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.

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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!”

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Barbarian Women?

The mindset of the barbarian of old was one of simplicity of purpose, singularity of mission, and determination of spirit. Attributes that influenced the early church and made her strong, and, I contend, attributes we need to reclaim to save the church today.

This includes women; ladies, stand up and claim your place in the Kingdom!

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Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful;  it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

          To me this verse says everything you need to know about the Barbarian woman in the Kingdom. She is love personified, not the mushy everything is sunshine and roses fragile kind of love that can be shaken to the core at the first sign of trouble, but the passionate deep down ingrained love that can overcome anything the world or the enemy throws at her. A love that can bear all things and come out stronger in the end. A love that is patient and rational when all others around her are lost in emotional chaos or jealous pettiness.

She does not rejoice in the hurt of others but is strong enough to allow even those she loves to experience the consequences of their own foolishness should they refuse to listen to her warnings. And she will be there to pick them up when they land in the mud face first, with a firm hand and a gentle smile offering another chance to choose the right.

The Barbarian woman is not given to hysteria or panic. Her emotions, though deeply felt, are not on the surface causing her to lose control; if she does you had better run for the hills, but for the most part she is in control. This allows her to think through, to listen and observe, seeking truth and resolution before running or attacking. The fight or flight mechanism prevalent in the man is controlled in the woman by an instinct to protect and nurture. She knows that she can best serve her family by remaining calm, she often has to be the eyes and ears of her Barbarian man to direct his sometimes-misguided fury. She is the radar he needs to hit the mark without destroying the village. I’ll let you figure that one out…

The woman hears and understands things—call it a spiritual discernment or woman’s intuition—that men sometimes blissfully miss. The danger in this is that women can also be offended a little too easily and hold grudges way too long. They are very tuned into the perception of others, particularly what others think if them.

This brings me to a very important point. The key reason why we need to adopt the Barbarian mindset in order to engender emotionally healthy women in the Kingdom of God, women who are able to accept the love of a Father God who loves them for who they are; if you want to be a woman that is able to be strong and courageous, even-keeled—even stoic when need be, while at the same time loving passionately and unselfishly—you cannot, and must not, allow your sense of self-worth to be determined by what others think of you.

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Barbarians do not connect their self-worth to what others think of them. They do not care if everyone does not like them. Barbarians know what is inside of them, what is in their hearts, because they have been taught what is right and wrong, it is written on their hearts and the person laughing at you, calling you stupid and ugly does not, cannot, know what is in your heart—only you can. With the exception of one other Person; Jesus.

The Barbarian Woman

The barbarian woman shares the passions of the barbarian man- feels and fuels them longer and deeper than her male counterpart and fights to defend her own in her own way. She loves deeper, laughs louder, burns fiercer and is unconcerned with the pettiness of the civilized. She is comfortable in her own skin and does not measure her worth by what you think of her or by how expensive her wardrobe or accessories are. She loves her man, her children and her God and speaks her mind.

She says what she means, means what she says and doesn’t say anything just to be mean. If she lays you out with her words than you needed it. Like the barbarian man, she prefers her life to be uncomplicated and uncluttered. Her weapons are her even tempered determination, unshakable sense of what is right and true, and a steely eyed look that will put the fear into the heart of any who would get in her way.

The Barbarian woman perseveres through times of hardship and trial, her resolve is strengthened by challenges, she faces them head on and alwaysholds on to hope because she knows the sun will always come up tomorrow and she will have another chance to live, laugh and love, without shame and without apology.

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That’s why we need Barbarian women in the Kingdom!

(Photos from Shutterstock)

Adapted from my book Barbarians in the Kingdom

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Available today from your favorite online bookseller in print or digital form.

 

 

The Simple Gospel

First Things First part 2

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The church of Jesus Christ, I believe and see evidenced, is going through a period of shaking and refining to determine who really believes, who really loves the Lord and who is just giving him lip service; presuming on grace while making no real attempt to live by his word. We are seeing a renewed call to holiness by the Spirit of our God. The call to holiness should not be for just a season, it is basic to being a follower of Christ and has always been a prerequisite to being a believer in the one true God. We do the best we can and his grace covers the rest.

That is why, as we start another year, I urge you to remember and look at the gospel, the simple and beautiful gospel. The gospel cuts through the fog of theology and cuts to the chase.

