Twisted Crowns

Who is in control of my life? Who wears the crown? Me, or Jesus. All of us have twisted crowns because we are always wrestling with the Lord to try and take it back.

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Anxiety-

Freedom from anxiety; a lesson I have been struggling with the last few weeks, fear of being a bad superintendent and not getting my multi-million dollar construction project done right, fear of not being a good pastor, a good father, fear of what others may think of me if I fail at any of these. Anxiety is a relentless and merciless task master. —‘Lord—take away my fears and forgive me for doubting you when you tell me to cast all my cares on you, that you will never leave me nor forsake me, that you are my fortress and my strength, an ever present help in times of trouble—restore to me the joy of my salvation and help me to walk in victory!’ Amen?!

The Lord set me free 38 years ago with the words of a psalm—“Out of my distress I called on the Lord, the Lord answered me and set me free. With the Lord on my side I shall not fear, what can man do to me?” – from Psalm 118. And I was suddenly set free—not from addictions to drugs though that would be the end of my partying days, not to my need to drink mass quantities, though that would be the end of my drinking days, the Lord set me free in the moment I read those words from my fear of being alone, from the shame that kept me from him and the pain that drove me to the other things.

In that moment I decided to abide in is word, to live in his word, and be free—and I did. His words were more than just inspiring ink on paper, his words became alive in my heart and I felt his overwhelming presence like I never had before in an undeniable and unexplainable way and I vowed to never turn again to the things that had ensnared me by their false promises of appeasing the flesh and soothing the mind—I no longer need those things—but I still need Jesus, day in and day out because the flesh still tries to drag me down. Lord take my Crown.

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We are a stubborn lot. We want to be free but we don’t know what to do with our freedom and we use it to get right back into bondage—just bondage of a different sort. You can’t tell me what to do! Well. Maybe not, but then we make the wrong choice and we become a slave to ourselves, a slave to the flesh—or as Jesus would put it, “a slave to sin.”

Our own minds are our worst enemy. Our flesh—our own desire, our own thought patterns and motivations. Things that must be tempered by the Lord, by his word.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. 36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.

The enemy cannot steal your freedom—unless you allow him.

How do we lose our freedom? -one word—sin

It’s really not that hard people, read the word, know the word. At the very least, know and abide by the Ten Commandments, they are very straightforward and succinct and will keep you out of a whole lot of trouble.

Example

—big uncomfortable, I don’t care if you are offended or not, this is gospel truth and I’m tired of having to clean up the messes of people who think it’s not important—example.

Donna and I did not sleep together until we got married.

I was living in my new found freedom from my addictions and in God’s love and grace when Donna and I started dating. We were not kids anymore, we both had a lot of life under our belts when we decided to get married. We were engaged, and we drove ourselves and each other crazy because we were committed to waiting for the Honey Moon to consummate –impatiently waiting

In the weeks leading up to the wedding Donna would sometimes spend the night at my house—on the couch in a different room—I lived out of town a ways and we often just wanted to be together long into the evening and Donna would be too tired to drive home.

A few times, sorry kids but we were passionately in love—and still are—we would get a little carried away with the kissy kissy and, like I said, drive ourselves crazy. ‘Why wait, we’re both adults, we know we’re getting married, everyone else does it,’ and then I would look at the big window in my living room and see my Christian fish sticker placed there for all the world—and myself— to see and remember why not—because the word of God says so.

After coming dangerously close to breaking our commitment to wait a time or two we both did some serious repenting and praying—I’ll tell you what, that prayer, asking the Lord to forgive us for pushing the boundaries and to help us stay strong in his word and his Spirit did more to solidify and bless our relationship than anything else we did to that point and perhaps since.

I am convinced that one of the reasons our marriage has stood the test of time, that we have been blessed by the Lord in our marriage, is because we abided by his word. We did not live together to practice, we did not succumb to the temptations of the flesh and become one outside of our sacred vows and we begged forgiveness and strength to overcome the lies of the enemy—”did God really say?” Yes, he did.

Where do you live in your mind? Confusion or Kingdom, circumstantial slavery or truth.

Because where you live is what you will become.

Stop wrestling the Lord for control and let him be King, he promises freedom, Let go of your twisted crown and lay it at his feet.

