Taking ‘Me’ out of the Equation

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Phil 2

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“That’s a lousy marketing strategy!”

Putting others first, a simple and noble concept but one that flies in the face of human nature—now there’s a term to ponder; “human nature.”  Human nature as we generally mean it refers to the tendencies of the flesh, the base instincts of the human condition which left to its own accord is pretty much just about, first of all, survival and then, secondly, fulfilling the cravings of the fleshfeeding the beast.

But we are not subject to the flesh, enslaved by human nature. We are, at least we are supposed to be, subject to the Spirit. Because the flesh is corrupted by thousands of generations of sin and is deceitful beyond measure. An empty shell once created to house the spirit created in the image of God but killed by sin. But for those who have believed it has been remade, born again, even replaced by the Spirit of our God.

But, we still need to be asked on occasion:

Why do you do what you do? For whom do you do it?

Give it away

Let me give you an example.

When I wrote my second book, Hope For Families I had high hopes. Now here’s a book people need to read, will want to read, that will get me invited to places to speak, make me some  money so I can quit having to work construction. My name will be out there and my first book—To My Girls­— will take off because I am now an experienced author—“Lord bless this book!”

A few months after it came out, on the heels of a few disappointing book signings and virtually no response from the many organizations and church leaders I sent it to, Donna and I went to the Foursquare Conference in Anaheim, it was a rare opportunity for Donna and I, attending the annual convention, so I wanted to take full advantage. I brought along several copies of both my books determined to get them into the hands of people who may have some influence and get my name out there—all the Foursquare big wigs are at convention.

The second day of convention I was praying; ‘Lord show me who to give books to, give me opportunity’, and the Lord said; “Don’t give the book to people whom you think can bless you, give it to those whom you think will be blessed by it” Just give it away.

You know what I thought about that? “That’s a lousy marketing strategy!” No. I was actually relieved. I had been stressing about how to give books to the people that would ultimately generate book sales and forgetting why I wrote the books in the first place— to bless people.

The Lord had never promised that I would make the best seller list, he only asked me to write, to speak his heart and make it available—the rest is up to him. I suddenly felt free of the burden and was no longer disappointed that I wasn’t getting my investment back in dollars. And I had fun the rest of that trip just looking for people whom the Lord put on my heart to just give a book to, just for the sake of giving them a book—of sharing the message the Lord had put on my heart to write.

I got to give To My Girls to some very appreciative young ladies that were there serving on the worship team and as bus chaperones, hotel workers, and I got to give Hope For Families to total strangers, like a family from Uganda, to a youth leader I ran into at Starbucks, to a family in the airport whom we struck up a conversation with, to a frazzled woman in a fast food line who was asking Donna about her faith—the doors just started opening—it really was fun, because it was no longer about me—it was about other people—about being Jesus to the world.

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It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

Really, what it boils down to, what made all the difference was, the “me” was taken out of the equation. I stopped worrying about what I could get out of it and then I found the joy of the experience, ‘the joy of giving’, to use the corny old saying.

I did the same thing when I was working on a construction project in Miles City a couple years ago, I made it my mission to give away a couple of books every week, and I did. I was always amazed that people seemed genuinely grateful to what seemed to me like something that was quite forward and maybe even creepy, but like I said, I was sensitive to the Spirit in the process so the hearts were prepared to receive.

I think people just want to be acknowledged, we are all so wrapped up in ourselves so often that we don’t notice those around us, so to walk up to someone, say, I would like to give you something,  what is your name? Write it in the front page of a book that you wrote, sign it, and hand it to them and say, ‘”I just wanted to give you one of my books, be blessed.” Leaves them thinking, ‘wow, someone noticed me, and maybe even cared.’

That just dawned on me as I was writing this message, if we all were looking for others to notice instead of working to be noticed, the world would be a much different place, wouldn’t it? That’s the message of our scripture today, and actually, the message of the entire gospel.

But it’s funny looking back, I was building a multi-million dollar addition on a Catholic church, responsible for everything that went on there, and I would drive home at the end of the week and reflect on what a great week it was based on the smiles of those I got to give books to. I gave a few away at the church there by the way, starting with the maintenance man.

Just give it away. I don’t know that any of those free books led to anyone buying any books but I have no doubt that many were blessed and encouraged by the ones I gave away—and that makes it worth any amount of time and money I put into these books.