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins 

If we keep this first, and foremost, if this is always before us, not just a tale that gets lost in lofty theologies and pop psychologies, we will have a much more difficult time justifying or not recognizing our sinfulness.

Sin?

Jesus died for our sins. What is sin? Well, I’m glad you asked. Sin is anything we do that goes against the standards and rules laid out quite clearly in the scriptures; The Old Testament and the New. If you want a blow by blow list, read Exodus and Leviticus.  If that is too extensive just read the summary we call the Ten Commandments— and memorize them. Then measure everything you do or think against them. You will figure out pretty quickly that you are a sinner.

But Pastor, we are not bound by the law, we are not judged according to the law, we are in the period of grace, of freedom and love.’ Yes pilgrim, you are correct, what I am asking you to do as we head into this new year, and what I believe the Lord is wanting to remind us of, is the reason that we are not judged by the law, the reason we are in a period of grace, is because Jesus died for our sins.

 

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The Cost

This is the cost of our grace, this is the price of our freedom, this is our redemption. You cannot have this picture in your mind, not if you truly love the Lord and understand the magnitude of his love for us, proven to us by the stripes on his back and the blood on his brow, you cannot have this picture in your mind and be comfortable sinning.

This is the gospel, this is of first importance in the life of a true believer, it is the only hope of humanity, that they know and understand this simple truth; that God became a man and suffered the horrendous death, both physically and spiritually, that we all deserve.

You cannot know the command; “thou shall not commit adultery”, and all the nuances of that, spelled out in the various parts of scripture— even put into the realm of lusting in the heart just by thinking about it by Jesus—and blissfully pursue the whims and the lusts of the flesh outside of the marriage bed; not if you know what your failings cost the Lord to purchase your forgiveness.

You cannot know the command “Thou shalt not bear false witness…” and relish in telling embellished tales about people you know, stretching the truth or putting a certain spin on things to make another look bad and yourself look better; not if you know the pain those who bore false witness caused Jesus.

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You cannot revel in games depicting slaughter or turn your back on those who are in mortal danger from war, terror, famine and disease, if you know the command “thou shalt not kill.” Nor can you shout curses at, or belittle and mock your enemies when you know that Jesus said just calling your brother “Racca” is a murder in your heart, a heart filled with hate—the hate that put Jesus on the cross and reveled in his death.

I could go on—sin is sin and it always has a price.

 

Wages of sin

The gospel, knowing the reality of what Jesus did for us, the horrible price he had to pay for our forgiveness should compel us to desire above all else to live a life that honors him, that desires to not add to his suffering for our sake. It’s more than just the pain he endured in the flesh, it’s the grief he still suffers when he sees us suffering as a result of our poor choices, of our refusal to take his precepts seriously and to realize the consequences of sin.

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 6:23

It’s a simple law, the wages of sin is death, our death, if we stay in our sins, or— the death of the Lord if we receive the grace offered as a gift in spite of us, and because of his willingness to take that death from and for us.

Don’t let his grace be in vain. Believe the gospel, remember the gospel, I have said it many times to my church and it is a founding principle of my ministry, that I will come to you each week knowing nothing—at least nothing with absolute certainty—but Jesus Christ and him crucified. -1 Cor 2:2

If we like Paul recognize that we are sinners saved by grace, and live as those who appreciate and understand that, our faith will not be in vain. God can then, and will, use us to do things we never imagined we could, because we can’t, not apart from him.

I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

If Jesus is first, all the rest will follow. Jesus is the rock that our rope is tied to and by which everything hangs. (See last weeks’ Rappelling Story) Don’t lose track of that, throw off the sin that so easily entangles and be free to enjoy the ride.

How do you get rid of it, how can I be free of sin? Repent, turn from it and turn to Jesus and find the strength to overcome and the grace to get back up when you stumble.

Chains and freedom

by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; 1 Cor 15:10

What am I? I am a child of the living God who loved me so much that he sent his only son to die for me and I will not be undone. Jesus didn’t just die for me, he conquered death! And that same power that enabled him to do so, now resides in me. I am an overcomer, I am His.

I, Dan Swaningson, am a Jesus Freak, a barbarian with a bible, a witness of the grace I was so freely given that was purchased by the blood of the Lamb. And I shall never forget.

How About you?