Claim your freedom, read- Barbarian’s in the Kingdom

 

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World Changers?

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We all want to change the world, at least we start out that way. Every new generation is bent on making an impact; you go to high schools and colleges and ask the kids what they want to do and they all, in one iteration or another, will tell you they want to make a difference, to change the world. As we get older the enthusiasm wanes as we realize that just surviving takes so much energy and the world is such a large place that we give up hope of changing anything—except maybe our own circumstances, and even that can be futile.

We go from making the world a better place to ‘make my world a better place.’ ‘I just want to pay the bills, have a nice place to live and be happy.’ Ironically if we do get a nice place to live and can pay the bills we find ourselves wanting a nicer place to live and end up with bigger bills to stress about. In the end it all presents itself to us as, just what Simon Peter would come to call, an empty way of life, futile and aimless.

Simon Peter had gotten to that place, feeling empty, living an aimless, futile life. But then his boat was rocked and his world changed forever by the true world changer.

Then He (Jesus) got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.

When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” Luke 3

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A heart changed is a world changed.

Jesus got into Peter’s boat so that he could use it as a platform to preach to a multitude of people, a crowd so large and enthusiastic that Jesus actually got into the boat in part to escape being overrun by them. Yet what does he do? He turns to Peter and tells him to push out into the water, “We’re going fishing, just you and me buddy.”

Jesus did come to change the world, yet, with what looks to us as the world clamoring for his attention, a perfect opportunity to reach more and more, double, triple the size of his growing congregation, to keep the momentum going and reach the multitudes, he leaves them standing on the shore, and focuses on one—one somewhat reluctant man.  A man most wouldn’t have given a second thought let alone worth the time to mentor. But Jesus would  spend the next three years doing just that.

Why would he do this? Because Jesus knows that a heart changed is a world changed. 

The world is not made up of throngs, it is made up of individuals. Each and every one of which has hopes, dreams and aspirations; pains, trials and challenges; fears and regrets. And each and every person, each and every heart, has a place inside that no one knows but them, no one can truly experience, truly understand, a deep place where we live day in and day out.

It is our world, an entire world within us that we may not truly understand ourselves, we may not even like. But there is one other who does understand, who truly sees and hears what goes on in that world and wants to be a part of it. That is Jesus. Whether we let him in or not, whether we allow him full partnership in our world or not, he knows it still, he experiences our world with us and he wants to change it and to share it with us— with our permission and complete trust.

That world within us is just as large to Jesus as it is to us, it is just as important, perhaps more important to him as it is to us. Jesus knows that if he can change that world,  take away the pain, take away the fear, take away the hopelessness and frustration, he has done something huge, something wonderful, he has changed a world—he has ransomed you from a world of death into a world of life.

And that is the entire reason he came and died, to change your world. And if enough worlds are truly changed, enough hearts set free to be who he created them to be, then the world will be changed as well and become what he created it to be. A beautiful home for his most precious creation, mankind. Finally free from the curse, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God and now living in that reality.

A heart changed is indeed, a world changed.

Who is in charge in your world? You will never change anything worth changing until you can answer that question with one word— Jesus.

 

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 1 Peter 1:18—19 NIV

All else is only emptiness, a chasing after the wind.

heart changed

 

 

The Riddle

“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. Luke 7

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Remember the old batman character the Riddler? He was always messing with Batman’s mind by giving clues to his true intentions in the form of a riddle.

Riddle me this caped crusaders; What is covered in camel’s hair but is not a camel? What speaks the words of God but is not found in a temple? What eats locusts and honey but is not a wild beast, and stands as sturdy as an oak but is not a tree. What is not concerned about being politically correct and not offending anyone yet draws hearers from far and wide?

Answer—A true prophet and more than a prophet, the voice of one—John the Baptist.

The crowds weren’t drawn to John because he was a smooth talker in fancy clothes. They were drawn to John because he was honest, because he spoke truth, and the people were hungry for the truth. Which is of course why they now followed Jesus—he also spoke truth—he could do nothing else because he is truth.

People were not drawn to John because he looked good in his designer clothes and impeccably groomed beard and stylish haircut, people did not walk miles in the hot sun into the middle of nowhere because they wanted to hear the message of abundant living, the secret to success, that some well-to-do preacher was offering. They went because they were hungry for truth, hungry for something real; because John was proclaiming, for no apparent personal gain of his own, with no pretense or fancy talk, that the Kingdom of God, the Redeemer was coming and coming now.

