Where is the Church?

Today, the children of crowded churches of the 80’ and 90’s are largely staying away from the churches, we are moving into a post church era, and the enemy is delighted.

‘You don’t need those hypocrites! You’re just fine, what else could you possibly learn anyway? Here, have an apple.’

apple meme

Keep the passion, renew the passion

When I first tasted true freedom in Christ I had a real passion that everyone should hear the good news. How can you resist the love of God, surely if everyone just heard the truth they will surrender also and find the joy that I have. I had considered myself a Christian for many years but I was always holding out, ‘my life is mine to do as I please and as long as I’m a good person, Lord, you just need to be fine with it.’ Well, that arrangement wasn’t working out so well for me. It just made me a slave to sin, anxiety and loneliness.

So when I finally, in desperation, surrendered completely to him saying ‘Lord, my life is yours, my heart is yours, I’m ready trust you completely and do your will, I’m tired of the pain, the partying that no longer satisfies and the pointless relationships and head games’—at that point I was indeed set free and experienced real life, real joy, real peace and real love from a God who turned out to be very real and very near.

I surrendered to his will and I couldn’t get enough. I loved going to church, bible studies, prayer groups, assembling together with the saints to be exhorted and to stir one another up. And I was indeed always stirred up in these gatherings.

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10

I got baptized in water and experienced a supernatural work of the Lord as a result when  and set my mind free from the torment of my past, even becoming the Lord of my troubled dreams.

And I loved the worship, It seemed like I was stepping right into the very presence of God when I worshiped with the saints, singing the now familiar songs for the first time, coming boldly before the throne of grace, feeling his presence, hearing his voice, receiving direction and encouragement. Honestly, I have a hard time getting there anymore because I am usually too focused on what I am doing next as the preacher preparing to speak on the Lord’s behalf, but he always gives me something for you and that is what I am anointed in this season to do, so I’m okay with that.

But, I wonder if I have lost some of the zeal and passion to do God’s will. I think it is a symptom of following the Lord through so many valley’s, so many battle fields, that we get a little gun shy and just plain discouraged.

resist

We must remember that God’s primary will for this earth is that all should hear and know that Jesus Christ is Lord and that by no other name may we be saved—That all may know his love. Period.

That is why Jesus walked willingly where his Father led him, walked right into the hands of the enemy willingly, went to his sham trials, flogging and crucifixion, willingly—because his passion was for the lost. That was his passion because it was his Father’s will. Jesus lay  down his life both figuratively and literally to accomplish his Father’s will for his life. “Father, if it is possible, take this cup from before me, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.”

will

Jesus surrendered his will, even his instinct to survive, in favor of the Father’s and he suffered mightily for it, but it was his victory, and ours.

35 Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise. Heb 10

We cannot give up just because it’s hard. We must not lose our passion and desire to accomplish God’s will and purpose for his church, for us.

Stripes meme

Where’s the church?

Like I said, when I first surrendered to Jesus I wanted nothing more than to tell the world of his love. One day I hand printed a bunch of flyers full of verses proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus and went to the Jehovah Witnesses convention at the biggest arena in Billings. No other Christians were there that I saw, and, long story short, I ended up being escorted out by the elders, whom I witnessed to as I was being walked out to my car.

Where is the church? Was my biggest question. A couple of years later I was interviewed by a local Christian TV station about the jail ministry I was involved in. I was afraid to give out my phone number during the interview because I was sure once people heard of this opportunity we would be flooded with people who wanted to get involved. We needed more volunteers—surely people just need to know. But I didn’t want my phone ringing off the hook.

The station agreed to field the phone calls for me so we gave them their number. Not a single person called. My primary question was, where is the church?

I got very busy for many years going where the fields were ripe for the harvest, on the wrong side of the tracks, and noticed that it was always the same few people who were doing the same— where is the rest of the church?

The church was mostly staying where the music was polished and so was the preaching. ‘We don’t want to get dirty, those places are full of scary nasty things and people.’ Well, you know what? The fields with the most manure in them are the most fertile ones and they produce the best fruit.