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May your days and your heart be full– Have a Blessed New Year!

First Things First

“You know I’ve been to the edge, and there I stood and looked down. You know I lost a lot of friends there baby, I got no time to mess around.” –Van Halen, Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love

I am what I am

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures 1 Cor 15:3

So here we stand, on the precipice of a new year. A fitting term I guess because ready or not it’s happening, and we can either fall into it headlong and hope for the best or we can try to control the descent knowing that we could still lose control at any given point.

(I’m not sure what that means but in light of the past year it made sense when I First wrote it.)

We can plan and hope all we want but ultimately we cannot control the future, all we can control is our response to events that we incur along the way, and really—that is everything. Because if we lose control of that, we are undone and I for one refuse to let anyone or anything undue me because as Paul wrote:

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; 1 Cor 15:10

Chains and freedom

Rush Limbaugh, (whom you can love or hate, don’t miss my point here)  has said of President Trump; “The press did not make Donald Trump so the press cannot unmake Donald Trump, only Trump can undo Trump.” —referring to his support in the eyes of those who voted for him.

Well, the world did not make me, the enemy did not make me, circumstances did not make me, you did not make me—the grace of God made me what I am so only he can undue me, so long as I understand and cling to that. And I chose to do so. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is my rock and I will not be shaken. So bring it on 2019, let’s see what you got. I’ll go into it safe in the grace that made me, and I’ll come out of it still safe in that grace, stronger for having survived another year.

So, as Van Halen once said, “You know I’ve been to the edge, and there I stood and looked down. You know I lost a lot of friends there baby, I got no time to mess around.” (When was the last time you heard Van Halen quoted by a preacher?) But it makes my point exactly.

As we stand on the precipice of tis new year, we need to stop messing around, for a bit anyway, and remember what is important because we have indeed all lost a few friends who perhaps just fell headlong over the edge, forgetting what’s important, not keeping the first thing first. We can’t get hung up on things that can destroy us or neuter us. —And yes, that’s exactly what I mean.

Hung Up

Speaking of precipices, I used to enjoy rappelling back in my younger days; going off a cliff backwards while hanging from a long robe looped though a carabiner attached to a nylon strap tied around my waist and between my legs to create what we called a diaper.

I think they have more specialized gear nowadays, fancy riggings, but it worked for us, a rope, a strap and a couple of carabiners, mixed with some knot tying skills, and a little courage. It was all we needed. It was simple and basic but it did the job. We would tie one end of our second hand fifty dollar rope to the bumper of a truck, a tree or a rock, toss the other end over the side of the cliff, and off we would go, descending like we knew what we were doing with ultimate faith in our equipment.

I did have a couple of close calls; like the time my front shirt tail got pulled into my carabiner by the rope. There is no going back up the rope, it only goes down. The only thing I could think to do was cut off my shirt tail but I couldn’t get into my pocket to retrieve my knife because of the way the diaper was tied around my leg.

I called out for help and one of my buddies still on top peered over the edge. “I need a knife!” “How am I going to get it to you?” I didn’t dare try to catch it with one hand as my other hand was keeping the rope securely pinned behind my back to stop my descent. If I missed it we would really be up a creek without a paddle and the motion of trying to catch it could have set me to falling until I was hanging there off the rims over Billings with my heavy shirt pulled into my rigging until I was hopelessly stuck, or my shirt just ripped and I fell.

Then it would have been—”Run and find a payphone to call 911, Swany’s hanging off the rims like a scarecrow tangled in a clothesline!” Remember the good old days before cell phones? At least I wouldn’t have become a YouTube video.

Well, luckily I wasn’t that far over the edge so I yelled, “Lower it down to me somehow—use your boot laces!” So he hastily pulled the laces from his heavy 1980’s waffle stomper hiking boots, tied those together and then tying that to the belt from his pants he finally had enough length to lower me his pocket knife so that I could cut off the chunk of my shirt that was getting pulled into the ‘biner.

I was very relieved, needless to say, and I continued my descent down the cliff face—good times. Tell you what, I never rappelled with my shirt untucked again, I could hear my high school shop teachers’ voice ringing in my ears as I was stuck there on the cliff side; “Never wear loose clothing around machinery kids.”