“The Redeemer will come to Zion,
to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,”
declares the Lord.

 “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips. . .  Is 59:20—21

They went to John because they were hungry for God, hungry to be right with God, hungry for the word and seeing and hearing this wild eyed man in the desert who cared not about his own pride or esteem, who wasted no energy worrying about whether he would look good enough and preach good enough to make people want to come back next week, hearing him tell them that he had a way for them to do that—to be right with God—'”repent and be baptized” and be ready.’ ‘Believe in the one who was to come, “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’”

Peter would preach that same message on the day of Pentecost three years later—Repent and be baptized— but this time it was not to receive the one who is to come, but to receive the one who has come.

38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2

This was a fulfillment of John’s promise that one was coming who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

But for now, on that day when Jesus asked the people, why did you go to see John?—No one else was offering them that hope for grace, no one else was telling them their sins could be taken away, let alone the sins of the world, or that they could soon even be immersed in the Holy Spirit.

The priests had made a business out of offering only temporary absolution, ‘keep coming back, keep buying the animals for the sacrifice we sell here, keep paying the temple tax and the tithe, keep doing everything the teachers of the law tell you to do, you dirty sinners, if not for you God’s Kingdom would have come a long time ago!’

Garments of righteousness

Jesus wasn’t trying to make the point that we need to dress modestly like John did. He was telling us that it is what’s on the inside that’s important.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Is 61:10

Here are the garments that we need to wear, the ones that are truly important, the ones that we wear out of respect and love for the one we stand before as a bride.

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I always tell the groom to be when we are preparing for a wedding I am performing when he is stressing over how he is going to look up there in his Tux or whatever as he is standing before a crowd nervous and self-conscious—”No one is going to be looking at you”, the minute that bride comes in, all eyes are on her. She even has her own song.

The bride is usually all decked out in a white dress that is made just special for her to dazzle and magnify her beauty. They spend hours on the hair and the makeup, the flowers and accessories, veils, trains, jewels, whatever and as soon as the groom sees her the last thing he is thinking about is whether or not he looks dorky.

He is awestruck and madly in love at that point and can never imagine ever feeling any other way about her, she is the very center of his universe.

Every time I gave away one of my daughters at their wedding I had the same thought, “Boy, you had better realize how lucky you are.”

That is how Jesus sees us—as the most beautiful thing he has ever laid eyes on and he is thrilled beyond comprehension that we have chosen to be his, that his Father has given us to him. He is honored and happy that we have accepted the garments of salvation, and me the robe of righteousness he offers to us and that we chose to wear them just for him.

The lamb of God who has taken away the sins of the world has made us his bride, and we are perfect and beautiful and he can never imagine himself loving us less. How can we not rejoice in that?

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It’s not luck that gets the groom the beautiful bride, it’s the unfailing, sacrificial love and devotion that the husband to be showers on the one he has chosen to be his bride—Jesus has chosen you.

 

 

 

Jesus Still Shows Up

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 “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

Jesus doesn’t just appear on the river bank anymore, but he does still show up. I have seen it happen over and over again, when Jesus touches the heart of a person because of the witness I or someone else might bear, it is very evident, often very emotional and I never get tired of seeing it—it always makes my heart rejoice.

Seeing a hard heart melt, the fear dissipate like fog on a lake when the sun rises, seeing the tears of healing and joy flow, often leaving the person having the encounter wondering why they are even crying when they suddenly feel so full of joy. You cannot tell me that Jesus is not real and that he does not reveal himself to people today, I have seen it happen over and over again.

Jesus still shows up today—”Behold the Lamb of God” But this almost always happens after someone comes announcing that he is coming. Before Jesus can come into a heart, can be believed and received, before the Father can melt a cold heart there must be a harbinger, a messenger, a voice of one speaking with the voice of the one.

We are called to proclaim the Lord, just as John the Baptist—the first witness of Christ.

22 Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said:

“I am

‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Make straight the way of the Lord,”’

as the prophet Isaiah said.” John 1

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The Apostle Paul would also quote from Isaiah later, a follow up question to this answer.