So, with my next book, I just went into it with a different attitude. After the whole barbarian notion was developed, preached to my church and seemed to really strike a chord with people I thought; “I’ll make this my next book, this barbarian series, because it really seemed to bless people, because I believe the Lord wants me to, and because I believe it is a message that comes straight from him and the church needs to hear it.’

Where it goes from there is entirely up to Him. I will do what I can and actually mean what I have always said; if it blesses just a handful of people then it was worth it.

Get the (very affordable) Barbarians in the Kingdom!

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A Girl Named Hope

Nothin yet

Is your church more than a seeker sensitive message, loud music, trained official greeters and ushers and a fantastic coffee bar with gluten free, sustainably grown goodies?

(note-this message was written for my church in Red Lodge MT but I think it is a question we all need to ask of our own houses of worship.)

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

It’s not random chance that the church the Lord called me to start was established in Red Lodge. I could have, and was willing to go anywhere the Lord would send me. As a kid I lived in 5 different states so I know how to make my home wherever I would find myself, and though I had been in Yellowstone County for 34 years I was not rooted so deeply there that I was not unable to leave. This earth is not my home, home is where the heart is and my heart belongs to heaven.

Yet I feel blessed that the Lord sent me to familiar territory, neighboring Carbon County, where the mountains meet the prairies.. It’s all the best of Montana and if heaven looks just like Montana I will not be disappointed at all.

The point is, this church was strategically placed in Red Lodge by the Lord. Placed here to be a place where people would be drawn, from near and far, to be refreshed and healed, challenged and equipped— restored to effective Kingdom readiness status as a warrior for Christ, strong and confident in their call and in their worthiness to move in the power of the Holy Spirit— in the power and security of his love.

A ministry established at the base of some of the most majestic hills in all the earth, the Beartooth Mountains. People come here from all over the world, not just because it’s on the way to the most famous park in the world, there are much easier routes, but because it is the most beautiful and awe inspiring drive there is, by many estimations, in the country.

And right here, on the edge of paradise, is Hope Chapel Red Lodge—a place of Healing Restoration and Hope. Are we perfect in fulfilling our call? No. Have we had any success in our mission? Much that I am aware of and probably much that I don’t know of, I hope.

No matter the call and our willingness to hearken, we are still imperfect people who are going to make mistakes, maybe let some people down and offend others, but by the grace of God and a willing heart we will do the best we can—and God blesses that.

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Hope

That reminds me of something that happened just a few months ago. A young couple was here that I didn’t recognize, at first. They had a baby with them that was just a few months old. I said ‘hi’ and introduced myself then we had worship. Then during worship I started to think, “They look familiar”—then I remembered that they had been here before, I remembered because they had been real interested in my late grandfather’s creation, a steel eagle sculpture that stands next to the platform where I preach. The young man was himself a welder and he recognized the skill it took to create this.

So during the greeting time I went to them again and said, “You were here before weren’t you? Aren’t you from Worland WY?” They got big smiles on their faces and said “Yes, we were here one year ago on our honeymoon. Today is our anniversary and we knew we just had to come back here.” I said “To Red Lodge?” “No, to this church. We drove up just this morning to be here for church”

“I” the young lady then said, “was pregnant and very scared for our future when we were here last but we were so blessed and encouraged when we were here that we decided that we were going to name our baby after this church—her middle name is  Hope, Kash Hope, because that is what the Lord gave us here at Hope Chapel.”

I was blown away, what do you say to that? God is good—all the time. And he is always doing something and we often have no idea. We didn’t know what was going on in this young couples’ lives and hearts when they were here, bi-racial by the way, but the Lord used each and every one of you (our church family) to touch them. They could have heard the best sermon ever—and not felt loved and accepted by this church family, and left still scared of the future and desperate for hope.

Or—they could have been loved and accepted, heard a great polished sermon and a professionally produced worship set—yet not felt the Lord’s presence, because we didn’t invite him in or leave room for him to work because it’s all about uswhat we can do, how we have the right training, the right people skills, the seeker sensitive message and trained official greeters and ushers—and a fantastic coffee bar with gluten free, sustainably grown goodies.

No, even if we had all of that, if Jesus isn’t here, moving amongst us, touching hearts, healing hurts, speaking words of encouragement and love, filling the air with an unexplainable energy and a peace that passes understanding—then we are just a feel good program with no meaningful or lasting impact on a person’s heart, let alone anything eternal like—oh, I don’t know— their very soul!

