Thy Will Be Done

 

Jesus’ suffering secured our salvation, he asks that we endure, even in the hard times, and suffer a bit also, taking the path of most resistance, that we may reap the reward we know is coming.

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Today the church celebrates Palm Sunday. The day Jesus rode triumphantly and openly into Jerusalem knowing that he was a wanted man. Marked for destruction by the religious hierarchy who saw him as a threat to their traditions. And more sinisterly, their power and status.

Jesus was warned by all who cared about him, ‘you must not go to Jerusalem this year for the Passover Celebration’, and he was no fool, he knew it would most likely be his end. But he went for one reason and one reason only—it was his Father’s will.

Jesus would say; I do only what I see my Father doing. To do that he had to overcome both flesh and demon

Flesh and Demon

If Jesus came to this earth as a man to do one thing, that thing was to do the will of his Father. A mission that would be tested over and over again by his flesh and by the enemy. But Jesus would overcome both, telling his disciples as he had told Satan himself in the wilderness temptation, essentially;  ‘I am not here to satisfy the lust and cravings of the flesh, I am not here to glorify myself and ascend to any earthly throne or position.’

How many of us can say that?

Thy will

“Man does not live by bread alone but by every word which comes from God”

“To finish His work”? What was the work of his Father? To redeem mankind from its own foolishness that had caused him to forsake the creator in favor of the created. Jesus came to finish the job, to fulfill all that which the law and the prophets had foretold and foreshadowed. To be the seed of Eve that would crush the head of the serpent and to be the new Adam, restoring the life that the first Adam had lost.

What can we learn from this? Oh, I don’t know, maybe that if we want to accomplish the purpose of God for our lives we should seek and obey the will of God. Maybe that obedience to God’s will, will likely bring suffering, but it is worth it and leads to much greater things. Things like overcoming the evil one who thinks he’s so darn clever; seeing those we love get saved; seeing the kingdom of heaven be advanced through us; being glorified in the end—you know, small stuff like that. Stuff that Jesus exemplified and made possible for us by his obedience to the will of God. Obedience even to the point of shedding his blood, innocent blood, so that we could be over-comers as well.

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I read something in a fellow bloggers post recently that really struck a chord in me; Pastor Mario Murillo  -he said that most preachers are failing their congregations in these later days in not teaching them that they are capable of defeating the enemy themselves. I agree. We don’t have to depend on elders, preachers, priests or exorcists to defeat the enemy, to cast him from our presence and to end his influence and interference in our lives, interference that can take many, many forms.

One of the enemies’ greatest fears is that the church will wake up to the fact that each and everyone of us who follows the Living Lord, who has received his Holy Spirit, has the power to overcome him and thwart his plans of destruction and death.

James says it quite clearly and makes the point exactly.

 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:7—8

The only way to conquer is to submit to God, submit to his will and draw near. You lean in to God, he will lean in to you, then nothing else will matter all that much, the suffering loses its sting and the victory sweet.

How do I know? –How do I know what is God’s will?

The short answer is; Come boldly before him and find out.

draw near

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It’s time to live your freedom, to live your victory.

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Blown It?

Have I lost my salvation?

Depression

You ever feel like you’ve blown it so bad with Jesus that surely He must be done forgiving you and you might as well just give up and give in? “I might as well eat drink and be merry because surely I’ve lost my reward and will be lucky if I even make it into heaven. ‘Lord, how can you love a sinner like me?’” Time marches on, the years go by and it seems like the struggle never ends, the temptations keep coming and the flesh keeps falling for the same old tricks and the heart still struggles to hold on to hope.

It doesn’t always happen, some days we feel pretty good about ourselves and feel we might be winning the battle, our anchor is holding fast, but then we stumble again “Oh Lord, how can you love a wretch like me?” And then we read something like Hebrews chapter 6 and we really get worried.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. Heb 6

Encouraging isn’t it?—um, not really… I’d be willing to bet that as you read this it caused you a little sense of panic; “Have I lost my salvation, is this me, is this my wife, my husband, my child?”

But we have to look at it in light of what he said just before this and in the previous chapter–five–that we shouldn’t have to keep laying the foundations again and again, those foundational principles that we are saved by repentance and faith, turning away from sin and to Jesus. We shouldn’t have to keep hounding on the basics of the faith, the resurrection of the dead, the importance of baptism, the power in the laying on of hands and the finality of God’s coming judgement—things which were even basic principles in the Jewish faith before the once for all sacrifice of the Son of God.

He’s saying that it doesn’t do any good to keep hounding people who already know all these things, who have experienced them and understood them, yet have rejected and turned away from them—from God—to hear them again because it will no longer do them any good. They have fallen away and no longer care; they can’t be resaved, when they have rejected what they had. The anchor rope has been cut and left on the bottom with the anchor.

