Suffer? No Thanks…

suffer meme

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.

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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

book coverBarbarians in the Kingdom

 

 

 

 

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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

You Don’t Know Me!

 

  Prodigal meme

Prodigal—Exceedingly or recklessly wasteful. From the Latin word Prodigere—to drive forth or away.

So, who really is the prodigal son in the story?

Most people are familiar with the story of the prodigal son; the younger brother who decided he was due hid inheritance only to go blow it all on wine, women and song (or something). Broke and ashamed he came home to beg forgiveness and a scrap of bread only to be welcomed and treated like the son he was to a forgiving and loving father, with grace.

while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

But—

Then there’s the older brother who had his own issues, the other prodigal son who apparently blew all the grace he had been given because he had none left to give his little brother when he came home.

The church is full of people like the big brother who all have their own issues and you may have experienced their wrath. Perhaps their issue is that they have not yet recognized that you are just as loved by the Father is they are, you are just as valuable as they are. Or- they are just bitter because they are getting tired. Tired because they have spent too much time working and not enough time sitting at the Father’s feet and listening. So when they look up and see the Father rejoicing over you they just naturally get angry.

That creates a whole other class of prodigals who will also need to have a genuine home-coming one day.

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ Luke 8

You cannot always listen to the older brothers, the wise and authoritative self-appointed representatives of the Kingdom. There is a time for reproof and there is a time for correction but if you are going to take on this task you had better be sure it’s from the Lord because usually the Holy Spirit is quite good at handling this himself.

And it’s usually the busybodies in the church who start the lynch mobs, not the ones who are being guided by the Spirit.

There are well-meaning big brothers who are genuinely concerned and zealous for the things of the Lord, perhaps too zealous and this taints their concern, shifting it from concern for others needs and leaving room for the Lord to work— to concern for justice. There must be justice, we must have a stoning!” Guess what, they have just become prodigals, because that’s not where the Father is.

That’s not what we, the church, were called to do.

The Lord me to Red Lodge to minster grace and healing, and he has entrusted and called us especially to minister grace and healing to his weary soldiers. To those who have served, who have worked and strived, given their all to serving the Lord— serving the church—until one day they just can’t do it anymore.

And to minister to those who desperately want to serve the Kingdom but are told they are not worthy, that they miss the mark. Well, if that is you, you are in good company, David and Jesus both found themselves there;

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people. Ps 22

God did not create any of us in the image of a worm, he created each and every one of us in his image, you are his child, he knows you, loves you, and just wants you to come home.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

And by his Spirit we cry Abba Father!

That call should not be unique to any particular church—we are all representatives of the one who freely gives grace.

You don’t know me

Only Jesus truly knows us, knows what goes on in a heart, in the mind. Only Jesus knows what made the younger son run. All the older brother knows is what his eyes and ears tell him. He only knows what the rumors are, what his imagination tells him. He thinks he knows his brother, the selfishness and evil that drives him and it makes him angry—‘How can he be so foolish? You deserve nothing but scorn, you had it all and you blew it, you had the same inheritance as me, and you just threw it all away like it was nothing!’

‘Look at me, I held on to mine, in fact I am using it to take care of the business of the one who gave it to me—I stayed and served our father while you were out playing your games like there were no rules, like our father’s feelings weren’t worth a second thought—and now you just come crawling back and I’m supposed to welcome you? I know what you did!’

‘Yes, maybe so brother, but you really don’t know me, and our father has welcomed me back—who are you to do any less?’  

There is so much more to every story, to every heart, then we ever imagine, that is why we only have one judge.

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. 1 Cor 4:5

Honesty

What’s important for us as a church family is that we keep things in the light, that we are not afraid to share our thoughts and struggles, our failings and our temptations so that they are in the light where they can be dealt with before they get to the point where they are suddenly exposed, to our shock and dismay, and everyone goes UUUHHH!

That can only happen in a church that does not judge a person’s heart so we can punish it, but desires only to heal and restore, to encourage and forgive—that’s called grace. If we are not living in, trusting in and exuding grace we are not living in, abiding in the words of Jesus as—harkening back to last week— we must absolutely do if we have any hope to stay in the grace and blessings of God, as a church and as individuals.

Because that’s what a church is, a collection of individuals who are all part of the same family, God’s family and we all find ourselves looking at the horizon once in a while and thinking the party over the hill has got to be more fun than the narrow road we walk to the fields every day.  

We have to be the ones that go after the one, even if the running they did was only in their hearts and minds.

What kind of church we are, one that can weather the storms together, each of us pulling on the oars as we are able while those who are weary and wounded find rest and security in the hold?

Or one that throws it’s weary and wounded overboard until we run out of warriors to keep this longship moving forward and it capsizes in the waves.

We are never going to fully be where we are going until the Lord calls us home for the wedding feast, it’s who we are in the journey, what we did along the way, and whether we got there with the warriors and crew he entrusted to us.

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I call our church in Red Lodge the barbarian church and yes our ship is a Viking longship; the longship was a boat whose design allowed it to flex and bend with the waves never capsizing or breaking it—as long as it took the waves head on, and that never happened by accident, it took a determination and an endurance, it took a crew.

Let’s weather the storms together be the first to make it to Vinland where we will drink a toast with the groom in celebration.

“This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. 25 Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:24, 25

And I’ll take my wine in a drinking horn thank you.

Barbarians in the Kingdom