There again, I haven’t gone down to tackle an arena full of Jehovah witnesses lately either. I haven’t been in the jails, prisons, shelters and youth detention centers for a few years now. Yes, as a pastor, I have a new assignment that keeps me busy, and that assignment is to urge the church, to urge you, and to equip you, to follow Gods will. And his will, again, is that all would be saved. But for anyone to be saved they must hear and to hear someone must be speaking the message and “blessed are the feet of those who bring good news.”

PD

 

Are your feet blessed? It’s more than reposting every cheesy Christian meme on Facebook. You have to get dirty.

We have to get together to encourage one another and then we must get out and share what we have—preferably together. The fields that are ripe for the harvest should be crowded with workers reaping the harvest for Jesus.

Much of my experience with going into the places where angels fear to tread, as me and one of my old ministry partners used to joke, took place during the 80’s and 90’s when many churches were busting at the seams, all the pretty people gathering together to see how many more people they could attract into their ever larger buildings.

Today, the children of those crowds are largely staying away from the churches, they are neglecting the gathering of themselves together and we are moving into a post church era, and the enemy is delighted. You can see it in our culture as the Bible and God’s ways—his will—is being spurned, mocked and even outlawed.

There are many reasons for this church exodus and I have talked to you many times about it, but they are all excuses that the Lord will surely not overlook as his word clearly says—Do not neglect the gathering of yourselves together, be sprinkled with the blood and washed with the water, come boldly before the throne. Hebrews 10

The fact that someone in a church somewhere let you down, that things got phony and powerless, that there might have been more programs then missions, things were contrived instead of inspired, the Spirit seemed to have been replaced by the script and the Pastor’s will took precedence over the Lord’s—all detrimental things to be sure—are not excuses the Lord will accept; the enemy will however. In fact he’ll help you come up with even more excuses.

‘You don’t need those hypocrites! Your just fine, what else could you possibly learn anyway? Here, have an apple.’

Oooh look, healing crystals and yoga classes.’

Who needs the church…well, maybe the church needs you. We need each other. “Wherever two or more are gathered, there I am in the midst of them” we need Jesus and together we are strong.

Let’s keep it real, let’s make sure the Holy Spirit is always welcome and let’s realize that it is up to us to take his word to the street, to the world, because the enemy is having a heyday there without us.

Go out there and kick the devils but all over the pavement, and the gravel. You have the power.

battle meme

Is it easy? No, but battles never are. But they have to be fought to win and the best equipped and most passionate army always wins, that is us—it you are willing.

We are in a battle for the very soul of this nation–of this world–we need you–be the church.

 

 

Advertisements

Rest in Grace

“After what seemed like forever of the guard just staring at us like he was trying to decide if he should break out his shotgun, I was suddenly remembering the bag of weed and the bottle of whiskey we had in the back seat.”

10 Therefore I was angry with that generation,
And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart,
And they have not known My ways.’
11 So I swore in My wrath,
‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ”

12 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; 13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, 15 while it is said:

“Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” Heb 3:12—15

rest meme

Today, if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts? What does that mean?

God was angry with the Israelites he led out of Egypt because they failed to believe his promise of a better life where they would find rest from their life of pain and hardship as they had in their days of slavery. Today, the rest being offered is a rest from the wanderings and striving of a people with no sense of purpose or direction and the strivings of a people who feel they must earn their way home—us. We have to know that we no longer have to strive and seek our grace, our salvation, we can find our rest in Christ.

If you can learn that lesson, I mean fully understand that we no longer have to work and strive to earn our salvation, our favor with God—we have accomplished something. Today our rest is in Christ, our salvation, our power, our freedom—grace, grace is our rest.

Preparing a sermon on this topic for Sunday I was really struggling to come up with a story to illustrate the idea of what it means to enter into God’s rest. I kept thinking, Ultimately our rest is in grace, so what is grace?  Grace is not getting what we deserve, so the rest we find in that grace is in not feeling we have to deserve the grace we get.