The grace on which our hope is based is a gift. And a gift returned to Jesus because we didn’t like it is a gift no longer ours and may never be offered again. That may all sound a bit unnerving but that’s what it says here. But stay with me here, he’s not talking about misled or foolish believers who make some bad choices, he’s talking about being truly apostate, renouncing faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Those who have received the gift of grace, been reborn by God’s Holy Spirit and even experienced the miraculous transformative power of that Spirit and moved in the Kingdom’s power, only to one day say ‘God is not real, his word no longer satisfies my soul’, They are rejecting the truth and forfeiting the grace they were so freely given.

When they turn back to the sin and bondages that Jesus died to free them from, whether it is turning back to the law—trusting in religious works and ceremony instead of Jesus for salvation, or rejecting the word of God out of hand and living just for the flesh as though Jesus was nothing more than a myth used by the foolish to keep people down—they are basically thumbing their noses at Jesus. Just as those who crucified him did.

The Mob

Jesus Cross

The screaming mob who stood before Pilate and shouted “crucify him” were many of the same people who had witnessed his miracles of healing, heard his words of power and authority proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God and offering peace and forgiveness to all who believed. They had heard of and even seen Lazarus who was raised from the dead, heard the shouts of praise from the blind men and the lepers, the crippled and bleeding women who were healed.

They had seen and heard demons flee in terror from those they had tormented, at just a word from Jesus—and then, because they were led astray by the words of a handful of men in fancy robes who claimed to be too smart to be swayed by such foolishness, they demanded his death.

Why would they do that? Perhaps because they wanted something now that that they weren’t getting. They wanted their Messiah to give them free bread everyday just like Moses had called down for their ancestors or like Caesar was doing in Rome. They wanted their deliverer to charge in on a white stallion leading an army like David and Solomon did in the glory days of old, their swords dripping with the blood of their enemies.

They wanted all their wishes and desires pandered to and they wanted vengeance on their enemies—and they wanted all this today. But it wasn’t happening so they were now an angry mob, and once that mentality takes hold, it’s no longer anchored in hope, it’s anchored in hate.

They hated the Romans, they hated the Samaritans, they hated their puppet king and the corrupt priests. But all Jesus wanted to talk about was love and faith, forgiveness and mercy—heart issues and selflessness—’we don’t need that, we need action, displays of power that will put the fear into the Romans and restore the greatness of Israel, and we need it now. ‘So off with his head!’, the Queen of Hearts is back on the throne, and Jesus is no longer relevant to us.’

That’s what the writer here is talking about when he says it’s impossible for those who once knew, saw and tasted that God is good, who experienced real forgiveness and felt the power of grace, who throw it all away, who renounce their faith and chase after the things of the flesh once again, to be restored to life. They have thrown away their grace, traded life for death, love for hate, mercy for judgement. Just as surely as those who stood on the hill at the foot of the cross and mocked him—the Nazarene who bled there.

They are committing the worst of sins in their mocking and jeers, that are blaspheming, cursing God himself.  Jesus put it this way;

against me

Still a citizen

So the writer of Hebrews here is not talking about just making mistakes and doing on occasion what we know we shouldn’t oughta do—he’s talking about purposely disregarding Christ and no longer caring or being grateful for his grace. Like the young woman from Alabama who basically renounced her U.S. citizenship to join Isis in Syria who now wants to come back to America. That renounce America and swear allegiance to her enemy thing is not working out so well for her—turns out the enemy’s promises of glory and purpose are not all they’re cracked up to be and now she will have a tough row to hoe proving that she truly warrants another chance to come home to the land she openly mocked and scorned.

In the case of one “fallen away” they just do not want to come home.

Better things

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The writer of Hebrews, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as all of scripture is, is convinced that we are not those who have denied our faith and jumped headlong into the pit of doom. Just the fact that one would take the time to read these words is proof enough that the heart is still seeking the Lord, still open to his Spirit and receptive to his grace.

I used to have men ask me back when I was doing bible studies at the jail, men who acknowledged that they have made bad choices—done horrible things and stumbled and fallen in their walk with the Lord— they would ask me, desperate and forlorn, “Have I lost my salvation, can God still forgive me?” And I would always tell them the same thing, the same answer I would give to many others since then, “Just the fact that you are asking me that question, that you are worried about it, means that you haven’t.”

An apostate, someone who has denied Jesus as Lord, blasphemed the Holy Spirit whom it is that bears witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, does not care any longer what God thinks, they are not worried about losing their salvation or being forgiven because they no longer acknowledge that they are accountable to him. A heart that has rejected Jesus Christ as Lord is a hard heart with no room for remorse.

