A Girl Named Hope

Nothin yet

Is your church more than a seeker sensitive message, loud music, trained official greeters and ushers and a fantastic coffee bar with gluten free, sustainably grown goodies?

(note-this message was written for my church in Red Lodge MT but I think it is a question we all need to ask of our own houses of worship.)

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

It’s not random chance that the church the Lord called me to start was established in Red Lodge. I could have, and was willing to go anywhere the Lord would send me. As a kid I lived in 5 different states so I know how to make my home wherever I would find myself, and though I had been in Yellowstone County for 34 years I was not rooted so deeply there that I was not unable to leave. This earth is not my home, home is where the heart is and my heart belongs to heaven.

Yet I feel blessed that the Lord sent me to familiar territory, neighboring Carbon County, where the mountains meet the prairies.. It’s all the best of Montana and if heaven looks just like Montana I will not be disappointed at all.

The point is, this church was strategically placed in Red Lodge by the Lord. Placed here to be a place where people would be drawn, from near and far, to be refreshed and healed, challenged and equipped— restored to effective Kingdom readiness status as a warrior for Christ, strong and confident in their call and in their worthiness to move in the power of the Holy Spirit— in the power and security of his love.

A ministry established at the base of some of the most majestic hills in all the earth, the Beartooth Mountains. People come here from all over the world, not just because it’s on the way to the most famous park in the world, there are much easier routes, but because it is the most beautiful and awe inspiring drive there is, by many estimations, in the country.

And right here, on the edge of paradise, is Hope Chapel Red Lodge—a place of Healing Restoration and Hope. Are we perfect in fulfilling our call? No. Have we had any success in our mission? Much that I am aware of and probably much that I don’t know of, I hope.

No matter the call and our willingness to hearken, we are still imperfect people who are going to make mistakes, maybe let some people down and offend others, but by the grace of God and a willing heart we will do the best we can—and God blesses that.

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Hope

That reminds me of something that happened just a few months ago. A young couple was here that I didn’t recognize, at first. They had a baby with them that was just a few months old. I said ‘hi’ and introduced myself then we had worship. Then during worship I started to think, “They look familiar”—then I remembered that they had been here before, I remembered because they had been real interested in my late grandfather’s creation, a steel eagle sculpture that stands next to the platform where I preach. The young man was himself a welder and he recognized the skill it took to create this.

So during the greeting time I went to them again and said, “You were here before weren’t you? Aren’t you from Worland WY?” They got big smiles on their faces and said “Yes, we were here one year ago on our honeymoon. Today is our anniversary and we knew we just had to come back here.” I said “To Red Lodge?” “No, to this church. We drove up just this morning to be here for church”

“I” the young lady then said, “was pregnant and very scared for our future when we were here last but we were so blessed and encouraged when we were here that we decided that we were going to name our baby after this church—her middle name is  Hope, Kash Hope, because that is what the Lord gave us here at Hope Chapel.”

I was blown away, what do you say to that? God is good—all the time. And he is always doing something and we often have no idea. We didn’t know what was going on in this young couples’ lives and hearts when they were here, bi-racial by the way, but the Lord used each and every one of you (our church family) to touch them. They could have heard the best sermon ever—and not felt loved and accepted by this church family, and left still scared of the future and desperate for hope.

Or—they could have been loved and accepted, heard a great polished sermon and a professionally produced worship set—yet not felt the Lord’s presence, because we didn’t invite him in or leave room for him to work because it’s all about uswhat we can do, how we have the right training, the right people skills, the seeker sensitive message and trained official greeters and ushers—and a fantastic coffee bar with gluten free, sustainably grown goodies.

No, even if we had all of that, if Jesus isn’t here, moving amongst us, touching hearts, healing hurts, speaking words of encouragement and love, filling the air with an unexplainable energy and a peace that passes understanding—then we are just a feel good program with no meaningful or lasting impact on a person’s heart, let alone anything eternal like—oh, I don’t know— their very soul!

That was an encouraging testimony, but that’s just one of the ones who came back to share how they were touched by the Lord through being in this house, with this family.

Keep being Jesus to the stranger and to those who you have come to know, who have confided in you, or that you have come to see as an imperfect human who needs a lot of help—oh wait, that’s just a mirror…—don’t stop believing, hoping, praying, contending and believing for more and more because I truly believe that the best is yet to come and that we have not seen anything yet.

To use the grammatically disastrous but yet very effective phrasing: You aint seen nothing yet.

