of doing a good job of plowing, it’s a matter of life or death. Jesus was essentially telling this guy; ‘I’m sorry but if you’re not going forward, looking ahead and not letting those who are not also coming along hinder you— then you may as well just behind stay with them. You are not following me.’

He looked back and it cost him his chance to follow Jesus, to know him, to find the eternal life he was offering to those who did choose to leave all behind and follow. Looking in the rear view mirror cost him his soul—Just as looking in the mirror that day at the pretty Kenworth Truck, a truck that reminded me of my father—nearly cost me my life

I was obsessed with trucks because my dad was a truck driver, as was one of my stepfathers—I had been raised by truck drivers. So I was looking back, lulled into sleep by shiny things and visions of the past. This man was standing there, eye to eye with Jesus, yet he was looking back at his father who was beckoning; “Son, stay here, take care of me, secure your inheritance, you can catch up with this Jesus fellow later.” If not literally then certainly this was the man’s thoughts.

I believe that’s the point Jesus was trying to make and why he was so adamant as to even have scripture record this on the heels of two other like encounters—you are either following me or you’re not, there is no turning back, there is no putting it off until later— this is the day of your salvation, this is the day I am calling you.

Praying about this I saw in my mind’s eye the things in my life that keep threatening to discourage me from following; things I did, said, or thought recently or even yesterday and thought; I am so unworthy of following. You all know the feeling; “Lord how can you love me, how can you use me when I am such a miserable sinner, when I keep getting lulled back into or deceived by the same old tricks. It wasn’t so much a picture as a feeling at this point, a feeling of frustration and doubt and I thought— here’s why people let go of the plow.

Frustration, shame, weariness of the battle, the pain of serving people you love and seeing them hurt, even being hurt by them— ‘I deserve this, who am I that I should be able to boldly follow the Lord, it would be so much easier to just turn back, let go and plop down in the dirt, have a beer or 6, and just give up and give in.’ And then I saw the picture, I don’t think it was a vision, it’s just the way my mind works, I think in pictures, I even see words as I think them. I thought about this section of scripture and I saw myself holding a great sword in my hand, I turned around and looked straight at these things which were yapping at me from behind, raised that sword and brought it crashing down shattering all these lies into oblivion.

I don’t have to worry about the failures of yesterday, I don’t have to pine away for the easy life of not having to have any discipline or responsibilities to anyone who’s not giving me something in return. I don’t have to worry that tomorrow the Lord may grow weary of me and cast me aside— today I can stand firmly and securely in the Kingdom of God knowing, that I am worthy because he is worthy—that as long as I choose this day to keep moving forward, to follow him and even keep wrestling that plow through the briar patches he seems to lead me through, I will be used by him and I will be victorious in my own life.

Zombies

Every day is a new day and every day is a day that the Lord has made. Who wants to go back, who wants to be stuck in the past, the only ones who aren’t moving forward are the dead. Unless of course you’re a zombie and then you just move real slow and lose body parts on the way. That sword works really well on zombies too by the way, take of their heads and they stop chasing you.

But seriously, that’s what you need to do, keep moving forward and when that zombie hand of temptation, frustration, shame and fear reaches out to snag you— cut ‘em down. Take a sword to the things of the past that keep threatening to destroy your today. Crucify the flesh—don’t let yesterday’s failures ruin your today.

Clear the table and start fresh.

Don’t let anything stop you from following Jesus, he won’t stop you, he just asks that your heart be in it. The sure sign that it is, that your heart is in it,
is the very pain that your failures and doubts can cause you.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. Heb 10:35,36

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Jesus Wept

 

Do you remember?

I remember in the weeks after the attacks on 9-11-01 the churches filled up. People were looking for answers, people were looking for comfort. There was a sudden realization that all that we knew, all that we took for granted, could be world-trade-center-cross-620x410gone in an instant and we all wanted to know that there was something, someone, bigger than all of that, a God we could trust. I remember asking my Mother in Law: “I know you were just a little girl then, but in the days after Pearl Harbor was there a revival— did the churches fill up?”

