Marathon

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Someone asked me the other day; “Why does the enemy hate our church so much?” I answered, “Because we are a threat to him.” Really—If we weren’t, everything would be a cake walk. Another question, and perhaps a more difficult one—”Why does the Lord allow it to happen?” The answer, which has become painfully clear to me in this season, is that the Lord is allowing the enemy to sift us like wheat, as he told Peter, to remove the chaff.

Our weaknesses are never so obvious as when we give in to them and are lured in over our heads. Hidden or unrecognized weaknesses are often never truly dealt with, and can impede us so subtly we don’t even recognize we are dragging them until the ones whom we always thought were losers are suddenly at the finish line way ahead of us.

Why does the Lord allow attacks? Because we all have things in our lives that hinder us, sin which so easily ensnares us, and sometimes the only way to untangle us so that we can finish the race, is to allow it to be exploited by the enemy, to even expose us, making it painfully obvious to us that there is a problem, forcing us to make a decision; “Am I going to let the enemy win, and just give up?” Or am I going to lay this aside, do whatever it takes to be free of this, put my head down and push on to the finish where my Lord not only waits, but he sends his Spirit to come and strengthen me, to even carry me on, “on wings like eagles” if—I will just let him, trust him, and not lay down and die.”

No matter what anyone says, no matter the jeers and the taunts of the perfect and pretty people who seem to have it all together and always finish the sprints first and can whip out a dozen pull ups like it’s a breeze—no matter what my flesh is telling me as it screams for the right to just stay down, rest, run away, crawl away, crawl into a hole and die, whatever—just give up— no matter what, I am going to get up, put one foot in front of the other, getting stronger and closer to the finish with every step until I look back one day and see all the perfect people gasping for air and staggering from side to side as they jostle one another for position in the mob that seems to have stalled out short of the finish.

We find ourselves scarred, winded and shocked, ‘I did it! I am at the finish line!’ And there’s your crown, in the hands of the coach, twisted but no longer tarnished and shining like the sun because the Lord has cleaned it up for you just as he did your heart along the way.

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All he wanted you to do was get up and keep going. Because he knows how hard the race is, he did resist to the point of shedding his blood, everyone sneered and mocked, called him a drunkard and a sinner, a blasphemer, even an agent of the devil—”but for the joy set before him” he kept going, putting one foot in front of the other, obedient to his Father who spurred him on. One agonizing bloody step after another, trembling under the weight of his cross, the cross he would soon die on, the cross he could have forsaken and fled at any time he wished.

But he didn’t, why? Because he wanted you to be able to finish your race knowing that if he took away the ultimate penalty for failure to finish, the only insurmountable hurdle in the course, sin—life ending, spirit killing—sin. He knew that if he took away that hinderance for you by taking it on himself, he knew that there would be nothing—absolutely nothing—that would stop you from finishing the race, from winning the fight, if you only made that decision to finish, to look to him to do so. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”

Don’t let the enemy win, don’t give up or give in, don’t fear the race, don’t shirk the fight, it is not easy, it is never easy, it is seldom fun but it is always rewarding and it is always blessed in the end. We are not beating the air, the battle is real, if it wasn’t there would be no need to fight, no one would ever stumble, no one would ever fall. And if you have ever been in a real fight with a real scrapper, you know that even if you win, you will still walk away bruised and bleeding.

And the enemy of our souls, is certainly a scrapper, as is our own flesh. When the two team up there is a real fight with real consequences, but realize that the battle is never over until the Lord says it is over and he calls you home.

Every day is another day to fight, around every turn is another straightaway to cruise through until you get to the next turn or have to jump the next hurdle, all the Lord asks is that we do not stop running. This life is so much shorter then we realize and how we run today will determine our forever.

. . .let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.  You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. Heb 12:1-4

There is a purpose in our striving. We might not always know what it is or why the enemy fights so hard against us, but we must always know that there is a purpose. We have to trust the author and finisher of our faith, that is of course Jesus.

