Tare Publishing?

Where’s the Justice?

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24 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ Mat 13

I have referenced this parable in church recently thinking a tare was just your average weed, like cheatgrass maybe. This week I decided to look up what a Tare is. Tares are actually a lot more cynical then cheat grass. Cheat grass is recognizable by most, (at least in the west) tares are not. They blend right in. Cheat grass will irritate the snot out of you if the heads get into your socks or worse, tares will lull you to sleep.

Here’s what I found:

Tares, also known as the bearded darnel, is a species of rye-grass, the seeds of which are a strong soporific poison. It bears the closest resemblance to wheat till the ear appears, and only then the difference is discovered. It grows plentifully in Syria and Palestine.

A strong “soporific poison”? What is that? Well, I looked that up too:

Soporific is ‘a type of drug that causes an overwhelming desire to sleep.’ Roofies anyone?

Jesus later explains this parable to his followers;

40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Mat 13

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Perhaps here, is an answer as to why there is so much suffering, why seemingly good people do bad things or have to suffer the consequences of those bad things. ‘Why do we have to put up with those who offend and practice lawlessness Lord? Where’s the justice, where’s the fairness, where’s the protection? I’ve been cheated, I’ve been maligned, I’ve been hurt. How can you let this happen?’

The Lord would tell us to be strong. We will have our day, actually, our day is the day of the Lord. In that day there will be no more tears, no more sickness and no more death. I do believe that is worth waiting for.

The day is coming when there will be no more tares in the field, the reapers are coming. But in the meantime we must do the best we can to grow alongside of them because to start hoeing out the weeds now could cause more damage to the grain then the weeds.

Hoeing

In summertime around south central Montana you can drive  by a beet field and see it full of migrant workers with hoes. They are hoeing out every third plant. The beets are planted close together and at some point they have to be thinned to allow the others to flourish. So they go up and down the rows with this thought in mind;Beet, beet, weed.” Every third beet plant is considered a weed and gets it’s top knocked off with the hoe, killing it.

God is looking for good fruit, he is looking for a harvest, we have to trust him, and be ready. Till then we will have to put up with some tares knowing that their day is coming.

Tare

Speaking of injustice; as many of you know I have had a few books published. For my latest book I had to use a different publisher then I did with the first two. My first publisher went out of business and the former CEO’s are now awaiting trial by the Oklahoma State Attorney General for multiple felonies stemming from fraud and extortion. They keep postponing the trial because they keep finding more and more people who have been defrauded by them, 1300 or so last I checked.

This was a Christian publisher, in business for years publishing Christian materials (though towards the end that was debatable) and in the beginning I think they were sincere. And I know they had some really good people working for them. But then they got greedy and the fruit they bore started reflecting what was in their hearts.

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They outright stole $1200. dollars from me. They had sent me an email with a promotion they were running, one they had run a couple other times in the last year or two, so I was saving up money just waiting for this opportunity because I was working on my third book at the time.

The promotion offered in this email was that if I bought $1200. worth of any of my previous books or pre-ordered future books, I would get a publisher for life addendum on my contract with them. This meant I could publish as many books as I liked in the future without having to pay any more fees. Services for my previous books had cost me much more than that so this was a great deal.

I called my connection at the Publisher and said I would like to do that. I deposited my hard earned and saved cash into my checking account, including my year end safety award bonus from my construction job, and had them charge the $1200. to my debit card, which they conveniently keep on file.

After a few days I never got a receipt so I emailed a reminder, no response. I emailed two or three other people finally emailing one of the owners whose connection info I had and finally got a receipt and an apology.

Less than two weeks later I got an email from another publisher offering their services to me because they had heard that my former publisher had gone out of business. What? No way, I just gave them a lot of money! I emailed everyone I knew there, I called every number I could find. No response to any of them. They had apparently just turned off the lights, locked the doors and left. Leaving me and many, many others holding the bag, and the bag was empty, as was my wallet.

Tares

I am fairly comfortable in guessing that the people who ran this outfit might be tares. (In fact, if you replace one letter in “tare” you have the name of that publisher.)

They literally conned me out of $1200 knowing full well that they were never going to deliver, or at least that chances were pretty slim. I found out that there was already a two million dollar law suit against them. They had laid off most of their staff and it came to light that they had been spending cooperate money like it was their own, buying houses, toys and vacations. Since then their property has been seized and auctioned off to pay their debtors.

And, they knew full well that I am a pastor. That’s what bothered me. How can you call yourself a Christian and knowingly cheat a pastor, one whom you know works two jobs just to make ends meet? And I know I am not the only pastor they stole from. Being a pastor doesn’t make me any better than anyone else they stole from or make it more of a crime—but really; If I as a Christian, ordained or not, was going to cheat someone I’m pretty sure a pastor would be my last choice.

It’s like stealing from the Salvation Army kettle or making off with your worship leaders guitar while he is watching. ‘Where you going with that?’ ‘Oh, I’m just going to get it re-stringed for you.’  then he takes it straight to the pawn shop—I mean, you just don’t do that right?

