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 Right Path

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“For I know the plans I have for you. . .” We all know the promise or at least the premise, that God has a plan for us. It is why many of us chose to give our lives to the Lord in the first place and it is why all of us continue to follow. Isn’t it? I mean, think about it. Do we really want to follow a God who doesn’t know or even care about where he is leading us?

But how to we implement the plan? How do we assure that it is being implemented? ‘It just seems like everything is going wrong all the time and that the plan keeps getting messed up.’

It takes trust, patience and prayer. It takes a warrior, contenders who are willing to fight for the long term and understand that there is still a battle raging for our souls and that God’s plan can only be implemented in the lives of those who are willing to contend for it—in those who are serious about following the plan—following him. We have a God who promises each and every one of us that he has a plan for our lives.

10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Eph 2:10

Let’s think about that for a minute; “created in Christ for good works. . .” That’s a purpose, that’s a mission, that’s a vision, if you are willing to seek it, to catch it to contend for it. Anything apart from that is a missed opportunity, a wasted chunk of eternity, a life of disappointment and disillusionment. Feeling encouraged yet?—Just preaching the truth here.

“…which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” We don’t have to invent the plan, we don’t have to wonder if God has forgotten about us and if maybe we weren’t worthy of a mission in this life, we are just here to propagate the species like a mosquito who lives just long enough to suck some blood, breed and die, the plan already exists and it is unique to each of us. If you were worthy of Christ dying for you, then you are worthy of the plan God has for you. Walk in it—just walk in it.

Oh, did I give the impression that it would be easy? It won’t, but then nothing worth doing ever is.

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Last weekend I hiked into my favorite back country lake up by Cooke City. We pulled into the trailhead parking area and the lot was full of cars. Josiah my son in law said, ‘Wow, will it be crowded up there?’ ‘No, this trail also goes to other lakes.’ The reason I like to go to this Lake, my favorite fishing hole in the Beartooth mountains, is because no one else goes there. Rarely do I ever see anyone else up there even though it is some of the best fishing you will find in those mountains.

Why? Why does no one else go there? Because it’s hard to get there. You have to walk, a long ways. Three miles, and the farther you go, after you cut off the main trail, the worse the trail gets because most don’t go that far. Up and down some very steep hills at an elevation where the air is thin, through wet shady forests and cattail swamps where the mosquitos are thick and fierce. By the last leg, to get to my favorite spot on the lake, the big rock, you are climbing over deadfall and rocks, jumping over creeks and watching for bears and moose in a very narrow corridor with nowhere to run.

But I, and the lucky brave souls that have gone there with me, know that at the end of the trail lies one of the best days you will ever have. The air is clear, the fish are big, the mountains are spectacular, and it’s all yours. A little piece of heaven that stays with me long after I leave.

I have gone there just about every year since 1980. I don’t go there because it’s easy, I go there because it’s fulfilling and worth it and I know the trail and I know when to go and when not to go. I don’t get discouraged because it’s hard, I make the walk a part of the adventure, a wonderful part of the experience. Every step, the easy ones and the challenging ones, the first ones and the last ones, is an experience that I treasure, another foot of mountain conquered, another minute lived to the fullest.

That’s the way we should live our lives; ‘every step with you Lord is an adventure, the easy ones and the hard ones, because they all lead me to your goal for my life, your plan to take me to that special spot where no one else goes because the crowd has taken the broad and easy path to the lake with the little tiny fish in it that they have to keep restocking every year with fingerlings that think corn is a legless wingless insect that falls from the sky like manna.’

No, I’ll take the hard path for as long as I am able and the Lord gives me strength. Because it’s worth it. I was created in Christ Jesus to take the hard path right in step with Jesus, to do the good works he has laid out for me along the way. And every time I do, I get a little bit stronger. Assuring that I can keep conquering the mountains ahead.

. . .wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Mat 7:13,14

 

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One thing I can tell you, you will never regret taking the road less traveled.

Be blessed my friends,!

Dan

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.

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We have to remember that we are not alone, we are not in this fight alone, not in your personal life and not in a collective sense. God is with you, God is with us and we are in this together, and wherever two or more are gathered in his name he moves amongst us as well. God has a plan for his church, he has a plan for you and he never fails to preserve a remnant for himself. And when the remnant seems the least able to survive, let alone win any battles, is when God does his greatest works.

Reminds me of Elijah, a beleaguered prophet hiding in fear for his life in a cave in the wilderness, who truly believed he was the last true believer in Israel.

Elijah— 10 “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”. . .

The Lord— 18 “I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19:10, 18

Elijah was part of an army of which he was not even aware. We are never alone.

I believe the Lord is saying to us today—

Despise not the days of small beginnings for I have preserved a remnant for my namesake. You shall be blessed and you shall be mine, forever. Be patient and see the glory of the Lord return in all its splendor.