That goes for each and every one of you who are called by the name of Jesus!

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Glory

“Any good artist who has learned his craft well, whether it’s speaking, singing, playing or acting, can bring out whatever emotion they desire to fit the agenda at hand.” 

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 I am the Lord, that is My name;
And My glory I will not give to another, Is 42
:8

Glory, a fleeting thing that much of the world seeks. It can be called fame, popularity, stardom, and it seems a strange phenomenon, that so many seek it—live for it and will do anything to attain it. I think that’s why social media has taken off—if gives everyone a potential platform to become somebody—internet fame—and the glory we suppose it will bring.

Any Warhol famously said back in the 60’s, I believe, shortly after he got famous for painting very large pictures of canned food— “Everyone has their 15 minutes of fame.” I think even he realized how ridiculous it was that people would make such a big deal out him for painting Campbell soup cans and Ketchup bottles. I think about that often when there are people who are suddenly all over the news or TV and radio and then they’re gone, never to be heard from again. Their fame might last years, or a day or two—15 minutes.

Glory is fleeting, and dangerous. But that’s a topic for another day. I want to focus on the Lord’s glory, the source of true glory and the only one worthy of that glory. I wonder how often the lust for glory interferes with the work of the Lord in the church? How many times God wanted to reveal his glory, but could not or would not because the one seeking to release it was doing it for their own advancement? Or he was not given any room to reveal his glory because of all the noise being generated by the artificial glory being conjured up by the techno wizardry of the modern church?

It’s something I know I have to always be on guard about in my own heart. God will not be eclipsed. As soon as we get in the way of God’s glory, he just moves somewhere else. We try to keep it simple here in our church. For one thing we can’t afford a lot of gadgetry, but it’s more than just not overwhelming the senses with sights and sounds, it’s keeping Jesus the main thing—”Jesus Christ and him crucified.” That has always got to be the core of our message because aside from that it’s just entertainment and manipulation.

In the words of Hank Williams JR. “Can you make folks cry, when you play and sing, can you moan the blues, have you paid your dues, can you bend them guitar strings? . . .Cause let me tell ya boy, If you’re big star bound let me warn  you it’s a long hard ride.” 

Any good artist who has learned his craft well, whether it’s speaking, singing, playing or acting, can bring out whatever emotion they desire to fit the agenda at hand, but only God can change hearts and set the captives free. Church is not theater, church is a place to gather with the saints, to be fed, to be encouraged, strengthened and challenged, and most importantly, a place to worship the God of creation, to hear his voice, to feel his touch and to see, hear and feel his glory revealed in us, those he has called.

Otherwise it’s just us, and we will get on each other’s nerves and let each other down— guaranteed. But it’s not just us, is it? So let’s keep praying for the glory of the Lord to be revealed more and more in our churches, and in our lives—expect it.

For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Mat 18:20

Expect Jesus to show up

We’ve read the stories of revivals past where God healed and delivered and actually saw the Shakina glory fall and encompass a crowd. We have witnessed sporadic healings ourselves even here, yet we often assume it’s just hit and miss and it must have been the prayers of someone else, maybe the person next to me… but still, we don’t expect a miracle.

I think maybe we expect Jesus to show up, but we don’t count on it. We still put the pressure on ourselves to pray right, to preach right, to worship right—intensely enough, spontaneously enough, to have our hands in the right place or whatever. We think we need to somehow conjure up the Lord’s presence.

We don’t conjure anything; witches and mediums do that. And we don’t manipulate emotions; actors, singers and poets do that. We simply need to invite the Lord and expect him to show up. Not just to watch, but to participate and even help. It’s not the words, the motions or the music, those are more to get us to focus on recognizing the Lord’s presence. The Lord shows up when he sees that our hearts desire him to do so. And that we expect it, not because of who we are, but because that’s who he is.

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On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” . . . John 2:1—3

Notice it doesn’t even say here that Jesus went to the wedding or that he was at a wedding. Just that there was one and that Jesus was invited. That’s all John needed to say, the fact that Jesus was there was just assumed then—he was invited so of course he was there. It was expected.

And, by the way, he just happened to turn the water to wine, saving a family severe humiliation—since he was there anyway.

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Follow The Plans

“Failure is never an option, not in construction, and not in life.”

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 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. “ Jeremiah 29:11—13

An incredible promise, one that, like all of God’s word, can change lives and hearts from one of hopelessness and despair, to hope and joy, as we come to realize that we have a purpose, that someone a lot smarter and more powerful than we are, has a plan for us—if we can just figure out how to follow it. There’s the rub.

