What’s Important?

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

mind games meme

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.

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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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Glory

“Any good artist who has learned his craft well, whether it’s speaking, singing, playing or acting, can bring out whatever emotion they desire to fit the agenda at hand.” 

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 I am the Lord, that is My name;
And My glory I will not give to another, Is 42
:8

Glory, a fleeting thing that much of the world seeks. It can be called fame, popularity, stardom, and it seems a strange phenomenon, that so many seek it—live for it and will do anything to attain it. I think that’s why social media has taken off—if gives everyone a potential platform to become somebody—internet fame—and the glory we suppose it will bring.

Any Warhol famously said back in the 60’s, I believe, shortly after he got famous for painting very large pictures of canned food— “Everyone has their 15 minutes of fame.” I think even he realized how ridiculous it was that people would make such a big deal out him for painting Campbell soup cans and Ketchup bottles. I think about that often when there are people who are suddenly all over the news or TV and radio and then they’re gone, never to be heard from again. Their fame might last years, or a day or two—15 minutes.

Glory is fleeting, and dangerous. But that’s a topic for another day. I want to focus on the Lord’s glory, the source of true glory and the only one worthy of that glory. I wonder how often the lust for glory interferes with the work of the Lord in the church? How many times God wanted to reveal his glory, but could not or would not because the one seeking to release it was doing it for their own advancement? Or he was not given any room to reveal his glory because of all the noise being generated by the artificial glory being conjured up by the techno wizardry of the modern church?

It’s something I know I have to always be on guard about in my own heart. God will not be eclipsed. As soon as we get in the way of God’s glory, he just moves somewhere else. We try to keep it simple here in our church. For one thing we can’t afford a lot of gadgetry, but it’s more than just not overwhelming the senses with sights and sounds, it’s keeping Jesus the main thing—”Jesus Christ and him crucified.” That has always got to be the core of our message because aside from that it’s just entertainment and manipulation.

In the words of Hank Williams JR. “Can you make folks cry, when you play and sing, can you moan the blues, have you paid your dues, can you bend them guitar strings? . . .Cause let me tell ya boy, If you’re big star bound let me warn  you it’s a long hard ride.” 

Any good artist who has learned his craft well, whether it’s speaking, singing, playing or acting, can bring out whatever emotion they desire to fit the agenda at hand, but only God can change hearts and set the captives free. Church is not theater, church is a place to gather with the saints, to be fed, to be encouraged, strengthened and challenged, and most importantly, a place to worship the God of creation, to hear his voice, to feel his touch and to see, hear and feel his glory revealed in us, those he has called.

Otherwise it’s just us, and we will get on each other’s nerves and let each other down— guaranteed. But it’s not just us, is it? So let’s keep praying for the glory of the Lord to be revealed more and more in our churches, and in our lives—expect it.

For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Mat 18:20

Expect Jesus to show up

We’ve read the stories of revivals past where God healed and delivered and actually saw the Shakina glory fall and encompass a crowd. We have witnessed sporadic healings ourselves even here, yet we often assume it’s just hit and miss and it must have been the prayers of someone else, maybe the person next to me… but still, we don’t expect a miracle.

I think maybe we expect Jesus to show up, but we don’t count on it. We still put the pressure on ourselves to pray right, to preach right, to worship right—intensely enough, spontaneously enough, to have our hands in the right place or whatever. We think we need to somehow conjure up the Lord’s presence.

We don’t conjure anything; witches and mediums do that. And we don’t manipulate emotions; actors, singers and poets do that. We simply need to invite the Lord and expect him to show up. Not just to watch, but to participate and even help. It’s not the words, the motions or the music, those are more to get us to focus on recognizing the Lord’s presence. The Lord shows up when he sees that our hearts desire him to do so. And that we expect it, not because of who we are, but because that’s who he is.

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On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” . . . John 2:1—3

Notice it doesn’t even say here that Jesus went to the wedding or that he was at a wedding. Just that there was one and that Jesus was invited. That’s all John needed to say, the fact that Jesus was there was just assumed then—he was invited so of course he was there. It was expected.

And, by the way, he just happened to turn the water to wine, saving a family severe humiliation—since he was there anyway.

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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

Follow The Plans

“Failure is never an option, not in construction, and not in life.”

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 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. “ Jeremiah 29:11—13

An incredible promise, one that, like all of God’s word, can change lives and hearts from one of hopelessness and despair, to hope and joy, as we come to realize that we have a purpose, that someone a lot smarter and more powerful than we are, has a plan for us—if we can just figure out how to follow it. There’s the rub.

