The Work of my Hands

Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. 3 John 1:2

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Midnight Sparky

Do you believe that the Lord cares about your life and will intervene on your behalf to prosper the work of your hands and give you success in your endeavors? I believe he will—so long as we acknowledge his help and recognize that we must praise him regardless of whether we feel we had a good day or not.

It was 2005. I was in my fourth year of serving as the children’s pastor at Hope Center and in my third decade of working construction. I was doing some remodel work at the United Methodist church in downtown Billings. Because the church had a day care center that was open all day and the work we were doing was noisy and messy we were working nights—never fun, but whatever it takes to get the job done and done right.

Part of the job involved putting in an elevator for handicap access to the lower level. To do this we had to cut a hole in the concrete floor of the basement to create a pit for the Hydraulics that would run the elevator. I had a concrete cutting contractor come in a saw the floor, and in the midst of the cutting there was a loud pop, a puff of smoke and sudden darkness.

We immediately knew what happened, we had cut through a conduit under the floor cutting the power to many of the basement lights. Luckily it threw the breaker right away and no one got hurt—no one but the power feed anyway. We plugged in some temporary lights and finished the job, pulled the concrete from the hole and sent the cutting contractor on his way.

So then, I’ll never forget this, it’s about one o’clock in the morning and I’m standing there looking at the severed conduit in the bottom of my hole thinking, ‘now what am I going to do?’ Even if I could fix this myself I cannot get the stuff to do it, it’s the middle of the night and everything is closed and all the electricians I know are no doubt home in bed.’

It wouldn’t matter so much except that the basement was where all the rooms were that they used for the day care and the dozens of kids would start arriving bright and early—to a dark basement. So while I’m standing there pondering this, and halfway praying at the same time, more an expression of exasperation: “Lord, now what do I do? I need a sparky!” Suddenly someone walks into the room and says, “Hey Dan, how ya doing?” It’s Jamie, a sparky!—an electrician I know from previous jobs whom I know is also a believer. I looked at him shocked and said, “What are you doing here?”

He said, “I’m doing some night work in the bank across the alley and I recognized your truck so I snuck in the back door to say hi.”  I said, “Boy am I glad to see you! I have a little problem here.” I pointed down to the severed conduit and said, “Do you have time to fix this for me?” “Sure, it’ll just take a few minutes, let me run out to my truck and grab some stuff.”

Problem solved. There was no doubt in my mind that God sent Jamie there at just the right time to take care of my problem, not just that, but to remind me that he is always looking out for me, and that he indeed hears my prayer every day before I go to work that he “bless the work of my hands.”

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I could tell you many stories just like that, and I could also tell you stories about the times things have gone south because I got cocky and started thinking my efforts prospered because I was awesome, I’m not awesome but I have a God who is and that is much better in the long run, and the short for that matter.

Fast forward to this week.

I had my mind blown this week, what started as a seriously stressful week with all that’s going on in my job and ministry, God showed up.

Wednesday I got a call from the owner of the company I work for—Jim. He asked if I could come to the office after work, he needed to talk to me about something.

I said ‘okay, I’ll swing by on my way home.’ It sounded way too serious so I was suddenly real nervous racking my brain, “What did I do wrong? Or, maybe he wants me to do a funeral or something for someone in his family, uugh, no fun.”

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So a couple hours later I jump in my old work truck and head to the office. I pull in the yard and walk into the shop, just as I’m about to pull open the door to the office area the door opens and there’s Jim, the big boss. He says, “I saw you coming. Come with me and he motions me to the back door.” My heart starts racing and I’m thinking, “Oh no, it’s so serious he wants to make sure no one else hears.”

We walk out the back door to where his big fancy truck is parked and he abruptly says, “get in.” So we’re going for a ride. Now I’m thinking, okay, he has some nasty welding job he wants me to look at, just what I need on top of the big job I’m trying to ride herd on now. We start heading west on East Laurel road and just before we get to King Avenue he says, “I suppose you’re wondering where we’re going?” —Uh, yeah.