And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”

 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:

“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, . . .“        

 Rom 10:14,15

Reminds me of a little story I heard years ago.

No Back Up Plan

After Jesus ascended back to heaven following his resurrection the Angel Gabrielle asked him how he was going to get the good news of his resurrection power to the world. He replied, “I left my followers to spread the news and all who hear it will share it as well.” Gabrielle replied, “Sounds kind of risky, what is your back up plan?” To which Jesus answered; “I have no back up plan.”

Obviously this is a made up story but there is nothing in scripture to contradict the truth of it. In fact, the scripture we just read asks the same question; ‘how shall they hear unless someone is preaching the Gospel?’

Who is willing to be the voice of the one? It can be hard, it can be intimidating, it can be a sacrifice, it can land you in trouble and in some places even cost you your life or your freedom—as it did John the Baptist. The eternal fate of humanity depends on it, on us and it often seems like a futile pursuit. But the rewards of seeing hearts set free are unmatched by all the riches and comforts of the world.

I didn’t want to be the preacher, I don’t want to be the odd man at work who doesn’t live and react like everyone else. I didn’t want to have to put others before myself, to give up my dream of ranching or having my own business, of being able to spend all my weekends fishing, camping and hunting.

I didn’t want to have to study and pray all the time to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in me—and I am not talking about just being a pastor— I am talking about living a life devoted to Jesus Christ and being a witness of his mercy and grace, his offer of salvation for all who call on his name.

I would rather just look out for my kingdom, build a life for my family and not worry about anyone else—but that is not why I was put on this earth, it is not why any of us was put on this earth and the rewards of following Jesus, of being the voice of one “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” And being the voice of the one;—“Jesus loves you and wants to heal your broken heart and make his home with you, he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Getting to be that voice and seeing Jesus show up because he was proclaimed—there is nothing on this earth, no joy, no treasure, no stimulation, no drug, nothing can compare to the reward of seeing Jesus heal a wounded heart. I know that joy, so now I do want to be the preacher. If I could figure out a way to preach 6 times a week in every small town in Carbon county and make a living, I would do it. I might just do it anyway—but that’s me, I have a fire in my heart and shut up in my bones and I have to speak or it consumes me.

But he is calling you also to speak, to speak words of life, of healing, ‘proclaiming Jesus is Lord, he loves you and he is just waiting for you to recognize him.’  Jesus does the healing, Jesus does the saving, that is his part, he just asks us to let people know that he is coming to do just that, if they will just turn and look to him, if they will just cry out ‘Lord save me,’ if they will just believe.

Then we get to rejoice with them.

John (the Baptist) Replied. . .

29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. John 3:29

Let your joy be complete, be the voice of the One.

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The Mad Prophet

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“. . . clumsy, uncouth, crude, unsophisticated, redneck— that’s the words, those don’t bother me so much as the condescending looks and attitudes do. ‘

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.’”

Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Mat 3:3—4

I think we can learn a thing or two from John the Baptist that is relevant to where we are as a church family today. Just as John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, prepared hearts for the message of Jesus and the subsequent outpouring in his day, the last days will need harbingers as well—they could very well be alive today, they could even be you.

Chew on that for a minute. —If you are mentoring or teaching, encouraging or equipping someone, you may very well be preparing the next John the Baptist, or you are the next John the Baptist. Don’t discount that idea or think it could never be someone like you.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Mat 3:11

“I am not worthy”  Biblical prophets never considered themselves worthy, they were seldom well known until they went mad in the eyes of the world, and most often those who thought themselves superior to them didn’t take them seriously and told them to back off.

We cannot make either of those mistakes, we cannot discount others and we cannot discount ourselves—in fact, we are all called to prophesy.

I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. 1 Cor 14:5

It’s what your prophetic role is that becomes the question and whether or not you are bold enough to fulfill it.

The Lord likes to call those who, to the rest of the world, seem the least likely to fulfill the role he has in mind for them. It’s like God looks through High School yearbooks to find those voted least likely to succeed and chooses them. It might not be officially written in our year books but we all get labeled, classified, nonetheless. No matter our station in life at any given time we always seem to be either running from or trying to live up to a label.