So I was incredulous and shocked; ‘Really? Lord, that was a lot of money!’ What can I do? I reported it to the Better Business Bureau and the Oklahoma Attorney General. But other than that there was nothing I could do. The AG is pushing for restitution, but as many people as they cheated and the huge law suits against them, there is small chance of anything being left to return.

But I could be really angry—right? Go all barbarian on them and seek the justice of the sword? I would certainly be justified.

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I could stew and fret, or pout and whine–or, I could just let it go, give it up to the Lord and let him deal with them. (In fact it has been two years ago now and this is the first time I have publicly told this story.)

I had to decide right away that I had to give this to the Lord or I would only be bitter and angry and that would accomplish nothing but to distract me from what the Lord wanted me doing, helping him sow more wheat. I cannot let the weeds poison me. “Lord, this is your money, it was for your work, I am only a messenger. I trust that you have a better plan.”

He did. I found a different and better publisher, Redemption Press, and I got to involve my church as I was blessed by many in their efforts to help me raise the funds to get Barbarians in the Kingdom ready for the printer. Because of that fruit was borne in many lives before the book was even published and the message of the book, resolve and determination to accomplish God’s purpose for you, was only reinforced. And, I believe, that adventure has just begun and there will be much more fruit. And best of all, I got to see God at work.

In the long run, God always takes care of those who look to him, who are patiently waiting for the final harvestharvest meme

 

Until then, hang on, be strong and stay awake, Jesus is indeed coming to harvest. And God will not be mocked!

 

 

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Be Ready (The slacker virgins)

Jesus himself said it numerous times, outright and in parables, I will return. In fact, the only thing he would say during his trial, and the thing that got him convicted of blasphemy, was his assertion that they would “see the Son of Man returning on the clouds of heaven.”

Jesus made this point well in the parable of the slacker virgins, (Mat 25)  —that we need to be ready. (Better known as the parable

10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.

11 “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ 12 But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

13 “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

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Being a preacher is a lot like being a construction foreman in the respect that I have to keep warning people to be ready, to follow the rules, especially when it comes to safety. In both case, it’s not a matter of what we can get away with, it’s a matter of doing what is right because it is right and can keep you out of a lot of trouble.

About this time last year the company I work for, after forty or so years in this dangerous business of construction, had their first fatal accident. It was kind of a freak accident but the bottom line is, a worker was in a place at the wrong time. A place that the  foreman had told him that very morning not to be, and a very large chunk of concrete came loose from overhead, falling and crushing him. One minute he’s working and the next he’s gone.

Of course it hit all of us very hard. I got the phone call from the boss telling me the bad news and after I was able to process the news, pray, and get myself together I stopped work on my project and called everyone together to tell them the news and to have a safety meeting.

We do safety meetings every week but I wanted to let everyone know what happened before they started hearing rumors and because even though it was not my project that had had the accident, I expected OSHA would soon be paying us a visit as my job-site was only a few blocks away from where the accident took place.

I reminded everyone of the general safety rules and the need to be extra diligent because we might be getting a visit from an agency who has the power to fine the daylights out of us. That, and “I do not want anyone getting hurt on this job.” I have never had a serious accident on any of my projects and I intend to keep it that way. I also told them that I pray for their safety every morning, a statement that I could see in their faces that they appreciated.

You know what happened then? All my subs—the electricians, plumbers, tinners, framers—suddenly were throwing away all their damaged electrical cords and calling for new ones. The missing guards on tools suddenly were not missing and it no longer seemed necessary to stand on top of a ladder or to be on the roof without a harness on—weird, all the things I had constantly warned them about and argued with them over, were no longer an issue.

Why? Mainly because the possibility of that dreaded OSHA inspector showing up was no longer just a remote possibility, it was imminent, and the even worse cost of not playing by the rules, the death of a fellow tradesman, was suddenly large in everyone’s mind.

OSHA didn’t show up on my project after all, but they did a months long investigation into the jobsite that had the accident and found that there were no violations directly related to the accident. But they did find a couple of other things to fine us for. OSHA is like the IRS, if they want to find something, they will.

If you have ever seen an OSHA regulation book, you know that the rules are extensive and complicated, you are surely always in violation of something just by showing up every day. But, generally, if the inspectors know you are doing your best to comply, they will not bust you.

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Slackers?

That’s what the Lord is asking of us, that we just do our best to comply with his ways. He has a very extensive set of guidelines and we are almost always in violation of something just by being human in this messed up world, and he understands that, he was here with us and as us for a while.

If we are doing our best, he will not bust us, he just asks that we act as though he can show up at any moment, that we don’t just see what we can get away with, throw caution to the wind for expedience sake and hope that we get some warning as to when he’s on his way so that we have time to straighten everything out.