She had to think about it a little but she said; “Yes, they did, people turned to the church and the Lord.” Looking back now with a better sense of history and a few years removed from 9-11 I can see the big difference between Pearl Harbor and 9-11. Back then people largely kept going to church. The churches stayed full through the ‘40’s and ‘50’s. That’s why we have all these huge Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian church buildings — what we now call mainline churches— that our grandparents filled up every Sunday.

Those old buildings are now largely empty and today, even after our own Pearl harbor, the vast majority of Americans play golf or watch their kids do sporting events on Sunday mornings. We briefly turned back to God for our protection—and received it— but we have soon forgotten and become arrogant and I see that sovereign hand of protection slowly moving away once again. It’s evidenced in all the Allah-Akbar shootings we have had just in recent months.

I don’t believe in this age of the covenant of grace that God actively punishes us, but when we turn away from him and go our own way we remove ourselves from his protection and allow the enemy of our souls to do as he pleases. I think that’s what happened on 9-11 and I fear it is happening again.

Like all believers I did a lot of praying in the days after the attacks and I sought answers: Lord what has happened and why did this happen? I believe God answered me.

In the uncertain and anxious days after that attack, even as some high profile preachers were proclaiming this to be the Judgement of God, the Spirit told me that this was not judgement, it was a loss of protection. The hand of God’s protection and blessing had been withdrawn, not by his vindictiveness or desire to see us suffer to teach us a lesson, but because we had forgotten from where our help comes, we got prideful and we pushed the Lord away. We were not judged, we rejected the hand of protection and allowed evil a place to strike.

God did not delight in our suffering, in the loss of thousands of lives, the agony of countless families who never got to say goodbye to their loved ones, God did not delight in seeing anyone suffer, I believe God wept for the lost, grieved for the hurting, and ached to bring back his hand of protection once again. And he did, because people flocked to the church, people turned to him and we once again enjoyed the protection. Between his sovereign hand, and the strong if not short lived resolve of a nation to fight to stop those who would destroy us, we were safe once again.

Jesus weeps for us, we who call ourselves by the name of the Lord and those who have turned away. Just as he wept, and still weeps for Jerusalem;

41 Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, 44 and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 18

Jesus doesn’t want to withdraw his hand of blessing and protection from us anymore then he did when Jerusalem rejected their King-ultimately allowing the Romans to destroy them. But, as in the days before 9-11, we have again gotten arrogant and forgot from whom our help comes and stopped asking for his protection; that is no one’s fault but our own.  Evil is very real and hell bent on destroying us and is looking for any opening- in our personal lives or our nation.  I can tell you that day pained him and he grieved right along with us in those evil days as his children wept for what was lost.

We have enjoyed his protection and divine help throughout our history and in healing from the terrible September, morning but I fear we have lost that once again, the attacks have resumed and this nation is in danger of collapse both from without and within.  We are now farther from the Lord than we have ever been. Our elected leadership has proclaimed us to be no longer a Christian nation, the highest court in the land has systematically stripped away our freedoms and rights as Christians and the church has spent more time worrying about sound systems and coffee bars than they have about the evil that is running this government and the greater evil that wants to destroy it—and us.

I know most of you reading this looks to God and cries out to him for your deliverance and strength but sadly, as a nation, we have turned our backs on him and I fear what is coming. We, the church, must be diligent to do what we can to be the beacon of hope, to keep trusting and sharing our hope. To weep for this nation and be on our knees. “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!

Pray—

if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

We are certainly called by the name of the Lord. Christ-ian. We are targeted by Muslim Jihadists because we are called by the name of the Lord. They refer us—Americans— as people of the cross. Let’s, prove them right.

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Col 2:15

 

We were not saved to be victims.

 

Religious like that?

 

 

 

Christ-in-garden-of-gethsemaneMartha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better Luke 10:42

A few weeks ago at work I was talking to the mason on the church addition I have been working on in Miles City MT, and he asked me about my plans for the weekend. I told him I usually spend my weekends getting ready for and then doing church— “I pastor a small church in Red Lodge.” He looked kind of surprised, as everyone does when I tell them I’m a pastor, and says; “I didn’t know you were religious like that.”