Hang on, our best days are ahead.

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“But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase.” Jeremiah 23:3

 

 

 

Another Turn of the Wheel

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

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

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

Turns of the wheel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She didn’t.

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

She didn’t

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

She didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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I love you all, have a blessed week!

 

The Potter’s Hands

Why do we sabotage ourselves?

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But now, O Lord, You are our Father;
We are the clay, and You our potter;
And all we are the work of Your hand. Is 64:8

I remember as a teenager in the 70’s reading a newspaper article that said scientists had figured out that if you break down the makeup of a human being into its primary elements that we are pretty much composed of the same things as clay. I was no Bible scholar at the time but I remember thinking, well, that’s no big revelation, the bible teaches us that right from Genesis where God forms man from the dust of the earth. Not to mention the myriad other times we are referred to as clay or earthen vessels.

It might seem weird that we would basically be walking dirt. But it makes sense really, clay is perfect for forming things and if nothing else it comes in real handy for analogies—I mean, clay is moldable, it is worthless unless you take the time to make something of it, holds up best if it’s gone through a fire to acquire strength and will last forever, but it can be shattered and rendered useless if not handled with care.

Sounds a lot like us doesn’t it? We are either pliable and moldable, allowing ourselves to be shaped and worked into something better and better or we are just dry and crumbling, refusing to drink from the living water of the word and the Spirit and slowly turning back into dust. Or we have been through the refining process, shaped, molded, reworked and set in the sun to cure so that we can be painted, the master craftsman not satisfied with just utilitarian precepts but wanting to give us some flare and beauty. He paints a unique design on each vessel making it special and giving it its own character to show us, and the world, that we were created not just for a purpose but by a craftsman who cares about his creations.

Then, when we are just the way he wants us, we are put into the kiln to be tempered with fire making us hard, a resilient kind of hard, and able to withstand washings and repeated usage carrying the precious life giving fluids that sustain and refresh all who drink of what we offer. The firing also makes our design, the hand painted design that makes us beautiful and unique, glossy and brilliant, bringing out the colors in ways that dull unfired glazing never does.

But, as with real ceramic treasures, we must still be handled with care or we can be broken. We have to stay in the hands of the one who created us with such beauty that he handles us and uses us only in ways that will not see us crashing to the floor to be shattered and he instructs others to handle his treasures the same way.

If one is broken, only he, the master craftsman, the God who created the world and all that is in it with a word, only he can put back together the shattered pieces, if we so desire and allow him too. A stubborn jar— broken out of misuse that refuses to be recreated by the creator—is good only for the trash heap or the dust bins of history at that stage.

So there shall not be found among its fragments
A shard to take fire from the hearth,
Or to take water from the cistern.”

15 For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:

“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”
But you would not.   Isaiah 30:14—15

 

Only a clay vessel who refuses to acknowledge the creator and the need for his counsel and protection gets to a place beyond repair or usefulness. Stubbornness and pride are our biggest obstacles to God’s ongoing work in our lives and the ultimate completion of the masterpiece he wants and envisioned us to be in his artist’s eye. All the Creator is asking of the created is that we come back to him, stop our striving and fighting and rest in him in quietness and confidence.

I love that. We don’t have to shout and fret, jump up and down and make a commotion, to get God’s attention or to win the battles that continuously threaten to dash us to the floor, we just need to know that we are loved, that we are protected, and that we are still in the potter’s hands. 

Our greatest hinderance is arrogance, believing that if we cannot see the answer, perceive of the solution that there is none, that it’s done. The epitome of arrogance is saying to yourself: “This is as good as it gets and I will just have to be fine with it.” And saying to God: “I am as good as I will get and you will just have to be fine with me.”

For shall the thing made say of him who made it,
“He did not make me”?
Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“He has no understanding”? Is 29:16

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Why?

So, why do we sabotage ourselves? Why do we insist on introducing impurities that we know will hinder and mar the masterpiece we could be? Why do we fly off the potter’s  wheel and refuse to get back on?

Maybe because we  don’t believe we can get better, let alone become a masterpiece. “This is as good as it gets, this is as good as I get, take it or leave it.”

I’m sorry but it does not say that in scripture anywhere. You are a work in progress, a masterpiece in the making and God will be working on you for eternity.

God loves you just as you are, yes, but he also loves you too much to leave you there. All of us know we are far from perfect and that there is a hunger in our souls for more. That hunger is the vast emptiness left in our psyche by the unfulfilled potential as creatures who were meant for such higher things, eternal and deep, unimaginable things that we sense are just beyond our grasp we just don’t know how to reach them. The one who does know is holding out his hand and offering to show us, to create that reality in us, to continue the beautiful creation that is us.

