Alive in Him

alive in him

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ… Ephesians 2

Isn’t it good to be alive? Seriously, life is a precious gift. The ability to appreciate the beauty around us, to enjoy the smells, sounds  and sights of this amazing world we were placed in. The tastes of good food whether it’s the everyday bacon, eggs and coffee or whatever it is you have for breakfast—Wheatiesor the unique taste of the first burger of the season cooked on the BBQ after a long winter, or a special birthday cake fixed just for you.

I love the smell of new spring growth, the freshness of the rain, and the smell of fresh cut grass, the sound of a creek flowing over a rocky stream bed and on and on—it’s good to be alive and to have the ability to enjoy and appreciate the wonders of even the simplest things in life—all of them are a gift from God.

The gift

Life is a gift, a gift that comes with gifts. If we don’t enjoy this gift of life it’s no one’s fault but our own. No matter what is going on in your life, the pressures of family or work, the bills that need to be paid, the ailments that come and go, we can all step outside in the morning, lift our eyes to heaven, feel the sun on our face or see the wonders of the stars and say ‘thank you Lord, it is indeed good

It is good

—your creation is very good. Help me to be alive in it today, thank you for giving me life, help me live it today as a gift from you.’

Strange song

I love it in the spring when the song birds come back from the southern haunts. I never consider it to be spring until I hear the song of a meadow lark. I have been blessed to live where their songs fill the air about the time winter is making it’s last desperate attempts to hang on just a little longer, but to no avail, as the sun climbs a little higher into the Big Sky every day.

When we first moved to Carbon County near Red Lodge MT we thought there was something strange about the meadowlarks here. They sounded great but their song is a little different then the Meadowlarks we had been hearing for so long on Blue Creek just 30 miles away. It really bothered our daughter Danielle, she wanted to go out and teach them the right melody. I don’t know if it’s a learned thing that differs from region to region or what it is. The song is still beautiful but they just end on a different note and drop a warble on the end, like they forgot the last verse.

Nevertheless I have truly come to appreciate the song of the Meadowlarks that come stay with us each summer. There is one that likes to perch on top of the phone pole in our backyard and sing his heart out. It always amazes me that such a tiny bird can make such a big sound. You can be driving down the road at highway speeds with your window cracked open and hear the song of a meadow lark like you are standing right next to it.

I don’t personally know any meadowlarks, I mean, I’ve never sat down and visited with one, they’re pretty shy and not much for sharing and honestly, I don’t know if the bird that appears on our phone pole is the same one every year, or from day to day for that matter. They all look the same to me. Yet, there is one who does know those birds. In fact, he knows all the birds, and cares about them.

The one who created them, the only one who could have created such amazing creatures—I mean, feathers, flying, migrating, singing, surviving, even flourishing through the worst of natures wrath and challenges—that someone who always has his eye on the tiniest sparrow is, of course, God.

Meadow lark

Jesus would use this fact to teach us how valuable we are to God and to encourage us to not be afraid of anything this world would throw at us.

“And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!

“Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 12:4

Fear no other

Fear God and no other.

The only one a human being created in the image of God should fear is the creator. Yet we, who recognize just how valuable we are to Him, who are unable to be destroyed because our life is now in Christ, have nothing to fear from God nor the enemy.

That’s the point of all that Jesus came to do and teach, and is what Paul is telling us in Ephesians. We are alive, we cannot be destroyed, and we have nothing to fear for we are loved and always will be. Even at deaths’ door when this flesh is used up or destroyed, we are just opening the door to Jesus Christ and our eternity with him, seated in the heavenly places.

As I was praying about this message, and why I delved into the sparrow thing, is because of what the Lord gave me for you to share this week as relates to what we are studying in Ephesians this week.

“My eye is on the sparrow, my hand is on your heart. I am the air you breath and the song you sing.” HS

As we just read from the words of Jesus, not a single sparrow goes unnoticed by God nor is forgotten, yet we are so much more valuable to him and our hearts are in his hands. Our heart is our life, the seat of our emotions, the temple of the Holy Spirit—in scripture heart is synonymous with the soul—the real us within the tent of flesh that we live in.

So if his hand is on our hearts, then our life is His and in His control and care—we just have to learn to trust that.

If we look to God for the song in our hearts, it will be there as surely as the air we breathe.

Barbarians in the Kingdom

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Blown It?

Have I lost my salvation?

Depression

You ever feel like you’ve blown it so bad with Jesus that surely He must be done forgiving you and you might as well just give up and give in? “I might as well eat drink and be merry because surely I’ve lost my reward and will be lucky if I even make it into heaven. ‘Lord, how can you love a sinner like me?’” Time marches on, the years go by and it seems like the struggle never ends, the temptations keep coming and the flesh keeps falling for the same old tricks and the heart still struggles to hold on to hope.

It doesn’t always happen, some days we feel pretty good about ourselves and feel we might be winning the battle, our anchor is holding fast, but then we stumble again “Oh Lord, how can you love a wretch like me?” And then we read something like Hebrews chapter 6 and we really get worried.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. Heb 6

Encouraging isn’t it?—um, not really… I’d be willing to bet that as you read this it caused you a little sense of panic; “Have I lost my salvation, is this me, is this my wife, my husband, my child?”

But we have to look at it in light of what he said just before this and in the previous chapter–five–that we shouldn’t have to keep laying the foundations again and again, those foundational principles that we are saved by repentance and faith, turning away from sin and to Jesus. We shouldn’t have to keep hounding on the basics of the faith, the resurrection of the dead, the importance of baptism, the power in the laying on of hands and the finality of God’s coming judgement—things which were even basic principles in the Jewish faith before the once for all sacrifice of the Son of God.

