Suffer? No Thanks…

suffer meme

Are we setting up the next generation of church leaders to fail?

“…in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” Heb 5:7—8

‘Whoa, wait a minute, I didn’t sign on for this! I came to Christ because I was promised that everything would be wonderful. I would have joy, peace—all my troubles would be over and Jesus would take care of all my problems. Pass me that bowl would ya?— The one with the cherries in it. Thanks, you were saying? Oh, can I get a glass of milk also?’

bowl cherries cherry close up
Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

Well, I’m sorry junior, but if that’s what you were led to believe then you were not told the whole story and if it hasn’t happened already, you will be sorely disappointed and disillusioned. And if that ‘walking with Jesus is a bowl of cherries’ mentality is what you want to cling to then you will be subsisting on a diet of milk and the meat will be reserved for those who are ready to accept it.

This notion of pain free cross bearing has caused a lack of leadership and the advancement of the Kingdom has suffered as a result. Think about the oxy-moronism of that statement, pain free cross bearing, but that’s exactly what this idea is. This notion that we can be followers of Christ and not have to be inconvenienced let alone suffer has caused many to ignore their call to go and do what they were created and purposed by God to do.

Jesus said if you would come after me you must take up your cross daily, he didn’t say ‘hitch your wagon to mine and I’ll wake you when we get there.’

 “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. Luke 9:23

In the minds of everyone who heard Jesus say this, a cross represented nothing but suffering, so. . . where’s the gilded sanctuaries, Armani suits and life of ease in this Jesus following business?

Cross carry meme

Really?

Suffering is a complicated issue to be sure and the reasons are many and varied. All we can say for sure is that there will be, and is, suffering. And it is a major cause for people to question God and his existence. Ironic that God gets blamed for the suffering he has spent all of human history trying to first prevent and then rescue us from. Even to suffering himself for us.

No doubt the writer of Hebrews has that agonizing night of prayer in the garden of Gethsemane in mind when he wrote this. Jesus suffered to the point of sweating blood on this night knowing that his arrest was imminent and that the cup of God’s wrath was about to be poured out on him.

So who do we think we are when we whine about our sufferings to God? Even Jesus suffered in order to learn perfect obedience. Jesus fervently prayed to be delivered from his suffering but it was with a healthy dose of fear, knowing that He should not be disrespectful in his petitions to the one who had led him to this place of danger. Jesus didn’t pray to his Father as though God didn’t know what he was doing or had messed up, and Jesus ended his prayer with not my will but thine be done.

Jesus trusted his Father implicitly and was obedient even to the cross which he knew full well was coming.

There are many still today who have given all in their obedience to Christ, to go where he sends them and do what he asks for his glory and his people. But there are too many who are called who have not answered because they are holding out for something better or are afraid of suffering—it just doesn’t fit their idea of ministry.

I think the church has done a real disservice to the Kingdom of God in the megachurch movement which has created a myriad of full time ministry positions where people can come to work every day in comfortable casual clothes, looking hip and stylish, have an office in a building surrounded by nothing but other Christians who all run down to the coffee shop in the foyer at break time and strategize together about how they can get more people into the building to see the show. 

Of course they don’t call it a show but if you look at the effort time, talent and money poured into the stage and the auditorium, the lighting, the sound, the message, the music, the drama presentations—it truly is theater. I know, I’ve been involved in all of that to some extent. And yeah, there’s some value to that and people are getting saved, I think, but they are being set up to fail.

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Those watching the show are given the notion that church is what it’s all about and you had better make me feel good and delight me or I will find another—’I hear that church on the other side of town has an amazing drama team.’

And those who feel called to minister and serve believe that they need to be one of those pretty people up front, or one of the professional organizers behind the scenes, all of whom get to come to work each day in the ivory tower called a church. So everyone from the new person in the back row with a new found zeal to see other’s come to know Jesus, to the college student who grew up in the church and feels compelled by God to devote their life to full time ministry, has the notion that ministry is for the professionals and getting that office and that salary equals success.

