Blessings in Heavenly Places

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy… Ephesians 1

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Wow, how’s that for a promise here on this mother’s day weekend? Somewhere a while back (I tried to Google it but I think it happened before the internet took over our lives) someone coined the phrase “Ephesians, the breakfast of Champions.” An obvious rip off of the Wheaties slogan, but it was memorable and through the years whenever I read from Ephesians I think of that, “breakfast of champions”—Ephesians truly is. I plan to be exploring it here over the next few weeks.

It’s such a powerful book and it really lays it all out there; who we are in Christ, what we have, and how to live a life of victory. From the mystery of God’s will and grace revealed in the opening chapter that won the war for our souls, to the armor of a warrior given us at the end that we may win the battles in our own lives.

Better Eat your Wheaties

Does anyone eat Wheaties anymore? The idea behind their slogan obviously, was that if you ate Wheaties for breakfast you would be a winner, you would have energy and stamina to win and they always put a picture of a sports champion on the cover. If you get your picture on the front of a box of Wheaties you are truly at the top of your game. It was a common expression once that if you were going to have a big day the next day, someone, your boss or a coworker would say; “We got a lot of work to do tomorrow, you better eat your Wheaties!”

I just don’t eat cereal anymore, wheat cereal gives me heartburn and I discovered I am allergic to milk, so, no more Wheaties for me. But I start my day with Scripture, oatmeal and eggs so I’m good. Food to fortify the body and the spirit for the challenges of the day. So I guess in this day when it seems every day seems to bring bigger and tougher challenges for those who are trying to walk with the Lord we need to remind one another, “Better eat your Ephesians—devour the word of God!” We can’t live in and claim every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places if we don’t know what they are.

You eat breakfast every day, your body demands it, feeding your soul daily is just as, and probably more, important. After all, man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. We need to move those blessings from heaven into our own souls.

Speaking of blessings-

Mothers are indeed a blessing sent from Heavenly places and any good mother would agree that her greatest blessings are her children. So remember your mothers today, your love and time are her heart’s treasures.

Does anyone do breakfast in bed for their mothers on Mother’s Day anymore? When I was a kid that was the big thing on mother’s day, to bring your mother breakfast in bed. Some of those breakfasts were pretty scary to be sure but it was the thought that counts. I mean, if little kids were good cooks they wouldn’t need mothers right?

I remember my sister and I fixing my mother breakfast starting when we were pretty young. Before we were old enough to cook we would bring her a bowl of cereal, maybe even Wheaties, it might have been Captain Crunch, that was my favorite, a glass of orange juice and toast and who knows what else, maybe a banana.

I do remember my sister being in charge of the toast. The only breakfast I really remember was one that involved very dark, pretty much burnt, toast. We put it all on a try and carried to my mother’s bedroom and watched while she tried to eat from a tray perched on her lap without spilling all over the bedspread while proclaiming to my anxious sister that she loved her toast just that way.

Most mothers who have seen their babies grow up too fast would give anything to hear those little feet coming down the hallway with a tray full of something that resembles breakfast just once more. Messy kitchens, spilled milk and all.

Never mind the messes because messes that are made in an effort to love are not messes at all, they are evidence that someone who loves you cares enough to show it.

I never heard my mother complain about the mess we surely left behind, I only remember the feeling of joy we got from feeling like we made her day special. We felt loved.

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…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, Ephesians 1:4—5

God knew who our children would be long before we did. God already had a plan for each and every one of us and he knew all of us even before He knit us together in our mother’s wombs.

God also knew who would be His children also, those who would accept the invitation to be adopted as his. Adoption was predestined for those who would answer his call and our showing up to honor him as our Father gives him great pleasure, it is his will for us to stand before him blameless, even though we all know there are messes somewhere not too far behind us.

God chose us to be his children knowing that we have and would make messes; burn the toast and maybe be banging on the door way too early in the morning with our meager offerings that seldom outshine the messes we left in the other room. But what he sees is someone who is blameless and holy because he has adopted us because it was his pleasure to do so and it is his will to love us.