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Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

Anyway, it was a pretty basic rescue for a pretty basic operation, but it worked and we conquered many more cliffs with that same simple equipment in the months and years to come. We kept it simple. It was simple, life was simple. No high dollar custom harnesses and safety backups. No helmets, no GoPro’s, no Facebook pages to brag to the world about how adventurous we were. No YouTube videos to study or to post to, no classes, certifications or permits.

‘Here’s your rope, here’s your diaper and ‘biner, just back off the cliff and keep a firm grip on that rope, you’ll get the hang of it. Oh yeah, wear a pair of insulated leather gloves so you don’t get rope burn.’ It was a blast. Once you became comfortable with it, and got out there on your robe a ways you could push yourself out from the cliff face with your feet at the same time you were letting out some rope and just feel like you were flying in midair. What a rush.

Of course getting good instructions from someone who was there to guide you through the process was essential. You didn’t just jump off the cliff and hope you are doing things right.

Basics

So, as we get ready to jump into 2019,let’s try to do things right. I think the best way to get off to that right start is by getting back to the basics here to start, peeling off all the advancements and extra paraphernalia we have accumulated that keep us from truly experiencing the moment and only serve to disconnect us from the rawness and realness of it all anyway, and just remember what’s important, what is critical—what is the rope we hang on too—because without that, nothing else matters.

A good sound rope with just enough stretch, that is tied off securely and reaches all the way to the ground—nothing worse then running out of rope before your feet touch the ground—because you are going down one way or another.

First things first. What is our rope? What is it that is critical to our faith, to our doing church, doing life as a believer? I hope you all know the answer here—just like the kid in Sunday school who knows that whenever the teacher asks a question there is a good chance that the answer is Jesus. In this case ‘you would be correct little Johnny, the answer is Jesus.

But it’s not just Jesus, what is of first importance? What is it about Jesus that is critical to our faith, our getting through this year, this life—eternity?

The answer is in our title verse of course;

 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures 1 Cor 15:3

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Jesus died for our sins. —period

Nothing in this life, nothing in the universe, all the wisdom of the ages, the prophets and the sages, is more critical then this; That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. He made the promise, he is the promise, and he fulfilled the promise. He is our hope, he is our rope and no matter what else you know, no matter what else you do, have, or give away, nothing else will matter.

If you show up at the cliffs edge without your rope—you’re going to make it to the bottom, but you are not going to survive the journey.

So I want to start this year by remembering what’s important. Jesus Christ and him crucified—the gospel.

Put Jesus first and all else will fall into place.

Barbarians in the KingdomBAR COVER

 

What’s Important?

Christmas can be a huge bundle of dysfunction and mind games —refuse to play.

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We all know, at least I hope you do, that Christmas isn’t about gifts, it’s not lights and trees, though those things certainly add to the magic that brings a sense of delight to our hearts and reminds us that we are to live in joy because our King has come. Christmas isn’t about programs and parties, though those can be good excuses to get together with friends and family—which to me is what it’s all about—making it a priority to be with those we care about.

I love Christmas because it cause us to do just that; to take a look around us and say ‘Hey, I want to be with you as we celebrate this season of remembering the event that changed the world. I want to forget that we were having issues a bit ago, that we are too busy for one another otherwise.

Christmas reminds us to take a look at what and who is important to us, causes us to stop and think, to reflect and ponder; ‘Do I want to go to such and such house, if so and so is there? Do I want to spend my time working instead of taking my kids to get trees? Do I want to spend this holiday alone, or drinking with my good time friends while my family wonders where I am?’

‘Do I want to spend it reflecting on lost ones from the past and refuse to find any joy today? Do I want to refuse to invite certain persons to my home because I don’t agree with choices they are making? Do I want to blow off certain of those who really ache to be included?’

Dysfunction Junction

Christmas can be a huge bundle of dysfunction, a one way ticket from Dysfunction Junction to Bitterville. Dysfunction Junction is the place we stand as we decide which track to take, the one that makes us feel vindicated but hurts others, or the one where we just do what is required of us by a loving God without getting caught up in the mind games of others.

I for one refuse to play those games. Not just at Christmas but anytime of the year. As I stated in my book, Hope For Families, it only takes one dysfunctional family member, someone who refuses to act in the role they have been given in the family, or refuses to interact with love and respect with the other members of the family, to create a dysfunctional family.