I only recently embraced and became proud of what I call my barbarian side but it is something that has followed me all my life. Since I was a kid I have been labeled at various times as clumsy, uncouth, crude, unsophisticated, redneck— that’s the words, those don’t bother me so much as the condescending looks and attitudes do. We are all very adept at pegging people and being pegged, often times without a word and it is always very evident.

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Construction worker

I have worked with my hands all my life and never saw a lot of benefit to just putting in time in a classroom if they are not teaching something relevant or new.

Because of that I quit school at the start of my junior year to go into Job Corp to learn a trade that would make me a living. I had always done well in school but by the start of the 11th year it seemed like we just kept relearning the same stuff so I decided to stop wasting my time trying to stay awake in a classroom and do something more constructive. So before my classmates got that piece of paper and a tassel to hang on their car mirror for sticking it out I had gotten a GED, completed a heavy equipment operating course with over a thousand hours of operating time and was certified in three different types of welding.

While my former High school classmates were either going to work for minimum wage or going into debt to fund a college education they would spend much of their lives trying to repay, I was running back hoes, bulldozers and cranes and welding on pipeline jobs making decent money. But in most of the world’s eyes I was, and am, an uneducated construction worker.

Those of you who get dirty for a living know what I am talking about. There is often a little bit of an air of superiority in the way those who wear suits and ties to work relate to you—if they even bother to try. People assume you work with your hands because you are too stupid to do anything else.

This stigma carries into the church also. It’s not overt, but it is there. This is relevant because it is often a factor in who we choose to invest in as leaders. Surely the educated sharp dressed handsome man or the tastefully dressed young woman from the upstanding church family with no tats or piercings is the best candidate for the salaried position of her dreams in the big church.

I’m just saying, we need to stop looking at people like we are choosing the next cover model for GQ or Vanity Fair, we need to stop judging people by whether or not they have grease under their fingernails or letters after their names. And that goes both ways. Not all suits are snobs, many wish they had my job and my skills, they ae going insane sitting behind a desk all day.

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We cannot judge a person by outward appearances and the church establishment is probably the biggest offender. It goes all the way back to King David, and King Saul. Saul won the people’s choice award and David wasn’t even invited to the party, yet David became the king whose throne would endure forever.

And for you, don’t ever think you have to somehow look or act a part to win that part in the Kingdom of God. If you are called to be the preacher, the teacher, the evangelist, the prophet, the harbinger of the coming of the glory of the Lord—then don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Forge on my barbarian friends.

BAR COVER

Barbarians in the Kingdom

 

Oust the Snakes

“Poison or not, the business end of a bull snake is not a happy place when its’ business is you.”  

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I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:1—2

We are called to be Holy—set apart, separate from the world even while in it—Holy warriors. We cannot expect to be a light to the world if we are living in the deeds of darkness, we cannot expect to be blessed by a Holy God if we are not setting our hearts towards holiness and we cannot expect to find ourselves in the path of the Lord’s plan for us if the flesh is leading us down the path of sin.

So what’s the big deal, we’re covered by grace, we are free, what’s a little indulgence gonna hurt? I don’t know, maybe you should ask your kids.

I want to tell you a true story I hope makes the point.

Buddy the Bull Snake

This goes way back to when we were still on the Heyu—cow ranch. We had only been in the new house we had built after our honeymoon cottage burned down for a year or so, long enough for the ground under our front steps to settle and create a cavity—a perfect snake den it turns out. We had a five foot bull snake move into that cavity. Cool, no big deal, we had a Bull snake hanging around at the old Homestead house we had started in, maybe even the same one. We had named him Buddy because Donna would ask me now and then if I had seen my buddy lately.

Buddy liked to stretch out in the front yard to soak up the morning sun; this would give you quite a start if you came across him unexpectedly.  We didn’t worry about him too much because we figured he would keep the worse snakes—the rattlers— away. Just leave Buddy be, what’s one snake gonna hurt?

Well, the problem arose when our daughter Cally, was three or four years old, old enough to start roaming around outside the house some by herself. She would be outside playing and run into Buddy causing her to go into hysterics; she would then run away shrieking at the top of her lungs.  Apparently when you are only three feet tall a five foot snake is pretty scary.

