Mother’s Day Fantasy

“Can I just check myself into the nursery and sit in the corner with a sippy cup full of wine for an hour or two—or six?”

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The alarm goes off—it’s Sunday, Mother’s day.

You informed everyone the night before that they will all be going to church tomorrow lest there be any doubt. It’s Mother’s day and you are going to have a nice day with your family. You are going to church— let everyone see what a wonderful family you have, that you are the godly parent providing for their spiritual nourishment.

After church your family is taking you to a nice sit down restaurant and you are going to pretend that you are not stressing over how much this is taking out of your budget for the month.

So, the alarm goes off—way too early, you are the first one up and you were the last one in bed because you had to finish the laundry. You jump into the shower, throw on your robe and go wake up the kids. They are all in a state of suspended animation so this takes several attempts over a 25 minute period making you more frustrated and leaving you less time to do something with your still wet hair.

Finally they are all sprawled across the furniture out in the living room, hugging their blankets and making unpleasant mumbling sounds. A few moments later from the bathroom you know they are finally waking up because they are now starting to snarl at each other until one of them screams; “Mom, Johnny called me a poopy head!” You scream back; “Go brush your teeth and find something to eat!”

Your husband shouts above the sound of clanging pans, “I’m making oatmeal!’ Your youngest replies, “I want sketios.” Husband; “You can’t have Sketios for breakfast, you’re eating oatmeal, that’s what’s for breakfast.” The chorus continues as you close the bathroom door to focus on getting ready.

20 minutes later you emerge from the bathroom to make sure the kids are finding the right clothes to wear. Your youngest is wearing her oatmeal—as is the stove top. Johnny is just sitting at the table staring at his bowl determined to outlast his Dad who told him he is not moving until he eats and your teenage daughter is informing you that you are ruining her life by not allowing her to wear the outfit she came home from the mall with last week and she has already texted fifteen of her friends and posted three selfies on Facebook of her new tongue piercing, which is now swollen, possibly infected, and makes her lisp like Gopher on Winnie the Pooh.

You would laugh but you are convinced that she will probably die from the infection and you are already trying to figure out how you are going to get her into a doctor on a Sunday afternoon. But first, ‘we are having Mother’s Day!’ Fifteen more minutes magically disappeartime flies when your frantic—“Everyone in the car, where going to be late!”

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Where’s your youngest? She’s in her room cutting the hair on her My Little Pony. She has already taken off her new dress and replaced it with her Toys R Us  Princess Anna dress, ‘Ughhh!” no time to change, you grab her and a pair of her shoes and head out the door only to find out half way to church that you grabbed the Minnie Mouse shoes and she wanted her Dory shoes and you are going to hear about it the rest of the way there. She won’t keep them on anyway so what does it matter?

Your husband and oldest daughter aren’t on speaking terms right now because of the piercing thing, but at least they’re quiet.

You walk into church half way through worship, send the kids in all the right directions, plop down in a chair way to close to the front because that is what’s left and pretend you are able to focus even for one minute on worship. You hear a phone ring and it about sets you off—“Who could be so inconsiderate!” Then you realize it is yours, you forgot to put it on silence.

‘Can I just check myself into the nursery and sit in the corner with a sippy cup full of wine for an hour or two—or six?’

And that’s just Sunday morning.

Happy Mother’s Day!? I am a miserable mother and I’ll be lucky if my children don’t grow up to be ax murderers.

It Is Enough

I bet if I could took a poll every mother reading this would say they feel or have felt this way. And you can bet your own mother’s often felt this way as well. You are tasked with raising little human beings with all the complexities of emotion and thought that anyone else has, each with a different and unique personality and way of thinking.

Yet, when you get them, they have absolutely no idea how to deal with any of those things. They have all the potential and none of the tempering experience, and you, probably have little or no experience being a mother. and training these needy helpless complex creatures on how to be a functional person in a world that few really understand in the first place now seems way beyond your pay grade.

You went into this with an idea in your head of how it would or should be. ‘Sweet little darlings to nurture and love, entertain and delight with crafts to do, cookies to bake together and eat, board games and activities with other wonderful kids from the neighborhood.’

You are going to teach them how to sew and garden, cheer them on in sports and be the 4-H mom that is able to volunteer for everything. Your kids are going to sing in the church choir and everyone will envy you for having such wonderful children and they will grow up and give you grandchildren who can’t wait to come over and spend time at your knee listening to the stories of your wonderful life and memorize Bible verses.