He says, “I don’t know if we tell you often enough how much we appreciate you and all the hard work you do for this company. We consider you one of the big dogs. You always get your jobs done and done well and everyone wants to work with Dan.

I said, “Wow, thanks but to tell you the truth that kind of adds to my stress, that’s a lot to live up to. But I also have to tell you that I cannot take the credit, the Lord just blesses the work of my hands, I pray that every day, and I just show up and do the best I can.”

He says, That’s what we love about you.” He then reaches into the cup holder in his console and hands me a fancy electronic key fob and says’ “Here’s the key to your new truck.” My jaw dropped and I stammered something or other, we then pull into the local Ford dealer and he says “There it is. If you push that button right there is will start remotely.”

I push the buttons and all the lights flash and it starts. We walk to the truck and he tells me to get in and starts to run through all the bells and whistles, it pretty much has them all. It’s a 2019 F250 with an extended cab, four wheel drive of course, back up camera, an activated Sirius radio with Bluetooth hook ups, and myriad other things I am still trying to wrap my brain around–I mean, my old work truck didn’t even have power windows and locks, let alone rear window defrosters and power side mirrors–It’s just big and bad and beautiful.  He says ‘Drive it home and show Donna and tomorrow we’ll take it in and get it outfitted with a grill guard, tool box, floor mats and, the company logo.’

I don’t own it but as long as I work for them, I can drive it like I do.

I tell him, “I don’t even know what to say. I have never had a new vehicle in my life.” As I’m driving home in shock I think to look at the odometer and it has 12 miles on it and I am overwhelmed. “Thank you Jesus!” You have indeed blessed the work of my hands and caused me to prosper.

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And his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Gen 39

I continued to pray: “Let me never forget that the primary reason I am here, that my work is being blessed, is because I am yours and you are mine and my primary mission is to be a light for you in all I do and say. Thank you that my diligence is a reflection of you and your character.”

Barbarians in the Kingdom by Dan Swaningson

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Seasons and Passion

This is but a season.

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Life is full of seasons and each and every one has a purpose if we are trusting the Lord. Even the ones imposed on us by the enemy or the wrong choices of others can become a God orchestrated, character building time that one day we will even be grateful for as we discover that because of it we have a renewed sense of faith—and an energizing passion that drives us to storm the gates in ways we never dared before.

King Solomon writes:

To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to plant,
And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,
And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
And a time to build up;
A time to weep,
And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones,
And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain,
And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
And a time to throw away;
A time to tear,
And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
And a time to speak;
A time to love,
And a time to hate;
A time of war,
And a time of peace.

What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? 10 I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.

12 I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, 13 and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God.   -Ecclesiastes 3

 

There are good times and bad times, times of building and destruction, sowing and reaping. Didn’t Jesus say a seed must die before it brings life? buried and gone only to one day become a beautiful plant, yielding a bounty to be enjoyed.

We were all placed here to do something. We are created in the image of God with unlimited potential and even given his Holy Spirit to overcome any earth and flesh imposed limitations. We are children of God and citizens of heaven.

So, are you enjoying the fruits of the harvest? Or, looking forward to the ones to come if you are in a season of planting and waiting—patience?  Or maybe you are in the just plain toil season, of plowing and weeding.

Whatever the season we must rejoice that we are still around to keep working, working with the knowledge that everything will be made beautiful in its time, rejoicing that we will eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of our labor—that’s a promise, that’s the gift of God.

In Christ, everything in our lives serves a purpose and has meaning. But outside of Christ everything has ramifications as well, the laws of cause and effect always apply. The scriptures call it bearing fruit. Either we bear good fruit, or bad fruit, abundant fruit or little fruit–withering until we just give up and fade away, certainly no satisfaction there.

The Farmer

In the old Soviet Union, the one that us of the baby boom generation grew up fearing during the cold war, communism was the rule of the land.  This meant no one owned anything- everything belonged to the state who in turn was supposed to divide everything up evenly amongst the people, no one was special, they were all “comrades”. This sounds like a fair system, right? Well, it was- everyone was equally hungry.  Except for the privileged few who had all the weapons and did the distributing, they always seemed to have much more.

