Taking ‘Me’ out of the Equation

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

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“That’s a lousy marketing strategy!”

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

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

But, we still need to be asked on occasion:

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

Give it away

Let me give you an example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stand Firm

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Whether you sit in a pew or read my heart on line, I love you all. . .

 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. 21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. Rev 3:20—21

I’ve gotta be honest with you, it’s been really tough to focus on writing sermons and blogs lately. There have been so many family and ministry bombshell crisis all around me lately and pressures at work aside from my ministry that it’s been hard to not just despair and try to drag everyone into the pit of gloom that threatens me. But for the grace of God and the call and anointing I have to preach the good news to the people Jesus entrusts me to instruct, I know I would be somewhat useless.

So many people I love going through such challenges as it seems the enemy is coming at us from so many directions while at the same time great victories are being won for the kingdom of God. And that is in part what keeps me showing going, the strong need strengthened— a place to be fed and encouraged—and the weary need rest, a safe place to rediscover the power of grace. And, God’s greatest victory’s often come in the challenges we face. When Jesus shows up in the midst of the storm is when he is most evident and when we truly listen.

And I need to remember that it is not about me, it is about the children of God, those he died for, and he has entrusted me— he has entrusted all of us—with a message of hope, hope in a God who can do and change anything no matter how badly we mess it up—and yes, it is indeed we who mess it up. We can blame the enemy, we can blame God, but there is always a choice freely made somewhere by us, or those we love, who tipped the first domino to our disaster. We choose which voice to listen to, the voice that leads to destruction, or the voice that leads to life.

I choose to keep listening to the voice that beckons, “Open the door, I will come in and eat with you, and you with me.” In the vernacular of Jesus day that was an invitation to an intimate heart to heart conversation. Just the two of us. Accepting that invitation is the primary thing that keeps me going, that keeps the enemy from stealing my joy, my purpose, my very sanity.

I don’t need much to push me over the edge if I am operating in my own strength, doing what I want and taking the credit for whatever I accomplish while wearing the twisted crown that I keep wrestling away from the Lord.

But, if I am leaning on him, constantly depending on him, just looking to him, he is there and he is my rock. I will stand, I will keep preaching the good news and I will always be there, crying with those who hurt, rejoicing with those who rejoice, rowing when others can’t and sharing a meal belowdecks with Jesus when I’m too tired to row. I am going to that dinner party and I am taking you all with me.

Called

But you know, that’s what a pastor does, and this is nothing new. There have always been challenges and there always will be, until the day the Lord returns.

Because I love you, all of you, whenever any of you hurt, I hurt. But as one who is anointed and called to love and shepherd a flock for Jesus, he is my rock and I will not, we will not, be moved.

The Lord is doing a good work, whether in our Red Lodge, or extended via the internet, church family, he has been and he will continue to. Whether you sit in a pew or read my heart on line, I love you all. With the struggles there are many victories to celebrate as well and I get also to rejoice with you in those. We cannot be distracted and we must not fail to keep looking to the Lord for our joy and our strength, to accept the invitation to keep following him into the tomorrow he has planned for each and every one of us and for this body of believers as we continue to storm the gates of hell and add to the family till we have to knock out the walls to make room for those who accept the invitation to share in the feast of grace we get to so freely eat of.

Making sure we are accepting that invitation to spend time with Jesus that so often seems unimportant, insignificant, or something for another day.

Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Rev 2:10

It sounds like the most ridiculous and least productive thing to do in our struggles, to stop, listen for the still small voice inviting us to stop and share a meal, but it is the only thing that will get us through, and it is all the Lord asks of us; that we accept his offer of peace.

The alternative is chaos, in us and around us.

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But if I keep my heart full, and keep accepting, looking forward to and heeding the Lord’s invitation to keep following him, to sit and eat with him on occasion, the joy in the journey makes the fleeting and frustratingly hollow pleasures of the flesh less appealing and renders the attacks that threaten destruction powerless and moot.