You might think that because that’s what you hear from your neighbors, you saw it on that Christmas movie on the Hallmark Channel —or that’s what you remember from your own childhood. You just want to give your kids that perfect childhood.

There are no perfect childhoods—at least not by the impossible standards of our fantasy’s. But there are perfect memories. Not that things are remembered perfectly, but that in memory they become perfect.

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You think back and remember the good times you had as a kid, the things you learned, the adventures you had back when everything was new and exciting and you felt safe and loved because your Mom was always there and always cared. She probably remembers the chaos because while you were being covered in love she was being covered in bodily fluids. While you were learning about the wonders of the universe above she was being annoyed by your constant questions while she was trying to balance the check book and figure out how to pay the gas bill.

You get my point, all we can do is the best we can do and by God’s grace, if we indeed care, it is somehow enough, more than enough. You are not tasked with creating the perfect person, there is only one creator and he has already done the hard part and yet he never quits working on until the task is complete. What he is asking you to do is to help them build the foundation.

What you need to do is give your kids the foundation to build on, the corner stone, give them Jesus. How do you do that?—You do the best that you can and you keep caring. You build the foundation by caring, and you keep caring—always.

You keep standing on the rock, loving them, praying for them, being there for them, getting them here to church to hear about Jesus from a teacher who is devoted to teaching them God’s word and giving you the opportunity to be fed as well.

All the Lord asks of us as parents, just as he does in our relationship with him, is that we keep doing our best and never give up knowing that it is not entirely up to us.

You love them for Jesus, and keep knowing that you are loved as well, by him, by your kids and by us. And every day is a new day.

on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

Cherish this day

If there is one piece of advice I can leave you with—mothers—is this; enjoy this day, cherish the chaos and noise because one day you’re going to miss it. Trust me, my wife will tell you the same thing; each and every day with your kids is a gift, and one day your kids will look back and say the same. Your kids would never trade you for another, you are their mom.

Keep standing on and loving from the rock—you are immovable, and that’s all your kids really want anyway.

. . .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 the one who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” 1 Peter 2:5,6

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World Changers?

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We all want to change the world, at least we start out that way. Every new generation is bent on making an impact; you go to high schools and colleges and ask the kids what they want to do and they all, in one iteration or another, will tell you they want to make a difference, to change the world. As we get older the enthusiasm wanes as we realize that just surviving takes so much energy and the world is such a large place that we give up hope of changing anything—except maybe our own circumstances, and even that can be futile.

We go from making the world a better place to ‘make my world a better place.’ ‘I just want to pay the bills, have a nice place to live and be happy.’ Ironically if we do get a nice place to live and can pay the bills we find ourselves wanting a nicer place to live and end up with bigger bills to stress about. In the end it all presents itself to us as, just what Simon Peter would come to call, an empty way of life, futile and aimless.

Simon Peter had gotten to that place, feeling empty, living an aimless, futile life. But then his boat was rocked and his world changed forever by the true world changer.

Then He (Jesus) got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.

When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” Luke 3

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A heart changed is a world changed.

Jesus got into Peter’s boat so that he could use it as a platform to preach to a multitude of people, a crowd so large and enthusiastic that Jesus actually got into the boat in part to escape being overrun by them. Yet what does he do? He turns to Peter and tells him to push out into the water, “We’re going fishing, just you and me buddy.”

Jesus did come to change the world, yet, with what looks to us as the world clamoring for his attention, a perfect opportunity to reach more and more, double, triple the size of his growing congregation, to keep the momentum going and reach the multitudes, he leaves them standing on the shore, and focuses on one—one somewhat reluctant man.  A man most wouldn’t have given a second thought let alone worth the time to mentor. But Jesus would  spend the next three years doing just that.

Why would he do this? Because Jesus knows that a heart changed is a world changed. 

The world is not made up of throngs, it is made up of individuals. Each and every one of which has hopes, dreams and aspirations; pains, trials and challenges; fears and regrets. And each and every person, each and every heart, has a place inside that no one knows but them, no one can truly experience, truly understand, a deep place where we live day in and day out.

It is our world, an entire world within us that we may not truly understand ourselves, we may not even like. But there is one other who does understand, who truly sees and hears what goes on in that world and wants to be a part of it. That is Jesus. Whether we let him in or not, whether we allow him full partnership in our world or not, he knows it still, he experiences our world with us and he wants to change it and to share it with us— with our permission and complete trust.