It only takes one, unless the others refuse to play along. Allowing a dysfunctional person to affect how you interact with others in the family, to go along with their anger, their boycotts, compensations, excuses, whatever, only makes you codependent and stressed.

I played too many of those games for too many years and I just don’t anymore. All are welcome in my church, in my home, in my heart, at any time you want or need to be there. And if someone else has an issue with the company I keep then that is their issue—not mine. I am not going to lose a minute of sleep over it.

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And I am in good company, Jesus loved people into wholeness, he never shunned anyone or cared about the feelings of those who thought he should— “Lord, this woman was caught in adultery, she ought to be stoned. This man is a tax collector and a sinner, we can’t eat at his house. Why are you talking to a Samaritan woman, she’s nobody. This man is a Roman Centurion, are you sure you want to heal his daughter?”

“Get these children out of here, the Lord is busy. Tell these people be quiet, it’s unbecoming to be making this ruckus in the temple courts. Lord, by now there is a smell, are you sure you want to go in there? If you knew what kind of woman this is, you would not let her touch you!”

11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Mat 9:11—12

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I could go on but you get the point. All these people telling Jesus the kind of people he should avoid, how he should relate to others. But Jesus didn’t play their games. Jesus loved the people who were hardest to love, and he loved them completely—and you know what? Every one of them became witnesses to who he was, while the perfect and righteous fretted about appearances sake and what was fair or not fair. Jesus ruined their mind games by blowing their minds, he could do this because he knew their minds and he didn’t waste a minute trying to appease those who had no desire to look past their own upturned noses.

Choose wisely

So, Christmas causes us to look at these things in our lives and decide what’s important. We have to choose wisely because we can only travel so many trails before this holiday, before this life, is over.

So how do we know what’s important, on what do we base those decisions, who to interact with and how. What path do we set our feet on and what direction do we set our faces? As believers we should be wanting to make those choices in a way that pleases the Lord and preferably is even guided by him.

So we seek his favor, we try to be worthy, to do the right things, to say the right things, to play by the rules and at least look good. “Lord I want to be blessed, I want to please you, to serve you—How do I do that?”

It a matter of remembering that it’s not about us, it’s about how we treat others—that’s what’s important to the Lord and that is what should be important to us. And that’s not just a New Testament Jesus thing, God has been telling us that from the beginning.

God asked Israel though the last Old Testament prophet Micah;

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
Ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:7—8

What God wants from us, what he deems important for our lives?—is not what our hands are doing but more where our hearts are. That we behave justly, love mercy and walk humbly; three attributes that can affect how we live our lives in virtually every circumstance. Attributes that affect how we treat others, to do justly simply means to act impartially, honorably and to deal fairly with everyone. Mercy is kindness and forgiveness, and to walk humbly is to be lacking  in selfish pride.

If our priorities are colored by those three things we might have a very different set of priorities from most people around us—and that’s okay, because the world for the most part is anything but fair, merciful or humble.

Life is short, pick a trail and stick to it until you get where you are going. But choose wisely because, like I said, there is only time for so many and make sure others are blessed in the process.

How do we do that?

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Choose love. We all have many choices to make every day, big decisions and little decisions, this trail, that trail, no trail. Who wants to go with me, who will I allow to go with me?

I have come to a place in my life and in my walk with the Lord that I realize that I am not smart enough, discerning enough or strong enough to judge others as to their worthiness to garner my love or acceptance.

I have discovered that life is a lot less stressful if I don’t have to hold the doors shut to certain people, to deny them grace, mercy or justice. Only the Holy Spirit can and should convict others of sin, I have too many logs in my own eye to do so.

So when I have to decide how to respond to those whom the Lord puts in my path, My heart chooses love. And that’s what pleases the Lord.

Barbarians in the Kingdom

BAR COVER

Joy in His Presence

“I remember a pastor rebuking me one time—’You jump around like a rock star when you play.’”

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Check out this awesome video from the boys of For King and Country –Little Drummer Boy. 

I love the energy of these guys- the sheer joy and passion with which they perform The Little Drummer Boy is a delight to watch. It makes me kind of jealous though— I want to be able to move like that again. When I see something like that it makes me look forward to the resurrection when I’ll have a new body, regenerated without all the aches and pains of decades of hard work and play hindering me anymore. I want to dance with joy for my king.