That was an encouraging testimony, but that’s just one of the ones who came back to share how they were touched by the Lord through being in this house, with this family.

Keep being Jesus to the stranger and to those who you have come to know, who have confided in you, or that you have come to see as an imperfect human who needs a lot of help—oh wait, that’s just a mirror…—don’t stop believing, hoping, praying, contending and believing for more and more because I truly believe that the best is yet to come and that we have not seen anything yet.

To use the grammatically disastrous but yet very effective phrasing: You aint seen nothing yet.

That goes for each and every one of you who are called by the name of Jesus!

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Glory

“Any good artist who has learned his craft well, whether it’s speaking, singing, playing or acting, can bring out whatever emotion they desire to fit the agenda at hand.” 

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 I am the Lord, that is My name;
And My glory I will not give to another, Is 42
:8

Glory, a fleeting thing that much of the world seeks. It can be called fame, popularity, stardom, and it seems a strange phenomenon, that so many seek it—live for it and will do anything to attain it. I think that’s why social media has taken off—if gives everyone a potential platform to become somebody—internet fame—and the glory we suppose it will bring.

Any Warhol famously said back in the 60’s, I believe, shortly after he got famous for painting very large pictures of canned food— “Everyone has their 15 minutes of fame.” I think even he realized how ridiculous it was that people would make such a big deal out him for painting Campbell soup cans and Ketchup bottles. I think about that often when there are people who are suddenly all over the news or TV and radio and then they’re gone, never to be heard from again. Their fame might last years, or a day or two—15 minutes.

Glory is fleeting, and dangerous. But that’s a topic for another day. I want to focus on the Lord’s glory, the source of true glory and the only one worthy of that glory. I wonder how often the lust for glory interferes with the work of the Lord in the church? How many times God wanted to reveal his glory, but could not or would not because the one seeking to release it was doing it for their own advancement? Or he was not given any room to reveal his glory because of all the noise being generated by the artificial glory being conjured up by the techno wizardry of the modern church?

It’s something I know I have to always be on guard about in my own heart. God will not be eclipsed. As soon as we get in the way of God’s glory, he just moves somewhere else. We try to keep it simple here in our church. For one thing we can’t afford a lot of gadgetry, but it’s more than just not overwhelming the senses with sights and sounds, it’s keeping Jesus the main thing—”Jesus Christ and him crucified.” That has always got to be the core of our message because aside from that it’s just entertainment and manipulation.

In the words of Hank Williams JR. “Can you make folks cry, when you play and sing, can you moan the blues, have you paid your dues, can you bend them guitar strings? . . .Cause let me tell ya boy, If you’re big star bound let me warn  you it’s a long hard ride.” 

Any good artist who has learned his craft well, whether it’s speaking, singing, playing or acting, can bring out whatever emotion they desire to fit the agenda at hand, but only God can change hearts and set the captives free. Church is not theater, church is a place to gather with the saints, to be fed, to be encouraged, strengthened and challenged, and most importantly, a place to worship the God of creation, to hear his voice, to feel his touch and to see, hear and feel his glory revealed in us, those he has called.

Otherwise it’s just us, and we will get on each other’s nerves and let each other down— guaranteed. But it’s not just us, is it? So let’s keep praying for the glory of the Lord to be revealed more and more in our churches, and in our lives—expect it.

For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Mat 18:20

Expect Jesus to show up

We’ve read the stories of revivals past where God healed and delivered and actually saw the Shakina glory fall and encompass a crowd. We have witnessed sporadic healings ourselves even here, yet we often assume it’s just hit and miss and it must have been the prayers of someone else, maybe the person next to me… but still, we don’t expect a miracle.

I think maybe we expect Jesus to show up, but we don’t count on it. We still put the pressure on ourselves to pray right, to preach right, to worship right—intensely enough, spontaneously enough, to have our hands in the right place or whatever. We think we need to somehow conjure up the Lord’s presence.

We don’t conjure anything; witches and mediums do that. And we don’t manipulate emotions; actors, singers and poets do that. We simply need to invite the Lord and expect him to show up. Not just to watch, but to participate and even help. It’s not the words, the motions or the music, those are more to get us to focus on recognizing the Lord’s presence. The Lord shows up when he sees that our hearts desire him to do so. And that we expect it, not because of who we are, but because that’s who he is.