We focus on the plan part but forget about the seek part. Too many just want to claim the promise of verse eleven and grumble when it doesn’t fall into their lap, because we missed twelve and thirteen.

We have to follow the plan, we have to realize that there is a schedule and we have to be constantly consulting with the architect of the plan because he makes it and lays it out but it is up to us to learn to discern it and follow it. It takes patience, time and experience but mostly it takes working closely with the one who came up with it and trusting that he knows what he is doing.

So that we can go from thisIMG_2308

To this

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The new 911 Call Center for Billings MT

Besides pastoring a church I also work for a general contractor. We mainly build commercial buildings and this is a project I just finished as the Superintendent responsible for getting it done —this does not happen overnight.

It took 11 months to go from groundbreaking—“stand back and watch us work”  to finish “here’s the keys to your new facility, we’re done.” But in between was a long, complicated, arduous, often back breaking and stressful process.

Why would we think that the building of our lives into the plan God has for us would be any different?

No building on this earth is more complex or valuable you’re your life. You are not going to get where you are going over night. The whole objective is to keep working and getting one step closer with every step and one day closer with every day. And to live in and appreciate it all along the way. And most importantly to never give up, failure is never an option, not in construction, and not in life.

The Schedule

We can’t just look at the goal, ‘I am called to pastor, I am called to bring Jesus to a far-away land, I am called to be an awesome worship leader, be the beloved patriarch or matriarch of a Godly family, to be a world changer, a sought after writer, speaker, a millionaire building for the glory of God and financing changed lives— whatever you feel in your heart you are called to do, whatever your passion is for the Kingdom— you don’t receive your vision one day and have it fully realized the next.

          And you certainly can’t achieve it by winging it.

When I start a new project I don’t just look at the picture on the front page of the plans and just wing the rest. I have to follow the plan and trust that the architect knew what he was doing.

In the construction world I live in the plan is everything. As general contractors once we are selected by an owner and awarded a contract, we get a set of plans from an architect showing what the building is supposed to look like when it’s done and hopefully all the components that go into it to get it there.

Depending on the size of the project there are many, many pages to the plan showing everything from the foundation to the roof, the density requirements for the dirt below the foundation to the paint colors on the walls, the plumbing to the lighting and on and on and on. Most would be astounded by what goes into a building, both structurally, functionally, aesthetically and technologically.

Getting that initial set of plans is just the first step in the building, that is once the architects and engineers have done their part, which can take months or even years. The architect of our lives has had an eternity to plan our lives. It’s largely up to us, just as it is a contractor, as to whether we want to build according to the plan. Because I’ll tell you what, in construction, or in life, not following the plan leaves you with a real mess.

So, the first thing I do when I get a set of plans is look at the artist’s rendering on the front page, just to get a general idea as to what it’s supposed to look like when it’s done, what the ultimate goal is here. For the general public and often for the owner, the ones who are going to move into the building, that’s all they see. They want to just wake up a few days later and see the building standing on the piece of ground they’ve chosen, “gasp— it’s so beautiful!”, and move into paradise. That’s the way it works on TV right? “Move that Bus!” It only took a half an hour.

Well, here’s how it really works. You have to build it, one shovel full of dirt, one yard of concrete, one steel I beam, one brick, one sheet of drywall, one piece of copper piping, one length of wire, at a time. And on and on, until it’s done.

So, as the one who has to actually build it, I start by studying the plans to make sure I understand how everything comes together, I have to know the right sequence and the materials to acquire, and then I come up with a game plan. ‘First this, then this, then this. . .’

I look at the schedule that the estimator put together when he was determining how much it was going to cost to build this thing and if it could be done in the time allotted by the owner. Every step of the building is given a specific amount of time and put into a particular block of time. The overall schedule. It’s my job to keep the job on schedule.

Then there is the three week schedule which I put together in the field each week showing more specifically what exactly needs to happen and when it needs to happen in the few weeks ahead so that everyone involved can plan.

If we start getting too far behind the base line schedule then we figure out ways to make it up by getting more people, working longer hours, whatever. If everyone has done, and does, their jobs, the building is completed on time and correctly.

Everyone is happy and we get to do it again. In my world, each job completed on time and within budget keeps me working and gets me entrusted to do bigger, more demanding and costly projects with more responsibility but greater rewards.