This brought to mind a time when I was very grateful not to get what I deserved, there are many times like that but in this instance it could have meant some serious jail time.

Rancho No Go

rancho deluxe

As my followers know, I was in Job Corps as a young man. While I was there I was in the Heavy Equipment program and one of the projects we did was to build a reservoir on the Montana State Prison Ranch just out of Deer Lodge. It was a big project that we worked on for months, moving massive amounts of dirt. Every day we would load up on the big green bus and drive into the very large ranch like we owned the place, using one of the gates on the back side to get to the work sight.

Fast forward a couple of years. Me and some buddies are partying and one of them has just gotten a new car—“Hey, let’s take a road trip!” So, about midnight four of us get into the car with an ample supply of beer whiskey and weed and off we go, west.” We drive all night and 250 miles later we end up watching the sun rise over the beautiful Pintlar Mountains just out of Anaconda MT, not far from where me and one of the guys who was with us were in Job Corps together.

This got me and my buddy reminiscing about our days in the Job Corps heavy equipment program so on a whim, and with no other  destination in mind anyway, we decided we would head over towards Deer Lodge and show the others, one of whom happened to be a girl we thought we should impress, the reservoir we built—never mind that it happened to be on State Prison property.

Apparently when you’ve been drinking and smoking for 16 or so hours straight your judgement is off a bit. So off we go. Just before the town of Deer Lodge we cut off on a dirt road heading straight for the mountains that butt up against the ranch and we get to the familiar gate—the one that says; “Montana State Prison Ranch, Authorized Vehicles Only.”

Montana_state_prison_sign_2_50

Whatever, no one will ever see us, we’re in the middle of nowhere. My buddie is driving at this point so I get out and open the unlocked barbed wire gate, the kind you find on any ranch, and drive on in. We get in a ways, maybe a half mile or so, and we see an approaching dust cloud. An official looking pickup truck with the seal of the great state of Montana emblazoned on the door is barreling down on us from the other direction.

The truck pulls up alongside of us flashing his headlights and waving for us to stop. The driver, decked out in a cowboy hat and a prison guard uniform, looking very stern and perturbed asks; “Who are you?” My buddie says, “Oh we were in Job Corps and just came in to show our friends the dam we built.”

The guard just looks at us like, “Are you kidding me?” After what seemed like forever of the guard just staring at us like he was trying to decide if he should break out his shotgun I was suddenly remembering the bag of weed and the bottle of whiskey we had in the back seat. I was sitting in the passenger seat trying to look innocent and harmless wishing my buddy wasn’t looking so defiant while wondering what the penalty was for smuggling drugs and alcohol into a prison and how we could have been so stupid.

OMSP_5_b1bfd020-d6f0-491b-bb2b-7a97a02f1fdc_1024x1024

Finally the guard just says—“You can’t be in here, turn around and go out the way you came.” My buddy just says, okay and I quickly followed up with “Yes sir, thank you sir!” And off we went. Back to the gate no one watches with a prison truck right on our tail.

That was a sobering experience in many ways.

That was grace—not getting what we deserved, not even close. When we got past that gate, after waving at the trustee in the road grater who was looking at us like “what the heck?” and down the road a ways I was finally able to breathe again. I was resting in the knowledge that I was not going to be spending a lot more time in Deer Lodge than I had planned.

I would do many more stupid things after that, maybe none quite so stupid as that, and I usually somehow managed to stay out of serious trouble—Grace. If I got pulled over today as many times as I did back in the 80’s for driving while wasted I would still be in the system, back then I just got lectured and sent home.

Many of us have stories like that where we just go along not worrying so much about whether what we are doing is right or wrong and then we concede that maybe someone is looking out for us and we turn our hearts to Him. We find freedom and grace, strength and joy, in knowing the truth, in having a purpose. But then we get more bound up by guilt and stress then we ever were because we suddenly care and we realize that we do not deserve to be forgiven for our foolishness.