I remember seeing pictures in the news of grocery store shelves with little or no food, people would stand in line for hours to buy a loaf of bread just hoping that they would not run out before they got there, they could only hope, they couldn’t pray– because that was not allowed.

Weird, that there was so little food-everyone had a job, whether they wanted one or not, there were just as many farmers—maybe more—there was just as much land to grow crops and raise livestock, but, there was no love for the land anymore, there was no desire to work the fields, to work all day and night to bring in the harvest.  No one wanted to stay up all night and make sure the new born calves or lambs didn’t freeze to death. Why?

Because there was no love for the land, there was no passion. There was no passion because it just didn’t matter to the people who were farming- there was no reward, everyone got paid the same, no matter. And there was no cost of failure– everyone got paid the same, no matter. 

People didn’t get to choose to be farmers, you did whatever your parents did- like it or not. So not only was there no reason- many people hated what they did and couldn’t wait to go home at the end of the day no matter whether they were done or not.  The whole system finally collapsed under its own weight.

At the same time, and yet today, the American farmerthey work round the clock, work themselves into the ground, often just to watch their work get destroyed by a single storm or swarm of bugs, but they screw their hats down tight and do it again, and if you ask them why- they’ll tell you they love it and there is nothing else they would rather do. And there is always hope, there is always next year.

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Why?  It’s their passion- it’s the life they chose- they love the land like it is a family member and everything it produces -they are proud to take to market and they hold their heads high when they take that check to the bank knowing that they earned every penny and that they are one year closer to passing the land on to their own children- to the son or daughter who chooses that life. And if they have the passion of their parents and grandparents planted into their souls– the farm will continue, and the people of this nation will still be able to stroll to the nearest store and choose from thirty or more different kinds of bread that they can buy for less money than the gallon of fuel it took to run the farmer’s tractor for a round or two in the field it was grown in.

The passion in the heart of the American farmer feeds the world and a bad year just makes them more determined the next.

What you love

Doing what you love, doing what you were born to do, doing what you choose to do, knowing that it makes a difference, that is what keeps you going, that is the passion we all need. The kingdom of Heaven is no different. Many of Jesus’ stories centered around farmers, because passion keeps the economy of the kingdom strong- God’s kingdom is strong when we are strong, we need passion.  The farmer is tireless, why aren’t we, the church, the keepers of the kingdom, working to bring in the greatest harvest of all?

37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  Mat 9

Please my friends, do not give up if you are in a trying season, there is always hope, this is indeed, but a season.

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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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

 

 

 

Another Turn of the Wheel

Today I celebrate my 57th birthday, another year, another turn on the wheel of the master potter, and another day to trust and marvel at his work. And best of all, to get to share it with those whom I love—and with you, my unseen but truly appreciated and heart connected brother and sisters. Be blessed, and please don’t be shy about leaving a comment, I would love to hear from you too.

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Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make.

Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” Jeremiah 18

Turns of the wheel

Moving from the Frozen North to the Southwest, leaving home to go far away into Job Corp, getting hooked on partying in any shape or form only to be radically delivered by an encounter with the Holy Spirit, getting married, becoming a dad and a rancher, leaving a lead man position in a welding shop to become a carpenter at 30. Taking college level theology classes at age 40, becoming a kids pastor in a church started in an old school on the wrong side of the tracks in Billings.

Becoming the pastor of a church that I planted at age 50—and that’s just the highlights—there were a lot of low lights along the way also, impurities that needed worked out, things that I think hindered me from skipping  over some of the more challenging turns of the wheel and fulfilling my call to pastor much earlier in life.

But God is good, God is patient and I had to be broken a few times to be remade along the way. I told you one of those stories last week, falling into the pit a work and blowing out two discs in my back; definitely a breaking that enabled God to retool me and reset some of my thinking. The night I realized just how hopelessly addicted I was to marijuana was certainly a breaking point as I cried out to the Lord, to the Potter—’please have mercy on me and set me free!’ He did, I was restored and his hand of blessing restored.