In the meantime no one is planting churches, all around me in in neighboring towns of Montana churches are shutting down for lack of leaders, other churches cling to life waiting years for a new pastor to step up, beautiful paid off buildings sit empty, small churches everywhere have to forego youth ministry, discipleship and evangelism. Homeless people on the streets and the down and out in the shelters and in the jails never hear the good news, people pine away in despair in retirement homes and hospitals—all because the called do not want to suffer for the call. Thus there is no victory for them or Jesus in their lives.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Jesus asks us to bear fruit, not make money. “What does it pay?” I have heard this question way too many times over the last couple decades when I have offered people opportunities to minister, to use their gifts, in a meaningful way. Young and old, people on fire for Jesus, people who claim they want to serve, refusing to step out and get dirty. Not all, but many. Like I said, we have done the next generation a real disservice, actually it’s been affecting a couple of generations now—suffering is no longer a given let alone a component of serving Jesus. Because the media savvy, seeker friendly, everything must be polished and perfect church, has made it look too easy.

It’s not, but it rewarding and it is what we were created and called to do. Grab your sword, put on your work pants and get to work. Victory awaits you—warrior.

3-3-19 meme

 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. 2 Tim 1:8—9

book coverBarbarians in the Kingdom

 

 

 

 

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Fence Crawling

“The answer is always the word of God—it’s really that simple—live it and live, or ignore it and die.”

The Double Edged Sword

Last week we talked about the rest that is offered by God, the rest from our striving and anxieties caused by having to try and earn our way into the Kingdom of God and by facing this life’s challenges alone. We discovered by studying chapter three that our rest is a result of trusting in God’s grace through Jesus Christ and his righteousness rather than in our own. It is also rest from our fears and worries knowing that we do not have to face this life alone and that his grace is power and freedom.

In other words—stop trying to do everything yourself and let God be God, cling to his promises and live in the joy and the hope that that confidence brings. Faith is freedom—faith is rest.

Faith in what? That’s the million dollar question. We find the answer in God’s word, and the answer is God’s word. We must trust God’s word, we must know God’s word and we must live God’s word. I can say without hesitation that every evil perpetrated on mankind, every fear, every malady, every grief—every struggle we face and issue we fear—has it’s roots in sin somewhere, the failure by someone, somewhere, to live according to God’s word.

It really is that simple. Whether it was a decision you made five minutes ago to do something contrary to God’s word, or as a result of the original sin back in the garden of Eden that opened the floodgates of death and decay on God’s perfect world, it could have all been avoided by resting in God’s word and not having to try the boundaries just to see what will happen. “It seems right to me, what can it hurt?”

—Everything.

That’s why the first few verses of Hebrews four warns us, as did chapter three for that matter, not to harden our hearts, not to walk in rebellion and disobedience—to what? To God’s voice, to God’s word.

Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, (His rest) and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said: “Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day.

Heb 4:6-8

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Thinking about this, ‘trying the boundaries and hardening our hearts to God’s voice’ I was reminded of back when we were ranching and we still had a good part of one of our summer pastures fenced off with electric wire. Parts of the original ranch had been subdivided so Donna’s dad had just put up electric fence to keep the cows off the sold parts.

The fence was pretty remote so he had a solar charger hooked to a 12 volt battery powering the fence, which worked great—most of the time. One summer the cows all decided they really wanted to get through that fence and into the neighbors pasture, you know the old saying; “The grass is always greener on the other side”—A cow first said that, and it is one of the primary cow rules of thumb.

Up there with; Never go graze when there’s a hay yard to stand next to all day while we wait for food. Never start calving until it’s storming and cold and; Make sure you do most of your pooping in the barn so the rancher has something to do in the spring. Important lessons that cows pass from generation to generation.

So, after finding the cows in the neighbors’ field a couple times and the electric wire down I started keeping a closer eye on them. I would go up the hill to find them all standing along that fence a few feet back making sure they didn’t touch it because cows really do hate being zapped, as does anyone, but their calves—well they didn’t know better.

So, cow’s aren’t as dumb as they pretend to be, they would let their curious calves get between them and the wire and about the time they were sticking their noses out to sniff at this strange little wire their momma’s all seemed so intrigued by, the cows would nudge the calf from behind pushing it through the wire, or at least causing the calf to jump and maybe snag the wire pulling it down or breaking it. As soon as the wire hit the ground it would short out and voilaParty time—’let’s go girls!’