Don’t let anyone slow you down or stop you, especially not the enemy. You won’t always even realize that he is there, but he is sneaky that way. Sticking out a foot to trip, slipping you an intoxicant into your water bottle, whispering in your ear along the way;

Why are you doing this? You cannot finish, you don’t need to finish, you already blew it anyway when you stumbled back there at the curve, you crossed into the wrong lane, you’re probably disqualified, didn’t you jump the gun too? Man, you could be sitting in the bar right now with a cold one watching Basketball on TV—now those guys can run.” “No one cares anyway—loser.”  Lies, nothing but lies.

 Spartan quickly runs through the sand

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7-8

You will finish, because Jesus doesn’t choose losers, and he chose you.

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The Kingdom Whithin

 

The kingdom of God is real, the kingdom is here, the kingdom is the reality you should strive for.

 “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here! ‘or ‘See there!’ For indeed the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20

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What is reality to you? That which you can observe, “see here, see there?” ‘I just need evidence’, Like grainy footage of Bigfoot and a plaster cast of a footprint. Or are you one who will not be convinced until you can go to a zoo and get a selfie with a bigfoot while he sits behind a glass barrier eating a bowl of chokecherries while waiting for the trainer to show up for the 3:00 show right after the 2:00 dolphin show?

Personally my book is still open on the Bigfoot case along with many other mysteries of this world we live in. But, is there more to this world we live in then that  which we can scientifically verify, even harder to verify than Bigfoot and Nessie?

Do you truly believe that the spiritual exists and that it is all around us, within us, and that it is just as real as that which we can go to a zoo or a national park and see? Really it’s a cultural thing. A couple weeks ago a Crow tribal leader’s wife was speaking in our church and she said that “the Crow, the Absaloka, are very spiritual people because for many generations they have been seeking and striving for the spiritual, it is in their DNA.”

This was no surprise to me as I had made this observation years ago in sharing Jesus with our native brothers and sisters— you do not have to convince them that the spiritual is real, they already know. They know also that there is a Great Spirit whom they long to connect with. And that there are other lesser spirits they would rather not know. The first inhabitants of this land are already eager to be protected from, and not just subject to, the malignant whims of the darker spirits all around us, unlike many who stumble into spirituality and call themselves enlightened, willing to just throw themselves wide open to any spiritual influence that will have them. Random spirits are never benign.

The native peoples of this land know there are good and evil forces and that you must be very careful how you embrace any of them. Thus they have no problem embracing the concept of the kingdom of heaven once they decide to accept Jesus as the creator and redeemer— the life giver.

We who come from more worldly backgrounds, where if you cannot hit it with a stick or take a picture of it to hang on your wall, it doesn’t exist, we have a harder time grasping the notion of the kingdom we cannot see with our eyes and touch with our fingers as being real. We just need to learn to develop our spiritual eyes, to be sensitive and acknowledging of the Holy Spirit’s moving within and around us. Because whether you accept it or not, believe it or not, the unseen battles and malicious influences all around us are constant and real.

We can either be a victim or a victor, a champion for the kingdom of light or a casualty of the kingdom of darkness. Not choosing is losing. But don’t despair, the enemy is so outgunned in this battle by those of us who choose to engage in the fight that it is laughably unfair to the enemy, but then the enemy of our souls invented unfair fighting and turnabout is fair play.

We can only live in the victory of the kingdom if it is what we put first and foremost in our hearts and minds. Jesus, as usual, said it best and with a lot fewer words. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things”—all the things we would normally strive for that we think we need—”shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.” Mat 6:33,34

That’s not just a lifestyle Jesus is talking about, it is a new reality, a new dynamic—to get science fiction nerdy for a second here—it’s like living in a parallel universe without actually leaving the one we started in. But rather, using the parallel to affect and alter the first. It’s accepting the invitation to live in both. The purpose of which, is of course, to ultimately bring the two back together, today in our hearts, and tomorrow, in this worldly plain we live in. The two universes, the seen and the unseen, were unnaturally separated but Jesus is rejoining them, starting in us.

because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Roman 8:21—22

Grassy field

We must live as those who are already citizens of the kingdom, because we are. We must live as those who have the power, because we do. We must live as those who are known by our God, because we are. We must live as those whom our God loves, because he does.

 

The Strong Man

“We end up tied up in the corner begging for another drink, another hit, searching for a bigger thrill because it always takes more and more— and Jesus? Well, he is shoved into the closet. ‘He’ll be fine in there, a few verses of amazing grace and a communion wafer now and then is all he needs.’”