Imagine if you are engaged and your fiancé, your pure sweet lovely soon to be bride in white, is running wild, collecting beads at Marti Gras and winning wet T shirt contests in Cancun during Spring break?  “Oh that’s fine sweetie, just make sure you gargle before the wedding to cover the smell of Tequila and vomit and let’s pretend none of that never happened. Tell your good-time boyfriends they need to go home now, I’ll wait here until you’re ready to just be mine.— Isn’t she wonderful?”

Or the groom who thinks the bachelor party is his last chance and excuse to. . .you know, be stupid. “That’s okay honey, boys will be boys, take a shower before you put on your tux.”

I’m sorry if any of that offends anyone but that is just wrong, just as putting off our commitment to faithfulness to the Lord is just wrong. Jesus wants and deserve a pure white bride ready when he’s ready, not when we feel like it. He deserves it because he offers it, he gives us the means to be pure and holy and just wants us to take it, to take him, seriously—to love him as he loves us.

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That’s the bottom line—love. We want to be ready, we long to be ready, for him to return, because we relish the incredible love he has for us and want more than anything to be acceptable and pleasing to him long before and during the wedding feast that will surely come.

Don’t be a slacker.

 

First Things First

“You know I’ve been to the edge, and there I stood and looked down. You know I lost a lot of friends there baby, I got no time to mess around.” –Van Halen, Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love

I am what I am

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures 1 Cor 15:3

So here we stand, on the precipice of a new year. A fitting term I guess because ready or not it’s happening, and we can either fall into it headlong and hope for the best or we can try to control the descent knowing that we could still lose control at any given point.

(I’m not sure what that means but in light of the past year it made sense when I First wrote it.)

We can plan and hope all we want but ultimately we cannot control the future, all we can control is our response to events that we incur along the way, and really—that is everything. Because if we lose control of that, we are undone and I for one refuse to let anyone or anything undue me because as Paul wrote:

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; 1 Cor 15:10

Chains and freedom

Rush Limbaugh, (whom you can love or hate, don’t miss my point here)  has said of President Trump; “The press did not make Donald Trump so the press cannot unmake Donald Trump, only Trump can undo Trump.” —referring to his support in the eyes of those who voted for him.

Well, the world did not make me, the enemy did not make me, circumstances did not make me, you did not make me—the grace of God made me what I am so only he can undue me, so long as I understand and cling to that. And I chose to do so. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is my rock and I will not be shaken. So bring it on 2019, let’s see what you got. I’ll go into it safe in the grace that made me, and I’ll come out of it still safe in that grace, stronger for having survived another year.

So, as Van Halen once said, “You know I’ve been to the edge, and there I stood and looked down. You know I lost a lot of friends there baby, I got no time to mess around.” (When was the last time you heard Van Halen quoted by a preacher?) But it makes my point exactly.

As we stand on the precipice of tis new year, we need to stop messing around, for a bit anyway, and remember what is important because we have indeed all lost a few friends who perhaps just fell headlong over the edge, forgetting what’s important, not keeping the first thing first. We can’t get hung up on things that can destroy us or neuter us. —And yes, that’s exactly what I mean.

Hung Up

Speaking of precipices, I used to enjoy rappelling back in my younger days; going off a cliff backwards while hanging from a long robe looped though a carabiner attached to a nylon strap tied around my waist and between my legs to create what we called a diaper.

I think they have more specialized gear nowadays, fancy riggings, but it worked for us, a rope, a strap and a couple of carabiners, mixed with some knot tying skills, and a little courage. It was all we needed. It was simple and basic but it did the job. We would tie one end of our second hand fifty dollar rope to the bumper of a truck, a tree or a rock, toss the other end over the side of the cliff, and off we would go, descending like we knew what we were doing with ultimate faith in our equipment.

I did have a couple of close calls; like the time my front shirt tail got pulled into my carabiner by the rope. There is no going back up the rope, it only goes down. The only thing I could think to do was cut off my shirt tail but I couldn’t get into my pocket to retrieve my knife because of the way the diaper was tied around my leg.

I called out for help and one of my buddies still on top peered over the edge. “I need a knife!” “How am I going to get it to you?” I didn’t dare try to catch it with one hand as my other hand was keeping the rope securely pinned behind my back to stop my descent. If I missed it we would really be up a creek without a paddle and the motion of trying to catch it could have set me to falling until I was hanging there off the rims over Billings with my heavy shirt pulled into my rigging until I was hopelessly stuck, or my shirt just ripped and I fell.

Then it would have been—”Run and find a payphone to call 911, Swany’s hanging off the rims like a scarecrow tangled in a clothesline!” Remember the good old days before cell phones? At least I wouldn’t have become a YouTube video.

Well, luckily I wasn’t that far over the edge so I yelled, “Lower it down to me somehow—use your boot laces!” So he hastily pulled the laces from his heavy 1980’s waffle stomper hiking boots, tied those together and then tying that to the belt from his pants he finally had enough length to lower me his pocket knife so that I could cut off the chunk of my shirt that was getting pulled into the ‘biner.