No more boundaries, they didn’t even care if I was watching them, rebellious ungrateful cows. Ranchers call these kind of critters “fence crawlers”

They had a 150 acres behind them  and they had to obsess over the 20 acres next door.

The problem I ran into was the more the wire got knocked down, the more charge it would take out of the battery and it would take the solar charger a few days to charge it up well enough to put the fear back into them. So after a while it was, hey, this zap ain’t so bad—let’s just do it. They wouldn’t even bother pushing the kids through first anymore.

Seek first meme

Thots

Sounds like us. ‘Rules schmules’, I been beyond those boundaries many times, I don’t even feel a twinge anymore. And we’re off where we shouldn’t ought to be and then wondering why we are being chased by a frazzled shepherd and we’re not being blessed in our wanderings—we have stopped even realizing that we are wandering. ‘Oh, that fence has been down for a long time—nobody pays attention to that!’ Abstinence till marriage? Pshaw! Closing down the bars and shaking my bootie for all to see? Don’t body shame me!

Watching porn and shows that glorify sexual pursuits, fantasizing? So what? Ignoring God’s call to use my time, talents and money to glorify him? That’s old school, I have a career and a dream to pursue—I need to take care of me right?

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Mat 6:33

Those fences have been down for a long time—nobody pays attention to that!’— God does.

His ways never change, his word is eternal. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” And what is Jesus? The word of God, the one who also wields the sword of judgement. We need to wake up church and look at where we’re at. Are we even close to the right pasture anymore or are we in the neighbors hay field bloating on alfalfa because it just tastes so good.

A cow loves green alfalfa—but it will make a cow bloat up until it can’t even breath—and then it dies. That’s not in the cow rule of thumb hand book and that’s why the rancher builds fences. I replaced that electric fence with barbed wire by the way. God won’t do that, we are not livestock, we are his children, created in his image with the understanding of what is right and wrong—because he puts it in our hearts and teaches us with his word—but he leaves it to us to obey or not to obey. A caged child is an abomination and God loves us too much to do that to us.

The question is, do we love him enough to obey and stay in the pasture he has prepared for us knowing that he will always lead us beside the still waters? One thing I noticed about wandering cows, they usually come back when they get thirsty enough. There are only so many watering holes in cow country Montana, as there is in life. God always puts us where we can be taken care of, we just need to stay there.

How do we know where that is? Again, the answer is, the word of God. The answer is always the word of God—it’s really that simple—live it and live, or ignore it and die

Sorry if that’s not a feel good sentiment but the church has had too many feel good sentiments fed to her as a steady diet of; platitudes and catchy sayings that fit well in a song posing as the word of God and we are about ready to bloat and suffocate as a result. It is already too late for many.

Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. Heb 4:1

If you are reading this, it is not too late for you.

Grace meme

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 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 4:15—16

BAR COVER

Barbarians in The Kingdom

Be blessed my friends!

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Jesus- One of us?

“Why is it all so hard? –Because we fear God and we believe the lies that we are not worthy and that God does not care about us.”

Secure

Last week we looked at who Jesus is in light of Hebrews chapter one. Hebrews starts out by making it clear that Jesus is God, God the Son, creator and redeemer. The second chapter then explains how Jesus became on of us–and why.

17 Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. Heb 2:17—18

Bottom line, Jesus became one of us to destroy death for those who are willing to accept the life that he offers. And that is of course huge!

But there was another reason. He also became one of us because we just were not listening before. (Heb 1:1) God had sent prophet after prophet, even angels to speak for him. He appeared as a burning bush, a pillar of fire and smoke, He even gave us stone tablets that he wrote on himself, but we just weren’t getting it. We kept turning his living word, meant to turn our hearts to him and each other into just a set of rules and demands. We even used them to lord over, control and condemn one another.

So Jesus came as one of us, a common man with a ready smile, eyes to look into ours, hands to hold and ears to hear, and explained to us what it was all about, what his Father had intended all along and how we could be restored to the life that was lost so long ago, he revealed the love in the word and showed us his Father’s heart.

Jesus came to show us the way.

The One Calf

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Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Back when we were big time ranchers—not really, we had about thirty pair—I learned a lesson one day about how cows think. Or,  should I say, don’t think. They just do what they do and if you want them to do otherwise you are a lot better off if you can make them think it’s their idea.