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On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” . . . John 2:1—3

Notice it doesn’t even say here that Jesus went to the wedding or that he was at a wedding. Just that there was one and that Jesus was invited. That’s all John needed to say, the fact that Jesus was there was just assumed then—he was invited so of course he was there. It was expected.

And, by the way, he just happened to turn the water to wine, saving a family severe humiliation—since he was there anyway.

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The Right Path

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“For I know the plans I have for you. . .” We all know the promise or at least the premise, that God has a plan for us. It is why many of us chose to give our lives to the Lord in the first place and it is why all of us continue to follow. Isn’t it? I mean, think about it. Do we really want to follow a God who doesn’t know or even care about where he is leading us?

But how to we implement the plan? How do we assure that it is being implemented? ‘It just seems like everything is going wrong all the time and that the plan keeps getting messed up.’

It takes trust, patience and prayer. It takes a warrior, contenders who are willing to fight for the long term and understand that there is still a battle raging for our souls and that God’s plan can only be implemented in the lives of those who are willing to contend for it—in those who are serious about following the plan—following him. We have a God who promises each and every one of us that he has a plan for our lives.

10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Eph 2:10

Let’s think about that for a minute; “created in Christ for good works. . .” That’s a purpose, that’s a mission, that’s a vision, if you are willing to seek it, to catch it to contend for it. Anything apart from that is a missed opportunity, a wasted chunk of eternity, a life of disappointment and disillusionment. Feeling encouraged yet?—Just preaching the truth here.

“…which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” We don’t have to invent the plan, we don’t have to wonder if God has forgotten about us and if maybe we weren’t worthy of a mission in this life, we are just here to propagate the species like a mosquito who lives just long enough to suck some blood, breed and die, the plan already exists and it is unique to each of us. If you were worthy of Christ dying for you, then you are worthy of the plan God has for you. Walk in it—just walk in it.

Oh, did I give the impression that it would be easy? It won’t, but then nothing worth doing ever is.

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Last weekend I hiked into my favorite back country lake up by Cooke City. We pulled into the trailhead parking area and the lot was full of cars. Josiah my son in law said, ‘Wow, will it be crowded up there?’ ‘No, this trail also goes to other lakes.’ The reason I like to go to this Lake, my favorite fishing hole in the Beartooth mountains, is because no one else goes there. Rarely do I ever see anyone else up there even though it is some of the best fishing you will find in those mountains.

Why? Why does no one else go there? Because it’s hard to get there. You have to walk, a long ways. Three miles, and the farther you go, after you cut off the main trail, the worse the trail gets because most don’t go that far. Up and down some very steep hills at an elevation where the air is thin, through wet shady forests and cattail swamps where the mosquitos are thick and fierce. By the last leg, to get to my favorite spot on the lake, the big rock, you are climbing over deadfall and rocks, jumping over creeks and watching for bears and moose in a very narrow corridor with nowhere to run.

But I, and the lucky brave souls that have gone there with me, know that at the end of the trail lies one of the best days you will ever have. The air is clear, the fish are big, the mountains are spectacular, and it’s all yours. A little piece of heaven that stays with me long after I leave.

I have gone there just about every year since 1980. I don’t go there because it’s easy, I go there because it’s fulfilling and worth it and I know the trail and I know when to go and when not to go. I don’t get discouraged because it’s hard, I make the walk a part of the adventure, a wonderful part of the experience. Every step, the easy ones and the challenging ones, the first ones and the last ones, is an experience that I treasure, another foot of mountain conquered, another minute lived to the fullest.

That’s the way we should live our lives; ‘every step with you Lord is an adventure, the easy ones and the hard ones, because they all lead me to your goal for my life, your plan to take me to that special spot where no one else goes because the crowd has taken the broad and easy path to the lake with the little tiny fish in it that they have to keep restocking every year with fingerlings that think corn is a legless wingless insect that falls from the sky like manna.’

No, I’ll take the hard path for as long as I am able and the Lord gives me strength. Because it’s worth it. I was created in Christ Jesus to take the hard path right in step with Jesus, to do the good works he has laid out for me along the way. And every time I do, I get a little bit stronger. Assuring that I can keep conquering the mountains ahead.