I was very relieved, needless to say, and I continued my descent down the cliff face—good times. Tell you what, I never rappelled with my shirt untucked again, I could hear my high school shop teachers’ voice ringing in my ears as I was stuck there on the cliff side; “Never wear loose clothing around machinery kids.”

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Anyway, it was a pretty basic rescue for a pretty basic operation, but it worked and we conquered many more cliffs with that same simple equipment in the months and years to come. We kept it simple. It was simple, life was simple. No high dollar custom harnesses and safety backups. No helmets, no GoPro’s, no Facebook pages to brag to the world about how adventurous we were. No YouTube videos to study or to post to, no classes, certifications or permits.

‘Here’s your rope, here’s your diaper and ‘biner, just back off the cliff and keep a firm grip on that rope, you’ll get the hang of it. Oh yeah, wear a pair of insulated leather gloves so you don’t get rope burn.’ It was a blast. Once you became comfortable with it, and got out there on your robe a ways you could push yourself out from the cliff face with your feet at the same time you were letting out some rope and just feel like you were flying in midair. What a rush.

Of course getting good instructions from someone who was there to guide you through the process was essential. You didn’t just jump off the cliff and hope you are doing things right.

Basics

So, as we get ready to jump into 2019,let’s try to do things right. I think the best way to get off to that right start is by getting back to the basics here to start, peeling off all the advancements and extra paraphernalia we have accumulated that keep us from truly experiencing the moment and only serve to disconnect us from the rawness and realness of it all anyway, and just remember what’s important, what is critical—what is the rope we hang on too—because without that, nothing else matters.

A good sound rope with just enough stretch, that is tied off securely and reaches all the way to the ground—nothing worse then running out of rope before your feet touch the ground—because you are going down one way or another.

First things first. What is our rope? What is it that is critical to our faith, to our doing church, doing life as a believer? I hope you all know the answer here—just like the kid in Sunday school who knows that whenever the teacher asks a question there is a good chance that the answer is Jesus. In this case ‘you would be correct little Johnny, the answer is Jesus.

But it’s not just Jesus, what is of first importance? What is it about Jesus that is critical to our faith, our getting through this year, this life—eternity?

The answer is in our title verse of course;

 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures 1 Cor 15:3

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Jesus died for our sins. —period

Nothing in this life, nothing in the universe, all the wisdom of the ages, the prophets and the sages, is more critical then this; That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. He made the promise, he is the promise, and he fulfilled the promise. He is our hope, he is our rope and no matter what else you know, no matter what else you do, have, or give away, nothing else will matter.

If you show up at the cliffs edge without your rope—you’re going to make it to the bottom, but you are not going to survive the journey.

So I want to start this year by remembering what’s important. Jesus Christ and him crucified—the gospel.

Put Jesus first and all else will fall into place.

Barbarians in the KingdomBAR COVER

 

What’s Important?

Christmas can be a huge bundle of dysfunction and mind games —refuse to play.

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We all know, at least I hope you do, that Christmas isn’t about gifts, it’s not lights and trees, though those things certainly add to the magic that brings a sense of delight to our hearts and reminds us that we are to live in joy because our King has come. Christmas isn’t about programs and parties, though those can be good excuses to get together with friends and family—which to me is what it’s all about—making it a priority to be with those we care about.

I love Christmas because it cause us to do just that; to take a look around us and say ‘Hey, I want to be with you as we celebrate this season of remembering the event that changed the world. I want to forget that we were having issues a bit ago, that we are too busy for one another otherwise.

Christmas reminds us to take a look at what and who is important to us, causes us to stop and think, to reflect and ponder; ‘Do I want to go to such and such house, if so and so is there? Do I want to spend my time working instead of taking my kids to get trees? Do I want to spend this holiday alone, or drinking with my good time friends while my family wonders where I am?’

‘Do I want to spend it reflecting on lost ones from the past and refuse to find any joy today? Do I want to refuse to invite certain persons to my home because I don’t agree with choices they are making? Do I want to blow off certain of those who really ache to be included?’

Dysfunction Junction

Christmas can be a huge bundle of dysfunction, a one way ticket from Dysfunction Junction to Bitterville. Dysfunction Junction is the place we stand as we decide which track to take, the one that makes us feel vindicated but hurts others, or the one where we just do what is required of us by a loving God without getting caught up in the mind games of others.

I for one refuse to play those games. Not just at Christmas but anytime of the year. As I stated in my book, Hope For Families, it only takes one dysfunctional family member, someone who refuses to act in the role they have been given in the family, or refuses to interact with love and respect with the other members of the family, to create a dysfunctional family.

It only takes one, unless the others refuse to play along. Allowing a dysfunctional person to affect how you interact with others in the family, to go along with their anger, their boycotts, compensations, excuses, whatever, only makes you codependent and stressed.

