Still the Voices

No Turning Back

I want to talk over the course of the next few weeks about keeping our focus on the things in front of us, being determined to keep going forward, following the Lord and not letting anything hinder us; not our past, our fears, the failure of yesterday nor the demons of the past that continue to dog us— if we’ll let them.

Thinking about the teachings of Jesus that we are about to read and the burden the Lord  has put on my heart for his church, the family of God, I understand more and more that I have been, as I believe all of us who call Jesus Lord are, called to love people into wholeness. To do that we have to be a church family that is willing to go the distance, to follow where he leads, and not stop short of all that God has for us.

Keep that in mind as we read.

Verse 57

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Luke 9

I think a lot of people who set out to follow Jesus—at least to acknowledge him and ‘get saved’ as we put it—stop woefully short of being a follower -a disciple. If we take a good honest look at what is really a hard teaching here by Jesus, we see those people who are seemingly eager to jump on board the Jesus band wagon being discouraged and turning away before they even begin.

Jesus knew that they would not be able to finish the race, they would not go the distance so he wanted to save then the trouble. It’s not simply because they wanted to look back. We all have a tendency to look back. We look back at where we’ve been, at those staying behind. We look back at what we might be leaving behind and we often look either with a sense of sadness— longing for what we had—or we may look back with a sense of dread like the past is threatening to consume us.

But Jesus knew what was going on in their hearts and he said: you might want to think about this… they did and apparently stayed behind.  They missed it, they missed it because their hearts were not in it, and what does Jesus really want from us? -Our hearts.

Heads in the game

Jesus said: “All the law and the prophets hinge on these commands; the first and greatest ‘Love the Lord you God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind.’  And the second like it; ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus wants our hearts, he wants all of us, he wants our heads to be in the game.

One thing the Bible makes clear—especially the teachings of Jesus—is the need to be in the present— while looking forward— with hope— to the future. Sure we need to build our monuments as we looked at recently; treasured personal or family memories that serve as touchstones and reminders of the goodness and faithfulness of God. But even that is for the express purpose of looking forward— having hope in today.

…a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

… He said to another man, “Follow me.”

… Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord…   Luke 9:57- 61

 

It’s interesting that we have three instances stacked up on top of each other here by the gospel writer—boom, boom, boom— of people who claimed they wanted to follow Jesus, yet Jesus seemingly shot them down. Now, we know that Jesus would never discourage anyone from following him and wanted all to know him and be saved, so that makes this all the more startling. So we can only come to the conclusion that there is a lot more going on here.

We have to remember that we are talking about Jesus, the Son of God whom—as the gospel writers pointed out on more than one occasion—knew the thoughts and the hearts of people he was dealing with. So certainly he knew the hearts of these men who came to him eager to follow— to make a good show of enthusiasm for his cause— but Jesus knew their enthusiasm would soon turn to disappointment and resentment when they began to realize the cost of following this itinerant preacher with no home and no intention of placating the demands of his followers, and who was ready to lay down his life both literally and figuratively and would expect the same of his followers.

So yeah, there is a lot going on here as Jesus looks into the eyes of these breathless people caught up in the moment and sees beyond the anticipation of quick rewards and change and he sees that they are not ready or truly willing to let go of the things behind them. I know this surely made Jesus sad because he knew that the things they were not willing to let go of were paltry and tenuous compared to what he was offering.

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Don’t be one of those who cannot let go, just take that step, and the next, as you began a new journey with Jesus. He will show you how to let go, as you learn to trust, and to still the voices.

 

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Lift Up Your Heads

 

Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” Luke 21:28

Do you ever look around and ask; “What in the world is going on here?” Why is everything so hard, why do the challenges seem to keep getting bigger and more frequent? For a while I thought it was just me and my family but I have come to see more and more that it isn’t. It is indeed my family but it is my family on a much larger scale—my family in the Lord. And I am bone weary from the fight.

Eph 6 meme

We are being tested, stretched, targeted, challenged, maligned and just outright attacked from what seems like every quarter. The church is being tested by both the Lord and the enemy. One is testing us to strengthen and refine us for the battles ahead and the other is targeting us to destroy us before the battles ahead.

It seems as if the world has gone plumb mad and forces beyond our comprehension our driving the narrative of this world.

You are not imagining things and you are not alone in seeing it, it is a fulfillment of prophecy which tells me, although this is not from God but rather from the enemy, God was not caught off guard and he is still on the throne.