That world within us is just as large to Jesus as it is to us, it is just as important, perhaps more important to him as it is to us. Jesus knows that if he can change that world,  take away the pain, take away the fear, take away the hopelessness and frustration, he has done something huge, something wonderful, he has changed a world—he has ransomed you from a world of death into a world of life.

And that is the entire reason he came and died, to change your world. And if enough worlds are truly changed, enough hearts set free to be who he created them to be, then the world will be changed as well and become what he created it to be. A beautiful home for his most precious creation, mankind. Finally free from the curse, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God and now living in that reality.

A heart changed is indeed, a world changed.

Who is in charge in your world? You will never change anything worth changing until you can answer that question with one word— Jesus.

 

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 1 Peter 1:18—19 NIV

All else is only emptiness, a chasing after the wind.

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The Riddle

“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. Luke 7

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Remember the old batman character the Riddler? He was always messing with Batman’s mind by giving clues to his true intentions in the form of a riddle.

Riddle me this caped crusaders; What is covered in camel’s hair but is not a camel? What speaks the words of God but is not found in a temple? What eats locusts and honey but is not a wild beast, and stands as sturdy as an oak but is not a tree. What is not concerned about being politically correct and not offending anyone yet draws hearers from far and wide?

Answer—A true prophet and more than a prophet, the voice of one—John the Baptist.

The crowds weren’t drawn to John because he was a smooth talker in fancy clothes. They were drawn to John because he was honest, because he spoke truth, and the people were hungry for the truth. Which is of course why they now followed Jesus—he also spoke truth—he could do nothing else because he is truth.

People were not drawn to John because he looked good in his designer clothes and impeccably groomed beard and stylish haircut, people did not walk miles in the hot sun into the middle of nowhere because they wanted to hear the message of abundant living, the secret to success, that some well-to-do preacher was offering. They went because they were hungry for truth, hungry for something real; because John was proclaiming, for no apparent personal gain of his own, with no pretense or fancy talk, that the Kingdom of God, the Redeemer was coming and coming now.

“The Redeemer will come to Zion,
to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,”
declares the Lord.

 “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips. . .  Is 59:20—21

They went to John because they were hungry for God, hungry to be right with God, hungry for the word and seeing and hearing this wild eyed man in the desert who cared not about his own pride or esteem, who wasted no energy worrying about whether he would look good enough and preach good enough to make people want to come back next week, hearing him tell them that he had a way for them to do that—to be right with God—'”repent and be baptized” and be ready.’ ‘Believe in the one who was to come, “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’”

Peter would preach that same message on the day of Pentecost three years later—Repent and be baptized— but this time it was not to receive the one who is to come, but to receive the one who has come.

38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2

This was a fulfillment of John’s promise that one was coming who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

But for now, on that day when Jesus asked the people, why did you go to see John?—No one else was offering them that hope for grace, no one else was telling them their sins could be taken away, let alone the sins of the world, or that they could soon even be immersed in the Holy Spirit.

The priests had made a business out of offering only temporary absolution, ‘keep coming back, keep buying the animals for the sacrifice we sell here, keep paying the temple tax and the tithe, keep doing everything the teachers of the law tell you to do, you dirty sinners, if not for you God’s Kingdom would have come a long time ago!’

Garments of righteousness

Jesus wasn’t trying to make the point that we need to dress modestly like John did. He was telling us that it is what’s on the inside that’s important.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Is 61:10

Here are the garments that we need to wear, the ones that are truly important, the ones that we wear out of respect and love for the one we stand before as a bride.

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I always tell the groom to be when we are preparing for a wedding I am performing when he is stressing over how he is going to look up there in his Tux or whatever as he is standing before a crowd nervous and self-conscious—”No one is going to be looking at you”, the minute that bride comes in, all eyes are on her. She even has her own song.

The bride is usually all decked out in a white dress that is made just special for her to dazzle and magnify her beauty. They spend hours on the hair and the makeup, the flowers and accessories, veils, trains, jewels, whatever and as soon as the groom sees her the last thing he is thinking about is whether or not he looks dorky.

He is awestruck and madly in love at that point and can never imagine ever feeling any other way about her, she is the very center of his universe.

Every time I gave away one of my daughters at their wedding I had the same thought, “Boy, you had better realize how lucky you are.”