David and Goliath

“Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.” Mat 12:29

I grew up in the 70’s convinced that drugs were bad. I had heard horror stories about what happens to people who succumb to such debasement. I was raised by truckdrivers and cowboys and only flea infested long haired hippies did drugs. I started drinking now and then when I was fourteen, fifteen, but that was a man’s reward for a job well done and was socially acceptable. So, when I went into Job Corps at seventeen I was hardcore cowboy fresh from working summers and weekends at ranches and auction yards. I was anti—drug with no desire whatsoever to smoke any whacky tobacky.

But, after being there several months, sequestered in the mountains with a lot of other guys that I considered friends, I discovered that a lot of them smoked the stuff—guys that were in the Heavy Equipment training program with me, the cool tuff guys. A group I had never fitted in with before back home. In the evening there was often a bunch of guys that would sneak off into the mountains around the center, sit in a circle and get stoned. It was the Seventies Show in the wilderness.

I would often go along just to get out of the dorm but I would pass on the inevitable joint going around. Beer was my drug of choice—too bad there wasn’t any around. It was a lot easier to smuggle in a bag of weed than it was a six pack of beer.

Then one Saturday afternoon I said ‘What the heck, I’ll try it.’ This was after a lot of encouraging from my friends of course. I mean, they didn’t seem to have fleas, in fact they all had short hair—it was required to be in the Heavy Equipment program—not by choice, it was the seventy’s after all—and they all seemed pretty normal to me.

So I smoked my first weed. It gave me a headache and I went back to the dorm and slept the rest of the afternoon—‘Yay, wasn’t that fun.’

A while later I tried it again. This time, sitting there in that circle in the trees, I got really buzzed. And suddenly everything everyone said was just hilarious. ‘Wow, this was even better than alcohol!’ Even though I was paranoid about getting caught, afraid the staff would see my goofy grin and notice the lovely burnt rope odor emanating from my otherwise redneck appearance, I couldn’t wait to do it again, and again, and again. Soon I was getting stoned every day and even started to smuggle in my own weed.

Somehow I still managed to graduate the program without getting caught and when I graduated Job Corp I just went nuts with the partying and was soon into much harder stuff, always looking for the next thing that would give me that buzz that made everything hilarious and all my friends so fun to be with.

That’s a whole other story that did not turn out so well in the end as the Lord intervened by allowing my life to basically fall apart. But it would take five long years and a genuine miracle from the Lord before I could overcome my need to be stoned all day every day on the weed and to be able to give up all the other bondages I had acquired during that period.

I wasted some of the best years of my life; being stoned, and I am talking about marijuana—the not so bad drug of choice, the other drugs came and went—being stoned on weed robbed me of my ambition, my energy, my confidence, my relationship with my Lord and my sense of who I really was, actually my sense in general. I was in bondage simply because I decided one day to try something, no big deal, just a time or two—and just a little.

I could tell you nearly the same story about drinking, about pornography, about tobacco—both cigarettes and snoose, about speed—on and on. I have been addicted to it all. Things I never thought I would be dumb enough to do yet would find myself craving over and over and over again—that’s a bondage and that is an opportunity for the enemy to come in and do whatever he wants, to kill, steal and destroy.

And that is exactly what he does—unless you cry out to Jesus, trust him and his word, repent and be set free. Restored as the strong man of your house—both the Temple that is your body and the home you are supposed to be building for you wife, your kids, your grandkids or whomever the Lord entrusts you to influence.

Only Jesus can truly free you from bondages that destroy, that render you useless for the Kingdom of God and ineffective as a protector and provider for you family. We have a much higher purpose, dad’s, then just surviving and numbing the flesh with the things that it demands. We are the strong man, we are the guardians of the hearts of our children for as long as they are under our roofs or you give them away in marriage.

And even then you are a spiritual covering as your prayers, depending on your righteousness, are powerful and effective in protecting them from the evil one. You are the protector of your wives’ heart as well, the one whom you vowed to love, cherish and cling to only, for as long as you both shall live.