I bristled a little when he said and I almost gave my standard reply; “I don’t have a religion; I have a relationship.” But I sensed that this wasn’t the time for this response. Perhaps it was the Spirit, perhaps it was instinct—more likely it was instinct guided by the Spirit—but I’m glad I listened because over the course of the next few weeks I had multiple opportunities, (especially as we were working on a Catholic church where all the trappings of religion are very evident), to talk to him about my relationship with the Lord in a natural way just in the course of conversation between two men working together, without having to seem defensive or patronizing.

I got to tell him why I was “religious” —as he put it. I have chosen what is better. Better than life with no one but me in control, better than life with drugs and drink in control, better than life with an institution, who claims to represent God, in control—and better than serving and striving to please the notion of a God, the knowledge of whom comes only from books and the interpretations of people who claim to have the answers that no one else seems to have.

I have chosen the better— I have chosen to have a relationship with the living God— but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better.

I am weak

I know myself well enough, I know my weaknesses well enough, my struggle with discipline and authority, even my inability to pay attention to someone, or anything, that is not that interesting to me. I know that I cannot have a religion and be diligent enough in it to have any meaningful and long term impact on my life— I have to have a relationship, and I suspect most of us do. That’s the way God made us— we are relational people.

Religion arises when people are persuaded that they cannot have a relationship with God and must defer to ministers for the guidance the Counselor, the Holy Spirit would give us—or people look to religion because they are afraid to submit to a God who wants to interact personally with them for fear of him dragging them out of their comfort zones.

“Just let me go to church, put my money in the plate, say a few Hail Marys, Hallelujahs, the apostle’s creed -or whatever, eat some crackers and juice or wine- whatever their serving, tell the preacher priest reverend rabbi that ‘you’re doing fine and you loved his message’ and then go on with life till the next mass service assembly meeting”— preferably as few as you can get away with attending without being called out for being a heretic or in danger if not being recognized at the gates of heaven.

Hopefully I’ll get enough heavenly brownie points to get me into heaven when it’s all said and done or enough people who do have a stack of brownie points prays— or lights enough candles— to push me over the threshold of them pearly gates.

That’s religion and I want no part of that, neither I believe, does our God. If that were enough Jesus would not have had to leave his throne in heaven and the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane; “Father if there is another way let this cup pass from before me!” —would have been answered by the Father; ‘Yes, there is another way, forget about the cross, just tell people to never skip synagogue, keep the law flawlessly and don’t forget to tithe.’

But that’s not what happened because Jesus was not just another prophet come to warn and remind people to keep the law and to keep trusting their God for a redeemer— Jesus was the fulfillment of the law and he was, and is, the redeemer. He came in flesh and blood to prove that we could have a relationship with him, the creator, and he became the fulfillment of the law—the final sacrifice for sin—so that we could be in continual fellowship with him by his Holy Spirit.

Oh No!

I remember one day when my daughter Cally was about 5 years old I came home and found a grim scene.  Donna was looking worried and upset and Cally was looking terrified.  Donna said, “I told Cally you were going to be really mad because she knows she is not supposed to be messing with your stuff.”  She then pointed to my Bible which was sitting on my desk so I picked it up and leafed through it seeing that some of the pages were wrinkled.  Donna said “I tried to straighten them out but a couple of them are torn.” I just looked at Cally and said, “It’s ok, that’s what scotch tape is for. Now you know that you have to be really careful when you look at my Bible because the pages are really thin.”

They both looked at me like “who are you?”  They knew how important my Bible was to me and they were just sure I was going to be angry.  But you know what?  Because this book is in my heart and not just in my head, my love for my little girl was more important to me then the condition of this book—and it still is.  When I looked into her eyes and saw the fear, the fear that I was going to be upset with her, it just wasn’t in me.

That’s all Jesus is saying, it’s not just knowing the words that are important, it’s knowing the Lord who spoke them, and the love with which he spoke them— the intent of the law.