That is how Jesus sees us—as the most beautiful thing he has ever laid eyes on and he is thrilled beyond comprehension that we have chosen to be his, that his Father has given us to him. He is honored and happy that we have accepted the garments of salvation, and me the robe of righteousness he offers to us and that we chose to wear them just for him.

The lamb of God who has taken away the sins of the world has made us his bride, and we are perfect and beautiful and he can never imagine himself loving us less. How can we not rejoice in that?

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It’s not luck that gets the groom the beautiful bride, it’s the unfailing, sacrificial love and devotion that the husband to be showers on the one he has chosen to be his bride—Jesus has chosen you.

 

 

 

Tag, You’re It!

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What if everything we are doing is for the next generation. Are we okay with that? Therein lies the problem. I think we have a tendency to be shortsighted— ‘I don’t want to cause my kids any grief’—while we are ill equipping them for the future. And we are still primarily focused on what we can get out of it, I want the best for my kids!— maybe so, but you also want the best for yourself—right here, right now, no conflict, no patience required.

We are all about Instant gratification. No one saves money anymore, no one writes and mails letters, no one lays up stores for the winter.

A lot of people can’t even wait for their coffee to perk anymore, they’ve got to have a Keurig or a Starbucks drive thru and the most popular shows on TV are the ones where people become instant superstars like American Idol, The Voice, America’s got Talent—because who wants to work their way up to the top like those poor saps Johnny Cash or Dolly Parton had to? We can’t even wait until their scheduled air time, we have to download and watch them when we want to watch them on a four inch screen that gives us the world on demand. Anyway, I digress.

The less we miss the more we miss.

Coming

Those who can muster the patience to hear, know there is something big coming down the pike. God has told us, we see it in his word, we hear if from the prophets of old and of today. I have spoken it myself and have spoken about it at great length lately, that we are going to see a great outpouring of his Holy Spirit as the final act of this age is played out. I believe we are being prepared for the final battle— good against evil, believers against the purveyors of evil—those supernaturally empowered, perhaps, by Satan himself to deceive and frighten the world into submission and ultimately destruction.

12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 13 But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 2 Tim 3:12—13

We must not be among those deceived. But it is going to take great patience and forbearance as we anxiously wait for the fulfillment, and as we realize that the battle is frightening and prolonged.

And at this point we don’t yet know if we are going to be the champions or if we are simply charged with preparing the next champions for Christ.

What we cannot do is say, veterans of the battle, “This is the way it is, this is the way we did it and it is as good as it gets, just try to replicate it and pray that you are as good as we were.” No, a good teacher, a real mentor always seeks to teach his charges to think beyond him and exceed him.

I believe the Lord is going to use the next generation to shape the final battle, to help usher in and be the long term benefactors of the next great outpouring. And—I’m talking to Baby boomers—they will do it with us or without us, with our help or without our help. If it is without us it will be a tragic and sad end to our generation, that we were too busy, too tired, retired or apathetic to step up and use our gifts and talents, our experiences and anointings, our God given remaining days, to affect the fight, to come alongside and then spur on ahead— the warriors coming up.

I think one of the great hinderances to this is perhaps pride, like I alluded to earlier, we think we have seen it as good as it gets, like the Israel and Judah that Isaiah was prophesying to, ‘we have reached the pinnacle, we are blessed and have the favor of God, nothing can touch us, nothing can better us—just do everything we do and you too will be blessed.’ Then along comes the Isaiahs, the Jeremiahs, the John the Baptists, trying to tell them otherwise until God destroys both kingdoms from top to bottom and rebuilds them as new generation is prepared while in captivity in Babylon, those like Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea and Esther.

That’s what the promise we see here would come to mean for that later generation.

And it will be said in that day:
“Behold, this is our God;
We have waited for Him, and He will save us. Is 25

 

But today, we have a new generation, the church, waiting once again for the fuller and final fulfillment of the larger part of this same prophecy.

He will swallow up death forever,
And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces;

And it will be said in that day:
“Behold, this is our God;
We have waited for Him, and He will save us. Is 25

 

But we cannot rest yet, we cannot get arrogant and say, ‘This is all there is, the book is closed, the final chapter written and all you can do is wait for it to end with a bang.’ ‘Rapture me up lord before it all hits the fan.’ ‘I went to the biggest church in town, worshiped you with smoke machines and light shows, participated in Broadway quality dramas and saw thousands of people give their hearts to you!’