Be still, and know that he is God.

 

 

Bad Company

“‘Come on! Are you feeling froggy? -Jump!‘  He was, so we squared off.”

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 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” 34 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. NKJV 1 Cor 15:33,34

I was at a meeting listening to a Pastor talk about his time as a missionary in Central America and how a young man, a new believer on fire for Jesus, came to him frustrated and said “I need prayer pastor, every time I go to the strip club I feel lust in my heart.”

To us the solution is obvious—”don’t go to the strip club!” Yet when we find ourselves in places that are obviously unhealthy, to everyone but us, we often don’t recognize or just plain deny it. Surrounding ourselves with things or people that cause us to sin—either in person or, nowadays, virtually—becomes our normal.

We just hate to admit that we are being corrupt, that we are in bad company or even worse, are becoming bad company.

Strip clubs are obvious—‘I, I’m just here as a missionary!’— yeah right. “I’m just doing research on line!” Lust is lust and can only consume us if we feed it with whatever company, present or recorded, trips our trigger. So be careful the company you keep.

But what about bars? Now, I have no problem going to a bar to eat, provided they have something besides pickled eggs and frozen pizzas. But even then, if you struggle with alcohol, maybe you shouldn’t even go somewhere that they serve alcohol.

I started hanging out in bars when I was 16. In the 70’s in Montana, if you could see over the bar you had a good chance of getting served. My step dad used to take me to a members only Lodge with him well before I was of legal age. He would knock on the door and a little window would slide open, two eyes would appear and a voice would enquire, “who goes there?”‘It’s me, a loyal (animal name here) and my friend who is old enough to drink, thanks for asking.’ And we were in, hanging out like old buddies with all my middle aged friends.

Little wonder it would take a miracle and an intervention by the Holy Spirit to deliver me from addictions to drinking, and worse, years later. And you know what? I do not go to bars anymore, except to eat with my wife on occasion. No reason to, no desire to. Even when I’m eating in one if I can look over and see the bar, see the people sitting there enjoying their adult beverages, it just makes me sad because it reminds me of a time when life was meaningless and the loneliness paltable.

Often times when I drank it was to ease the pain and frustration, to forget the chaos of life or the scorn of others—but the alcohol always made it worse, always left me in a darker place then when I started. And my friends, my drinking buddies, were never very good at giving advice that anyone but a fool would heed, and a fool I was, and foolish advise I would share in return (shudder) who needs it?

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Moral corrupters to be sure.

Wine is a mocker, Strong drink is a brawler, And whoever is led astray by it is not wise. Prov 20:1

 

 

“Strong drink is a brawler.” Boy, aint that the truth. I used to get into fist fights back in my drinking days over the stupidest stuff, usually affronts to my honor. What an irony that a drunk has to defend his honor before or against other drunks.

I was spending an evening with bad company once, partying as usual, and a guy from our neighborhood who had never liked me was there, the feeling was mutual, but we hung out with the same people so he always seemed to be around. He smugly asked me for a taste of my drink.

In the spirit of the party I reluctantly handed the Tequila Sunrise I had just mixed for myself to him. He guzzled it down and then looked at me like, ‘now what are you gonna do?’ Well, I couldn’t let him just get away with that so I slapped him open handed and hollered, ‘Come on, are you feeling froggy? -Jump!‘  He was, so we squared off.

The guy who was renting the duplex we were in told us to take it outside and we did. We spent the next half hour or so punching, kicking and wrestling each other until we were both too exhausted to continue. We both ended up bleeding and with broken noses and finished the evening arguing about who won while washing the taste of blood out of our mouths with more tequila.

I was just angry because he seemed to have enjoyed the whole episode and I was trying to teach him a lesson.

What a waste of time that whole night was. What a waste of time that whole period of my life was for that matter.

And all the while I knew better because I had received the Lord and read the gospels years earlier. But I was determined to have a good time with my bad company, I just didn’t see, because it had happened so subtlety and step by step, that I was indeed in bad company and had in fact even become bad company.

I have often said that my biggest regret from those party years wasn’t what I was doing to myself and the time I wasted that I could have been following the Lord in his plan for me—it was the other people I influenced, talked into doing the same stupid things I was doing; young impressionable people who looked up to me as someone who was cool and had it together —even though I was anything but.

I think about the path I may have started them down that may have led to misery and pain. All I can do now is try to help as many people as I can discover the truth, discover Jesus and live in the freedom and joy that he has given me since I returned. He restored me to a right relationship with the Father.

“If you return,
Then I will bring you back;
You shall stand before Me; Jeremiah 15:19

A pastor friend used to say; “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” I think there’s a lot of truth to that. The most frequent voices in our lives inevitably become the loudest.