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If one reads on in Hebrews 6 you’ll discover that God has given us his word, His solemn oath, that our souls are anchored in him, anchored by hope and that hope is found in his word, trusting his word, believing his word, our hope is his word, in his word we find Jesus, his only Son, creator, redeemer, the word of God, God himself, incarnate.

And hope never disappoints us. —Romans 5:4

So no, you have not blown it.

Be blessed my friends;  Dan–the barbarian Pastor

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Suffer? No Thanks…

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Are we setting up the next generation of church leaders to fail?

“…in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” Heb 5:7—8

‘Whoa, wait a minute, I didn’t sign on for this! I came to Christ because I was promised that everything would be wonderful. I would have joy, peace—all my troubles would be over and Jesus would take care of all my problems. Pass me that bowl would ya?— The one with the cherries in it. Thanks, you were saying? Oh, can I get a glass of milk also?’

bowl cherries cherry close up
Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

Well, I’m sorry junior, but if that’s what you were led to believe then you were not told the whole story and if it hasn’t happened already, you will be sorely disappointed and disillusioned. And if that ‘walking with Jesus is a bowl of cherries’ mentality is what you want to cling to then you will be subsisting on a diet of milk and the meat will be reserved for those who are ready to accept it.

This notion of pain free cross bearing has caused a lack of leadership and the advancement of the Kingdom has suffered as a result. Think about the oxy-moronism of that statement, pain free cross bearing, but that’s exactly what this idea is. This notion that we can be followers of Christ and not have to be inconvenienced let alone suffer has caused many to ignore their call to go and do what they were created and purposed by God to do.

Jesus said if you would come after me you must take up your cross daily, he didn’t say ‘hitch your wagon to mine and I’ll wake you when we get there.’

 “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. Luke 9:23

In the minds of everyone who heard Jesus say this, a cross represented nothing but suffering, so. . . where’s the gilded sanctuaries, Armani suits and life of ease in this Jesus following business?

Cross carry meme

Really?

Suffering is a complicated issue to be sure and the reasons are many and varied. All we can say for sure is that there will be, and is, suffering. And it is a major cause for people to question God and his existence. Ironic that God gets blamed for the suffering he has spent all of human history trying to first prevent and then rescue us from. Even to suffering himself for us.

No doubt the writer of Hebrews has that agonizing night of prayer in the garden of Gethsemane in mind when he wrote this. Jesus suffered to the point of sweating blood on this night knowing that his arrest was imminent and that the cup of God’s wrath was about to be poured out on him.

So who do we think we are when we whine about our sufferings to God? Even Jesus suffered in order to learn perfect obedience. Jesus fervently prayed to be delivered from his suffering but it was with a healthy dose of fear, knowing that He should not be disrespectful in his petitions to the one who had led him to this place of danger. Jesus didn’t pray to his Father as though God didn’t know what he was doing or had messed up, and Jesus ended his prayer with not my will but thine be done.

Jesus trusted his Father implicitly and was obedient even to the cross which he knew full well was coming.

There are many still today who have given all in their obedience to Christ, to go where he sends them and do what he asks for his glory and his people. But there are too many who are called who have not answered because they are holding out for something better or are afraid of suffering—it just doesn’t fit their idea of ministry.

I think the church has done a real disservice to the Kingdom of God in the megachurch movement which has created a myriad of full time ministry positions where people can come to work every day in comfortable casual clothes, looking hip and stylish, have an office in a building surrounded by nothing but other Christians who all run down to the coffee shop in the foyer at break time and strategize together about how they can get more people into the building to see the show. 

Of course they don’t call it a show but if you look at the effort time, talent and money poured into the stage and the auditorium, the lighting, the sound, the message, the music, the drama presentations—it truly is theater. I know, I’ve been involved in all of that to some extent. And yeah, there’s some value to that and people are getting saved, I think, but they are being set up to fail.

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Those watching the show are given the notion that church is what it’s all about and you had better make me feel good and delight me or I will find another—’I hear that church on the other side of town has an amazing drama team.’

And those who feel called to minister and serve believe that they need to be one of those pretty people up front, or one of the professional organizers behind the scenes, all of whom get to come to work each day in the ivory tower called a church. So everyone from the new person in the back row with a new found zeal to see other’s come to know Jesus, to the college student who grew up in the church and feels compelled by God to devote their life to full time ministry, has the notion that ministry is for the professionals and getting that office and that salary equals success.