I played too many of those games for too many years and I just don’t anymore. All are welcome in my church, in my home, in my heart, at any time you want or need to be there. And if someone else has an issue with the company I keep then that is their issue—not mine. I am not going to lose a minute of sleep over it.

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And I am in good company, Jesus loved people into wholeness, he never shunned anyone or cared about the feelings of those who thought he should— “Lord, this woman was caught in adultery, she ought to be stoned. This man is a tax collector and a sinner, we can’t eat at his house. Why are you talking to a Samaritan woman, she’s nobody. This man is a Roman Centurion, are you sure you want to heal his daughter?”

“Get these children out of here, the Lord is busy. Tell these people be quiet, it’s unbecoming to be making this ruckus in the temple courts. Lord, by now there is a smell, are you sure you want to go in there? If you knew what kind of woman this is, you would not let her touch you!”

11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Mat 9:11—12

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I could go on but you get the point. All these people telling Jesus the kind of people he should avoid, how he should relate to others. But Jesus didn’t play their games. Jesus loved the people who were hardest to love, and he loved them completely—and you know what? Every one of them became witnesses to who he was, while the perfect and righteous fretted about appearances sake and what was fair or not fair. Jesus ruined their mind games by blowing their minds, he could do this because he knew their minds and he didn’t waste a minute trying to appease those who had no desire to look past their own upturned noses.

Choose wisely

So, Christmas causes us to look at these things in our lives and decide what’s important. We have to choose wisely because we can only travel so many trails before this holiday, before this life, is over.

So how do we know what’s important, on what do we base those decisions, who to interact with and how. What path do we set our feet on and what direction do we set our faces? As believers we should be wanting to make those choices in a way that pleases the Lord and preferably is even guided by him.

So we seek his favor, we try to be worthy, to do the right things, to say the right things, to play by the rules and at least look good. “Lord I want to be blessed, I want to please you, to serve you—How do I do that?”

It a matter of remembering that it’s not about us, it’s about how we treat others—that’s what’s important to the Lord and that is what should be important to us. And that’s not just a New Testament Jesus thing, God has been telling us that from the beginning.

God asked Israel though the last Old Testament prophet Micah;

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
Ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:7—8

What God wants from us, what he deems important for our lives?—is not what our hands are doing but more where our hearts are. That we behave justly, love mercy and walk humbly; three attributes that can affect how we live our lives in virtually every circumstance. Attributes that affect how we treat others, to do justly simply means to act impartially, honorably and to deal fairly with everyone. Mercy is kindness and forgiveness, and to walk humbly is to be lacking  in selfish pride.

If our priorities are colored by those three things we might have a very different set of priorities from most people around us—and that’s okay, because the world for the most part is anything but fair, merciful or humble.

Life is short, pick a trail and stick to it until you get where you are going. But choose wisely because, like I said, there is only time for so many and make sure others are blessed in the process.

How do we do that?

number our days meme

Choose love. We all have many choices to make every day, big decisions and little decisions, this trail, that trail, no trail. Who wants to go with me, who will I allow to go with me?

I have come to a place in my life and in my walk with the Lord that I realize that I am not smart enough, discerning enough or strong enough to judge others as to their worthiness to garner my love or acceptance.

I have discovered that life is a lot less stressful if I don’t have to hold the doors shut to certain people, to deny them grace, mercy or justice. Only the Holy Spirit can and should convict others of sin, I have too many logs in my own eye to do so.

So when I have to decide how to respond to those whom the Lord puts in my path, My heart chooses love. And that’s what pleases the Lord.

Barbarians in the Kingdom

BAR COVER

Joy in His Presence

“I remember a pastor rebuking me one time—’You jump around like a rock star when you play.’”

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Check out this awesome video from the boys of For King and Country –Little Drummer Boy. 

I love the energy of these guys- the sheer joy and passion with which they perform The Little Drummer Boy is a delight to watch. It makes me kind of jealous though— I want to be able to move like that again. When I see something like that it makes me look forward to the resurrection when I’ll have a new body, regenerated without all the aches and pains of decades of hard work and play hindering me anymore. I want to dance with joy for my king.

Back when I was a little younger (and still had all my fingers) I used to lead worship quite often and I always loved it, playing my guitar and singing for the Lord. And I always had a blast doing it, especially if I got to play with other talented musicians and when the people I was leading were into it—I always made sure they were. The energy of a room really feeds the soul of a musician—and vice versa.

I remember a pastor rebuking me one time—“You jump around like a rock star when you play.” He thought it was unbecoming a worship leader—that it was prideful on my part. I was like, ‘If you can stand still and play with all your heart for Jesus then your heart is not really playing for Jesus.’ My Jesus brings joy to my heart and when I am giving him the gift of worship, using my gifts and talents for him, that is pure joy. That is a direct gift to him.

I didn’t say that to that pastor, I was busy trying to be submissive. I considered and prayed about what he said, and decided not to change a thing. I was playing for Jesus, not a pastor. I just didn’t play at that church anymore.