We have to be broken sometimes to be rid of the impurities that ruin us but we don’t have to be resigned to things being broken that are good, like homes, hearts, promises and lives.

When it comes to those things we often have a choice. It’s being broken of the things that cause the good things to end up broke that I’m talking about.  I remember when we first got married I had this almost crippling fear that Donna was going to leave me at some point, that our marriage would inevitably fail because that’s what I saw all around me and especially growing up.

Growing up in a broken home was hell, I’m sorry but it was, and it deeply affected my perception of life and relationships. It planted an unhealthy fear in me that had to be broken.

It started three weeks after our wedding when our house burned down. My greatest fear as I stood there watching everything we owned go up in smoke was that Donna would now leave me because I had nothing, not even a home to live in.

She didn’t.

We moved into a trailer house literally across the road that just happened to belong to her Dad and her sister and her family had just happened to have moved out of it two weeks earlier. A month or two later we had one of our first real arguments and in the aftermath I kept seeing this picture in my mind of her packing her things, which wouldn’t have taken long at that point after the fire, and walking out the door.

She didn’t

I remember telling her one day in that first year, I wish we could just jump ahead ten years so that we could say we made it, we’re still married. I had heard a statistic that most marriages don’t make it past five years and my own parents had divorced when I was five. She kind of laughed at me and then realized I was serious, she assured me she wasn’t going anywhere.

She didn’t.

During this time I prayed earnestly every day that the Lord would bless our marriage, that we would stay together and never have to suffer the trauma and pain of divorce and I remember very clearly the Lord speaking to me as I was driving home on Blue Creek road and praying as I always did. I still remember where I was on the highway when the Lord told me in no uncertain terms; ‘Your marriage will not fail, it is founded on the rock and nothing will ever come between you.’

“That is my word to you, put that right down there under your feet and stand on it.”

I wept and praised the Lord, something had broken in me at that point, the fear was gone. My marriage was safe in the hands of the Lord, my wife would not leave me, I had made a vow to her and her to me and as long as we were both committed to that vow, to one another, and to the one who gives us the ability to keep those vows, to the only one who can give us that assurance—we would make it.

We did.  And we will- 30 years and counting. . .

We serve a God of miracles, whatever you fear, whatever causes you grief, give it up to Jesus; “In this world you will have trouble, but do not fear, I have overcome the world.”

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I love you all, have a blessed week!

 

Hitting Bottom

There is always hope, no matter what, there is always hope.

Yetrday's troubles

I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me,
And heard my cry.
He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay, —Psalm 40

If you are familiar with the old stories of the Bible you may think of the prophet Jeremiah when you read these words. But they were actually written hundreds of years before Jeremiah would find himself in that miry pit where he was left to die by his own people.

This is a psalm (think praise song) of David, the beloved and world shaking King of ancient Israel.

David’s pits were political upheaval as he and armies fought over his right to be king, as his lust got him into big trouble more than once, as his foolishness would find him aligned with the enemy of his own people, as his infant son would get ill and die even as he fasted and prayed on his face day and night, as another of his sons raped one of his daughters or as another son betrayed him and tried to seize his throne out from under him, even succeeding for a time. That’s just the stuff off the top of my head.

Yes, David knew a thing or two about hitting bottom and finding that the bottom of the hole is nothing but muck, not even a good springboard to rebound off of, and certainly not a good place to rest as you struggle just to keep your head above the mire.

But despite it all, all his failures and hopeless situations—some of his own making, some thrust on him—he always had hope, he always knew who his God was and his God always came through in the end. David actually died old and full of years, to use the biblical phrase, in the arms of his wife, in his own bed, knowing that his beloved son Solomon would inherit his throne and that his God was waiting to welcome him home.

Jeremiah

And then, in that same capital city of Israel, hundreds of years later, a prophet, sent by the God whom David loved, finds himself thrown into a pit full of miry clay by the descendants of the very king who wrote the words he is now living out. King Zedekiah, king of Judah, allows his sons, the princes, to do with Jeremiah as they wish, and they wish to be rid of this troublesome prophet who warns that their party is about to come to an end.