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Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

Let me just say this as an old fuddy-duddy or as a pastor—you take your pick— nothing good ever happens in a bar. I know that’s a broad generalization but it’s a pretty good rule of thumb to live by.

You can do so much better. . .

 

Marathon

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Someone asked me the other day; “Why does the enemy hate our church so much?” I answered, “Because we are a threat to him.” Really—If we weren’t, everything would be a cake walk. Another question, and perhaps a more difficult one—”Why does the Lord allow it to happen?” The answer, which has become painfully clear to me in this season, is that the Lord is allowing the enemy to sift us like wheat, as he told Peter, to remove the chaff.

Our weaknesses are never so obvious as when we give in to them and are lured in over our heads. Hidden or unrecognized weaknesses are often never truly dealt with, and can impede us so subtly we don’t even recognize we are dragging them until the ones whom we always thought were losers are suddenly at the finish line way ahead of us.

Why does the Lord allow attacks? Because we all have things in our lives that hinder us, sin which so easily ensnares us, and sometimes the only way to untangle us so that we can finish the race, is to allow it to be exploited by the enemy, to even expose us, making it painfully obvious to us that there is a problem, forcing us to make a decision; “Am I going to let the enemy win, and just give up?” Or am I going to lay this aside, do whatever it takes to be free of this, put my head down and push on to the finish where my Lord not only waits, but he sends his Spirit to come and strengthen me, to even carry me on, “on wings like eagles” if—I will just let him, trust him, and not lay down and die.”

No matter what anyone says, no matter the jeers and the taunts of the perfect and pretty people who seem to have it all together and always finish the sprints first and can whip out a dozen pull ups like it’s a breeze—no matter what my flesh is telling me as it screams for the right to just stay down, rest, run away, crawl away, crawl into a hole and die, whatever—just give up— no matter what, I am going to get up, put one foot in front of the other, getting stronger and closer to the finish with every step until I look back one day and see all the perfect people gasping for air and staggering from side to side as they jostle one another for position in the mob that seems to have stalled out short of the finish.

We find ourselves scarred, winded and shocked, ‘I did it! I am at the finish line!’ And there’s your crown, in the hands of the coach, twisted but no longer tarnished and shining like the sun because the Lord has cleaned it up for you just as he did your heart along the way.

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All he wanted you to do was get up and keep going. Because he knows how hard the race is, he did resist to the point of shedding his blood, everyone sneered and mocked, called him a drunkard and a sinner, a blasphemer, even an agent of the devil—”but for the joy set before him” he kept going, putting one foot in front of the other, obedient to his Father who spurred him on. One agonizing bloody step after another, trembling under the weight of his cross, the cross he would soon die on, the cross he could have forsaken and fled at any time he wished.

But he didn’t, why? Because he wanted you to be able to finish your race knowing that if he took away the ultimate penalty for failure to finish, the only insurmountable hurdle in the course, sin—life ending, spirit killing—sin. He knew that if he took away that hinderance for you by taking it on himself, he knew that there would be nothing—absolutely nothing—that would stop you from finishing the race, from winning the fight, if you only made that decision to finish, to look to him to do so. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”

Don’t let the enemy win, don’t give up or give in, don’t fear the race, don’t shirk the fight, it is not easy, it is never easy, it is seldom fun but it is always rewarding and it is always blessed in the end. We are not beating the air, the battle is real, if it wasn’t there would be no need to fight, no one would ever stumble, no one would ever fall. And if you have ever been in a real fight with a real scrapper, you know that even if you win, you will still walk away bruised and bleeding.

And the enemy of our souls, is certainly a scrapper, as is our own flesh. When the two team up there is a real fight with real consequences, but realize that the battle is never over until the Lord says it is over and he calls you home.

Every day is another day to fight, around every turn is another straightaway to cruise through until you get to the next turn or have to jump the next hurdle, all the Lord asks is that we do not stop running. This life is so much shorter then we realize and how we run today will determine our forever.

. . .let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.  You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. Heb 12:1-4

There is a purpose in our striving. We might not always know what it is or why the enemy fights so hard against us, but we must always know that there is a purpose. We have to trust the author and finisher of our faith, that is of course Jesus.

Don’t let anyone slow you down or stop you, especially not the enemy. You won’t always even realize that he is there, but he is sneaky that way. Sticking out a foot to trip, slipping you an intoxicant into your water bottle, whispering in your ear along the way;

Why are you doing this? You cannot finish, you don’t need to finish, you already blew it anyway when you stumbled back there at the curve, you crossed into the wrong lane, you’re probably disqualified, didn’t you jump the gun too? Man, you could be sitting in the bar right now with a cold one watching Basketball on TV—now those guys can run.” “No one cares anyway—loser.”  Lies, nothing but lies.

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I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7-8

You will finish, because Jesus doesn’t choose losers, and he chose you.