‘I used my vacations to go to third world countries, help at church camps—I mean, we’ve reached the pinnacle—we have our own TV stations, radio stations, my face is on the cover of bestselling books and I have a million Twitter followers, look at what we’ve built!

Let’s build a tower that reaches the heavens! –Oh wait, that’s a bad thing.

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Well, that’s all great, but what about the next generation? Are we building them? Or are we setting them up to fall short because we have gotten this church thing so polished and professional that the pressure that they watched kill many of us off is nothing they want anything to do with.

Is this what we waited for?

No, this is just the precursor to what God is doing next. Now is the time to stop looking at what we built, and start looking at who we can build.

That takes patience, that takes time, that takes commitment and most of all, that takes humility. When we point others to Jesus, we then have to get out of the way so they can see him and so that they can follow. Can you say John the Baptist?

So I say to the next generation— Tag, you’re it!

 

Oust the Snakes

“Poison or not, the business end of a bull snake is not a happy place when its’ business is you.”  

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I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:1—2

We are called to be Holy—set apart, separate from the world even while in it—Holy warriors. We cannot expect to be a light to the world if we are living in the deeds of darkness, we cannot expect to be blessed by a Holy God if we are not setting our hearts towards holiness and we cannot expect to find ourselves in the path of the Lord’s plan for us if the flesh is leading us down the path of sin.

So what’s the big deal, we’re covered by grace, we are free, what’s a little indulgence gonna hurt? I don’t know, maybe you should ask your kids.

I want to tell you a true story I hope makes the point.

Buddy the Bull Snake

This goes way back to when we were still on the Heyu—cow ranch. We had only been in the new house we had built after our honeymoon cottage burned down for a year or so, long enough for the ground under our front steps to settle and create a cavity—a perfect snake den it turns out. We had a five foot bull snake move into that cavity. Cool, no big deal, we had a Bull snake hanging around at the old Homestead house we had started in, maybe even the same one. We had named him Buddy because Donna would ask me now and then if I had seen my buddy lately.

Buddy liked to stretch out in the front yard to soak up the morning sun; this would give you quite a start if you came across him unexpectedly.  We didn’t worry about him too much because we figured he would keep the worse snakes—the rattlers— away. Just leave Buddy be, what’s one snake gonna hurt?

Well, the problem arose when our daughter Cally, was three or four years old, old enough to start roaming around outside the house some by herself. She would be outside playing and run into Buddy causing her to go into hysterics; she would then run away shrieking at the top of her lungs.  Apparently when you are only three feet tall a five foot snake is pretty scary.

Well, after hearing Cally scream bloody murder a few different times I decided Buddy had to go. So, the next time I heard Cally scream I donned my welding gloves, high boots and grabbed a rake and a five gallon bucket.  I found Buddy lying in the front yard right where Cally’s screams indicated he would be, I snagged him with the rake and dropped him into the bucket.  I quickly put the lid on the bucket and took Buddy for a walk.

I took him to the opposite corner of the forty acres our house sat on and released him in a swampy area where I figured he would find plenty to eat and have a nice life near the water.  Apparently all Buddy found there was other snakes who were looking to “have a nice life” because about a month later I heard that familiar scream again and ran out to find Cally running from a gathering of four bull snakes and the largest garter snake I had ever seen lounging around the front yard basking in the morning sun like vacationers on the beach.

Once again I put on my gloves and boots, grabbed a rake and a large cardboard box and went out to start scooping up snakes as they tried to make their way back to the den under the steps.  The only problem was the snakes were coming out of the box almost as fast as I was putting them in.  After I had scrambled enough to get three of them to stay in the box at the same time I shut the lid on the box while the remaining two disappeared under the steps.  I then threw the box of snakes into the back of my pickup and headed for the lower pasture a couple miles away down the back road, all the while I was cringing, imagining those snakes crawling into the cab with me, (I really don’t like snakes.)

Finally I got to where I planned to release them, far enough away that I knew they would not come “home”, and dumped them into the head of a large washout. One of the larger snakes decided he would rather come after me then go into the chasm, mouth open, fangs bared and hissing, so I ran back to the truck and high tailed it out of there.  Poison or not, the business end of a bull snake is not a happy place when its’ business is you.  I later dispatched the Garter snake with a shotgun and the remaining bull snake with a shovel and much dancing while he hissed and struck at me; no fun!  Snakes don’t make good “buddies”.