But, as Jeremiah languishes in this pit, wondering if he’ll ever see the light of day or stand on dry ground again, you can be sure that he, a man who had devoted his life to God’s word, both what was already written and that which the Lord was speaking to him, he no doubt knew this psalm very well. And you can just imagine that this was going through his mind over and over again as he languished in that pit:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me,
And heard my cry.
He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps.
He has put a new song in my mouth—
Praise to our God;
Many will see it and fear,
And will trust in the Lord.   –
Psalm 40:1-3

These words may have mocked him at first, they no doubt seemed incredibly ironic yet eerily germane. But I have to believe that these words gave him hope and in that hole in the ground, hope was all he had, but it was enough. Jeremiah hung on, clung to life, clung to those words, clung to hope. And in the end, hope did not disappoint him. The sun always rises and tomorrow is always a new day.

When our daughter Jessie was four years old or so she had a hard time grasping the concept of today and tomorrow. She knew that tomorrow was supposed to come after she went to bed for the night because she would ask, “when I wake up will it be tomorrow?”Yup. So she always asked when she woke up—“Is it tomorrow yet?” “I would say, “Nope it’s a new day but it is still today.”

The old today is now yesterday.

How else do you explain it? Time is a mystery. Every day is a new today, yesterday is gone, and tomorrow never comes. And, most importantly, all time belongs to God. So each day is a new day, a day that the Lord has made and another chance for a miracle, to see the sun shine again and to know that the darkness to come is just a path to another tomorrow.

If you are still breathing there is always hope. If you are not still breathing, you do not need hope because your fight is over, your ultimate rescue has come and you are standing on solid ground before the Lord. So even if the worst should happen, you die, if you are in Christ it is in itself the final rescue. In the meantime he just asks us to keep breathing, to keep hoping, to keep looking to the horizon for the sun to come up so that we can bask in his light and see the glory of his deliverance. Knowing that he did it yesterday and that today is a new today that belongs to him.

There is always hope and holightstock_401634_small_user_43213847pe does not disappoint us, because our hope is named Jesus.

I have discovered along the way that God isn’t always so concerned about getting us out of the hole in a hurry as he is about how we handle being in the hole.

 

Without holes we would never know hope, hope would be meaningless, but in this life full of pits, hope is everything.

Someone asked me the other day if it was ever going to be good again. I replyed “yes, it will.”

It always does.

Find your freedom in Christ    Barbarians in the Kingdom

BAR COVER

 

Restored Dreams

Ruth

Sometimes we give up on dreams, and sometimes they are just stolen from us—no matter what we do.

It is often the unfulfilled expectations of this life that weigh us down; things that happen to us in this life can leave us desperately searching for a reprieve, a redo, especially when it involves our families. I mean, it certainly doesn’t seem to be an overreaching expectation to be loved and surrounded by family—right?

It seems such a simple dream to be a part of a healthy whole family.  Then the drama comes, the unforeseen crisis, the pain of losing one we love—or fearing that we will— and we say “Why God?  “Why have you destroyed my dream, left me without hope and no reason to go on?” 

But we serve a God who can restore even the most hopeless and seemingly out of reach dream. Just ask Naomi.

Naomi lived long ago in Israel and she had a dream. A simple dream really, of passing on  the family farm to her sons and grandchildren.  She dreamed of growing old with her husband and watching her family grow, of getting to be grandma and seeing her sons marry women who loved and respected her and in return she would love them and hand down the wisdom of life’s lessons learned.

But this dream was shattered by one tragedy after another.

First a famine hit the land and the farm stopped making money, no rain, no graindust bowl time! So they walked away from the farm and moved west to the country of Moab.  Then, just as their fortunes seemed to be changing Naomi’s husband died. But Naomi found solace in that her two sons had both found nice Moabite women to marry. Then, tragically, both her sons died.  Within a ten year span Naomi had lost the farm, her husband and both her sons.

