“…we who relished freedom and scorned tradition and ritual—we had become religious beyond recognition, perhaps even to Jesus, and vice versa.”
-He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! Luke 19:41-42
Back in 2003 I decided to help start a new church in Billings. I jumped in with both feet and was asked to head up the kids ministry there. So, with a years’ worth of classes left at the Bible institute, while still working full time construction and raising three girls, I built a kid’s ministry from the ground up in a church that quickly grew to a couple of hundred people.
About a year in, and after finishing my schooling, I decided to start a Wednesday evening kid’s program also. We even bought a bus to haul kids in. So besides recruiting and being responsible for dozens of teachers and nursery workers I also led worship for the kids and always had an object lesson for them, twice on Sunday and then on Wednesday evening.
Then I took on organizing VBS’s, kids camps, I designed and remodeled a new church building, taught and led worship once a month for Celebrate recovery, did counseling and an occasional wedding, always seemed to find myself leading another Bible study or helping organize another event—I threw everything into that church for several years, getting people saved and hoping and praying that soon, my hard work would pay off and I wouldn’t have to keep working construction to pay the bills, that I could get a paycheck from the church that matched the hours I was putting in (minimum wage laws never seem to apply in a church).
Instead, I got exhausted. We did a lot of wonderful things, bore a lot of fruit, and my girls were growing up and were a big part of the church, which was a good thing because they didn’t see much of me outside of the church. I was actually struggling with the mindset—implied and exemplified, by those whom I looked to as examples and leaders—that family was a hindrance to the work of the Kingdom, unless of course, they were as involved, enthusiastic and tireless, as you were.
Turns out I wasn’t tireless, and my enthusiasm was waning. When the blown discs in my back–caused by an accident at work, falling seventeen feet from a ladder–finally got to the point where the pain was unbearable and I required another major surgery to correct it, I was relieved. I was not relieved that I was going to finally, hopefully, get this fixed—I was looking at a fusion of three vertebrae in my lower back with no guarantees that I would even get any relief. What I was relieved about, was that finally, I was going to have an excuse to rest, to take a break.
I was actually looking forward to a major, and very painful surgery, one that would require four months of recovery, wearing a back brace while the bones fused together. I was looking forward to just stopping, getting away from the church that had required every spare moment and ounce of energy I could muster—‘I gotta do this, I gotta be here, this person is counting on me, that person is expecting me, if I let up the ministry will diminish, people will leave and I’ll never get to be full time, the leadership will blame me for declining attendance—the Lord will be disappointed—people will go to hell and I will spend eternity regretting not doing more…!’
Slap me on the table Doc and cut me open, let’s get this done, I have a city to save! So I went under the knife and after a few days in the hospital they sent me home to recover. Needless to say, I was in a lot of pain. I planted myself in a recliner and watched a lot of movies. I slept in that recliner for a few weeks because it hurt too much to lay down and I could only get up with a walker—but hey, I was finally getting a break! No one was counting on me to be anywhere, no one was expecting me to be there for them, to fix this, to plan that, to support or facilitate anything.
But the Lord was using this time to speak to me about something. The Holy Spirit was putting something in my heart, pestering me about something that I would not have come up with on my own, something I did not really want to do, and that was to pull up stakes, leave the big (for Montana) city and the church I had worked so hard to build and go to the little town of Red Lodge to start a church. ‘What? Why?’
“Lord, can’t I go to a big town somewhere, someplace where I can build a church big enough to support me?”
A month or two into my recovery, finally able to get around better, I drove up to the top of the rims overlooking Billings, to do a little serious praying. I went there because in 1985 the Lord had taken me there in a vision and told me that Billings was my mission field, so if I the Lord was going to tell me to leave there it was going to have to be while I was overlooking the city I loved, the city still full of a lot of people who needed saved.
Well, the Lord met me there, in a big way, and we had quite a conversation, one that would change my life forever. First he told me that I was released from Billings, that I had fulfilled my obligation to save the City by helping raise up a generation that would do just that. I wrote in my Journal, July 2, 2007, that the Lord told me, “my task was finished there, it was time to move on.”