My point is, we don’t just look at the picture on the front page, say ‘looks good’, and drive down to the job site and complain because it’s not just appearing. We have to build it and we know it will take time and sweat, lots of time and lots of sweat.

Sounds like life to me.

 

The Remnant

The Remnant

Some of you took a second look at that title—didn’t you? It’s remnant, not revenant. There are a lot of similarities really, between the remnant we are going to talk about and a revenant. A revenant is someone who has returned from the dead, like Hugh Glass, the fur trapper portrayed in the intense movie The Revenant based, somewhat loosely, on his life. But then, trappers were known for telling “tall tales”.HughGlassBearAttack

In 1823, the real Hugh Glass was trapping in the Black Hills of South Dakota when he was mauled by a Grizzly bear sow and severely injured. The party of trappers he was with rescue him from the bear but he is severely mauled and barely clinging to life. They have little time for sympathy as they had to keep moving to avoid being found out by the Indians who did not appreciate them being in their country—particularly after a few recent deadly skirmishes between the whites and the natives. So the leader of the group offered $80 a piece to two men if they would stay behind and carry Glass out on a stretcher—or bury him when he died.

After five days of struggling with the litter and little sign of recovery from Glass, his companions, John Fitzgerald and a young Jim Bridger, decided to save their own hides from the Indians—packing him being way too cumbersome—and left him for dead, telling the tale that he had died, expecting that he soon would be.

But Glass revived there alone in the wilderness enough to first crawl and then limp over 250 miles living on bugs and wolf killed buffalo carcasses. Nearly two months later he staggered into Fort Henry near where Williston ND is today, back where he had started. Much to the shock of his fellow trappers who had left him for dead. Glass never gave up, never gave in, even though he was all but dead and was in fact as alone as a man could be.

The strength of the human spirit to survive despite impossible circumstances never ceases to amaze me.

So, we got that out of the way, now for ‘The Remnant.’

The Fight

You ever feel like giving up? Like you’ve been fighting the good fight for so long that you have almost forgotten why you are fighting in the first place? We’ve all been there, or are there. I think much of the church is there. The sad thing is, the fight is intensifying and the reality of the battle getting to be more and more evident at the very moment that the church is becoming more and more apathetic and diminished. At least as a cultural force and societal influence.

I know there are still a great number of strong believers who fight continually on their knees and keep their eyes trained on the Lord. And I could be wrong but it seems to me that there is a falling away going on for the most part, at least as far as true disciples go—the live my life for Jesus; seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, not by might; not by power but by my Spirit says the Lord believers—warriors for Christ. It seems we still have a lot of churches but not a lot of Christian soldiers.

I believe the reason the battle is intensifying is precisely because there are fewer Christian warriors and more and more champions for the evil one. The balance is shifting as that which has held the enemy back is being lifted as the prayers of the church become ineffective and weak, self-serving and faithless. We are in the last days and the enemy is getting more and more desperate as well, as he tries in vain to delay and avert his end, at the expense of mankind.

Remnant

We have to remember that we are not alone, we are not in this fight alone, not in your personal life and not in a collective sense. God is with you, God is with us and we are in this together, and wherever two or more are gathered in his name he moves amongst us as well. God has a plan for his church, he has a plan for you and he never fails to preserve a remnant for himself. And when the remnant seems the least able to survive, let alone win any battles, is when God does his greatest works.

Reminds me of Elijah, a beleaguered prophet hiding in fear for his life in a cave in the wilderness, who truly believed he was the last true believer in Israel.

Elijah— 10 “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”. . .

The Lord— 18 “I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19:10, 18

Elijah was part of an army of which he was not even aware. We are never alone.

I believe the Lord is saying to us today—

Despise not the days of small beginnings for I have preserved a remnant for my namesake. You shall be blessed and you shall be mine, forever. Be patient and see the glory of the Lord return in all its splendor.

Hang on, our best days are ahead.

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“But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase.” Jeremiah 23:3

 

 

 

The Potter’s Hands

Why do we sabotage ourselves?

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But now, O Lord, You are our Father;
We are the clay, and You our potter;
And all we are the work of Your hand. Is 64:8

I remember as a teenager in the 70’s reading a newspaper article that said scientists had figured out that if you break down the makeup of a human being into its primary elements that we are pretty much composed of the same things as clay. I was no Bible scholar at the time but I remember thinking, well, that’s no big revelation, the bible teaches us that right from Genesis where God forms man from the dust of the earth. Not to mention the myriad other times we are referred to as clay or earthen vessels.