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The Mad Prophet

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“. . . clumsy, uncouth, crude, unsophisticated, redneck— that’s the words, those don’t bother me so much as the condescending looks and attitudes do. ‘

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.’”

Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Mat 3:3—4

I think we can learn a thing or two from John the Baptist that is relevant to where we are as a church family today. Just as John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, prepared hearts for the message of Jesus and the subsequent outpouring in his day, the last days will need harbingers as well—they could very well be alive today, they could even be you.

Chew on that for a minute. —If you are mentoring or teaching, encouraging or equipping someone, you may very well be preparing the next John the Baptist, or you are the next John the Baptist. Don’t discount that idea or think it could never be someone like you.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Mat 3:11

“I am not worthy”  Biblical prophets never considered themselves worthy, they were seldom well known until they went mad in the eyes of the world, and most often those who thought themselves superior to them didn’t take them seriously and told them to back off.

We cannot make either of those mistakes, we cannot discount others and we cannot discount ourselves—in fact, we are all called to prophesy.

I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. 1 Cor 14:5

It’s what your prophetic role is that becomes the question and whether or not you are bold enough to fulfill it.

The Lord likes to call those who, to the rest of the world, seem the least likely to fulfill the role he has in mind for them. It’s like God looks through High School yearbooks to find those voted least likely to succeed and chooses them. It might not be officially written in our year books but we all get labeled, classified, nonetheless. No matter our station in life at any given time we always seem to be either running from or trying to live up to a label.

I only recently embraced and became proud of what I call my barbarian side but it is something that has followed me all my life. Since I was a kid I have been labeled at various times as clumsy, uncouth, crude, unsophisticated, redneck— that’s the words, those don’t bother me so much as the condescending looks and attitudes do. We are all very adept at pegging people and being pegged, often times without a word and it is always very evident.

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Construction worker

I have worked with my hands all my life and never saw a lot of benefit to just putting in time in a classroom if they are not teaching something relevant or new.

Because of that I quit school at the start of my junior year to go into Job Corp to learn a trade that would make me a living. I had always done well in school but by the start of the 11th year it seemed like we just kept relearning the same stuff so I decided to stop wasting my time trying to stay awake in a classroom and do something more constructive. So before my classmates got that piece of paper and a tassel to hang on their car mirror for sticking it out I had gotten a GED, completed a heavy equipment operating course with over a thousand hours of operating time and was certified in three different types of welding.

While my former High school classmates were either going to work for minimum wage or going into debt to fund a college education they would spend much of their lives trying to repay, I was running back hoes, bulldozers and cranes and welding on pipeline jobs making decent money. But in most of the world’s eyes I was, and am, an uneducated construction worker.

Those of you who get dirty for a living know what I am talking about. There is often a little bit of an air of superiority in the way those who wear suits and ties to work relate to you—if they even bother to try. People assume you work with your hands because you are too stupid to do anything else.

This stigma carries into the church also. It’s not overt, but it is there. This is relevant because it is often a factor in who we choose to invest in as leaders. Surely the educated sharp dressed handsome man or the tastefully dressed young woman from the upstanding church family with no tats or piercings is the best candidate for the salaried position of her dreams in the big church.

I’m just saying, we need to stop looking at people like we are choosing the next cover model for GQ or Vanity Fair, we need to stop judging people by whether or not they have grease under their fingernails or letters after their names. And that goes both ways. Not all suits are snobs, many wish they had my job and my skills, they ae going insane sitting behind a desk all day.

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We cannot judge a person by outward appearances and the church establishment is probably the biggest offender. It goes all the way back to King David, and King Saul. Saul won the people’s choice award and David wasn’t even invited to the party, yet David became the king whose throne would endure forever.

And for you, don’t ever think you have to somehow look or act a part to win that part in the Kingdom of God. If you are called to be the preacher, the teacher, the evangelist, the prophet, the harbinger of the coming of the glory of the Lord—then don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Forge on my barbarian friends.

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Barbarians in the Kingdom