In the meantime no one is planting churches, all around me in in neighboring towns of Montana churches are shutting down for lack of leaders, other churches cling to life waiting years for a new pastor to step up, beautiful paid off buildings sit empty, small churches everywhere have to forego youth ministry, discipleship and evangelism. Homeless people on the streets and the down and out in the shelters and in the jails never hear the good news, people pine away in despair in retirement homes and hospitals—all because the called do not want to suffer for the call. Thus there is no victory for them or Jesus in their lives.

architecture building catholicism church
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Jesus asks us to bear fruit, not make money. “What does it pay?” I have heard this question way too many times over the last couple decades when I have offered people opportunities to minister, to use their gifts, in a meaningful way. Young and old, people on fire for Jesus, people who claim they want to serve, refusing to step out and get dirty. Not all, but many. Like I said, we have done the next generation a real disservice, actually it’s been affecting a couple of generations now—suffering is no longer a given let alone a component of serving Jesus. Because the media savvy, seeker friendly, everything must be polished and perfect church, has made it look too easy.

It’s not, but it rewarding and it is what we were created and called to do. Grab your sword, put on your work pants and get to work. Victory awaits you—warrior.

3-3-19 meme

 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. 2 Tim 1:8—9

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My Rock

“Jesus is not going anywhere, he is not changing and we do not have to wither.”

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Do you ever feel like life is spinning helplessly out of control? You find yourself asking; ‘How can I continue like this, why does everything have to keep changing and how can I possibly hang on, keep my sanity, and not just give it up, be swept away by the current of mishaps and messes that seem to surround me like the vortex of a whirlpool that threatens to suck me down the drain?’

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‘Why should I keep fighting the good fight when others around me are giving up? Why do I keep striving for righteousness when others I thought were doing the same seem to have given up? How can I keep fighting for those I love when the enemy seems to keep stealing them away making me look like a fool?’

Your heart is crying out; ‘I feel like I’m sinking! Help me hang on!’ but you are afraid to verbalize it because then good well-adjusted Christians will clamor all over you with ‘there there’ smiles, and platitudes, that leave you feeling like a fool for not just being happy. And worse, you are afraid to verbalize it because you are afraid God himself will be disappointed in you. ‘Oh ye of little faith, here’s another dose of trouble to teach you perseverance.’

Christians are funny creatures, but not very. Navigating your way through this life is serious business and is not something we were meant to do alone—not in the flesh or the Spirit. We need each other and we need the Lord. We need to know that we are connected to something bigger and that we have a landmark, an immovable rock to always come back to, more of a fortress I suppose.

I am often tempted to give up, and give in to despair and hopelessness. But I don’t and I won’t. Because no matter what the world around me does, when all is sinking sand and it seems that there are more arms reaching out to pull me down then there are to pull me up, I am planted firmly on the rock.

I will love You, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
My God, my strength, in whom I will trust;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised;
So shall I be saved from my enemies. Psalm 18:1—3

Mountain praise

Apparently David felt this way at times as well. We all do, life happens and often happens the way it wants to regardless of our desires or plans. At last that’s the appearance. Those of us who know the rock, who cling to and make our stand on the Rock, know that there is someone else who is ultimately in control and He will not let us sink or be shaken off that rock so long as we trust and desire to stay on it.

Jesus is my rock and I shall not be moved.

rock mememy

Am I okay?

I was thinking the other day about what I was going to preach on this week after having had last week off. It’s funny how just one week can seem to totally throw everything off kilter, but then, much of these last couple of years have seemed a little off kilter to me. A lot of hard things in my life, a lot of good things for sure, but some real challenges too, things that are still a challenge.

Seeing people you love getting attacked by the enemy, trying to understand the incomprehensible, having things you built that you thought were being built correctly threaten to fall apart, or be torn down, it can all be very disconcerting, leaving you wonder—what is going on? Not just in my life, but in this world? The whole world seems to have gone mad, am I next? People are ripping each other to shreds just for sport, gleefully and vehemently.

I was thinking about this the other day, the challenges I face and my own failings, and where my heart is right now and I have to say, my heart is okay.Well, how can your heart be okay? Don’t you care? Don’t you see what’s going on? Are you just selfish and uncaring? You need to stress and worry, weep and mourn, fight and strive.’ Well, maybe—there is a season for all those things, but it is not my life, that is not where my heart dwells and that is what the Lord is teaching me lately.

I have to trust in him. I do not have to—I cannot—succumb to the fear, panic and despair that my mind would drag me in to. I can honestly look into my heart, see Jesus, and know that I am okay. I am planted firmly on the rock and I cannot be moved. People can shove me, ridicule me, shame me, ignore me—whatever, I am building on the rock and I will complete the project and I will win the prize at the end of it.

We cannot get caught up in the garbage that is thrown at us and around us all day long. We have to have a dogged determination to remain strong by knowing and abiding by God’s word. Only His word, made alive by His Spirit, will allow us to see past and through the manure that is always moldering and smoldering around us. “Let’s build our house on compost”—said no one with a brain ever.

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Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.

Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture,

“Behold, I lay in Zion
A chief cornerstone, elect, precious,
And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”

Shame?