But you cannot do that if you are in bondage, if there is anything apart from your Lord and your wife that is more important to you, that you cannot give up or get through a week or even a day without. Anything that causes her grief when she thinks of your need for it, anything you would be horrified to learn your kids were also doing—you need to break free from that.

I am the warrior

Would You?

Ask yourself this next time you indulge; Would you drink that, would you smoke that, would you watch that, if Jesus were standing next to you? You think Jesus doesn’t know? Of course he does, yet he loves you and wants to set you free, free to be the strong man. Choose to be loosed, pick up your bibles, get on your knees and cry out to Jesus and then find some Christian brothers who will stand beside you.

Make it a habit to go to church, fall in love with worship, those are the things—repentance, scripture, worship fellowship—that set and keep me free, and I am no one special, I am just a man like you, a person like you ladies—you are not exempt from this, you need to be the strong woman also.

The rewards are so much sweeter than the temporary thrill of whatever high you are getting from your mind altering, dopamine releasing, hangover inducing, bondages of choice. Kids look to you dads to be strong for them, your wives look to you husbands to be strong for them. The younger men you work with look to you to see how a man is supposed to act. The guys next to you in church look to you to know how a godly man is supposed to cope with this life. What are they seeing?  A strong man living in freedom or a pretender living in bondage?

  43 “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. 44 Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Mat 12:43-45

The Salesman

The enemy especially loves to bind Christians. We turn to Jesus, we get the house all cleaned up and ready for company but then there’s a knock on the door and there’s a salesman. Those Kirby vacuum toting, encyclopedia Britannica hocking, Fuller brush pushing type remnants of a day gone by.

Good day sir, I am selling feel good goodies. You’re a man right, the man of this house, the king of this here castle? Your daddy and your granddaddy loved this stuff and they were manly men right? Here, try some of this, by one get one free. Oh, and this here goes great with that, I’ll throw that in free, just this once though. And then—whoa ho ho! —how about this huh? Have you ever seen anything like that before? You know you want it. Here, let me just come in and unpack all this stuff for you, have a seat and re—lax.

We end up tied up in the corner begging for another drink, another hit, searching for a bigger thrill because it always takes more and more— and Jesus? Well, he is shoved into the closet. ‘He’ll be fine in there, a few verses of amazing grace and a communion wafer now and then is all he needs.’

Just keep the blinds closed and the porch lights on and everyone will think your fine—because you are , right?

Depression

Am I the only one who gets visited by this salesman now and then? I know I’m not, I’ve been in this ministry game a long time and I have seen a lot of very full houses. Houses full of everything but what they should be full of—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.”   Mat 12:33

A tree cannot grow both good and bad fruit, the choice is yours, and your family are the ones who have to live with the fruit. But Jesus doesn’t tell us this just to condemn us, he tells us this to give us the way to be loosed. Remember, the whole premise of this story was that the Kingdom power is here, he brought it and he still makes it available to each of us. We just need to clean house, using the power, and then keep it and ourselves unfettered. For those you love if not yourselves.

Jesus said it best— “If the Son sets you free you are free indeed.”

Barbarian meme

Read ‘Barbarians in the Kingdom’

Stand Firm

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Whether you sit in a pew or read my heart on line, I love you all. . .

 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. 21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. Rev 3:20—21

I’ve gotta be honest with you, it’s been really tough to focus on writing sermons and blogs lately. There have been so many family and ministry bombshell crisis all around me lately and pressures at work aside from my ministry that it’s been hard to not just despair and try to drag everyone into the pit of gloom that threatens me. But for the grace of God and the call and anointing I have to preach the good news to the people Jesus entrusts me to instruct, I know I would be somewhat useless.

So many people I love going through such challenges as it seems the enemy is coming at us from so many directions while at the same time great victories are being won for the kingdom of God. And that is in part what keeps me showing going, the strong need strengthened— a place to be fed and encouraged—and the weary need rest, a safe place to rediscover the power of grace. And, God’s greatest victory’s often come in the challenges we face. When Jesus shows up in the midst of the storm is when he is most evident and when we truly listen.