It was spring, calving was done, the calves were branded and we needed to move them off the hay fields around the house and into the hills—their summer range. So I enlisted the help of my nephew Mike on his dirt bike and I got on my trusty cow pony Randy, and we gathered up the cows and calves and headed them for the gate at the upper end of the pasture to push them out, across the neighbors field, across the county road and through another gate from there they could be pushed up into what we called “the hills”.

All was going well, we got the cows and calves rounded up fairly easy and headed to the gate, most of them knew what time of the year it was and where they were headed. Cows might be dumb but they have great memories. We got them through the gate, all except for one calf—there’s always one—who just couldn’t figure out the concept of there suddenly being an opening where there had not been in all her many weeks of life before. She peeled off and ran the other way.

I doubled back to cut her off but she just kept getting around me in spite of Randy’s enthusiasm for cutting. I finally had to just let her go because the rest of the herd were on the move and out the gate and we needed to make sure they went where they were supposed to. Mike and I got the herd where they were going easy enough, once they got through the gate across the road they took off up over the big hill towards the sheltered ravines, green grass and water they knew was up there.

Once the cows were out of site and well away from the gate we headed back for the errant calve, Mike on his bike and I on my horse. We chased that calf around on that forty acres for way too long, up and down hills, through coulees and brush—all to no avail, she was not about to go through that gate. “Just let me stay here where I’ve always been, I’ll be fine.” I suppose if I was a real cowboy I would have just roped her and dragged her over. I’m lucky if I can rope a fence post with both my feet on the ground.

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Give me a break, I grew up in Minnesota, on the water, not a horse. I had a good horse though; Randy had a great instinct for herding cows and cutting, but this calf was determined. It’s amazing how they can suddenly find the steepest hills and the thorniest bushes when they don’t want to be pushed.

Well, after  a long frustrating exercise in futility Mike’s bike was running out of gas and so was Randy. I finally said, “We’ll have to just leave her for now, maybe she’ll have a change of heart when she gets hungry.”

I thanked Mike and went back to the house. Later that afternoon I went out to see where my renegade calf was hanging out and I heard a distant mooing being answered by a much closer bawling calf. I realized that the cow who belonged to this calf had come all the way back from over the hill and was standing at the gate across the road mooing for her calve who was now standing at the gate she had refused to go through all day, mooing back. All I had to do was open both the gates and the cow came, retrieved her calf and led her back across the road, up the long trail over the hill and rejoined the herd. Huh, that was easy.

‘’Why couldn’t I do that?’ I had tried all morning to get her through that gate, persuasion, force, trickery—“It’s wide open, just go!—Trust me!” What was the difference? I knew what was best for this calf, all I wanted to do was get her back home with her herd, back where she belonged, but she just wasn’t getting it. I was that big scary guy whooping and hollering on top of that much bigger snorting beast. And then there was the other guy on that roaring metal beast kicking up dust and making a stink.

“I’m not going that way, it can’t be safe!” Then along comes a cow, a lumbering lowly bovine, calling her name, beckoning her come, in her own language, flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone—just like her in every way.Oh, okay, now I get it, just follow you and I’ll be okay.”

close up photography of cows
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

I just had to get out of the way and let her go where she was led.

Thots

That’s what Jesus did. The Father had tried time after frustrating time to get us to go the right way, to push us, lead us, entice us but we failed to listen to the shepherds, the prophets and the angels who came to show and teach us the way. The Father even came himself but the people were afraid—”we cannot bear to be in his presence, go up and speak for us!” That’s why we got the written law, because the people were afraid of God when he came down on the mountain to be with them so they sent Moses up to bring back a message. Because of our own ignorance and sinfulness people hid from God—Adam, Adam, where are you?

And then came the promised one, Jesus. He came to us speaking our language, flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, a strong, hardworking yet gentle man with a ready smile and a heart for the hurting who said simply, ‘This is the way, walk in it. Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life. Follow me.’

narrow path

Why is that? Why is it so hard? Because we fear God, we fear our own sinfulness and we believe the lies that we are not worthy and that God does not care about us. Jesus is still calling out your name and he has opened wide the gates and the way is clear. Stay on the path, stay in him, he will never let you go, you are secure.