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I learned how to lead worship by teaching kids how to worship and if you can engage kids in real worship, then you are a worship leader. And if you bore a child during worship, they are not going to even start to pretend that they care about anything you are doing. Adults will pretend, they will at least stand up and move their lips, kids will poke their neighbor and create their own noise that has nothing to do with what stoic song you may be banging out.

In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11

Worship is about coming into the presence of the Lord, a privilege given us by Jesus and one we should not take for granted nor dread. People who dread or fear coming into his presence or who do not believe they are worthy are not going to know how to worship, nor find any joy in it—‘There will be no dancing, no jumping, no drums, no joy. Just play the organ and pass the plate, let’s get this over with, I’ve got football to watch.’

Well Mr. Holierthanthou Worship is not for us, it’s for Jesus, it’s a gift for him. Yet in it, we are always blessed. How can we not be blessed by coming into the presence of the Lord? Which is what we are talking about today; approaching the throne of grace.

Gifts for Jesus

Giving the Lord the gift of our presence, of our time and talents, doing our best for him. I guess that’s why I’ve always loved the Christmas classic The Little Drummer Boy. I always enjoyed teaching it to kids in my children’s ministry years and included it in several kids Christmas programs.  I loved leading the kids in the little drummer boy because it’s a fun song to play on the guitar and I love the message. It just speaks of the approachability of our God. That even this little child with nothing to offer a King—a Son of God, God in the flesh—can come before him and offer what he has and be accepted and welcome.

Now, yes, I know there was no little drummer boy visit recorded in the gospels. But, everything we know about Jesus Christ and his coming tells us that we do indeed have a Lord who is approachable and that all of us, no matter our station in life, can come to our Lord and be welcomed. All were welcomed at the manger and we are all still welcome into his presence today, as long as we are coming with a humble heart and open hands, to give and receive truth.

Hands meme

At Christmas we celebrate an event that changed everything. It changed the way we approach God and if that isn’t life changing, world changing, then nothing is. If people only spent as much time pondering that as they do worrying about climate change, the world would be a very different place. And, frankly, there is a lot more evidence for the former then the latter.

Warming

Jesus coming allowed us to warm up to God the Father in a way people only dreamed of before and we are the continuing evidence of that. Sinners one and all, living in the grace and love of our Savior.

Jesus’ coming as a man, initially as an infant the very same way we all come into this world, made God approachable. Of course we all might have different circumstances surrounding our births, we might be born in a hospital room, at home, or like my youngest granddaughter, Raelyn, in a car doing 90 down the interstate in the middle of the night on their way to the hospital; certainly not the way they had planned it.

Yet, Jesus, the Son of the most high God, who surely could have planned and ensured his birth in any way he deemed fit, chose to be born in the humblest of circumstances. Certainly a big departure from the grandeur of the temple where people had been going to be near their God. He was now coming to be near his children as a child born to those who were little more then children themselves; Mary and Joseph.

That big scary God that we meet in the old Testament that seemed always having to be straightening people out, whom people feared coming anywhere near—let alone see him—lest they die, was born a tiny helpless baby to a teenage mother in a stable with only lowly shepherds as witnesses.

Think about that- if you were God and were coming to earth in the flesh so that you could make yourself known, would you make such a low profile entrance?  Probably not, but our God was not coming to impress, scare or smite the slacker, quite the contrary- he had come to be with those who thought themselves unworthy. He became one of us so that he could die as one of us, for each of us, so that we would never again fear to come into his presence.

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Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb 4:16

The Offensive Blog

Casting no shadow

 

I have known and worked with a lot of Christians over the years, you’ve known them, they wear the shirts with the Christian messages, make sure everyone knows that they have to leave early because they have to get to bible study, show you pictures of their last mission trip with the big church, hand out tracts to people they deem sinners and just generally have an air of superiority and . . . everyone avoids them like the plague.

None of these things are inherently bad, unless they are accompanied by attitude of religiosity not backed by their character. Often they are known for their lack of integrity for various reasons that everyone who has been annoyed by them does not hesitate to list off.th.jpg

It took me some time in my early days of walking with the Lord to learn not to let my mouth overwhelm my discernment because I wanted to get all my coworkers saved today. I had to learn not to be a plague carrier, and to be a light. It’s a lot simpler then you might think.

I don’t preach to, or make snide comments to people whose behavior I don’t agree with and I don’t act like I’m better than anyone else. I just do my job as best I can and try to be respectful and pleasant to everyone I work with. And I pray for opportunities to share my faith—and they come. They come because people are drawn to the light.

“No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light. Luke 11:33

Care

A few weeks ago one of the many people who work for the construction company I do showed up in my job trailer just as I was finishing lunch. He asked if I had a few minutes to talk, I said ‘a few.’ He said he was having a bad day, he’d been in an argument with the boss, he was nursing a sore knee, and was just generally feeling frustrated and unappreciated.