Well, after hearing Cally scream bloody murder a few different times I decided Buddy had to go. So, the next time I heard Cally scream I donned my welding gloves, high boots and grabbed a rake and a five gallon bucket.  I found Buddy lying in the front yard right where Cally’s screams indicated he would be, I snagged him with the rake and dropped him into the bucket.  I quickly put the lid on the bucket and took Buddy for a walk.

I took him to the opposite corner of the forty acres our house sat on and released him in a swampy area where I figured he would find plenty to eat and have a nice life near the water.  Apparently all Buddy found there was other snakes who were looking to “have a nice life” because about a month later I heard that familiar scream again and ran out to find Cally running from a gathering of four bull snakes and the largest garter snake I had ever seen lounging around the front yard basking in the morning sun like vacationers on the beach.

Once again I put on my gloves and boots, grabbed a rake and a large cardboard box and went out to start scooping up snakes as they tried to make their way back to the den under the steps.  The only problem was the snakes were coming out of the box almost as fast as I was putting them in.  After I had scrambled enough to get three of them to stay in the box at the same time I shut the lid on the box while the remaining two disappeared under the steps.  I then threw the box of snakes into the back of my pickup and headed for the lower pasture a couple miles away down the back road, all the while I was cringing, imagining those snakes crawling into the cab with me, (I really don’t like snakes.)

Finally I got to where I planned to release them, far enough away that I knew they would not come “home”, and dumped them into the head of a large washout. One of the larger snakes decided he would rather come after me then go into the chasm, mouth open, fangs bared and hissing, so I ran back to the truck and high tailed it out of there.  Poison or not, the business end of a bull snake is not a happy place when its’ business is you.  I later dispatched the Garter snake with a shotgun and the remaining bull snake with a shovel and much dancing while he hissed and struck at me; no fun!  Snakes don’t make good “buddies”.

Thot’s

What’s one snake gonna hurt? You see, the trouble started when I allowed just one little ol’ snake to hang around.  I even began to think of him as a friend.

We’ve all been there; ‘What’s one gonna hurt?’  He’ll keep the others away.  So I have a couple of bad habits, I’m a big boy, I can handle it. What’s one hit gonna hurt, what’s crude comment gonna hurt, what’s one look gonna hurt—one drunken evening. I’s no big deal, so what if I fall short in this area? I’m only human, I’ve got to have some fun right? No one will care if I sleep around, no one will care if I steal a little from my employer—no one will know.

Here’s a question to ask yourself next time you are indulging; If Jesus was standing here next to me, would I still do this?

Or—’If my kids saw me doing this would they be okay with it, or would they run away screaming?”—innocence has a much different perspective. How about this question, “Would I be okay with it if my kids started doing this themselves?”

If you are not okay with your kids doing it, why would you expect your Father in heaven to be okay with you doing it? There’s something to ponder.

Why would you not be okay with your kids doing it? Why not drink yourself silly? Why not sleep with someone who hasn’t bothered to make a marriage commitment with you? Why not cheat and steal, cuss and lie, smoke and chew? Why would you not encourage your kids to do these things? Because you know they are harmful, you know they are hard habits to break and you want better for your kids—so does the Lord.

That’s why he gave us the commandments, not to ruin our fun but to keep us safe, to keep us free—because he loves us and has something so much better for us. He doesn’t want us playing with snakes, snakes are not nice and they always invite other snakes to move in with them.

Snakes always den up with other snakes and your heart is a fine place to den up—especially if the Lord has cleaned it out for them.

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”  Mat 12:43-45

Slide1

 

Where was God when I was being hurt?

 

 

“. . . an almost greater hurt is often inflicted on the heart of the victim after the assault when those who are supposed to care, the ones that the victim desperately needs to care, and understand—to hear them—do not.”

But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. Rom 8:25Slide2

I want to ask the hard question, the one that we all ask from time to time and one that we all, as Christians have probably been asked by others—‘Where is God when I hurt, where was God when I was being hurt?’ Frankly, as a Pastor, that question sometimes scares the snot out of me because I am not sure I know the answer, or that the answer will be adequate to stay the anger that is directed at God that is causing that question to be asked in the first place. All I know is that God grieves over our hurts and he is not unaware of our sufferings.