27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. 30 I and My Father are one.” John 10

Jesus does not plan on failing. He was sent by the Father to round up all his ch

ildren, his lost sheep, and he is bringing them home where he will present us to his Father with a smile proclaiming to all the heavens:

“Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.” Heb 1:13

Our hearts are safe in his care so long as we just keep following him up that hill. On the other side are green pastures, clear pools of water and the rest of the family who awaits us.

 

 

Just who is this Jesus? (Crazy Love)

Jesus God Meme

“. . .because we have been to hell and back together. . . and because we have always had one another’s backs . . . we (my wife and I) do not have to fear that we will one day wake up to discover that we are no longer in love and tear each other apart.”

Today begins a journey through the New Testament book of Hebrews. I hope you’ll join me my friends.

Hebrews

The first chapter of Hebrews lays out succinctly and plainly just who Jesus is. This is of utmost importance as this is what makes a Christian a Christian; knowing, believing and accepting who Jesus, not just was, but is. So the writer, gets that point across right out of the chute. And like that 8 second ride that saying brings to mind, you have to pay attention to every twist and turn, buck and snort, because it will be over before you know it and if you weren’t paying attention you’ll wonder what the big deal is and walk away thinking it was all about the clowns.

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. Hebrews 1:1—4

All of that in the opening sentence of this amazing book.

The Only Way

Jesus is salvation, not a component of salvation. Jesus is the way, not one of the ways. He is the creator, not created like an angel. He is exalted because he was exalted. He is a Son of God yet he is God. All that gives his death on the cross it’s power. Without that basis, without knowing and believing who Jesus is, the cross is emptied of power and we are indeed left to earn our salvation by adhering to the Law; by being good enough to get into heaven.

The Jesus described here in Hebrews in great theological clarity is put forth as many things as Jesus’ true being is many faceted. But all this is somewhat cerebral. It’s one thing to know who Jesus is, it’s another to know him. One without the other can be a ‘lose lose’ for both you and Jesus. If you have a head knowledge of who Jesus is but do not know him, you are lost because, as John also said in his gospel, we have to believe and receive.

 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, John 1:12

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But you can also know Jesus, invite him into your heart and be cleansed of your sins, without really knowing on what your faith is based. If you don’t have the word to back up your faith you can potentially be talked out of it, and perhaps end up lost to Jesus.

Crazy Love

I was thinking about a young woman in our church family the other day, how she just seems to get more and more excited and plugged into Jesus as time goes by, and the thought hit me, “Man, that girl is just crazy in love with Jesus!” And I thought, “You know, that’s really what it takes to get us through this life.” We can know all the scriptures, even grow up in church, look and act like good little Christian boys and girls and never really have a deep down love and appreciation for Jesus, and the enemy can come along and steal our joy, our passion—our lives in him.

It’s like my wife Donna and I. We have been married for nearly thirty one years. We have been through some really hard times, we have not always seen eye to eye and we have tested and stretched one another, but we are crazy in love with one another. We started out our marriage in love, and we have always been in love. There were times when we might not have felt it so much or maybe wondered about the whole thing; but we were, and always have been, committed to our marriage.

And today as we look around near and far and see marriages fall apart, people living selfishly or refusing to do things God’s way and then struggling to understand why they are not happy and blessed we find ourselves looking at one another more and more and saying ‘thank you Jesus for us.’

silhouettes of couple kissing against sunset
Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

I know that we are in a relationship that will endure. I can know that because we know one another, better than we ever have, better than anyone else in the world, because we have been to hell and back together.  And, because we have always had one another’s backs and afford one another complete and total trust and honesty, we do not have to fear that we will one day wake up to discover that we are no longer in love—and tear each other apart.

I can say that because we have a crazy love for one another that is based on and modeled after a crazy love for Jesus who promises he will never leave us nor forsake us, and we made that promise to, and before him, to each other. And we are blessed. You know what that blessing is? Love, love is the blessing, love that cannot die, that cannot be taken away, that is ours to keep and live and breathe and sleep in, for as long as we chose to do so because it is a love that comes from Jesus, a love that is Jesus.

Above all else, Jesus is love. This chapter 1 from Hebrews goes to great lengths to explain to us from several different angles and scriptural proofs that Jesus is God, and what is God? God is love.