But that was just the start of the conversation I would have with the Lord that day. After praying for a while suddenly I began to feel a heartache like I had never experienced before. I started weeping, sobbing, and I distinctly heard the Lord say to me, “My people are tired, so tired…”
I was feeling the Lord’s pain for his church, his sorrow and anguish, as he witnessed his people working, toiling, stressing and striving to please him, to please their leaders, doing everything humanly possible to try and build his kingdom in their own strength until, in exasperation they either fell by the wayside in shame and pain, or died exhausted, never having fulfilled their true purpose, never having taken the time to come to him, him who’s yoke is easy and burden light.
He was asking me to go to Red Lodge, not to save the town, not to build a big church, but to build a sanctuary, a refuge, where people could come from all around and rediscover what it means to follow the one they first fell in love with— Jesus Christ. A place, as he put it, “to be strengthened and built up.” I can’t even begin to explain what happened in my heart at that moment. The intensity of that moment, that brief but intense glimpse of the Lord’s pain, put in my heart a passion that overrode every other passion and drive that I had to that point.
I was an evangelist, I was a teacher, and I was a worship leader, I was becoming an expert at how to do church and many looked to me for guidance, but now I was being told that we were all working ourselves right out of the peace he offered, that we were striving so hard for—and I was supposed to do something about it? There was no way I was going to refuse, no matter the road ahead.
He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, —church, —especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!
Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, the things that broke his heart then, break his heart today. We toil and strive but we stop learning from him and content ourselves to learn about him, and end up striving to please a God that is recorded in our scrolls, our Bibles, while neglecting the relationship that same book tells us, begs us to have with him. Thus we have no rest, we have no peace.
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
So after my time spent with the Lord atop the rims I was ready to go conquer Red Lodge and build the Sanctuary he spoke off. But I still had a few things to learn. The Lord told me through a visiting prophet after my rim top experience; ‘that there was something he needed to do first.’ I now know that He needed to teach me some of what we were doing wrong, so I wouldn’t just continue the manic cycle —just in a prettier place.
I now believe that that something he needed to do first, before I was ready to go, was to open my eyes to how we, me included, were wounding our soldiers.
I begin to see the church through different eyes, I begin to perceive and recognize the anguish that was being carried by those who were zealous to serve but could find no balance, support or rest. I saw how people, including myself, were being manipulated, by a sticky combination of sweet words and subtle criticisms as I and others were guilted and shamed into doing things we wouldn’t normally do.
I saw my wife devastated when those she loved and trusted turned against her when it was perceived that I was going Viking. I saw my daughter being ostracized and shamed when she needed the church the most. I saw church leaders, pastors, youth and kids workers, burning out and being shamed and forgotten, mentioned only in passing as those to be pitied because they just couldn’t cut it.
I saw those with a fire in their hearts for Jesus shoved back into their places and their fires quenched because those over them weren’t ready to release or allow them to serve their Lord as they wanted, where they wanted, even if it had nothing to do with the church they were subject to, and because it had nothing to do with the church they were subject to. I am not just talking about the church I was in, I am talking about the Evangelical and Pentecostal church in general, we who relished freedom and scorned tradition and ritual—we had become religious beyond recognition, perhaps even to Jesus, and vice versa.
Time to Go
And then, in 2010, the Lord told me that it was time to go– and what a fight that was. I was determined to win that fight in the fullness of the grace and love of the one who called me, and leave well, to use the church phrase. But in the end— I pretty much just had to go Viking. I had to answer the call, to challenge the status quo on all levels, I did, and it was not always pretty. But praise God I wasn’t the only one going Viking, it was and continues to be a movement. God was, and is, shaking up and waking up, his church. The barbarians are on the move.
A line was drawn in the sand, and now, Foursquare as a whole, and I mean the leadership, after some major shake ups, is crossing that line, that line between controlling the church and equipping the church. And praise God for that. But I largely stopped obsessing about what they are doing a while ago because part of going Viking, being the barbarian, meant that I had to just stop worrying about what Foursquare was doing, or not doing, and focus on what I was doing.
I am accountable to the leadership, I choose to be, but ultimately my leader is my Lord and his voice is the one that matters—in that I am finally finding peace. And it is making a dent in breaking open the gilded cage we the church had stuffed ourselves into.
I now feel the Joy of the Lord and my soul has found rest. His yoke is easy and his burden light, if it is indeed his…