. . .wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Mat 7:13,14

 

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One thing I can tell you, you will never regret taking the road less traveled.

Be blessed my friends,!

Dan

Follow The Plans

“Failure is never an option, not in construction, and not in life.”

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 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. “ Jeremiah 29:11—13

An incredible promise, one that, like all of God’s word, can change lives and hearts from one of hopelessness and despair, to hope and joy, as we come to realize that we have a purpose, that someone a lot smarter and more powerful than we are, has a plan for us—if we can just figure out how to follow it. There’s the rub.

We focus on the plan part but forget about the seek part. Too many just want to claim the promise of verse eleven and grumble when it doesn’t fall into their lap, because we missed twelve and thirteen.

We have to follow the plan, we have to realize that there is a schedule and we have to be constantly consulting with the architect of the plan because he makes it and lays it out but it is up to us to learn to discern it and follow it. It takes patience, time and experience but mostly it takes working closely with the one who came up with it and trusting that he knows what he is doing.

So that we can go from thisIMG_2308

To this

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The new 911 Call Center for Billings MT

Besides pastoring a church I also work for a general contractor. We mainly build commercial buildings and this is a project I just finished as the Superintendent responsible for getting it done —this does not happen overnight.

It took 11 months to go from groundbreaking—“stand back and watch us work”  to finish “here’s the keys to your new facility, we’re done.” But in between was a long, complicated, arduous, often back breaking and stressful process.

Why would we think that the building of our lives into the plan God has for us would be any different?

No building on this earth is more complex or valuable you’re your life. You are not going to get where you are going over night. The whole objective is to keep working and getting one step closer with every step and one day closer with every day. And to live in and appreciate it all along the way. And most importantly to never give up, failure is never an option, not in construction, and not in life.

The Schedule

We can’t just look at the goal, ‘I am called to pastor, I am called to bring Jesus to a far-away land, I am called to be an awesome worship leader, be the beloved patriarch or matriarch of a Godly family, to be a world changer, a sought after writer, speaker, a millionaire building for the glory of God and financing changed lives— whatever you feel in your heart you are called to do, whatever your passion is for the Kingdom— you don’t receive your vision one day and have it fully realized the next.

          And you certainly can’t achieve it by winging it.

When I start a new project I don’t just look at the picture on the front page of the plans and just wing the rest. I have to follow the plan and trust that the architect knew what he was doing.

In the construction world I live in the plan is everything. As general contractors once we are selected by an owner and awarded a contract, we get a set of plans from an architect showing what the building is supposed to look like when it’s done and hopefully all the components that go into it to get it there.

Depending on the size of the project there are many, many pages to the plan showing everything from the foundation to the roof, the density requirements for the dirt below the foundation to the paint colors on the walls, the plumbing to the lighting and on and on and on. Most would be astounded by what goes into a building, both structurally, functionally, aesthetically and technologically.

Getting that initial set of plans is just the first step in the building, that is once the architects and engineers have done their part, which can take months or even years. The architect of our lives has had an eternity to plan our lives. It’s largely up to us, just as it is a contractor, as to whether we want to build according to the plan. Because I’ll tell you what, in construction, or in life, not following the plan leaves you with a real mess.

So, the first thing I do when I get a set of plans is look at the artist’s rendering on the front page, just to get a general idea as to what it’s supposed to look like when it’s done, what the ultimate goal is here. For the general public and often for the owner, the ones who are going to move into the building, that’s all they see. They want to just wake up a few days later and see the building standing on the piece of ground they’ve chosen, “gasp— it’s so beautiful!”, and move into paradise. That’s the way it works on TV right? “Move that Bus!” It only took a half an hour.

Well, here’s how it really works. You have to build it, one shovel full of dirt, one yard of concrete, one steel I beam, one brick, one sheet of drywall, one piece of copper piping, one length of wire, at a time. And on and on, until it’s done.

So, as the one who has to actually build it, I start by studying the plans to make sure I understand how everything comes together, I have to know the right sequence and the materials to acquire, and then I come up with a game plan. ‘First this, then this, then this. . .’

I look at the schedule that the estimator put together when he was determining how much it was going to cost to build this thing and if it could be done in the time allotted by the owner. Every step of the building is given a specific amount of time and put into a particular block of time. The overall schedule. It’s my job to keep the job on schedule.