What is it the world tries to do to us, what is the enemies’ primary weapon? Shame—minimalizing us, embarrassing us—making us question our faith, our love, our purpose and our relationship with the Lord. ‘Am I really doing what is right? Am I really hearing God? Can I really trust in his word, that his promises are true and that I am not just wasting my time and my life when others are mocking me? When they are accusing me of being shortsighted, bigoted, intolerant and prudish? Am I really just judgmental and out of touch with reality? Can I really live in the modern world and adhere to a religion that is two thousand years old that is an extension of religion that is as old as creation?

‘How old is creation anyway? Am I a fool? Am I just another animal among many who evolved from slime in a tepid mud pit to become a hairy ape who eventually became so full of himself that he made up a story about being created in the image of a God that we cannot even see?

The world would call us a fool, our flesh would call us a fool, and we become ashamed to admit, to confess what we believe—and the enemy has won. We have been put to shame. Until we look down and realize that we are still standing on the rock and Jesus is not going anywhere, he is not changing and we do not have to wither.

He is building us into a spiritual dwelling that cannot be destroyed, that will weather the storms that wail, and the assaults of those who hate us. Because as long as we are building on that rock they have a constant reminder that they are trying to build on ever shifting sand that cannot sustain anything for very long.

A sand castle looks great until the tide comes in and then you have to start over. I do not ever have to start over. My foundation is secure and no tide is taking me out to sea.

So whether you are a Covington Catholic school student, the wife of the Vice President being mocked for teaching in a Christian school, a resident of New York City who had your heart ripped out this week when you saw your city celebrating the murder of fully viable unborn babies, or a seemingly invisible highschool or college student who got mocked because someone saw a Bible in you backpack, stand firm and know that when all else crumbles, YOU WILL STILL BE STANDING!

God will not be mocked and you are his.

i am his meme

I know I don’t have to worry that I might wake up tomorrow and be someone I don’t want to be, someone I don’t like. I am not going to lose my religion (to use an old phrase) not so long as I choose not to—and I choose not to. In that there is a peace. Let the storms rage— slander me, kick me, rail against me, give it your best shot. I know Him on whom I stand. My Redeemer lives and I will too, now and forever.

Hang in there my beloveds…

 

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The Offensive Blog

Casting no shadow

 

I have known and worked with a lot of Christians over the years, you’ve known them, they wear the shirts with the Christian messages, make sure everyone knows that they have to leave early because they have to get to bible study, show you pictures of their last mission trip with the big church, hand out tracts to people they deem sinners and just generally have an air of superiority and . . . everyone avoids them like the plague.

None of these things are inherently bad, unless they are accompanied by attitude of religiosity not backed by their character. Often they are known for their lack of integrity for various reasons that everyone who has been annoyed by them does not hesitate to list off.th.jpg

It took me some time in my early days of walking with the Lord to learn not to let my mouth overwhelm my discernment because I wanted to get all my coworkers saved today. I had to learn not to be a plague carrier, and to be a light. It’s a lot simpler then you might think.

I don’t preach to, or make snide comments to people whose behavior I don’t agree with and I don’t act like I’m better than anyone else. I just do my job as best I can and try to be respectful and pleasant to everyone I work with. And I pray for opportunities to share my faith—and they come. They come because people are drawn to the light.

“No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light. Luke 11:33

Care

A few weeks ago one of the many people who work for the construction company I do showed up in my job trailer just as I was finishing lunch. He asked if I had a few minutes to talk, I said ‘a few.’ He said he was having a bad day, he’d been in an argument with the boss, he was nursing a sore knee, and was just generally feeling frustrated and unappreciated.

He said, “I was just sitting up on the Rims (the cliffs overlooking Billings) eating lunch in my truck wondering why I shouldn’t just quit, and I looked down towards this area and thought; ‘Dan is right down there, I need to go talk to him.’”  I said, “Well I don’t know if I’ll have any answers for you but I’ll certainly give you my honest opinion.” He said “I know you will, you always do. You are about the only one in this company that I feel like I can talk to—why is that?”

I said the first thing that popped into my head; “Because I’m the only one who takes the take the time to care?” He said “that’s exactly it. You care.”

We then had a conversation that took more than a few minutes, and I had plenty other things to do but this was important, he was important, and his position in the company is important so I didn’t feel like I was wasting company time—something I am always mindful of, they aren’t paying me to preach, my church does that.

I got to give him some good godly advice, to encourage him, hear him out and even give him some scripture—he knows I’m a believer and that if he comes to me he’s going to get scripture—because I know he’s receptive to it. He didn’t quit and the Lord continues to work on his heart.

Far from avoiding me, ‘that Jesus freak’, he sought me out. Why? Simply because I care about him and he knows it. That’s what it takes to make a difference in this world, in a life. That’s what Jesus did. He came to be a light to the world. My distraught coworker looked down from the rims and saw a light and was drawn from it.