So if you are going to know Jesus, if you are going to be in Christ, live in Christ, build a life, build a marriage, build a family, on the rock, on Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Son of Man, ‘who was and is and is to come’, you are going to have a love that cannot be destroyed and that ‘overcomes all things’. And if that is all I have, if that is the sum total of my life when I breath my last—I had love. And because I had love, I had everything. I am in love, I am in Christ—and because I recognize and embrace that, I am and will die a blessed, happy and content man.

Everything else the Lord entrusts me with is just icing on the cake. Everything the world and the enemy throws at me is just a nuisance and a temporary heartache. I know who my Jesus is, I know my Jesus and he knows me.

If you fall madly in love with Jesus, you are in Jesus because Jesus is love. Thus you now know who Jesus is.

Just crazy

That head and heart understanding of who Jesus is has carried me through and beyond challenge after challenge, trial after trial, grief after grief, temptation after temptation, failure after failure—for 34 years now. 34 years this last week in fact. I know I would be a mess otherwise.

I have a mind that is always rebelling against my heart and a flesh that is constantly fighting with my spirit. And I know if I were not crazy in love with the real Jesus, the Jesus who is Lord, Lord of my life, I would just be crazy.

Instead of crazy in love, I would just be crazy and I would have to turn to something else, things that would ensnare me, and I would probably be someone I didn’t like very much. But because I have a God who believes in me, who loves me and always sees the best in me and encourages it, I can love myself. And because of that and my love for him, I desire to be the best that I can be and I have a reason bigger then myself to do so.

grayscale photo of couple holding frame while kissing
Photo by Murilo Folgosi on Pexels.com

That carries over into my marriage also, because I love, and am loved, by a Lord who upholds all things by the word of his power:

“and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”  Heb 1

Because of that I can love others sacrificially and unconditionally as well, just as I am loved.

And just as the trials and challenges that Donna and I have faced together have served to make our love and respect for one another only grow stronger over time, so the many trials and tribulations that I have faced, and face, only serve to make my love for Jesus stronger and my relationship with him ever more precious and appreciated.

You can take away all that I have, but you can never take away my love and knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord and King—my God.

But to the Son He says:

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. Heb 1

Slide2

 

My Rock

“Jesus is not going anywhere, he is not changing and we do not have to wither.”

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Do you ever feel like life is spinning helplessly out of control? You find yourself asking; ‘How can I continue like this, why does everything have to keep changing and how can I possibly hang on, keep my sanity, and not just give it up, be swept away by the current of mishaps and messes that seem to surround me like the vortex of a whirlpool that threatens to suck me down the drain?’

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‘Why should I keep fighting the good fight when others around me are giving up? Why do I keep striving for righteousness when others I thought were doing the same seem to have given up? How can I keep fighting for those I love when the enemy seems to keep stealing them away making me look like a fool?’

Your heart is crying out; ‘I feel like I’m sinking! Help me hang on!’ but you are afraid to verbalize it because then good well-adjusted Christians will clamor all over you with ‘there there’ smiles, and platitudes, that leave you feeling like a fool for not just being happy. And worse, you are afraid to verbalize it because you are afraid God himself will be disappointed in you. ‘Oh ye of little faith, here’s another dose of trouble to teach you perseverance.’

Christians are funny creatures, but not very. Navigating your way through this life is serious business and is not something we were meant to do alone—not in the flesh or the Spirit. We need each other and we need the Lord. We need to know that we are connected to something bigger and that we have a landmark, an immovable rock to always come back to, more of a fortress I suppose.

I am often tempted to give up, and give in to despair and hopelessness. But I don’t and I won’t. Because no matter what the world around me does, when all is sinking sand and it seems that there are more arms reaching out to pull me down then there are to pull me up, I am planted firmly on the rock.

I will love You, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
My God, my strength, in whom I will trust;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised;
So shall I be saved from my enemies. Psalm 18:1—3

Mountain praise

Apparently David felt this way at times as well. We all do, life happens and often happens the way it wants to regardless of our desires or plans. At last that’s the appearance. Those of us who know the rock, who cling to and make our stand on the Rock, know that there is someone else who is ultimately in control and He will not let us sink or be shaken off that rock so long as we trust and desire to stay on it.

