Stand Firm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Called

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

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

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

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

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

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

The alternative is chaos, in us and around us.

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

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Worthless

The mind is often our worst enemy

-It’s about midnigDepressionht on a Saturday and I am sitting in the living room of our duplex in Billings MT. My stepfather—a 6’8” truck driver, former bull rider and cowboy—comes home drunk, nothing unusual there. For some reason my mother is not there, I think she was out looking for him— again. He walks in and stops at my chair, towering over me he commences to berate me; “Look at you, just sitting there watching TV, you’re worthless and lazy, you have always been worthless and lazy and you’ll never amount to anything.”

I was barely 16, going to school, working part time cleaning a clothing store in the evenings and often working on a ranch during the weekends but that didn’t matter— I was worthless and lazy—and for some reason, in my heart I believed it. Perhaps because I had heard exactly the same thing for five years from my former stepfather.

A couple of years later after leaving home and school to go into Job Corps where I would learn the construction trades I would get a visit from another Father. Around midnight as I was lying in bed on a Saturday night in a dorm room surrounded by other snoring guys about my age, far from home and family —I was having a melt-down. I don’t even know why, extreme cabin feve
r in the midst of one of the worst winters on record, fear of the future and my own ability to face it? Looking back with a little more understanding and wisdom I know now that I was most likely in the grips of depression, an ailment that runs strong in my family.

But this time the Father who showed up had a different tone. I couldn’t see him, he wasn’t towering over me with whiskey on his breath, he was just a presence of love and peace so strong that I could feel it. I was having a close encounter with the Lord himself who revealed to me in the anxiousness of a dark winter night in the mountains outside of Anaconda—his love for me. Suddenly my childhood long, unending longing for a loving fulltime father, to be a real part of my life was gone, and I realized that I did have a Father who loved me and was proud of me.

It finally started to sink in that what my real Dad and my mother had been telling me was true, that I was a good person, and though it would take many more years for that to really sink in and bring me to a place of real healing— on this night in Anaconda, far from all of my family, the anxiousness that was consuming me as I was sinking into the death grip of depression and codependency was gone as my heavenly Father whispered to my heart that he was there for me, and would always be.

I heard him because I had cried out in desperation and opened my heart to hear. I had received Jesus years earlier but now I had accepted my adoption into the family of God, and though it would be a few years before I started hanging around with the Lord’s family in a church, at least now I knew who my true father was and that he loved me and was there for me in my darkest hours, not to berate me but to comfort me, to let me know that I was someone worth loving.

This realization is peace—this is happiness.

16Who will rise up for me against the wicked?
Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?

17 Unless the Lord had given me help,
I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.
18 When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
19 When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought me joy. Ps 94

Though this psalm starts with a need for deliverance from enemies, the focus of the psalm soon shifts to a song of thanksgiving for deliverance from inner demons so to speak. The writer (David) felt himself slipping into darkness, even the darkness of death— perhaps literally—as he feared the arrow of an enemy could find him at any moment as he was living as a refugee from the King and then as a King with many enemies who would like to see him gone— or the death like silence of a heart that has given in to total despair.

I believe David felt himself slipping into a despair from which death may even have been seen as a relief, a desperate and undesirable relief especially in light of the fact that the Hebrew notion of the grave before the doors of heaven were opened by Jesus, was a place below the earth, hades, where the dead waited for the resurrection, totally cut off from the living.

A heart that feared it was on a slippery slope of no return to the silence of death was an anxious heart indeed while at the same time an anxious heart that longed for the silence of death was a heart that was already in a kind of living death, either way, it is a bad place to be— it is a place with no love.

An anxious heart, a heart of despair, a heart that either fears or longs for death is a heart that has no love. David is plainly thanking the Lord here for delivering him from a heart issue. His heart was hurting, his heart was empty, his heart was about to give in and give up. It was perhaps a despair that was brought on by the relentless persecution of his enemies, but the real enemy soon became his own mind.

Then he receives consolation, and what is that consolation? The love of the Lord.

I believe the heart, the soul, the mind and the spirit are intricately
woven together in such complexity that only God can unravel and bring health and it is only by his word and by his Holy Spirit that we can even begin to understand it, and only through him that the damage that this fallen world and the sinfulness of the human heart has inflicted on it.

Love is the answer

We need love, we were created to be loved, and to give love. A heart that does not perceive itself as having love will not last for long, at least not in any kind of sustainable form. The ultimate deceit and victory of the enemy of our souls is convincing us that we are unloved— that we are unlovable—and that even God does not love us. He delights in isolating the human heart from any and all love but ultimately the love of God because then he has succeeded in not just destroying our lives, but also our eternal souls.

But rest assured, you Father loves you and he has a plan for you—A plan to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future. —Jeremiah 29:11

Look to him, he is waiting, he understands— he really does.