Back when I was a little younger (and still had all my fingers) I used to lead worship quite often and I always loved it, playing my guitar and singing for the Lord. And I always had a blast doing it, especially if I got to play with other talented musicians and when the people I was leading were into it—I always made sure they were. The energy of a room really feeds the soul of a musician—and vice versa.

I remember a pastor rebuking me one time—“You jump around like a rock star when you play.” He thought it was unbecoming a worship leader—that it was prideful on my part. I was like, ‘If you can stand still and play with all your heart for Jesus then your heart is not really playing for Jesus.’ My Jesus brings joy to my heart and when I am giving him the gift of worship, using my gifts and talents for him, that is pure joy. That is a direct gift to him.

I didn’t say that to that pastor, I was busy trying to be submissive. I considered and prayed about what he said, and decided not to change a thing. I was playing for Jesus, not a pastor. I just didn’t play at that church anymore.

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I learned how to lead worship by teaching kids how to worship and if you can engage kids in real worship, then you are a worship leader. And if you bore a child during worship, they are not going to even start to pretend that they care about anything you are doing. Adults will pretend, they will at least stand up and move their lips, kids will poke their neighbor and create their own noise that has nothing to do with what stoic song you may be banging out.

In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11

Worship is about coming into the presence of the Lord, a privilege given us by Jesus and one we should not take for granted nor dread. People who dread or fear coming into his presence or who do not believe they are worthy are not going to know how to worship, nor find any joy in it—‘There will be no dancing, no jumping, no drums, no joy. Just play the organ and pass the plate, let’s get this over with, I’ve got football to watch.’

Well Mr. Holierthanthou Worship is not for us, it’s for Jesus, it’s a gift for him. Yet in it, we are always blessed. How can we not be blessed by coming into the presence of the Lord? Which is what we are talking about today; approaching the throne of grace.

Gifts for Jesus

Giving the Lord the gift of our presence, of our time and talents, doing our best for him. I guess that’s why I’ve always loved the Christmas classic The Little Drummer Boy. I always enjoyed teaching it to kids in my children’s ministry years and included it in several kids Christmas programs.  I loved leading the kids in the little drummer boy because it’s a fun song to play on the guitar and I love the message. It just speaks of the approachability of our God. That even this little child with nothing to offer a King—a Son of God, God in the flesh—can come before him and offer what he has and be accepted and welcome.

Now, yes, I know there was no little drummer boy visit recorded in the gospels. But, everything we know about Jesus Christ and his coming tells us that we do indeed have a Lord who is approachable and that all of us, no matter our station in life, can come to our Lord and be welcomed. All were welcomed at the manger and we are all still welcome into his presence today, as long as we are coming with a humble heart and open hands, to give and receive truth.

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At Christmas we celebrate an event that changed everything. It changed the way we approach God and if that isn’t life changing, world changing, then nothing is. If people only spent as much time pondering that as they do worrying about climate change, the world would be a very different place. And, frankly, there is a lot more evidence for the former then the latter.

Warming

Jesus coming allowed us to warm up to God the Father in a way people only dreamed of before and we are the continuing evidence of that. Sinners one and all, living in the grace and love of our Savior.

Jesus’ coming as a man, initially as an infant the very same way we all come into this world, made God approachable. Of course we all might have different circumstances surrounding our births, we might be born in a hospital room, at home, or like my youngest granddaughter, Raelyn, in a car doing 90 down the interstate in the middle of the night on their way to the hospital; certainly not the way they had planned it.

Yet, Jesus, the Son of the most high God, who surely could have planned and ensured his birth in any way he deemed fit, chose to be born in the humblest of circumstances. Certainly a big departure from the grandeur of the temple where people had been going to be near their God. He was now coming to be near his children as a child born to those who were little more then children themselves; Mary and Joseph.

That big scary God that we meet in the old Testament that seemed always having to be straightening people out, whom people feared coming anywhere near—let alone see him—lest they die, was born a tiny helpless baby to a teenage mother in a stable with only lowly shepherds as witnesses.

Think about that- if you were God and were coming to earth in the flesh so that you could make yourself known, would you make such a low profile entrance?  Probably not, but our God was not coming to impress, scare or smite the slacker, quite the contrary- he had come to be with those who thought themselves unworthy. He became one of us so that he could die as one of us, for each of us, so that we would never again fear to come into his presence.