And sometimes, in response to those suffering, that is the best answer—no answer, but to grieve and wonder with them, to give them space and license to weep and vent, recognizing and validating the hurt while clinging to the hope that in the end, whether we can see the end or not, will not disappoint us.

I probably won’t answer that question today either, but then, if we knew the answer, if we had immediate deliverance from all our trials, if we always saw the Lord standing beside us, it wouldn’t be called hope—would it.

The story of the raising of Lazarus, the brother of two women whom Jesus had come to know very well—Mary and Martha, gives us some insight into this perplexing question. Jesus and the disciples stayed at their home when they were in the area and Martha, apparently a woman of some means, likely helped support Jesus and his followers as they to traveled around spreading the news of the Kingdom’s coming. You might recall the story of Martha bustling around serving while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus as he taught.

So when tragedy struck, their brother Lazarus falling deathly ill, they expected and believed that Jesus would be there to save the day—but he wasn’t.

I’ll give you the highlights here, for the whole story read John chapt. 11

Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. . . . Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”

. . .  Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”

The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?”

. . .He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.”

12 Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.” 13 However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.

14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.”

. . . So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.

. . .20 Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. 21 Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

. . . 32 Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled34 And He said, “Where have you laid him?”

They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”

35 Jesus wept36 Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”

37 And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”

Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”

40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God. 41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me,. . . 43 Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” 44 And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”

The Father Hears

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‘Lord, why weren’t you here, where were you when Lazarus was hurting? Where were you when we were crying out for you?’

Quite the story, honest and real if you look at the human drama being played out here around the miracle that often overshadows what I think is the greater lesson and the insight into the real emotions and empathy of a real God. Let’s just bite off a few pieces here and see what we can glean.

“And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me”

This one spoke a lot to me as far as answering our question.

“I know that you always hear me.” I have to conclude that Jesus waited this long to come because his Father asked him to. Jesus was sorely grieved, groaning in his spirit both in anguish for his dear friends Mary and Martha but also, both in his humanness and as the Son of God, because of the pain of death his friend Lazarus had to endure—the pain he endured wondering; “Where is Jesus? Is he going to heal me before I die? Is he going to care for my sisters? Where is God?”

Jesus was aware of this anguish and he felt it deeply himself. But he knew his Father heard him, even while he wrestled in his flesh with not hurrying straight to Bethany. But even in this turmoil which he no doubt experienced amidst the potential for doubt and anguish, he was patient and obedient to his Father knowing that his Father always heard him.

I think there is a great lesson there, do we believe that the Father always hears us? He does. And we also know that Just as Jesus was interceding for his friends his Spirit is interceding for us—even in, and especially in our pain.

But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. Rom 8:26—27

Jesus is interceding for us with the same passion and compassion that he interceded for Mary, Martha and Lazarus with, an intercession even too deep for words. That is your hope.

Immanuel, God with us.

What Mary didn’t know was that Jesus was there. He is here with us even now, even in our darkest days. When all hope seems lost, when it has to be just too late, it is never too late, Jesus is there by his Spirit, the Father is there, grieving, groaning because of the pain we suffer and he calls us to be there for one another—to be his arms to hold, his hands to help and his heart to break, to  grieve with those who grieve, but he also calls us to bring the hope, to pray in the Spirit, on behalf of the Spirit.

Hear them

We need to display that heart of Jesus. One of the things I have learned in ministering to those who have been sexually abused is that an almost greater hurt is often inflicted on the heart of the victim after the assault when those who are supposed to care, the ones that the victim desperately needs to care, and understand—to hear them—do not.

They just need someone to hear them, to love them, to give them space to grieve, to be angry and to ask the hard questions without pat answers, indifference or judgments. Just be there, be there for the hurting, the abused, the sick, the dying and grieving, be Jesus so when they ask “where is Jesus” you can say; ‘right here, He sent me to you, and my spirit groans for you as I pray for your restoration and healing.’ And in that, I assure you, they will find comfort, that’s a promise from Jesus.

 Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted. Mat 5:4

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For me the bottom line is here, Jesus hurts when we hurt, his heart is totally devoted to and invested in us and in the end everything will indeed be okay, better than okay, if not in this life then most assuredly in the next. We have the resurrection and the life in our corner and we do not necessarily have to wait till resurrection day to see that power on display for we are more than conquerors—and that is our hope, and hope will not disappoint us.