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power… 2 Tim 3:1-5

So now you, each of you, has to decide; which side am I on, the side of one who has the victory in the end and can get me through today’s challenges, even using them to further his ultimate plan of redemption? Or am I going to choose the side of darkness so that I can escape the present wrath, stop swimming, let go and go with the current hoping that the drain it’s running towards isn’t as bad as we think it is, that it was all just fairy tails told us by our parents to scare us into being good—this heaven and hell, Jesus and the devil stuff.

It seems we have a choice between a challenging life of purpose or an easy life of emptiness. Sounds like a no brainer to me, I’ve tried both, the latter doesn’t advertise the emptiness but it becomes painfully obvious once you’ve tried it. Funny, those who are living for the flesh and the world will scream at those who are trying to live for the Lord that they are fools to be scorned and mocked while they flaunt their perceived freedoms and enlightenment. They will tell you how superior and fulfilled they are while at the same time succumbing to mind altering addictions to fill the void, and when that no longer works, suicide is all that is left.

Another victory for the enemy as he has prevented another tortured soul from fulfilling their destiny.

It’s time for the church, the true church to wake up, to rise up, to be heard.

“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”

15 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil.  Eph 5:14—16

We, those who cling to the Lord despite the challenges, despite the doubts we are afraid to admit even to ourselves, despite the seemingly never ending onslaught of obstacles and outright attacks from places we would least expect them, we will soldier on, keep fighting the good fight of faith for it is the only fight worth fighting and the only fight with a guaranteed victory.

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34 “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. 35 For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21

 

Jesus is returning and we who are left standing will stand before him. Even if the enemy should strike us down, we cannot fall for we are in Christ and he is eternal and our death is our victory because Jesus has overcome the grave.

Stand strong my brothers and sisters, our day is coming and I believe I my spirit, more than I have ever believed anything, that this evil day will soon become the day of the last great outpouring of the Holy Spirit and those who weather the storms will be the ones who reap the great harvest to come.

Do not give up, do not give in, your redemption draweth nigh.

27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

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Barbarians in the Kingdom 

This Little Light of Mine

“’If looks could kill…’” Well, after years and years in the ministry, let me tell you, they can.”

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If we have answered the call to follow Jesus it doesn’t take long to learn that we are called to love people, that is first and foremost what following Jesus is all about, it is after all, what he did–and does.

One way we love is to always speak truthPaul exhorts us in Ephesians;“…we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love,…” Eph 4:14-15

You can tell people some really hard things if they know that you love them. How do they know? Not because you said, “I love you—but…” They know because they can hear it in your voice, see it in your eyes, feel it in your embrace—love is the light of Jesus emanating from every fiber of your being even while the words of your mouth are speaking truth.

The eyes, seriously, the eyes are the lamp of the body. Watch— brothers and sisters—how you look at one another. What are your eyes saying? Remember when Jesus said don’t hide your light under a basket, to put it on a lampstand that all may see it?

33 “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. 34 The lamp of the body is the eye. Luke 11:33,34

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…”

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We all know the verse and the song but do we ever ask ourselves ‘how do we let it shine? How do people see the light? What is the light? The light is Jesus, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness,” (John 1) That light is Jesus in us and he’s asking us to let our light shine. We don’t put Jesus in a jar like a bunch of fireflies and set him on a table in a dark room. No, Jesus tells us right there in the very same breath from whence our lights shines—it shines from our eyes.

The Lamp

The eye is the lamp of the body. You want people to see the light in you, to know that you love them so that they will hear the truth that will spark the light back to life in their own hearts and behind their own eyes? Look at them and love them. Remember the rich man who asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life?

“one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “’Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?’”. . .

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Mark 10:29

Jesus looked at him and loved him, and then gave him the hard truth. And the man went away sad because he wasn’t ready yet to give up that which kept him from his call to follow. The man wasn’t angry, he wasn’t defensive, he was sad.

That tells me that he heard Jesus and accepted what he said as truth. Why did he believe it?—again, he saw the love in Jesus’ eyes. Jesus’ demeanor, his gentleness, his forbearance and love was evident. We can only hope that later this man chose to live in that truth. But that was entirely his choice at that point. Jesus did his part, in warning and then facilitating his freedom by giving up his own for a time.

How could you say no to Jesus? Especially when he is right there speaking to you. People do it all the time sadly.