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What’s one snake gonna hurt? You see, the trouble started when I allowed just one little ol’ snake to hang around.  I even began to think of him as a friend.

We’ve all been there; ‘What’s one gonna hurt?’  He’ll keep the others away.  So I have a couple of bad habits, I’m a big boy, I can handle it. What’s one hit gonna hurt, what’s crude comment gonna hurt, what’s one look gonna hurt—one drunken evening. I’s no big deal, so what if I fall short in this area? I’m only human, I’ve got to have some fun right? No one will care if I sleep around, no one will care if I steal a little from my employer—no one will know.

Here’s a question to ask yourself next time you are indulging; If Jesus was standing here next to me, would I still do this?

Or—’If my kids saw me doing this would they be okay with it, or would they run away screaming?”—innocence has a much different perspective. How about this question, “Would I be okay with it if my kids started doing this themselves?”

If you are not okay with your kids doing it, why would you expect your Father in heaven to be okay with you doing it? There’s something to ponder.

Why would you not be okay with your kids doing it? Why not drink yourself silly? Why not sleep with someone who hasn’t bothered to make a marriage commitment with you? Why not cheat and steal, cuss and lie, smoke and chew? Why would you not encourage your kids to do these things? Because you know they are harmful, you know they are hard habits to break and you want better for your kids—so does the Lord.

That’s why he gave us the commandments, not to ruin our fun but to keep us safe, to keep us free—because he loves us and has something so much better for us. He doesn’t want us playing with snakes, snakes are not nice and they always invite other snakes to move in with them.

Snakes always den up with other snakes and your heart is a fine place to den up—especially if the Lord has cleaned it out for them.

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”  Mat 12:43-45

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Empty Trenches

Where is the next generation of warriors?

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“. . . what did they have for a model? Big haired makeup slathered mega church pastors on TV who fell from grace like leaves on a Minnesota Maple tree in the fall?”

“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
For you shall go to all to whom I send you,
And whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of their faces,
For I am with you to deliver you,” says the Lord. Jeremiah 1

God said what?

The prophet Jeremiah was called, but he had to make a decision, in spite of his youth and inexperience, in spite of the unpopular messages he was being given as he preached repentance to the nation of Israel who thought themselves beyond reproach, he had to answer the call and obey his God. God did not allow excuses; “Oh gee, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize how young you werewhat, are you kidding me!? I formed you in the womb, I knew you before you even knew you existed, I set you aside for a special assignment and I had your life planned and I ordained you to speak to the nations on my behalf before you were even a twinkle in your father’s eye.’

‘So you are going to tell me you can’t handle this, that you’re too young? —I don’t think so. Here let me touch your mouth and give you the words, let me give you courage that you may go where I send you, let me give you an assurance of protection as I deliver you from your enemies and all who would seek to destroy you and your message. So please, no excuses, we have work to do.’

And, if you were to keep reading in the chapter, you would see that he started immediately. ‘Oh good, I see you brought your tools, let’s get started. Here’s your vision, here’s the words, here’s what they are going to do to you and here’s how I am going to deliver you.’

Everyone told Jeremiah he was crazy, a blasphemer, that he was not qualified, trained, from the right family—whatever. They threw him in prison, in a cistern, stocks and chains—but he never quit, and his God always delivered him and set him on the next mission. Why? Because he would do it. We don’t know how many others said no, how many others chose the cushy life of being one of the official prophets in the Kings courts who assured the king everything was hunky dory, how many broke God’s heart by choosing prestige and comfort, an office in the Temple, over obedience and purpose, but we know Jeremiah said yes Lord, I will go, and he is the one we remember. He wanted to say no, suffering is no fun, but he couldn’t because ignoring his call was worse.

Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him,
Nor speak anymore in His name.”
But His word was in my heart like a burning fire
Shut up in my bones;
I was weary of holding it back,
And I could not. Jer 20:9

Jeremiah is my hero. You can keep your mega churches, TV shows and national book tours as you hock your book with your smiling airbrushed portrait splashed across the cover, if your obedience to the Lord takes you there that’s between you and him, but I pray for a Jeremiah spirit. I choose to go where the Lord is, even if the road is hard and leads me only to a stockade or a muddy cistern, and today, the Lord has led me here to you. And he has a message for us. One first spoken through Jeremiah for Israel and now given to the Church.