So here they are, three widows without much cause for hope, when they heard that the famine in Israel had ended.  With no other recourse Naomi decided to return home and hope for the best, but she still held out very little hope.  She told her daughter in laws:

Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, (for you to marry) 13 would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.14 Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, (a goodbye kiss) but Ruth clung to her. Ruth 1

Naomi was convinced that the Lord was against her and she was destined to live out her miserable life alone.  But one of her daughter in laws, Ruth, was not about to leave her. Naomi was her family now and she would stay by her no matter what.

Naomi was blessed by the unconditional love of her daughter in Law but still she tried to persuade her to return home to her own mother’s house not wanting her to have to suffer the same hopeless destitute and lonely life she was sure would be her lot.  Ruth responded to her mother in law in no uncertain terms, “You are my family, your people will be my people, your God my God— so stop telling me to leave you, where you die I will die!” Wow, don’t we all need a Ruth in our lives?

Or a better question might be, Who’s Ruth am I? To whom have you said?—  I will never give up on you no matter what.”

Ruth said this to Naomi, so off they went; this tiny family, Ruth and Naomi, back to Naomi’s home town of Bethlehem.  They got there just as the Barley harvest was taking place. So, lacking any way to support or feed themselves, Ruth said she would go to one of the nearby farmers and ask if she could pick up the left over grain from behind the reapers.

ruth-gleaning

She chose a field that happened to belong to Boaz who turned out to be a relative of Naomi. Impressed by her willingness to work from sunup to sundown picking up dropped gleanings behind the paid harvesters to provide for her and her mother in law, Boaz told his workers not to harass her and  in fact to look after her and to make sure they left enough behind so that Ruth would get a good bushel or two to take home.  Boaz even told Ruth not to go to any other farms because he was afraid she would not be safe on another place.

When Naomi heard about all this she was filled with hope for the first time in years and exclaimed— ‘Boaz is a relative of mine, obviously he likes you, maybe this is the Lord’s way of providing you with a husband and restoring our family.’ ‘Uhm, I just had an idea.  There’s a harvest party tonight at his place. Wash yourself up girl, put on some nice clothes and some good smelling perfume and get on down there and make yourself known!’

“Here’s your one chance Fancy don’t let me down!” No wait, that’s Reba’s mother, not Ruth’s.

Long story short, Boaz did take notice of Ruth and impressed by her loyalty and virtuousness, he married her. And because he was a relative of Naomi he was even able to redeem the family farm that had been lost to Naomi’s family when all the male heirs had died off.

It wasn’t long before Naomi had a grandson and her long dead dream of being the grandma, of handing down the family farm, and having a daughter in law to share life’s joys with, was restored.  Her dream, her long dead— ‘never gonna happen now’— dream, was restored, as was Ruth’s.

 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin;  and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.”  Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse.  The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David. Ruth 4:14-18

I love that the Holy Spirit put this story in here, sandwiched between much weightier books,  to remind us that he is a very personal God who cares about the individual. 

He cared about Naomi even though she had given up hope. She had given up hope but she never stopped trying, she just kept pushing on and though she was convinced that for some reason God was against her, she never turned to another God, she never rebelled. God was still her God and he came through for her in spite of her hopelessness and despair.

The Red Tent

Then there’s Ruth, a foreigner who did not even know Ruth’s God. Yet exemplified the purity of simple faith, in her willingness to follow her dead husband’s mother to a land she did not know, and worship the God of that land though she saw no tangible benefits to that worship.  She had a faith and a virtuousness that put to shame many more religious women who never knew the tragedy she had endured.

Because of her astounding character she was restored and blessed, even becoming the great grandmother of King David, the throne of whom the Messiah himself would occupy forever.

Both of these women just kept putting one foot in front of the other and recognized the restoring hand of God when it appeared, and appear it did, when they least expected it in a way they could never have imagined.

What a great reminder of who our God is—the restorer of dreams. 

Never give up, never lose hope, your God loves you and hears you.