Alkiane Kramarik

(Painting by Alkiane Kramerik)

“Jesus looked at him and loved him”— I love that. I want people to see Jesus in my eyes looking at them and loving them. There is an old expression; “If looks could kill…” Well, after years and years in the ministry, let me tell you, they can. People can tell from the look in your eye if you are loving them or judging them. People can tell in an instant if you have already made up your mind about them and will not give them a chance to be heard, to seek help or grace, so they will shrink away from you, avoid you, become defensive and hard.

Then there will be no repentance if it’s needed, there will be restoration gentle or otherwise, and you may have just damned their soul to hell. Yes, looks can kill. I’m sorry if that offends you but this is serious stuff. There is a world that needs to hear truth. There are brothers and sisters who need to hear truth, and they are not going to the righteous potato heads who are wearing their angry eyebrows or who will not even look at them period.

People want, people need, to be seen. They need to know that God has not forgotten about them or given up on them. See people, love people, Jesus looked at people and loved them. We are his body, we must do the same. I am tired of hearing people say in anguish, “So and so will not even look at me.”

The gifts we are called to use and given to equip our call must be used in love or we are just a clanging gong or a crashing cymbal. When we learn to love like Jesus does, to speak truth in love, to see with Jesus’ eyes—then we can say we are no longer children chasing after whatever the latest popular preacher is laying down promising to make us happy, wealthy and wise.

14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together

The Kingdom of God is advanced by loving others, not by acquiring more notches in our guns. “Boy you told them, preach it brother, fire and brimstone, repent or die, grovel or burn…” There may be a place for that— wait, that was called the Old Covenant.

Breakfast

That doesn’t mean we don’t call sin, sin. People have to know they are loved or they will refuse to hear truth, it’s just that simple. Jesus was the master of that, of course he was God so Duh… But he is also our ultimate example. Jesus called people to repentance even as they were compelled to follow him, to listen to him, they knew they were loved when they were in his presence; Mary Magdalene, the woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus the tax collector, Peter who flat out denied Jesus three times on the same night he swore he would die for Jesus first.

Jesus sought Peter out after his resurrection, fixed him breakfast and gently restored him, telling him the truth in love. Peter was convicted and restored probably more by the look in Jesus’ eyes then by the words that he spoke. “How can you look at me with such love when you know what I did? How can you want to spend time with me, to even give me an assignment, ‘Feed my sheep?’ When you know how I failed you?”

Peter was given three chances to say I love you Lord, one for every time he denied him. Jesus spoke truth to Peter, and to all the sinners who crossed his path whom he knew would receive truth, and he spoke it with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with them in love.

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,” Eph 4:1-2

Wow, there’s a walk to emulate. Walk on.

Walk on meme

Shunned -(The Wall part 2)

12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near, reconciled through the cross and bringing peace. Ephesians 2

Separated

It stinks to be excluded, to not be able to join in the reindeer games. Today, we call it being excommunicated, shunned, or our new favorite; tough love.Those who experience it just call it being judged and scorned.

In this scripture Paul is urging the gentile believers in Ephesus to remember how they once felt when they were not a part of the family of God, separated by different belief systems, different cultures and traditions—different gods entirely. The Ephesians had been living without hope as their gods promised nothing but demanded everything, leaving them without hope. They were looked down upon by the Hebrews, those who worshipped a God who offered the hope of eternity and blessings in this life and the next but shunned all who did not adhere to their laws or even belong to their race.

They were unclean, and as far as,any of the Israelites of Paul’s day were concerned they could just stay that way, but more importantly, just stay away!—Open hostility. The Israelites had always been called to be a light to the world but they didn’t always do a very good job of it.

Remember Jonah? He decided he would rather die in a storm at sea then go preach God’s message to the dirty Assyrians. “Just throw me overboard and the storm will cease…” But God wouldn’t let him off that easy He sent a great fish to swallow Jonah before he drowned and to spit him out on the shore so he could fulfill his mission of giving the Ninevites a chance to repent and be redeemed from judgement.

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He did, they did, and Jonah was furious. “These people deserve nothing but judgement, they deserve punishment” “Seriously God, where’s the justice?”

Mercy

That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry? Jonah 3

‘Really Jonah? You’re going to be angry because I am merciful and give second chances? You just need to get over your bad self.’