We focus on the plan part but forget about the seek part. Too many just want to claim the promise of verse eleven and grumble when it doesn’t fall into their lap, because we missed twelve and thirteen.

We have to follow the plan, we have to realize that there is a schedule and we have to be constantly consulting with the architect of the plan because he makes it and lays it out but it is up to us to learn to discern it and follow it. It takes patience, time and experience but mostly it takes working closely with the one who came up with it and trusting that he knows what he is doing.

So that we can go from thisIMG_2308

To this

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The new 911 Call Center for Billings MT

Besides pastoring a church I also work for a general contractor. We mainly build commercial buildings and this is a project I just finished as the Superintendent responsible for getting it done —this does not happen overnight.

It took 11 months to go from groundbreaking—“stand back and watch us work”  to finish “here’s the keys to your new facility, we’re done.” But in between was a long, complicated, arduous, often back breaking and stressful process.

Why would we think that the building of our lives into the plan God has for us would be any different?

No building on this earth is more complex or valuable you’re your life. You are not going to get where you are going over night. The whole objective is to keep working and getting one step closer with every step and one day closer with every day. And to live in and appreciate it all along the way. And most importantly to never give up, failure is never an option, not in construction, and not in life.

The Schedule

We can’t just look at the goal, ‘I am called to pastor, I am called to bring Jesus to a far-away land, I am called to be an awesome worship leader, be the beloved patriarch or matriarch of a Godly family, to be a world changer, a sought after writer, speaker, a millionaire building for the glory of God and financing changed lives— whatever you feel in your heart you are called to do, whatever your passion is for the Kingdom— you don’t receive your vision one day and have it fully realized the next.

          And you certainly can’t achieve it by winging it.

When I start a new project I don’t just look at the picture on the front page of the plans and just wing the rest. I have to follow the plan and trust that the architect knew what he was doing.

In the construction world I live in the plan is everything. As general contractors once we are selected by an owner and awarded a contract, we get a set of plans from an architect showing what the building is supposed to look like when it’s done and hopefully all the components that go into it to get it there.

Depending on the size of the project there are many, many pages to the plan showing everything from the foundation to the roof, the density requirements for the dirt below the foundation to the paint colors on the walls, the plumbing to the lighting and on and on and on. Most would be astounded by what goes into a building, both structurally, functionally, aesthetically and technologically.

Getting that initial set of plans is just the first step in the building, that is once the architects and engineers have done their part, which can take months or even years. The architect of our lives has had an eternity to plan our lives. It’s largely up to us, just as it is a contractor, as to whether we want to build according to the plan. Because I’ll tell you what, in construction, or in life, not following the plan leaves you with a real mess.

So, the first thing I do when I get a set of plans is look at the artist’s rendering on the front page, just to get a general idea as to what it’s supposed to look like when it’s done, what the ultimate goal is here. For the general public and often for the owner, the ones who are going to move into the building, that’s all they see. They want to just wake up a few days later and see the building standing on the piece of ground they’ve chosen, “gasp— it’s so beautiful!”, and move into paradise. That’s the way it works on TV right? “Move that Bus!” It only took a half an hour.

Well, here’s how it really works. You have to build it, one shovel full of dirt, one yard of concrete, one steel I beam, one brick, one sheet of drywall, one piece of copper piping, one length of wire, at a time. And on and on, until it’s done.

So, as the one who has to actually build it, I start by studying the plans to make sure I understand how everything comes together, I have to know the right sequence and the materials to acquire, and then I come up with a game plan. ‘First this, then this, then this. . .’

I look at the schedule that the estimator put together when he was determining how much it was going to cost to build this thing and if it could be done in the time allotted by the owner. Every step of the building is given a specific amount of time and put into a particular block of time. The overall schedule. It’s my job to keep the job on schedule.

Then there is the three week schedule which I put together in the field each week showing more specifically what exactly needs to happen and when it needs to happen in the few weeks ahead so that everyone involved can plan.

If we start getting too far behind the base line schedule then we figure out ways to make it up by getting more people, working longer hours, whatever. If everyone has done, and does, their jobs, the building is completed on time and correctly.

Everyone is happy and we get to do it again. In my world, each job completed on time and within budget keeps me working and gets me entrusted to do bigger, more demanding and costly projects with more responsibility but greater rewards.

My point is, we don’t just look at the picture on the front page, say ‘looks good’, and drive down to the job site and complain because it’s not just appearing. We have to build it and we know it will take time and sweat, lots of time and lots of sweat.

Sounds like life to me.