And I need to remember that it is not about me, it is about the children of God, those he died for, and he has entrusted me— he has entrusted all of us—with a message of hope, hope in a God who can do and change anything no matter how badly we mess it up—and yes, it is indeed we who mess it up. We can blame the enemy, we can blame God, but there is always a choice freely made somewhere by us, or those we love, who tipped the first domino to our disaster. We choose which voice to listen to, the voice that leads to destruction, or the voice that leads to life.

I choose to keep listening to the voice that beckons, “Open the door, I will come in and eat with you, and you with me.” In the vernacular of Jesus day that was an invitation to an intimate heart to heart conversation. Just the two of us. Accepting that invitation is the primary thing that keeps me going, that keeps the enemy from stealing my joy, my purpose, my very sanity.

I don’t need much to push me over the edge if I am operating in my own strength, doing what I want and taking the credit for whatever I accomplish while wearing the twisted crown that I keep wrestling away from the Lord.

But, if I am leaning on him, constantly depending on him, just looking to him, he is there and he is my rock. I will stand, I will keep preaching the good news and I will always be there, crying with those who hurt, rejoicing with those who rejoice, rowing when others can’t and sharing a meal belowdecks with Jesus when I’m too tired to row. I am going to that dinner party and I am taking you all with me.

Called

But you know, that’s what a pastor does, and this is nothing new. There have always been challenges and there always will be, until the day the Lord returns.

Because I love you, all of you, whenever any of you hurt, I hurt. But as one who is anointed and called to love and shepherd a flock for Jesus, he is my rock and I will not, we will not, be moved.

The Lord is doing a good work, whether in our Red Lodge, or extended via the internet, church family, he has been and he will continue to. Whether you sit in a pew or read my heart on line, I love you all. With the struggles there are many victories to celebrate as well and I get also to rejoice with you in those. We cannot be distracted and we must not fail to keep looking to the Lord for our joy and our strength, to accept the invitation to keep following him into the tomorrow he has planned for each and every one of us and for this body of believers as we continue to storm the gates of hell and add to the family till we have to knock out the walls to make room for those who accept the invitation to share in the feast of grace we get to so freely eat of.

Making sure we are accepting that invitation to spend time with Jesus that so often seems unimportant, insignificant, or something for another day.

Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Rev 2:10

It sounds like the most ridiculous and least productive thing to do in our struggles, to stop, listen for the still small voice inviting us to stop and share a meal, but it is the only thing that will get us through, and it is all the Lord asks of us; that we accept his offer of peace.

The alternative is chaos, in us and around us.

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But if I keep my heart full, and keep accepting, looking forward to and heeding the Lord’s invitation to keep following him, to sit and eat with him on occasion, the joy in the journey makes the fleeting and frustratingly hollow pleasures of the flesh less appealing and renders the attacks that threaten destruction powerless and moot.

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Barbarians. . . seriously?

Political correctness be d@#%d!Barbarian meme

Barbarians in the Kingdom

The Barbarian in the Kingdom is a man, a simple man with a simple mission- to live victoriously and to never be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Barbarian in the Kingdom makes no apologies for who he is as a man or as a soldier for Christ. The barbarian in the Kingdom takes care of his own- the women in their lives- not because they are inferior and weak but because that is his role and he embraces it. The barbarian women in his life appreciate and thrive in the freedom and security that care affords them.

It is the civilized and religious man who subjugates and diminishes his woman- in the barbarian tradition, as in the Kingdom of God, the women always play a key and equal, even if different, role in the societal and family structure. They are not ashamed to be women and the men are not ashamed to be men- this gender neutralism business trying to pervade our society is just as ridiculous and absurd as was the notion that women are inferior.

The barbarian in the kingdom lives by a simple heart cry:

8I desire to do your will, my God;
your law is within my heart.” Psalm 40: 8

The simplicity of the barbarian nature guided by an instinct of justice uncluttered by religious rules or p.c. gamesmanship. This allows he or she to move freely and effectively, advancing and strengthening  the Kingdom while hardly even realizing it. Moving in the three basic tenants that are ingrained in the soul of every person who is wise enough and courageous enough to embrace it, the tenants that reflect the Spirit and life of our Savior:

Simplicity of purpose, Singularity of mission, Determination of spirit

And that’s why we need Barbarians in the Kingdom

Dan Swaningson- the Barbarian pastor

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