10 See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms,
To root out and to pull down,
To destroy and to throw down,
To build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:10

Back when I first got delivered from my addictions, set free and overwhelmed by the Spirit of the Lord as he spoke to me through his word, I was filled with a sudden passion to share the good news of the freedom and joy that is available through Jesus Christ.

I was 23 years old, just a pup, far from being ready to pastor, but I soon found ways to bring the good news to those who desperately needed to hear it. I started teaching Sunday school at church for little kids. The Sunday school teacher that I was helping as I got started, soon invited me to go to the Yellowstone county jail with him and help lead Bible studies. I found that these hurting lonely men who had hit bottom in their lives were eager for the hope that they heard in the message of Christ. So I kept going, every other week for many years, under the banner of Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship.

One day I got a call from my partner saying that he had been asked by the local Christian TV station if he would come in for an interview. He was fearful of doing it so he asked if I would. ‘Sure, why not.’ I saw it as an opportunity to spread the word about the jail ministry and get more people coming in as it was hard to fill the slots available twice a week.

My only fear was that I would be overwhelmed with phone calls from people who wanted to help after they heard how fruitful and rewarding the ministry was. I expressed this concern to the folks doing the show and they said I could give the number for the TV station during the interview and they would field the calls. Thank you. The interview went great, I still have it on VHS somewhere, and I waited to hear about all the committed Christians who were calling the station for more information about this opportunity to share the good news—not a single person called.

This was about 1989 so it was not the millennials who were slacking, it was the baby boomers, the ones who are now bemoaning the fact that the next generation is not stepping up and getting into ministry—what did they have for a model? Big haired makeup slathered mega church pastors on TV who fell from grace like leaves on a Minnesota Maple tree in the fall?

Three times a week church goers who got together for banquets to prophecy about the big revival soon to come to town? Preachers who spent more time raising funds for their next building project then they did ministering to the sick and hurting? I don’t know—I know I was seriously disappointed and surprised to discover the lack of spine in the army of Christ.

Over the next few years I began to realize that wherever I went to share the good news with my guitar and my Bible, the jail, the mission, the women’s shelter, the youth detention center, I always saw the same handful of believers who were in the trenches getting dirty. I was just a punk kid with no formal training and big dreams of one day pastoring a church, a big church full of real soldiers for Christ, but in the meantime I was just a beggar who knew where to get bread and I was going to share it with the hungry—I was called.

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Now, I am not bragging. I know I could have and should have done so much more and I know many who did, and still are, as far as reaching out to the least of these, of visiting Jesus in the hospitals, the prisons and the gutters. But life happened and there was never enough time and I never felt brave enough. And my dream of standing before thousands and equipping an army has been replaced by the plan the Lord had for me, of being here today and being your pastor, which I am very humbled and proud to be, humbled by your trust and proud of your commitment to Jesus.

He has also given me and helped me fulfill the dream He has given me of reaching the world through this ministry; through my writing both in print and on-line, right here from— “Lord why would you send me to Red Lodge? I can’t build a mega church there—right here from the top of the world, above the nations, at the gateway to Yellowstone Park.

And I am not giving up, I am not giving up on you, I am not giving up on the next generation and the one after that just being born because the kingdom depends on it and I am called to be a citizen of that kingdom, to be a soldier of that kingdom, and to equip the saints for the work of the ministry because the Kingdom is here and the world needs to know about it before it’s too late.

All I know is that the fields are ripe for the harvest and the workers are indeed few and in a blessed land of plenty there is little excuse for that. And whatever fields are not ripe need to be sowed.

We need to get back into the trenches before they are full of nothing but corpses.

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There’s the gauntlet, who’s going to pick it up?

 

 

 

Where was God when I was being hurt?

 

 

“. . . an almost greater hurt is often inflicted on the heart of the victim after the assault when those who are supposed to care, the ones that the victim desperately needs to care, and understand—to hear them—do not.”

But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. Rom 8:25Slide2

I want to ask the hard question, the one that we all ask from time to time and one that we all, as Christians have probably been asked by others—‘Where is God when I hurt, where was God when I was being hurt?’ Frankly, as a Pastor, that question sometimes scares the snot out of me because I am not sure I know the answer, or that the answer will be adequate to stay the anger that is directed at God that is causing that question to be asked in the first place. All I know is that God grieves over our hurts and he is not unaware of our sufferings.