And that is what keeps us trying, that is what keeps us from giving up, giving in and gives us the strength, the desire, and the motivation to keep fighting the good fight of faith and to continue seeking the Father through Jesus Christ for the empowerment through the Holy Spirit to be his champion.

We are the champions for Jesus our King. And we cannot loose, we will not lose because the victory is secured. In the end we will receive our inheritance and we have his Spirit within us as a guarantee that all these promises are to be counted on.

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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?

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“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.

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Available now Barbarians in the Kingdom 

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

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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.’

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

 

 

Love Complicates Everything

Why is love so hard?

Conscience

11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. 12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. Hebrews 9:11

It’s easy to get lost in the theology of all this as Hebrews really does get into the ways and means of God’s redemptive work on our behalf as he strives to bring us back to the garden, so to speak, to a place where we can once again be in fellowship with him.

Love Rules

But let’s remember why he does all this, why he didn’t just give up on us, brush us off the face of his earth and just start over with some more grateful and obedient beings. Why? Because he loves us and love complicates everything.

Love that matters, love that makes a difference, has to be forged and proven in the fires of adversity. It has to be chosen willingly and clung to against all that can oppose it and all that would tell you it’s not worth it. Love that stands despite all that would destroy it, love that is chosen even in the last hour after everything else is tried first, love that says I will do whatever it takes because I now see that it is worth fighting for, that is the love God wants because it is who He is. God is love and that unstoppable love is the kind of love he has for us.

That kind of love in return can only be generated in a heart that is free to chose against it, that kind of love can only come from a heart that can fail, and has failed so it knows the difference and now clings to it with all that it has. That kind of love can only come from a heart that knows what it’s like to be loveless, to be scorned, to know the guilt of a conscience that is screaming at it that it has failed to the point of no return—only to look up and see the eyes of the one who cares.

The one who would say to the woman who wept at his feet while the others mocked her—’they who are forgiven much, love much.’

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You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” Luke 7

God did not want brainless spineless wimps who love him because they don’t know how not to, because they don’t know there is a choice let alone make it, He wanted children created in his image, with all the nuanced complexity of thought, the passions of emotions that can make or break, the intellect to even question God himself as we decide we might even be smarter then He. No, God wanted real people with hearts that felt what He felt even if it would at times lead us astray as we outsmarted ourselves—so that we could love like he does.

And he proved it all to us by becoming us and walking in our shoes to show us the way he intended for us to live—totally in love with him and with our fellow man. That leaves no room for selfishness, rebellion, hatred or pride and thus by default eliminates sin.

Still Selfish

But we are not like that are we? Despite the example of Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God, we still do things out of selfishness, pride, hatred and rebellion—’you can’t tell me what to do, I need this for me, I know what is right and you had better not get in my way as I pursue my passion for what is right—you stupid liberal, or, you bigoted denier . . . I mean, have you heard about Jesus—he loves you?’

Epic fail. We are far from perfect, we do not deserve the love as we blunder through life walking the line between light and dark wondering why it always seems the dark has the loudest voice so often in our heads.

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But remember, it’s not what we do that makes us perfect, it’s what Jesus did. ‘with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.’

This is what I want you to see, this is all God really wants you to see, it is all he has ever wanted you to see—He loves you so much that he shed is own blood for you, gave his life, emptied himself of all pride, all power, all glory and became the worst of all we are, “He who knew no sin became sin that we might live.” While Jesus hung on that cross He took on himself all of the things that destroyed our relationship with God, all the things that our conscience loved to beat us up for and all the things the enemy delights in reminding us of, even though he may be the one that threw them in out paths to stumble on in the first place.

Jesus, love incarnate, who never failed in doing all that He did and saying all that he said because of his love for his Father’s lost lambs, became the perfect lamb that would be slain by hateful, angry, mocking and jeering crowds—why? Why would he do such a thing? Because he loves us and love overcomes all things—true love overcomes all things and God’s love is the truest thing in all of existence.

God grieves for us in our sins and engenders an incredible passion to do whatever is necessary to restore us and restore order to his creation, his order being love. And the final piece that would bring our peace was the sacrifice of his only Son.