He’s saying that it doesn’t do any good to keep hounding people who already know all these things, who have experienced them and understood them, yet have rejected and turned away from them—from God—to hear them again because it will no longer do them any good. They have fallen away and no longer care; they can’t be resaved, when they have rejected what they had. The anchor rope has been cut and left on the bottom with the anchor.

The grace on which our hope is based is a gift. And a gift returned to Jesus because we didn’t like it is a gift no longer ours and may never be offered again. That may all sound a bit unnerving but that’s what it says here. But stay with me here, he’s not talking about misled or foolish believers who make some bad choices, he’s talking about being truly apostate, renouncing faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Those who have received the gift of grace, been reborn by God’s Holy Spirit and even experienced the miraculous transformative power of that Spirit and moved in the Kingdom’s power, only to one day say ‘God is not real, his word no longer satisfies my soul’, They are rejecting the truth and forfeiting the grace they were so freely given.

When they turn back to the sin and bondages that Jesus died to free them from, whether it is turning back to the law—trusting in religious works and ceremony instead of Jesus for salvation, or rejecting the word of God out of hand and living just for the flesh as though Jesus was nothing more than a myth used by the foolish to keep people down—they are basically thumbing their noses at Jesus. Just as those who crucified him did.

The Mob

Jesus Cross

The screaming mob who stood before Pilate and shouted “crucify him” were many of the same people who had witnessed his miracles of healing, heard his words of power and authority proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God and offering peace and forgiveness to all who believed. They had heard of and even seen Lazarus who was raised from the dead, heard the shouts of praise from the blind men and the lepers, the crippled and bleeding women who were healed.

They had seen and heard demons flee in terror from those they had tormented, at just a word from Jesus—and then, because they were led astray by the words of a handful of men in fancy robes who claimed to be too smart to be swayed by such foolishness, they demanded his death.

Why would they do that? Perhaps because they wanted something now that that they weren’t getting. They wanted their Messiah to give them free bread everyday just like Moses had called down for their ancestors or like Caesar was doing in Rome. They wanted their deliverer to charge in on a white stallion leading an army like David and Solomon did in the glory days of old, their swords dripping with the blood of their enemies.

They wanted all their wishes and desires pandered to and they wanted vengeance on their enemies—and they wanted all this today. But it wasn’t happening so they were now an angry mob, and once that mentality takes hold, it’s no longer anchored in hope, it’s anchored in hate.

They hated the Romans, they hated the Samaritans, they hated their puppet king and the corrupt priests. But all Jesus wanted to talk about was love and faith, forgiveness and mercy—heart issues and selflessness—’we don’t need that, we need action, displays of power that will put the fear into the Romans and restore the greatness of Israel, and we need it now. ‘So off with his head!’, the Queen of Hearts is back on the throne, and Jesus is no longer relevant to us.’

That’s what the writer here is talking about when he says it’s impossible for those who once knew, saw and tasted that God is good, who experienced real forgiveness and felt the power of grace, who throw it all away, who renounce their faith and chase after the things of the flesh once again, to be restored to life. They have thrown away their grace, traded life for death, love for hate, mercy for judgement. Just as surely as those who stood on the hill at the foot of the cross and mocked him—the Nazarene who bled there.

They are committing the worst of sins in their mocking and jeers, that are blaspheming, cursing God himself.  Jesus put it this way;

against me

Still a citizen

So the writer of Hebrews here is not talking about just making mistakes and doing on occasion what we know we shouldn’t oughta do—he’s talking about purposely disregarding Christ and no longer caring or being grateful for his grace. Like the young woman from Alabama who basically renounced her U.S. citizenship to join Isis in Syria who now wants to come back to America. That renounce America and swear allegiance to her enemy thing is not working out so well for her—turns out the enemy’s promises of glory and purpose are not all they’re cracked up to be and now she will have a tough row to hoe proving that she truly warrants another chance to come home to the land she openly mocked and scorned.

In the case of one “fallen away” they just do not want to come home.

Better things

better things

The writer of Hebrews, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as all of scripture is, is convinced that we are not those who have denied our faith and jumped headlong into the pit of doom. Just the fact that one would take the time to read these words is proof enough that the heart is still seeking the Lord, still open to his Spirit and receptive to his grace.

I used to have men ask me back when I was doing bible studies at the jail, men who acknowledged that they have made bad choices—done horrible things and stumbled and fallen in their walk with the Lord— they would ask me, desperate and forlorn, “Have I lost my salvation, can God still forgive me?” And I would always tell them the same thing, the same answer I would give to many others since then, “Just the fact that you are asking me that question, that you are worried about it, means that you haven’t.”

An apostate, someone who has denied Jesus as Lord, blasphemed the Holy Spirit whom it is that bears witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, does not care any longer what God thinks, they are not worried about losing their salvation or being forgiven because they no longer acknowledge that they are accountable to him. A heart that has rejected Jesus Christ as Lord is a hard heart with no room for remorse.

anchored meme

If one reads on in Hebrews 6 you’ll discover that God has given us his word, His solemn oath, that our souls are anchored in him, anchored by hope and that hope is found in his word, trusting his word, believing his word, our hope is his word, in his word we find Jesus, his only Son, creator, redeemer, the word of God, God himself, incarnate.

And hope never disappoints us. —Romans 5:4

So no, you have not blown it.

Be blessed my friends;  Dan–the barbarian Pastor

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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

Seasons and Passion

This is but a season.

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Photo by Jordan Benton on Pexels.com

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.

silhouette of man sitting on grass field at daytime
Photo by Spencer Selover on Pexels.com

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.

adult arts and crafts clay dirty
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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.”

mountain preacher

 

I love you all, have a blessed week!