He said, “I was just sitting up on the Rims (the cliffs overlooking Billings) eating lunch in my truck wondering why I shouldn’t just quit, and I looked down towards this area and thought; ‘Dan is right down there, I need to go talk to him.’”  I said, “Well I don’t know if I’ll have any answers for you but I’ll certainly give you my honest opinion.” He said “I know you will, you always do. You are about the only one in this company that I feel like I can talk to—why is that?”

I said the first thing that popped into my head; “Because I’m the only one who takes the take the time to care?” He said “that’s exactly it. You care.”

We then had a conversation that took more than a few minutes, and I had plenty other things to do but this was important, he was important, and his position in the company is important so I didn’t feel like I was wasting company time—something I am always mindful of, they aren’t paying me to preach, my church does that.

I got to give him some good godly advice, to encourage him, hear him out and even give him some scripture—he knows I’m a believer and that if he comes to me he’s going to get scripture—because I know he’s receptive to it. He didn’t quit and the Lord continues to work on his heart.

Far from avoiding me, ‘that Jesus freak’, he sought me out. Why? Simply because I care about him and he knows it. That’s what it takes to make a difference in this world, in a life. That’s what Jesus did. He came to be a light to the world. My distraught coworker looked down from the rims and saw a light and was drawn from it.

I don’t shine it in peoples’ eyes so that they have to turn away, but I don’t cover it either, it’s just always there, at least I do my best to keep it there, and visible.

That’s what Jesus is asking us to do, that’s what he’s talking about here to this pharisee, ‘you’re worried about ritual hand washing when you are full of greed and wickedness inside? You’re a fool!’

Jesus warns us; don’t get dark. We all have a choice, to be darkness, or light. Otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have warned us against the darkness within:

34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Luke 11

light shine

Our responses to life happening around us makes that determination. Respond to life with joy, respond to people with patience, respond to challenges with praise, respond to stress with faith—and the darkness will have to flee.

It’s who we choose to obey, the flesh or the Holy Spirit. It is the fruits of the Spirit we bear, that determines whether we will be dark or light.  The Pharisees didn’t care about people. They only cared about how they looked, and they made themselves look better by knocking other people down. Jesus came to lift us up, to help us up, and he asks us to do the same.

That is the difference between light and darkness, the difference between being in the world but not of it and in the world and of it— darkness doesn’t care, the world doesn’t care, the world’s notion of caring is twisted beyond reason. I could think of a hundred examples, every one of which with the potential to get me in trouble in a world that is nothing like the one I grew up in, a world where we’re not allowed to have different viewpoints anymore, and everyone is offended, so I am just going to quote a line from a song I heard in the 80’s.

You save the whale you save the seal, you save whatever’s cute and squeals, but you kill that thing that’s in the womb, would not want no baby boom. Good, bad, laugh and scorn blame yourself for kiddy porn, expedience is the law you keep and your compassion’s ankle deep.” —Steve Taylor, circa 1980’s

Things haven’t changed a bit, except to get darker.

Scary forest

To the present prevailing darkness, people are just in the way. And there is a growing school of thought that the world would be better off without us.

Yet those who are adamant about it are still here. . . taking up space where a wolf could be stalking a buffalo calf and stressing over carbon footprints whilst drinking expensive coffee grown on a tree where a rain forest was cleared. ‘You people are all in the way and I am virtuous because I have realized it, I am important, I matter because I don’t use a straw in my latte.’

We matter

Okay, so much for not getting in trouble.  But I’m making the point that all those who we may disagree with, who may have very different priorities then you, are just wanting to make a difference also—desperately.  Even those who want to rid the world of others, want to matter.

They just, like all of us, struggle to see that we all matter, that what is important is not controlling others to make ourselves feel important, it’s controlling ourselves to make others feel important. Step out of your self-righteous darkness, and listen to people. Then they will feel important, and then you will be important.

In the world’s economy people don’t matter, in God’s economy people matter and yes God trusts us to care for this planet, but we also need to remember that he created it as our home, that we are the ones he died for, and we have a responsibility to care for our home but most importantly, to care for each other, the operative word there being care. To care being to love.

We are commanded to love people, even those we disagree with—the tree hugging bunny fluffers, the white shirted flyer pushing bicycle riders, the manicured and immaculately quaffed business people, the wild eyed Pentecostal zealot, the sourpuss dogmatic fundamentalist—the dirty rotten sinner and the squeaky clean Pharisee.

We have to stop being too busy to care for people. When we are rushing through this life paying little heed to the people around us because we are in  hurry—even if we are in a hurry to get to our church sanctioned functions— we are hiding our light under that proverbial bushel basket. You have the light of the world, take it to the world.

And don’t worry so much about offending people, if people know you love them, love covers a lot of offenses—just be Jesus to people—love them.