Then there is the three week schedule which I put together in the field each week showing more specifically what exactly needs to happen and when it needs to happen in the few weeks ahead so that everyone involved can plan.

If we start getting too far behind the base line schedule then we figure out ways to make it up by getting more people, working longer hours, whatever. If everyone has done, and does, their jobs, the building is completed on time and correctly.

Everyone is happy and we get to do it again. In my world, each job completed on time and within budget keeps me working and gets me entrusted to do bigger, more demanding and costly projects with more responsibility but greater rewards.

My point is, we don’t just look at the picture on the front page, say ‘looks good’, and drive down to the job site and complain because it’s not just appearing. We have to build it and we know it will take time and sweat, lots of time and lots of sweat.

Sounds like life to me.

 

Another Turn of the Wheel

Today I celebrate my 57th birthday, another year, another turn on the wheel of the master potter, and another day to trust and marvel at his work. And best of all, to get to share it with those whom I love—and with you, my unseen but truly appreciated and heart connected brother and sisters. Be blessed, and please don’t be shy about leaving a comment, I would love to hear from you too.

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Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make.

Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” Jeremiah 18

Turns of the wheel

Moving from the Frozen North to the Southwest, leaving home to go far away into Job Corp, getting hooked on partying in any shape or form only to be radically delivered by an encounter with the Holy Spirit, getting married, becoming a dad and a rancher, leaving a lead man position in a welding shop to become a carpenter at 30. Taking college level theology classes at age 40, becoming a kids pastor in a church started in an old school on the wrong side of the tracks in Billings.

Becoming the pastor of a church that I planted at age 50—and that’s just the highlights—there were a lot of low lights along the way also, impurities that needed worked out, things that I think hindered me from skipping  over some of the more challenging turns of the wheel and fulfilling my call to pastor much earlier in life.

But God is good, God is patient and I had to be broken a few times to be remade along the way. I told you one of those stories last week, falling into the pit a work and blowing out two discs in my back; definitely a breaking that enabled God to retool me and reset some of my thinking. The night I realized just how hopelessly addicted I was to marijuana was certainly a breaking point as I cried out to the Lord, to the Potter—’please have mercy on me and set me free!’ He did, I was restored and his hand of blessing restored.

We have to be broken sometimes to be rid of the impurities that ruin us but we don’t have to be resigned to things being broken that are good, like homes, hearts, promises and lives.

When it comes to those things we often have a choice. It’s being broken of the things that cause the good things to end up broke that I’m talking about.  I remember when we first got married I had this almost crippling fear that Donna was going to leave me at some point, that our marriage would inevitably fail because that’s what I saw all around me and especially growing up.

Growing up in a broken home was hell, I’m sorry but it was, and it deeply affected my perception of life and relationships. It planted an unhealthy fear in me that had to be broken.

It started three weeks after our wedding when our house burned down. My greatest fear as I stood there watching everything we owned go up in smoke was that Donna would now leave me because I had nothing, not even a home to live in.

She didn’t.

We moved into a trailer house literally across the road that just happened to belong to her Dad and her sister and her family had just happened to have moved out of it two weeks earlier. A month or two later we had one of our first real arguments and in the aftermath I kept seeing this picture in my mind of her packing her things, which wouldn’t have taken long at that point after the fire, and walking out the door.

She didn’t

I remember telling her one day in that first year, I wish we could just jump ahead ten years so that we could say we made it, we’re still married. I had heard a statistic that most marriages don’t make it past five years and my own parents had divorced when I was five. She kind of laughed at me and then realized I was serious, she assured me she wasn’t going anywhere.

She didn’t.

During this time I prayed earnestly every day that the Lord would bless our marriage, that we would stay together and never have to suffer the trauma and pain of divorce and I remember very clearly the Lord speaking to me as I was driving home on Blue Creek road and praying as I always did. I still remember where I was on the highway when the Lord told me in no uncertain terms; ‘Your marriage will not fail, it is founded on the rock and nothing will ever come between you.’

“That is my word to you, put that right down there under your feet and stand on it.”

I wept and praised the Lord, something had broken in me at that point, the fear was gone. My marriage was safe in the hands of the Lord, my wife would not leave me, I had made a vow to her and her to me and as long as we were both committed to that vow, to one another, and to the one who gives us the ability to keep those vows, to the only one who can give us that assurance—we would make it.

We did.  And we will- 30 years and counting. . .