No rest there. That’s not the way it is supposed to work. Recognizing our grace should not cause us to fear that it will fail us. Yes, I still do some stupid things, nothing near as stupid as I used to because I have God’s word to guide me, and more than that I want God’s word to guide me so I avoid a lot of the situations where I had to worry about getting in big trouble, but I still make mistakes and sometimes bad choices, but God’s grace is still sufficient and He is still looking out for me.

I no longer have to worry about getting a DUI or being busted for possession—or smuggling contraband—but I now have to learn not to stress about not being worthy of God’s grace. Jesus makes me worthy and in that I can rest—I can rest in His promises.

Like I said; Grace is not getting what we deserve, and the rest we find in that grace is in not feeling we have to deserve the grace we get.

That prison guard would have had every right to call for back up, drag us out of the car and search it. We had no right or reason to be there, but we were allowed to go on our way unscathed. That’s grace.

551097488_750x422 (1)

The difference between the grace I received that day from that guard and the grace we get from God through Christ? We can depend on God’s grace, we don’t have to sweat it our hoping we don’t get thrown on the ground and cuffed.

God’s grace is our salvation and that we can rest in.

I am what I am

 

Life from Death

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25 He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 

John 12

IMG_4347

Bear with me as I get a little Dr. Sues’ish here

The Seed Poem

The solitary seed is a lonely seed, a lonely seed indeed. But when it falls and dies alone a better life we’ll see. That dying seed there in the ground, now moistened by the dew, will bring forth life, will grow a plant, to nourish me and you.

So take that seed down off the shelf, don’t ferret it away, throw it out in to the wind, and let it have its day. A little sun a little rain, a little time will tell, if the seed will produce a fruit, or just lies there where it fell.

Your heart has heard, your heart has seen, the worst there is to be, but trust the one who brings forth life, and a harvest you will glean. Just like the seed, you’ll feel alone but trust the falling rain, to bring forth life, to bring forth hope, to grow you from the pain.

What seemed like death, what felt like done, was victory being won. And now the seed is not alone, but growing in the sun.

Whatever you are facing today, trust the one who brings life from death and lay it down. Tomorrow the sun will rise on a new beginning.

IMG_4331

Jesus saw his own mission as being that of a seed, a single lonely life given up to produce many, many more–the dead seed by the dead sea bringing life to the world, at least to those who, like him, were willing to lay down the temporal for the eternal.

A single acorn has the potential to produce a forest of unsurpassed beauty, if it is allowed to fall to the ground and be no more. What do you need to lay down today?

IMG_4341

Happy Thanksgiving my friends!

Find your freedom in Christ

Barbarians ad copy axe

Follow The Plans

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

plan mame

 “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

CD4CB787-DFE3-42A3-87B5-1F63B4098C51

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.

 

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.

Find your freedom in Christ    Barbarians in the Kingdom

BAR COVER

 

Bad Company

“‘Come on! Are you feeling froggy? -Jump!‘  He was, so we squared off.”

Slide1

 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” 34 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. NKJV 1 Cor 15:33,34

I was at a meeting listening to a Pastor talk about his time as a missionary in Central America and how a young man, a new believer on fire for Jesus, came to him frustrated and said “I need prayer pastor, every time I go to the strip club I feel lust in my heart.”

To us the solution is obvious—”don’t go to the strip club!” Yet when we find ourselves in places that are obviously unhealthy, to everyone but us, we often don’t recognize or just plain deny it. Surrounding ourselves with things or people that cause us to sin—either in person or, nowadays, virtually—becomes our normal.

We just hate to admit that we are being corrupt, that we are in bad company or even worse, are becoming bad company.

Strip clubs are obvious—‘I, I’m just here as a missionary!’— yeah right. “I’m just doing research on line!” Lust is lust and can only consume us if we feed it with whatever company, present or recorded, trips our trigger. So be careful the company you keep.

But what about bars? Now, I have no problem going to a bar to eat, provided they have something besides pickled eggs and frozen pizzas. But even then, if you struggle with alcohol, maybe you shouldn’t even go somewhere that they serve alcohol.