22 And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. Heb 9:22

Cleansed

Under the old Covenant everything that was to be set aside as Holy; things and people set aside exclusively for use in the Temple had to be purified with blood. Blood is life, and life is the cost of sin. Life lost for love rejected. But on the contrary, and now under the new Covenant, Life gained for love accepted.

But what’s the difference, why can we now gain life and perfection? The difference is we have now been cleansed by blood that was perfect, blood that contained the life that is eternal, unblemished and indestructible.

The blood we have been sealed with by our acceptance of it’s sacrifice was offered willingly, unlike the sheep, goats and cattle that were offered as foreshadows of better things to come. Jesus gave freely of his life, experienced death so that we would not have to fear it as the end—because it was not the end of him. Death could not hold him because he shed the blood of the very author of life itself. The creator became the created to be destroyed by the created—but that was impossible.

But it didn’t matter because it satisfied the just requirement of the law nonetheless. Jesus was given the death sentence, by man and by God, and he died so the judgement was fulfilled, the sentence carried out. The fact that Jesus didn’t stay dead doesn’t reinstate the punishment, not for Jesus and not for us as Jesus died in our place.

God can now exonerate us of all charges and he hears no more accusations from the prosecution. The lawgiver handed down the sentence, the wages of sin is death, and he became a proxy for the accused and condemned to be executed and even die. But love overcomes all things—even death. And that love overcomes our death as well.

Love bears all

No hiding

So I may at times fail miserably, or at least feel like I have. I may want to hide away from God, ashamed and fearful because I know he knows how I really think, feel and act sometimes, but I don’t —I don’t get to fool God for another week. I can’t and I won’t try because I have a God who has proven to me over and over again that he loves me. He loves me more than I love my own kids, more than I love my grandkids, more that I love my wife—and I love all of those people with a love than can never ever die or be taken away.

In spite of my failures I cannot let anything or anyone stand between me and my Father. I love him with a love that overcomes all things as well, because he first loved me. And that is why I keep trying, day after day, I keep doing my best to live a life pleasing to my Father—not because I have to, but because I want to.

I am not perfect, not in my eyes, not in your eyes, I cannot be, but I never have to fear the rejection of my Father. Because in his eyes, the eyes of love, I am perfect. He sees the person I want to be, the person he is leading me to be, the person I am becoming by the power of his grace. Jesus has torn down the veil to the Holy of Holies and is showing me the way in. He has gone before me and made the sacrifice that purifies me so that I can receive the grace, love and strength I need to make it through even the valley of the shadow of death unscathed and still clean before him.

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Check out my latest book  Barbarians in the Kingdom

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Fooled ’em for Another Week

“that all too familiar fear of failure and judgement hit the pit of my stomach.”

14 how much more shall the blood of Christ,… cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? Hebrews 9:14

How’s your conscience? Now there’s a loaded question. “What? What do you mean? What do you know, who told you…?” We all have secrets, insecurities and guilt over something or other—don’t we?. It’s like the joke I’ve heard at work a few times and have even said myself, usually on pay day; “Well, fooled ‘em for another week!”

The inference being that if the people you work for knew just how unqualified, insecure and hapless you are they would get rid of you immediately. Of course it’s meant to be a joke but like any good joke, especially the ones based in sarcasm, my specialty, there is always a nugget of underlying truth that makes it funny in the first place. The reality is, most of us are a little insecure in our jobs, relationships, positions or what have you, and feel like if people really knew the real you, the secret battles that go on in your head and heart they would be aghast and ask you to hit the road Jack.

I know I find myself often lately in rooms full of people with engineering degrees, architectural degrees, PHD’s or whatever, owners of big companies and CEO’s and I think, what am I doing here?

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Especially when they are looking to me for input on how to make things happen on their big construction projects, like I’m the expert on every aspect of the project. Sometimes I just want to say; ‘I’m just a carpenter, don’t ask me’, but I can’t say that so I silently pray Lord help me not to make a fool of myself and I say what comes to mind.

Sometimes that leaves people a bit astounded, like, did you really just say that? Because I’ll tell you what, if you’re leaning on the Holy Spirit to guide you, combined with experience, truth comes out and it’s not always comfortable—yet it always gets the desired results and I walk away respected. Which, I suppose, is why I keep finding myself in those circles. But I’m always a bit insecure.