Jesus is my rock and I shall not be moved.

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Am I okay?

I was thinking the other day about what I was going to preach on this week after having had last week off. It’s funny how just one week can seem to totally throw everything off kilter, but then, much of these last couple of years have seemed a little off kilter to me. A lot of hard things in my life, a lot of good things for sure, but some real challenges too, things that are still a challenge.

Seeing people you love getting attacked by the enemy, trying to understand the incomprehensible, having things you built that you thought were being built correctly threaten to fall apart, or be torn down, it can all be very disconcerting, leaving you wonder—what is going on? Not just in my life, but in this world? The whole world seems to have gone mad, am I next? People are ripping each other to shreds just for sport, gleefully and vehemently.

I was thinking about this the other day, the challenges I face and my own failings, and where my heart is right now and I have to say, my heart is okay.Well, how can your heart be okay? Don’t you care? Don’t you see what’s going on? Are you just selfish and uncaring? You need to stress and worry, weep and mourn, fight and strive.’ Well, maybe—there is a season for all those things, but it is not my life, that is not where my heart dwells and that is what the Lord is teaching me lately.

I have to trust in him. I do not have to—I cannot—succumb to the fear, panic and despair that my mind would drag me in to. I can honestly look into my heart, see Jesus, and know that I am okay. I am planted firmly on the rock and I cannot be moved. People can shove me, ridicule me, shame me, ignore me—whatever, I am building on the rock and I will complete the project and I will win the prize at the end of it.

We cannot get caught up in the garbage that is thrown at us and around us all day long. We have to have a dogged determination to remain strong by knowing and abiding by God’s word. Only His word, made alive by His Spirit, will allow us to see past and through the manure that is always moldering and smoldering around us. “Let’s build our house on compost”—said no one with a brain ever.

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Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.

Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture,

“Behold, I lay in Zion
A chief cornerstone, elect, precious,
And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”

Shame?

What is it the world tries to do to us, what is the enemies’ primary weapon? Shame—minimalizing us, embarrassing us—making us question our faith, our love, our purpose and our relationship with the Lord. ‘Am I really doing what is right? Am I really hearing God? Can I really trust in his word, that his promises are true and that I am not just wasting my time and my life when others are mocking me? When they are accusing me of being shortsighted, bigoted, intolerant and prudish? Am I really just judgmental and out of touch with reality? Can I really live in the modern world and adhere to a religion that is two thousand years old that is an extension of religion that is as old as creation?

‘How old is creation anyway? Am I a fool? Am I just another animal among many who evolved from slime in a tepid mud pit to become a hairy ape who eventually became so full of himself that he made up a story about being created in the image of a God that we cannot even see?

The world would call us a fool, our flesh would call us a fool, and we become ashamed to admit, to confess what we believe—and the enemy has won. We have been put to shame. Until we look down and realize that we are still standing on the rock and Jesus is not going anywhere, he is not changing and we do not have to wither.

He is building us into a spiritual dwelling that cannot be destroyed, that will weather the storms that wail, and the assaults of those who hate us. Because as long as we are building on that rock they have a constant reminder that they are trying to build on ever shifting sand that cannot sustain anything for very long.

A sand castle looks great until the tide comes in and then you have to start over. I do not ever have to start over. My foundation is secure and no tide is taking me out to sea.

So whether you are a Covington Catholic school student, the wife of the Vice President being mocked for teaching in a Christian school, a resident of New York City who had your heart ripped out this week when you saw your city celebrating the murder of fully viable unborn babies, or a seemingly invisible highschool or college student who got mocked because someone saw a Bible in you backpack, stand firm and know that when all else crumbles, YOU WILL STILL BE STANDING!

God will not be mocked and you are his.

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I know I don’t have to worry that I might wake up tomorrow and be someone I don’t want to be, someone I don’t like. I am not going to lose my religion (to use an old phrase) not so long as I choose not to—and I choose not to. In that there is a peace. Let the storms rage— slander me, kick me, rail against me, give it your best shot. I know Him on whom I stand. My Redeemer lives and I will too, now and forever.

Hang in there my beloveds…

 

Check out my latest Book- Barbarians in the Kingdom and discover your strength.

 

 

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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.

 

 

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.

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