I started hanging out in bars when I was 16. In the 70’s in Montana, if you could see over the bar you had a good chance of getting served. My step dad used to take me to a members only Lodge with him well before I was of legal age. He would knock on the door and a little window would slide open, two eyes would appear and a voice would enquire, “who goes there?”‘It’s me, a loyal (animal name here) and my friend who is old enough to drink, thanks for asking.’ And we were in, hanging out like old buddies with all my middle aged friends.

Little wonder it would take a miracle and an intervention by the Holy Spirit to deliver me from addictions to drinking, and worse, years later. And you know what? I do not go to bars anymore, except to eat with my wife on occasion. No reason to, no desire to. Even when I’m eating in one if I can look over and see the bar, see the people sitting there enjoying their adult beverages, it just makes me sad because it reminds me of a time when life was meaningless and the loneliness paltable.

Often times when I drank it was to ease the pain and frustration, to forget the chaos of life or the scorn of others—but the alcohol always made it worse, always left me in a darker place then when I started. And my friends, my drinking buddies, were never very good at giving advice that anyone but a fool would heed, and a fool I was, and foolish advise I would share in return (shudder) who needs it?

bar club nightlife party
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Moral corrupters to be sure.

Wine is a mocker, Strong drink is a brawler, And whoever is led astray by it is not wise. Prov 20:1

 

 

“Strong drink is a brawler.” Boy, aint that the truth. I used to get into fist fights back in my drinking days over the stupidest stuff, usually affronts to my honor. What an irony that a drunk has to defend his honor before or against other drunks.

I was spending an evening with bad company once, partying as usual, and a guy from our neighborhood who had never liked me was there, the feeling was mutual, but we hung out with the same people so he always seemed to be around. He smugly asked me for a taste of my drink.

In the spirit of the party I reluctantly handed the Tequila Sunrise I had just mixed for myself to him. He guzzled it down and then looked at me like, ‘now what are you gonna do?’ Well, I couldn’t let him just get away with that so I slapped him open handed and hollered, ‘Come on, are you feeling froggy? -Jump!‘  He was, so we squared off.

The guy who was renting the duplex we were in told us to take it outside and we did. We spent the next half hour or so punching, kicking and wrestling each other until we were both too exhausted to continue. We both ended up bleeding and with broken noses and finished the evening arguing about who won while washing the taste of blood out of our mouths with more tequila.

I was just angry because he seemed to have enjoyed the whole episode and I was trying to teach him a lesson.

What a waste of time that whole night was. What a waste of time that whole period of my life was for that matter.

And all the while I knew better because I had received the Lord and read the gospels years earlier. But I was determined to have a good time with my bad company, I just didn’t see, because it had happened so subtlety and step by step, that I was indeed in bad company and had in fact even become bad company.

I have often said that my biggest regret from those party years wasn’t what I was doing to myself and the time I wasted that I could have been following the Lord in his plan for me—it was the other people I influenced, talked into doing the same stupid things I was doing; young impressionable people who looked up to me as someone who was cool and had it together —even though I was anything but.

I think about the path I may have started them down that may have led to misery and pain. All I can do now is try to help as many people as I can discover the truth, discover Jesus and live in the freedom and joy that he has given me since I returned. He restored me to a right relationship with the Father.

“If you return,
Then I will bring you back;
You shall stand before Me; Jeremiah 15:19

A pastor friend used to say; “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” I think there’s a lot of truth to that. The most frequent voices in our lives inevitably become the loudest.

selective focus photography of person touch the white ceramic mug with choose happy graphic
Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

Let me just say this as an old fuddy-duddy or as a pastor—you take your pick— nothing good ever happens in a bar. I know that’s a broad generalization but it’s a pretty good rule of thumb to live by.

You can do so much better. . .

 

Marathon

 2244872a51787ce0ac9e6422545a195f

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.

lightstock_72930_medium_user_43213847

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.