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Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb 4:16

The Harvest

Let yesterday’s pain fall to the ground and die and ask the Lord of the Harvest, Jesus Christ, to grow it into something beautiful.

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I used to love watching the harvest happening on upper  Blue Creek in Montana where we ranched. Our wheat farming neighbors, whose land bordered ours, would have the custom cutters come and harvest their wheat. They would get eight or ten combines lined up in a field, kind of staggered so they weren’t running into each other, and just start knocking down the grain. They could make short work of very large fields.

It was really cool at night when they were all lit up surrounded by a back-lit halo of grain dust as they ate up a field of golden grain and shot it into the trucks coming alongside to carry the grain directly to market or to the grain bins for later sale.

When they were all done there would be a big party and everyone in the area was invited to the Blue Creek Harvest Party. All up and down the creek—the wheat was harvested, the straw was baled, the hay was put up. The cows were bred and the calves were fat. Weaning and shipping will soon start— but first we celebrate. Life is hard but life is good—if you make it so and recognize it.

Invading another neighbor’s yard, we would all wait in eager anticipation as we visited and watched the kids play games while the smells of the roasting pig in the giant homemade BBQ was turning on the spit and making us all voraciously hungry. Usually about the time the one tending the pig was just about three sheets to the wind— tending a pig roaster on a hot late summer evening is thirsty work—the pig would be ready for the carving table.

Oh man, that was good stuff. A fitting celebration for a good harvest. A good harvest is literally the difference between life and death, if there is no harvest there is famine. Walmart and Albertsons do not manufacture food, a farmer has to plow and sow, the rain has to fall and the sun has to shine and then the reaper has to reap and the trucker has to truck. All that assuming the grasshoppers, hail storms, weeds, worms or winds, did not get your crop first.

But right off the bat, the first thing that has to happen and what we don’t really think about is, a seed has to die. There is sacrifice. A seed, literally the grain that could feed us is put into the ground, buried and left to rot, that seed becomes something else, it turns into a plant that yields many more seeds—fruit that produces many times more than the single grain or seed that was sacrificed.

“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. 24 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25 He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  John 12

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Let go

Sometimes for new life to start, for a new start or a bigger dream to come to reality, we have to let go of something else. Jesus had to let go of his glory in heaven, to become a man, trading his incorruptible eternal nature for the corruptible fragile flesh of a man. And then he had to lay down the life he had as that man, risking it all with no guarantees that his mission would succeed, that he would be able to resist the temptations of the flesh and the enemy, and wind up in the same boat we were in, sinful and spiritually dead.

And in the end, when he did succeed in resisting the seductions of this world, he had to resist the temptation to flee the cross—the agony and heartache to come.

But he was willing to be that seed that would perish in the lonesomeness and shame of bearing the mockery, slanders and death that would befall him. But he would spring forth with new life, a life so much grander and imperishable, a life that was so powerful that it could be shared with us, those who recognize that the branch of David is now bearing fruit—and we are it.

To be that fruit, and to bear fruit in our own lives, we too have to be willing to lay down our lives. To give something up, to give up the crown of our own little kingdoms of me, to trust the King of Glory with our lives, with our hearts, with our past, present and future.

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Can you do that? Give up your past? The things that taunt you. threaten you from back there, give you nightmares and wrinkles? The things that give you excuses to behave in ways today that you know are wrong? The things that make you afraid to move into your future? “I might get hurt again. I am not worthy, I am not strong enough, I am too angry and confused, frustrated and bitter, and it’s not my fault!”

No, maybe not, but it’s not your burden to bear either, not if you are listening to the one calling you, the one who knows what it’s like to be betrayed and hurt, forgotten and scorned—who even knows the pain of death. He bore that pain so that he could take yours, give him your yesterdays and trust him for your tomorrows—starting with your today. If we let go of yesterday’s pain, we can let go of the excuses and be freed from those things we try to excuse.

Forgiveness, give it, receive it, live it. Put those seeds of hurt into the ground to die and let the rain and sun deal with them and see what the Lord of the harvest grows up in their place.

35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” 36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. 37 And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body. 1 Cor 15

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Let yesterdays pain fall to the ground and die and ask the Lord of the Harvest, Jesus Christ, to grow it into something beautiful.

—As you are beautiful.