We serve a God of miracles, whatever you fear, whatever causes you grief, give it up to Jesus; “In this world you will have trouble, but do not fear, I have overcome the world.”

mountain preacher

 

I love you all, have a blessed week!

 

Hitting Bottom

There is always hope, no matter what, there is always hope.

Yetrday's troubles

I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me,
And heard my cry.
He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay, —Psalm 40

If you are familiar with the old stories of the Bible you may think of the prophet Jeremiah when you read these words. But they were actually written hundreds of years before Jeremiah would find himself in that miry pit where he was left to die by his own people.

This is a psalm (think praise song) of David, the beloved and world shaking King of ancient Israel.

David’s pits were political upheaval as he and armies fought over his right to be king, as his lust got him into big trouble more than once, as his foolishness would find him aligned with the enemy of his own people, as his infant son would get ill and die even as he fasted and prayed on his face day and night, as another of his sons raped one of his daughters or as another son betrayed him and tried to seize his throne out from under him, even succeeding for a time. That’s just the stuff off the top of my head.

Yes, David knew a thing or two about hitting bottom and finding that the bottom of the hole is nothing but muck, not even a good springboard to rebound off of, and certainly not a good place to rest as you struggle just to keep your head above the mire.

But despite it all, all his failures and hopeless situations—some of his own making, some thrust on him—he always had hope, he always knew who his God was and his God always came through in the end. David actually died old and full of years, to use the biblical phrase, in the arms of his wife, in his own bed, knowing that his beloved son Solomon would inherit his throne and that his God was waiting to welcome him home.

Jeremiah

And then, in that same capital city of Israel, hundreds of years later, a prophet, sent by the God whom David loved, finds himself thrown into a pit full of miry clay by the descendants of the very king who wrote the words he is now living out. King Zedekiah, king of Judah, allows his sons, the princes, to do with Jeremiah as they wish, and they wish to be rid of this troublesome prophet who warns that their party is about to come to an end.

But, as Jeremiah languishes in this pit, wondering if he’ll ever see the light of day or stand on dry ground again, you can be sure that he, a man who had devoted his life to God’s word, both what was already written and that which the Lord was speaking to him, he no doubt knew this psalm very well. And you can just imagine that this was going through his mind over and over again as he languished in that pit:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me,
And heard my cry.
He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps.
He has put a new song in my mouth—
Praise to our God;
Many will see it and fear,
And will trust in the Lord.   –
Psalm 40:1-3

These words may have mocked him at first, they no doubt seemed incredibly ironic yet eerily germane. But I have to believe that these words gave him hope and in that hole in the ground, hope was all he had, but it was enough. Jeremiah hung on, clung to life, clung to those words, clung to hope. And in the end, hope did not disappoint him. The sun always rises and tomorrow is always a new day.

When our daughter Jessie was four years old or so she had a hard time grasping the concept of today and tomorrow. She knew that tomorrow was supposed to come after she went to bed for the night because she would ask, “when I wake up will it be tomorrow?”Yup. So she always asked when she woke up—“Is it tomorrow yet?” “I would say, “Nope it’s a new day but it is still today.”

The old today is now yesterday.

How else do you explain it? Time is a mystery. Every day is a new today, yesterday is gone, and tomorrow never comes. And, most importantly, all time belongs to God. So each day is a new day, a day that the Lord has made and another chance for a miracle, to see the sun shine again and to know that the darkness to come is just a path to another tomorrow.

If you are still breathing there is always hope. If you are not still breathing, you do not need hope because your fight is over, your ultimate rescue has come and you are standing on solid ground before the Lord. So even if the worst should happen, you die, if you are in Christ it is in itself the final rescue. In the meantime he just asks us to keep breathing, to keep hoping, to keep looking to the horizon for the sun to come up so that we can bask in his light and see the glory of his deliverance. Knowing that he did it yesterday and that today is a new today that belongs to him.

There is always hope and holightstock_401634_small_user_43213847pe does not disappoint us, because our hope is named Jesus.

I have discovered along the way that God isn’t always so concerned about getting us out of the hole in a hurry as he is about how we handle being in the hole.

 

Without holes we would never know hope, hope would be meaningless, but in this life full of pits, hope is everything.

Someone asked me the other day if it was ever going to be good again. I replyed “yes, it will.”

It always does.

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