It might seem weird that we would basically be walking dirt. But it makes sense really, clay is perfect for forming things and if nothing else it comes in real handy for analogies—I mean, clay is moldable, it is worthless unless you take the time to make something of it, holds up best if it’s gone through a fire to acquire strength and will last forever, but it can be shattered and rendered useless if not handled with care.

Sounds a lot like us doesn’t it? We are either pliable and moldable, allowing ourselves to be shaped and worked into something better and better or we are just dry and crumbling, refusing to drink from the living water of the word and the Spirit and slowly turning back into dust. Or we have been through the refining process, shaped, molded, reworked and set in the sun to cure so that we can be painted, the master craftsman not satisfied with just utilitarian precepts but wanting to give us some flare and beauty. He paints a unique design on each vessel making it special and giving it its own character to show us, and the world, that we were created not just for a purpose but by a craftsman who cares about his creations.

Then, when we are just the way he wants us, we are put into the kiln to be tempered with fire making us hard, a resilient kind of hard, and able to withstand washings and repeated usage carrying the precious life giving fluids that sustain and refresh all who drink of what we offer. The firing also makes our design, the hand painted design that makes us beautiful and unique, glossy and brilliant, bringing out the colors in ways that dull unfired glazing never does.

But, as with real ceramic treasures, we must still be handled with care or we can be broken. We have to stay in the hands of the one who created us with such beauty that he handles us and uses us only in ways that will not see us crashing to the floor to be shattered and he instructs others to handle his treasures the same way.

If one is broken, only he, the master craftsman, the God who created the world and all that is in it with a word, only he can put back together the shattered pieces, if we so desire and allow him too. A stubborn jar— broken out of misuse that refuses to be recreated by the creator—is good only for the trash heap or the dust bins of history at that stage.

So there shall not be found among its fragments
A shard to take fire from the hearth,
Or to take water from the cistern.”

15 For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:

“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”
But you would not.   Isaiah 30:14—15

 

Only a clay vessel who refuses to acknowledge the creator and the need for his counsel and protection gets to a place beyond repair or usefulness. Stubbornness and pride are our biggest obstacles to God’s ongoing work in our lives and the ultimate completion of the masterpiece he wants and envisioned us to be in his artist’s eye. All the Creator is asking of the created is that we come back to him, stop our striving and fighting and rest in him in quietness and confidence.

I love that. We don’t have to shout and fret, jump up and down and make a commotion, to get God’s attention or to win the battles that continuously threaten to dash us to the floor, we just need to know that we are loved, that we are protected, and that we are still in the potter’s hands. 

Our greatest hinderance is arrogance, believing that if we cannot see the answer, perceive of the solution that there is none, that it’s done. The epitome of arrogance is saying to yourself: “This is as good as it gets and I will just have to be fine with it.” And saying to God: “I am as good as I will get and you will just have to be fine with me.”

For shall the thing made say of him who made it,
“He did not make me”?
Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“He has no understanding”? Is 29:16

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Why?

So, why do we sabotage ourselves? Why do we insist on introducing impurities that we know will hinder and mar the masterpiece we could be? Why do we fly off the potter’s  wheel and refuse to get back on?

Maybe because we  don’t believe we can get better, let alone become a masterpiece. “This is as good as it gets, this is as good as I get, take it or leave it.”

I’m sorry but it does not say that in scripture anywhere. You are a work in progress, a masterpiece in the making and God will be working on you for eternity.

God loves you just as you are, yes, but he also loves you too much to leave you there. All of us know we are far from perfect and that there is a hunger in our souls for more. That hunger is the vast emptiness left in our psyche by the unfulfilled potential as creatures who were meant for such higher things, eternal and deep, unimaginable things that we sense are just beyond our grasp we just don’t know how to reach them. The one who does know is holding out his hand and offering to show us, to create that reality in us, to continue the beautiful creation that is us.

Be still, and know that he is God.

 

 

Marathon

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Someone asked me the other day; “Why does the enemy hate our church so much?” I answered, “Because we are a threat to him.” Really—If we weren’t, everything would be a cake walk. Another question, and perhaps a more difficult one—”Why does the Lord allow it to happen?” The answer, which has become painfully clear to me in this season, is that the Lord is allowing the enemy to sift us like wheat, as he told Peter, to remove the chaff.