We don’t know if Jonah ever did (get over his bad self) his story ends with God rebuking him for being angry at God for his mercy toward sinners—the religious rebuked and the sinners restored. An unexpected twist and a theme that would be repeated over and over again throughout scripture.

Even Jesus said, “I did not come for the healthy, for the healthy do not need a physician.”

Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ 12 But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’ Mat 9:11—13

“Go and learn what this means.” That is a challenge from Jesus to those who deem themselves righteous.

We serve a God of mercy, a God so merciful that when he saw no other way to overlook the sins of humanity, who constantly rebelled and forsook his ways, He became one of them and bore the penalty of that sin in his own body, purchasing our mercy with his own blood.

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…thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Eph 2

Has God put to death your hostility? Or has it only shifted focus or even intensified? That’s a hard question we all need to be asking ourselves.

Restoration

The specific and unique mission the Lord gave me for my church is that we would be a place of healing, restoration and hope for the church, for God’s people, for his children. For the wounded and weary soldiers of the Lord’s army who have fallen for whatever reason, and have been kicked aside by the church. What about the unsaved? Without a healthy church there will be no saved, which is largely where we are today I’m afraid.

Back in 2011 I told our young church; “I think the biggest hindrance to people coming to the Lord through the church is the church.  People look in at us working ourselves to death, shooting our wounded, snubbing the world and say, ’I’ll just stay out here and take my chances, thank you very much.’”

I strive to lead a church where there are no walls of hostility, where all are welcome, all the time. The only people I have ever had even a hint of a harsh word for here are those who come in looking down their noses at me or at any of you. The religious and judgmental do not normally last long here and in fact the only spirits I have ever personally had to cast out of here have been religious spirits. Yes I mean spirits, not people. People are just pawns used by the spiritual forces of darkness, and self-righteous indignant people are  his favorite weapon for destroying churches.

A few weeks ago, I was beating myself up for not being able to prevent people from making bad choices and feeling the condemnation of those who think me too easy on the fallen and hurting—In my lowest point of discouragement The Holy Spirit told me in no uncertain terms, “All I ever asked you to do is love people.” Those words set my heart free.

It just dawned on me this last week that that is exactly how my mission to restore the wounded of Christ’s army is lived out, just loving people for Jesus, letting God be the judge.

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. Gal 6:1—3

Love gently restores. Only love can gently restore the wounded and weary, and the broken and fallen.

Fallen soldiers are not to be used by the ‘more spiritual’ for sword practice as they test how sharp their blades are by hurling God’s word at them like bayonets on the end of a Japanese rifle during the Baton death march where weary American POW’s were stuck mercilessly like living pin cushions.

Remember who ended up winning that war, the scorned and shamed Americans.

The point is, we are to be merciful and offer the hand of restoration letting God be the judge while offering to help bear the burdens of those we think least deserve it.

Save the bayonet practice for the real enemy, the one who is trying to destroy all of us, the fallen and the strong.

We do not kick our brothers and sisters when they are down, we do not shoot our wounded. We gently restore them because without mercy we are nothing. If we are not bearing one another’s burdens, we are deceiving ourselves if we think we are any better than anyone else—if we think we are anyone’s judge.

The one thing I have heard over and over again through the years from people who have stumbled and even fallen in the eyes of the church is this: “Where is the church when I need them? When I needed the church the most was when they shunned me.”

Up go the walls of hostility.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.” There are hurting people who need mercy, who need healing, who need restoration, who need love. We do not know the whole story, their story. I don’t care how discerning or informed you think you might be, there is always a much bigger story, causes, curses and pitfalls of hearts and minds damaged and bruised by the flaming arrows of the evil one in days gone by. Arrows that can smolder for years.

All we see are the sudden bursts of the flames that we are convinced must have been started by the wounded playing with and delighting in fire.

There are a lot of hurting people out there who need a church family and who need us to be there. Where are we? Are we the guards ready to shoot those who dare approach the walls?—“Release the hounds!” Or are we those who see motion on the other side of the walls and rush towards them, overwhelming those walls and the guards until the walls come down and we become one again.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. Eph 2

Jesus set aside the rules and just loved people into wholeness, gently restoring them. As he said to the woman caught in adultery; “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.”

And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

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Jesus came not to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved.

Jesus loved people into the Kingdom. Can we do the same?

 

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

Available now Barbarians in the Kingdom 

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

book cover

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.

 

 

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.

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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.

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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