I don’t shine it in peoples’ eyes so that they have to turn away, but I don’t cover it either, it’s just always there, at least I do my best to keep it there, and visible.

That’s what Jesus is asking us to do, that’s what he’s talking about here to this pharisee, ‘you’re worried about ritual hand washing when you are full of greed and wickedness inside? You’re a fool!’

Jesus warns us; don’t get dark. We all have a choice, to be darkness, or light. Otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have warned us against the darkness within:

34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Luke 11

light shine

Our responses to life happening around us makes that determination. Respond to life with joy, respond to people with patience, respond to challenges with praise, respond to stress with faith—and the darkness will have to flee.

It’s who we choose to obey, the flesh or the Holy Spirit. It is the fruits of the Spirit we bear, that determines whether we will be dark or light.  The Pharisees didn’t care about people. They only cared about how they looked, and they made themselves look better by knocking other people down. Jesus came to lift us up, to help us up, and he asks us to do the same.

That is the difference between light and darkness, the difference between being in the world but not of it and in the world and of it— darkness doesn’t care, the world doesn’t care, the world’s notion of caring is twisted beyond reason. I could think of a hundred examples, every one of which with the potential to get me in trouble in a world that is nothing like the one I grew up in, a world where we’re not allowed to have different viewpoints anymore, and everyone is offended, so I am just going to quote a line from a song I heard in the 80’s.

You save the whale you save the seal, you save whatever’s cute and squeals, but you kill that thing that’s in the womb, would not want no baby boom. Good, bad, laugh and scorn blame yourself for kiddy porn, expedience is the law you keep and your compassion’s ankle deep.” —Steve Taylor, circa 1980’s

Things haven’t changed a bit, except to get darker.

Scary forest

To the present prevailing darkness, people are just in the way. And there is a growing school of thought that the world would be better off without us.

Yet those who are adamant about it are still here. . . taking up space where a wolf could be stalking a buffalo calf and stressing over carbon footprints whilst drinking expensive coffee grown on a tree where a rain forest was cleared. ‘You people are all in the way and I am virtuous because I have realized it, I am important, I matter because I don’t use a straw in my latte.’

We matter

Okay, so much for not getting in trouble.  But I’m making the point that all those who we may disagree with, who may have very different priorities then you, are just wanting to make a difference also—desperately.  Even those who want to rid the world of others, want to matter.

They just, like all of us, struggle to see that we all matter, that what is important is not controlling others to make ourselves feel important, it’s controlling ourselves to make others feel important. Step out of your self-righteous darkness, and listen to people. Then they will feel important, and then you will be important.

In the world’s economy people don’t matter, in God’s economy people matter and yes God trusts us to care for this planet, but we also need to remember that he created it as our home, that we are the ones he died for, and we have a responsibility to care for our home but most importantly, to care for each other, the operative word there being care. To care being to love.

We are commanded to love people, even those we disagree with—the tree hugging bunny fluffers, the white shirted flyer pushing bicycle riders, the manicured and immaculately quaffed business people, the wild eyed Pentecostal zealot, the sourpuss dogmatic fundamentalist—the dirty rotten sinner and the squeaky clean Pharisee.

We have to stop being too busy to care for people. When we are rushing through this life paying little heed to the people around us because we are in  hurry—even if we are in a hurry to get to our church sanctioned functions— we are hiding our light under that proverbial bushel basket. You have the light of the world, take it to the world.

And don’t worry so much about offending people, if people know you love them, love covers a lot of offenses—just be Jesus to people—love them.

Man with bright lights

 

The Work of my Hands

Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. 3 John 1:2

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Midnight Sparky

Do you believe that the Lord cares about your life and will intervene on your behalf to prosper the work of your hands and give you success in your endeavors? I believe he will—so long as we acknowledge his help and recognize that we must praise him regardless of whether we feel we had a good day or not.

It was 2005. I was in my fourth year of serving as the children’s pastor at Hope Center and in my third decade of working construction. I was doing some remodel work at the United Methodist church in downtown Billings. Because the church had a day care center that was open all day and the work we were doing was noisy and messy we were working nights—never fun, but whatever it takes to get the job done and done right.

Part of the job involved putting in an elevator for handicap access to the lower level. To do this we had to cut a hole in the concrete floor of the basement to create a pit for the Hydraulics that would run the elevator. I had a concrete cutting contractor come in a saw the floor, and in the midst of the cutting there was a loud pop, a puff of smoke and sudden darkness.

We immediately knew what happened, we had cut through a conduit under the floor cutting the power to many of the basement lights. Luckily it threw the breaker right away and no one got hurt—no one but the power feed anyway. We plugged in some temporary lights and finished the job, pulled the concrete from the hole and sent the cutting contractor on his way.