Our weaknesses are never so obvious as when we give in to them and are lured in over our heads. Hidden or unrecognized weaknesses are often never truly dealt with, and can impede us so subtly we don’t even recognize we are dragging them until the ones whom we always thought were losers are suddenly at the finish line way ahead of us.

Why does the Lord allow attacks? Because we all have things in our lives that hinder us, sin which so easily ensnares us, and sometimes the only way to untangle us so that we can finish the race, is to allow it to be exploited by the enemy, to even expose us, making it painfully obvious to us that there is a problem, forcing us to make a decision; “Am I going to let the enemy win, and just give up?” Or am I going to lay this aside, do whatever it takes to be free of this, put my head down and push on to the finish where my Lord not only waits, but he sends his Spirit to come and strengthen me, to even carry me on, “on wings like eagles” if—I will just let him, trust him, and not lay down and die.”

No matter what anyone says, no matter the jeers and the taunts of the perfect and pretty people who seem to have it all together and always finish the sprints first and can whip out a dozen pull ups like it’s a breeze—no matter what my flesh is telling me as it screams for the right to just stay down, rest, run away, crawl away, crawl into a hole and die, whatever—just give up— no matter what, I am going to get up, put one foot in front of the other, getting stronger and closer to the finish with every step until I look back one day and see all the perfect people gasping for air and staggering from side to side as they jostle one another for position in the mob that seems to have stalled out short of the finish.

We find ourselves scarred, winded and shocked, ‘I did it! I am at the finish line!’ And there’s your crown, in the hands of the coach, twisted but no longer tarnished and shining like the sun because the Lord has cleaned it up for you just as he did your heart along the way.

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All he wanted you to do was get up and keep going. Because he knows how hard the race is, he did resist to the point of shedding his blood, everyone sneered and mocked, called him a drunkard and a sinner, a blasphemer, even an agent of the devil—”but for the joy set before him” he kept going, putting one foot in front of the other, obedient to his Father who spurred him on. One agonizing bloody step after another, trembling under the weight of his cross, the cross he would soon die on, the cross he could have forsaken and fled at any time he wished.

But he didn’t, why? Because he wanted you to be able to finish your race knowing that if he took away the ultimate penalty for failure to finish, the only insurmountable hurdle in the course, sin—life ending, spirit killing—sin. He knew that if he took away that hinderance for you by taking it on himself, he knew that there would be nothing—absolutely nothing—that would stop you from finishing the race, from winning the fight, if you only made that decision to finish, to look to him to do so. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”

Don’t let the enemy win, don’t give up or give in, don’t fear the race, don’t shirk the fight, it is not easy, it is never easy, it is seldom fun but it is always rewarding and it is always blessed in the end. We are not beating the air, the battle is real, if it wasn’t there would be no need to fight, no one would ever stumble, no one would ever fall. And if you have ever been in a real fight with a real scrapper, you know that even if you win, you will still walk away bruised and bleeding.

And the enemy of our souls, is certainly a scrapper, as is our own flesh. When the two team up there is a real fight with real consequences, but realize that the battle is never over until the Lord says it is over and he calls you home.

Every day is another day to fight, around every turn is another straightaway to cruise through until you get to the next turn or have to jump the next hurdle, all the Lord asks is that we do not stop running. This life is so much shorter then we realize and how we run today will determine our forever.

. . .let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.  You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. Heb 12:1-4

There is a purpose in our striving. We might not always know what it is or why the enemy fights so hard against us, but we must always know that there is a purpose. We have to trust the author and finisher of our faith, that is of course Jesus.

Don’t let anyone slow you down or stop you, especially not the enemy. You won’t always even realize that he is there, but he is sneaky that way. Sticking out a foot to trip, slipping you an intoxicant into your water bottle, whispering in your ear along the way;

Why are you doing this? You cannot finish, you don’t need to finish, you already blew it anyway when you stumbled back there at the curve, you crossed into the wrong lane, you’re probably disqualified, didn’t you jump the gun too? Man, you could be sitting in the bar right now with a cold one watching Basketball on TV—now those guys can run.” “No one cares anyway—loser.”  Lies, nothing but lies.

 Spartan quickly runs through the sand

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7-8

You will finish, because Jesus doesn’t choose losers, and he chose you.

You Don’t Know Me!

 

  Prodigal meme

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

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

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

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

But—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And by his Spirit we cry Abba Father!

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

You don’t know me

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

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

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

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

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

Honesty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

viking-longboat-art-by-david-seguin

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

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

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

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

Barbarians in the Kingdom