Or I’ll find myself surrounded by tradesmen, business owners and craftsmen asking me how they are supposed to make things work according to the plans that I am supposed to know every aspect of, and have or know where to get all the answers—and I think, How in the world did I get into this position? I just set out to be a hard working craftsman, to build things efficiently and with pride, and now I’m the Superintendent responsible for all this? Yikes!

The other day my boss called just on the heels of working through issues with the electrician, drywallers and plumbers back to back to back, and asked how it was going and I replied, “Well, I’m just solving all the problems of the world one subcontractor at a time.” Which it seemed to me at the time was exactly what I was doing, and he replied “sweet!”

That’s what I do most of the day, run around in circles and answer questions and solve problems all the while thinking; I could really mess things up here if I’m not paying attention or if I give answers that are beyond my authority or understanding to give. So, I’m still employed as of Friday—fooled ‘em for another week. And every day I continue to pray, “Lord give me wisdom to do my job well and bless my ministry as well, make sure I have plenty left for my church and family.”

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I often go home at the end of the day and wonder, and even cringe sometimes, thinking about some of my interactions with people throughout the day—I’ll tell you what, I don’t always feel very ‘pastorly’ when I’m pushing a big job and having to be the driving force behind a whole bunch of often difficult personalities all trying to work around, over, and with one another all day every day with the shared goal of meeting a deadline that always seems way too close.

Buttons

Buttons sometimes get pushed, and some people’s button are much easier to push. It takes a lot to push my buttons anymore to bring out the—“you don’t want to mess with me or you’ll be out of here in a heartbeat”—old school—“I don’t give a rip who you think you are” —foreman in me. But he’s in there and he serves a purpose. But I try to live by the old proverb that ‘a soft answer turns away wrath’ first and foremost because a hard answer invites push back that does indeed force your hand to play the hard ass card, and when that happens then I go home thinking, “Lord, did I totally just blow any chance of ever witnessing to that person?”

Are they now thinking, if they even know, ‘what kind of  pastor is he?’ What would the people I pastor think? ‘What do you think Lord?’ ‘Oh, man I’ve blown it again.’ —Here comes the accusations, the guilt and the temptations to just give up and give in.

Funny, I got home the other day and grabbed the mail. I noticed that I had a letter addressed to me from Foursquare, the big headquarters office in LA. That’s not unusual, but this one, this one made me uneasy right off the bat and I first didn’t realize why. I looked at it again and it was addressed to Dan Swaningson, yeah so? Well, most everything I get from Foursquare is addressed to Rev, Dan Swaningson. So you know the first thing that came into my mind? ‘Am I fired?’ Foursquare finally figured out that I am not qualified or worthy to pastor and they are stripping me of my title?

mountain preacher

I knew that wasn’t the case but isn’t that the way our minds work?-instant guilt, instant fear. My mind instantly flashed back to something I had written on a monthly report a couple months ago about the tight winter we had here—instant guilt and conviction. They’re going to replace me with a charismatic millennial in skinny jeans and a Prius rocking a man bun, and… Birkenstocks? —I don’t know, I’m not even hip enough to know what millennials wear, if it doesn’t say Wrangler, Stetson or Carhart on it I wouldn’t know if it came from the Dollar Store or from 5th Avenue, nor would I care.

So, I’m getting a it off track here, my point is, I panicked just a bit as that all too familiar fear of failure and judgement hit the pit of my stomach.

We are always a little afraid of getting into trouble, of maybe being found out like we have to hide who we really are, what we really think and probably some things we say or do, maybe I’m worse than most because of my codependent tendencies, but overall I think this is just human nature and part of our spiritual makeup. As we talked about last week, that’s the conscience pricking us, something it’s really good at.

Some of that may be the accuser whispering in our ears that we are miserable failures doomed to fail and to be cast aside by everyone who matters and by our God. And some of it is the legitimate feeling of guilt we have by virtue of having God’s laws and ways written in our minds and on our hearts.