So then, I’ll never forget this, it’s about one o’clock in the morning and I’m standing there looking at the severed conduit in the bottom of my hole thinking, ‘now what am I going to do?’ Even if I could fix this myself I cannot get the stuff to do it, it’s the middle of the night and everything is closed and all the electricians I know are no doubt home in bed.’

It wouldn’t matter so much except that the basement was where all the rooms were that they used for the day care and the dozens of kids would start arriving bright and early—to a dark basement. So while I’m standing there pondering this, and halfway praying at the same time, more an expression of exasperation: “Lord, now what do I do? I need a sparky!” Suddenly someone walks into the room and says, “Hey Dan, how ya doing?” It’s Jamie, a sparky!—an electrician I know from previous jobs whom I know is also a believer. I looked at him shocked and said, “What are you doing here?”

He said, “I’m doing some night work in the bank across the alley and I recognized your truck so I snuck in the back door to say hi.”  I said, “Boy am I glad to see you! I have a little problem here.” I pointed down to the severed conduit and said, “Do you have time to fix this for me?” “Sure, it’ll just take a few minutes, let me run out to my truck and grab some stuff.”

Problem solved. There was no doubt in my mind that God sent Jamie there at just the right time to take care of my problem, not just that, but to remind me that he is always looking out for me, and that he indeed hears my prayer every day before I go to work that he “bless the work of my hands.”

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I could tell you many stories just like that, and I could also tell you stories about the times things have gone south because I got cocky and started thinking my efforts prospered because I was awesome, I’m not awesome but I have a God who is and that is much better in the long run, and the short for that matter.

Fast forward to this week.

I had my mind blown this week, what started as a seriously stressful week with all that’s going on in my job and ministry, God showed up.

Wednesday I got a call from the owner of the company I work for—Jim. He asked if I could come to the office after work, he needed to talk to me about something.

I said ‘okay, I’ll swing by on my way home.’ It sounded way too serious so I was suddenly real nervous racking my brain, “What did I do wrong? Or, maybe he wants me to do a funeral or something for someone in his family, uugh, no fun.”

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So a couple hours later I jump in my old work truck and head to the office. I pull in the yard and walk into the shop, just as I’m about to pull open the door to the office area the door opens and there’s Jim, the big boss. He says, “I saw you coming. Come with me and he motions me to the back door.” My heart starts racing and I’m thinking, “Oh no, it’s so serious he wants to make sure no one else hears.”

We walk out the back door to where his big fancy truck is parked and he abruptly says, “get in.” So we’re going for a ride. Now I’m thinking, okay, he has some nasty welding job he wants me to look at, just what I need on top of the big job I’m trying to ride herd on now. We start heading west on East Laurel road and just before we get to King Avenue he says, “I suppose you’re wondering where we’re going?” —Uh, yeah.

He says, “I don’t know if we tell you often enough how much we appreciate you and all the hard work you do for this company. We consider you one of the big dogs. You always get your jobs done and done well and everyone wants to work with Dan.

I said, “Wow, thanks but to tell you the truth that kind of adds to my stress, that’s a lot to live up to. But I also have to tell you that I cannot take the credit, the Lord just blesses the work of my hands, I pray that every day, and I just show up and do the best I can.”

He says, That’s what we love about you.” He then reaches into the cup holder in his console and hands me a fancy electronic key fob and says’ “Here’s the key to your new truck.” My jaw dropped and I stammered something or other, we then pull into the local Ford dealer and he says “There it is. If you push that button right there is will start remotely.”

I push the buttons and all the lights flash and it starts. We walk to the truck and he tells me to get in and starts to run through all the bells and whistles, it pretty much has them all. It’s a 2019 F250 with an extended cab, four wheel drive of course, back up camera, an activated Sirius radio with Bluetooth hook ups, and myriad other things I am still trying to wrap my brain around–I mean, my old work truck didn’t even have power windows and locks, let alone rear window defrosters and power side mirrors–It’s just big and bad and beautiful.  He says ‘Drive it home and show Donna and tomorrow we’ll take it in and get it outfitted with a grill guard, tool box, floor mats and, the company logo.’

I don’t own it but as long as I work for them, I can drive it like I do.

I tell him, “I don’t even know what to say. I have never had a new vehicle in my life.” As I’m driving home in shock I think to look at the odometer and it has 12 miles on it and I am overwhelmed. “Thank you Jesus!” You have indeed blessed the work of my hands and caused me to prosper.

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And his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Gen 39

I continued to pray: “Let me never forget that the primary reason I am here, that my work is being blessed, is because I am yours and you are mine and my primary mission is to be a light for you in all I do and say. Thank you that my diligence is a reflection of you and your character.”