Man with bright lights

 

The Wanderer

 

Not all who wander are lost

So I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.
Indeed, I would wander far off,  and remain in the wilderness. Psalm 55:6-7

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Wouldn’t you love sometimes, to just wander off into the wilderness and be lost? At least lost to the world. Just stop the world and let me off as the old song goes. Well that can’t happen, the world doesn’t stop. But—there are those very appealing mountains just up the road—deceptively inviting, dangerous, but impartial, and there’s just something appealing about that—isn’t there? The mountains don’t judge you, they will fill or kill anyone regardless of their character or social acceptability.

 

I have a fantasy of one day, when my time is near, of wandering off into the hills and dying in peace even if it means freezing or starving to death, rather than wasting away in a nursing home drooling in a wheelchair or drying up my families savings while prolonging the inevitable in my death bed. Hopefully they have all-terrain Hoverounds, by then.

Sorry, that’s just what I thought of when I read this verse from Psalm 55. This will get happier I promise.

Not Lost

There’s an old saying that came to my mind while I was thinking about this notion of wandering; “Not all who wander are lost.” It’s actually a line from a poem that can be found in The Lord of the Rings books by JR Tolkien that goes in part:

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

-JR Tolkien; Fellowship of the Ring.

It is first found in a letter from Gandalf to Frodo Baggins in reference to Aragorn, the raider destined to be King. A man hiding from his destiny. Not unlike King David, the raider become King who penned the words of the verse we started with.

All who wander are not lost. Reminds me also of my grandson Shane. He’s a couple months shy of being two years old, he loves the outdoors and likes to take big walks, he also likes to go where Shane wants to go. He’s never lost because you always have to chase after him. He’s a boy on a mission, he may not know what it is until he finds it, but it’s there for the discovering—out there.

Wandering boy

While we were on Vacation last week we stayed at my Dad’s house. He lives on twenty acres in the middle of nowhere in the north woods of Minnesota. Our daughter Danielle and her son Shane went with us.

One morning Shane decide he wanted to go outside, to no one’s surprise. He had also decided somewhere along the line that Grandpa was his ticket to the great outdoors because every morning the first thing he did when he saw me was beeline to the door and reach for the handle while looking at me with those big brown eyes pleading for adventure as if saying—‘come on grandpa, let’s go!’

So I decided I really wanted to go outside also. It was a beautiful fall morning and I was ready to get out and enjoy the Minnesota outdoors where I had spent much of my childhood. Danielle had fallen asleep on the couch—you are always tired when you have a toddler—so I quietly dressed Shane, put on his coat and shoes and off we went.

We wandered around in the yard and in the woods close by before striking out on the county road. Like I said, Shane likes to go where Shane likes to go so I basically just followed and took pictures while making sure he didn’t get too far into the woods where you can get lost in the dense vegetation pretty quickly.

We ultimately ended up walking pretty far down the dead end county road, stopping occasionally to sit and play in the sandy gravel of the road or to pick up brilliant fallen leaves or acorns.

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As we wandered down the road we found ourselves going down a pretty long hill and I kept telling him, though I doubt he understood what I was saying; “You know, if you walk down a hill eventually you have to walk back up it.”  He would just look at me, jabber something and point at a wildflower or whatever happened to catch his eye at that particular moment.

Finally grandpa decided we had better turn around and head back. So knowing I was in for a fight I grabbed his hand and gently tried to turn him around. He protested and walked into the tall grass on one side of the road, got tangled and fell. I helped him up. Then he did the same thing on the other side, I helped him up again. Then he found a nearby field access road, ducked under a gate marked ‘Private Road’ and took off like he owned the place—anything to avoid going the direction I picked for him.

I retrieved him and set him back on the road. By now he had been turned around so many times he forgot which way he was going anyway and actually started walking with me back to the house. That is until he realized that we were now walking uphill and it was much more work.

So you know what he did? He stopped, turned to me, held up his arms and looked at me with those big brown eyes. What do you suppose I did? Scold him for being weak? Say, this is the path you chose, deal with it? Laugh and leave him behind?

I picked him up of course and was glad to do it. I then carried him all the way up the hill and pointed out all the wonders to be seen off a Minnesota back road along the way.

Shane and I are now fast friends and he trusts me implicitly.

Not all who wander are lost, because if they are loved, there is always someone following, someone who will even carry you back if you need it.

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He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say:

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?” Heb 13:4-5

We have to recognize that God is always with us, he hears our cries and even saves our tears, this knowledge alone can save us from succumbing to the desire to wander off and hide, knowing that God is always there to hear us, to give us courage and to rescue us.

We don’t need to run away from our enemies. We do not need to hide from our fears, or hide our tears. Our Father is aware of all of them, he cares about them, he cares about us, and he is for us—we have no need to be afraid

Even in our wanderings, God always knows where we are, that’s why we, the wanderers, are not lost.

You number my wanderings;
put my tears into Your bottle;
Are they not in Your book?
When I cry out to You,
then my enemies will turn back;
this I know, because God is for me.. . .
11 In God I have put my trust;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me? Ps 56

 

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