10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Heb 8

We who know the law better than most because we care to read it and study it from our Bibles, often experience that guilt, fear and panic more than most. But that’s not the way it should be. We need to remember who we are, loved children of the Living God washed and guiltless before our Father by the blood of the Lamb of God—Jesus.

So, anyway, I didn’t get my ordination revoked so my church is stuck with this old redneck, cowboy shirt wearing preacher for now with no tattoos, an Ironworker vocabulary that I work hard to suppress every day, and a Pickup truck powered by Ford.

Turns out that letter was just a notice of some changes to my 401k and was from the financial dept at Foursquare, and their services being available to all paid staff across the board they don’t necessarily know or care who’s ordained and who’s not.

So, I’m fooled ‘em for another day. I’m still credentialed and okay to preach on Sunday—whew!

Barbarian meme

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?’

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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

 

 

 

 

What does a Christian look like?

A young lady who is part of our church family in Red Lodge wrote and posted this on Facebook, I felt compelled to share it here, especially in light of my last post on the need for “Barbarian women” to stand up and be heard in the church. This is what I’m talking about!

From Danielle

“Ive been catching a little lip lately due to my recent using of facebook for uplifting, and many, posts about Christianity. Its such a huge platform to be using as you wish and what better way to try and touch somone than using it for good. Somone recently told me “I just love how you preach the gospel but look like you just got out of a rock concert. Maybe you should see what the Bible says about hypocrisy”

Good news!! No, I’m not jumping off a cliff. and My faith in what I know to be he true has not waivered a smidgen. If anything some clarity was given, and I genuinely pray for that person since they are obviously stuck in the muck of religion and what we think it should look like. This is not about religion, it’s about Jesus. All these tattoos have given me some pretty thick skin, but being a strong outspoken Christian has made it awesomely resilient and stronger then its ever had to be.

Yes, a good part of my body is covered in ink, Yes, my head is shaved, Yes, I have piercings that reside in more then just my ears, I have dabbled in my fair share of extra curricular substances, and most days, especially when working cows, my mouth is anything but innocent and my sense of humor can be as rotten as last weeks trash. I aslo try to be honest, I try my best to love without prejudice, I try to be genuine to myself and who I was handcrafted to be, I try to see the beauty in who others are and all they have to offer. I try to be the best form of me that I can be, and live with the mindset and willingness to lay it all down openhearted to the One who gave it to me. So….Ive realized they were part right.

I AM a rebel… a rebel for Jesus.

I do not fear meme

No I don’t look the “part” and most of the time I come in hot and in a totally different way then the way (they) say is the “right way”, but I am doing it the way I am being told to. I make sure to! by asking Him daily… in almost everything I do and that feels more right then anything friends. I rest easy because I TRY beey hard to stay faithful and let Him guide my day and major decisions. And that is all He asks of me…. and you. TRY and try and try and try again. My main man David in the good Book lives true to this . (Its a good read that I’m sure you can also relate to im sure😉)

Maybe I’m supposed to be the one who brings needed Hope to a stranger in the Rock concert or foul mouthed cattle pen. Afterall it may look a little more familiar and comfortable coming from somone who looks like me, then sweet little rosey cheeked grannie smelling of cookies and myrrh in her button up doily shawl and beaded Rosery.

I am exactly where and who Im supposed to be. And make no mistake, I’m am humble, confident, and true in it.I am beautifully and perfectly made. Perfectly, Imperfect.” – Danielle Hall, Montana

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This was my response to her:

“Just last week I was standing with a group of ironworkers on my job with my hard hat, dirty Carhartt coat and the overall look of someone who has been in construction for 35 years going on.when the foreman of their crew said; I heard you are a preacher or something?” I said, yes I am. He then said, “I just can’t picture that.” “I replied, I’ve been a construction worker a lot longer then I’ve been a preacher.” And, I must confess, sometimes I talk more like an ironworker than a preacher. Yet this same man, just a few days earlier was confiding in me troubles he was having in his family and asking me what he should do. I have only known him for a few weeks, yet he saw the Jesus in me through the concrete dust and black iron smudges- so just what does a preacher or a Christian look like? Likesomeone people can talk to, that’s what. You go Danielle, you are God’s chosen vessel right where you are!”