Barbarians in the Kingdom by Dan Swaningson

Choose Joy

Jolene Meme

Down in my heart

The other day I was driving home from work, honestly, my job is intense, both physically—making every joint in my body hurt—and mentally, as I deal with people who are all driven, busy and under pressure all day long. Running a multi-million dollar project, trying to keep all the pieces and all the players moving in the right direction at the right time, while still being a craftsmen working with my hands can be hugely stressful.

So I was driving home from work with all this stuff running through my mind, my back, knees and neck killing me, trying to shift my focus to the sermon I know I have to start writing when I get home. I already knew I was supposed to talk about joy and I’m thinking; I sure don’t feel very joyful right now.

I thought of that new song from King and Country, kind of a play on the old children’s song I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. . . and I remembered my daughters singing along to this song on a cassette tape they had full of silly Sunday school songs. I can still hear their high little girl voices singing, I think it was Cally, not really sure of all the words, but she would hardily sing the last few words “. . .down in my heart Tuesday” And of course the ‘Where!’

And I started to smile.

So I started to sing; I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, where, down in my heart, where, down in my heart. . . to stay.

After a few choruses of that I was actually laughing, how can you sing that and not be happy? Especially with everything that is associated with it, especially the truth that it espouses. A simple song reminding us of the most significant truth we can know as human beings.

I’ve got the wonderful love of my blessed redeemer way down in the depths of my heart. Where?. . .  Just singing about joy, about the Lord brought the lightness back to my heart. Light always displaces the dark.

Sing it with me; Now I’m so happy, so very happy, I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart! Yes I’m so happy, so very happy, I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart!

If that did not make you smile, you could be a fuddy duddy.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Gal 5

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In praying about this message the Lord told me; “Joy is a byproduct of being loved.” Which explains why it is the second fruit of the Spirit right behind love. If you know you are loved by the one who created you and holds your fate in his hands, if you truly understand the depth and the significance of that love, how could you not have joy?

And if you have joy you will have peace and as a result of that joy and peace you will have no reason to be anxious, in a hurry, so you will be patient—long-suffering— and a happy patient loved person is more inclined to be kind and gentle, putting others before himself leading to self-control  which is simply telling the flesh to be patient and kind, that there are more important things than fulfilling it’s selfish demands.

Which means in a sense, a very real sense, that Love and joy has crucified the flesh with it’s passions and desires. The passions and desires that unchecked will leave us with no joy, no long-suffering patience and no self-control.

Wow, I never looked at the fruits of the Spirit as being dependent on each other like that before. The fruits are not just a list of virtues that God decided one day he would just give us if we asked for the Spirit, it is an understanding of who we are, who he is, our relationship with him leading to a chain reaction releasing one fruit after the other.

Joy Meme

Distress

But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You;
Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them;
Let those also who love Your name
Be joyful in You.
12 For You, O Lord, will bless the righteous;
With favor You will surround him as with a shield. Ps 5:11,12

Joy can maybe be defined as a lack of stress. I mean, think about it, if you are not worried, if you are not losing sleep over an issue, fretting and anxious, what are you?

So, why are you not happy, why are you not joyful? —Because you are afraid, worried, stressed. And why are you these things? It boils down to one thing to me, something I come back to over and over again in my walk with the Lord and have since the very beginning because it really is the very definition of salvation—and that is trust, trusting his love for us.

We must trust the Lord for our salvation, with our hearts and with our lives. And if we are truly trusting him in all of these things, then why, pray tell, do we stress?

The Lord has been working on this with me lately, big time. If you want to discover a whole new level of potential stress try pastoring a bunch of people, real people with real problems and issues, whom you have come to love, who have become a family, not just a church. A church that is just a church can only cause you so much grief because you can walk away from it. But you cannot and should not walk away from family.

Not if you have a heart that is attuned at all to the Holy Spirit with the instinct he plants in all hearts to defend their own.

But, I have to remember that you, this church, and my family whether blood or spiritual, are not my own, it all belongs to Jesus—I am just a steward, a shepherd, a father, a husband, brother, uncle grandpa, friend—what have you—all titles I am proud of and take seriously, but if I am not trusting all of those whom call me by those various things to the one who loves and knows them better then I could in a hundred life times, then I will only drive myself to drink, or worse, trying to protect, build and nurture them all.

My church belongs to Jesus. My family belongs to Jesus. My future, my hopes and dreams, my vision for this ministry, my job, my finances, my health and well-being—they all belong to Jesus and he alone is able to care for all of them, to strengthen me, to guide me, to quicken my soul in the right times and still it when need be.

The more I realize that, the more I trust and let go of the stress, transfer the burden over to Jesus, the more joy I am able to feel in my heart, the better I can sleep at night and the more able I am to love those around me who need loved, we all need loved.

Love brings joy.Just ask my Granddaughter Jolene whose picture graces the top of this blog.

Joy by King and Country