And sometimes, in response to those suffering, that is the best answer—no answer, but to grieve and wonder with them, to give them space and license to weep and vent, recognizing and validating the hurt while clinging to the hope that in the end, whether we can see the end or not, will not disappoint us.

I probably won’t answer that question today either, but then, if we knew the answer, if we had immediate deliverance from all our trials, if we always saw the Lord standing beside us, it wouldn’t be called hope—would it.

The story of the raising of Lazarus, the brother of two women whom Jesus had come to know very well—Mary and Martha, gives us some insight into this perplexing question. Jesus and the disciples stayed at their home when they were in the area and Martha, apparently a woman of some means, likely helped support Jesus and his followers as they to traveled around spreading the news of the Kingdom’s coming. You might recall the story of Martha bustling around serving while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus as he taught.

So when tragedy struck, their brother Lazarus falling deathly ill, they expected and believed that Jesus would be there to save the day—but he wasn’t.

I’ll give you the highlights here, for the whole story read John chapt. 11

Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. . . . Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”

. . .  Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”

The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?”

. . .He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.”

12 Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.” 13 However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.

14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.”

. . . So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.

. . .20 Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. 21 Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

. . . 32 Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled34 And He said, “Where have you laid him?”

They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”

35 Jesus wept36 Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”

37 And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”

Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”

40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God. 41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me,. . . 43 Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” 44 And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”

The Father Hears

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‘Lord, why weren’t you here, where were you when Lazarus was hurting? Where were you when we were crying out for you?’

Quite the story, honest and real if you look at the human drama being played out here around the miracle that often overshadows what I think is the greater lesson and the insight into the real emotions and empathy of a real God. Let’s just bite off a few pieces here and see what we can glean.

“And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me”

This one spoke a lot to me as far as answering our question.

“I know that you always hear me.” I have to conclude that Jesus waited this long to come because his Father asked him to. Jesus was sorely grieved, groaning in his spirit both in anguish for his dear friends Mary and Martha but also, both in his humanness and as the Son of God, because of the pain of death his friend Lazarus had to endure—the pain he endured wondering; “Where is Jesus? Is he going to heal me before I die? Is he going to care for my sisters? Where is God?”

Jesus was aware of this anguish and he felt it deeply himself. But he knew his Father heard him, even while he wrestled in his flesh with not hurrying straight to Bethany. But even in this turmoil which he no doubt experienced amidst the potential for doubt and anguish, he was patient and obedient to his Father knowing that his Father always heard him.

I think there is a great lesson there, do we believe that the Father always hears us? He does. And we also know that Just as Jesus was interceding for his friends his Spirit is interceding for us—even in, and especially in our pain.

But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. Rom 8:26—27

Jesus is interceding for us with the same passion and compassion that he interceded for Mary, Martha and Lazarus with, an intercession even too deep for words. That is your hope.

Immanuel, God with us.

What Mary didn’t know was that Jesus was there. He is here with us even now, even in our darkest days. When all hope seems lost, when it has to be just too late, it is never too late, Jesus is there by his Spirit, the Father is there, grieving, groaning because of the pain we suffer and he calls us to be there for one another—to be his arms to hold, his hands to help and his heart to break, to  grieve with those who grieve, but he also calls us to bring the hope, to pray in the Spirit, on behalf of the Spirit.

Hear them

We need to display that heart of Jesus. One of the things I have learned in ministering to those who have been sexually abused is that an almost greater hurt is often inflicted on the heart of the victim after the assault when those who are supposed to care, the ones that the victim desperately needs to care, and understand—to hear them—do not.

They just need someone to hear them, to love them, to give them space to grieve, to be angry and to ask the hard questions without pat answers, indifference or judgments. Just be there, be there for the hurting, the abused, the sick, the dying and grieving, be Jesus so when they ask “where is Jesus” you can say; ‘right here, He sent me to you, and my spirit groans for you as I pray for your restoration and healing.’ And in that, I assure you, they will find comfort, that’s a promise from Jesus.

 Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted. Mat 5:4

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For me the bottom line is here, Jesus hurts when we hurt, his heart is totally devoted to and invested in us and in the end everything will indeed be okay, better than okay, if not in this life then most assuredly in the next. We have the resurrection and the life in our corner and we do not necessarily have to wait till resurrection day to see that power on display for we are more than conquerors—and that is our hope, and hope will not disappoint us.