Fooled ’em for Another Week

“that all too familiar fear of failure and judgement hit the pit of my stomach.”

14 how much more shall the blood of Christ,… cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? Hebrews 9:14

How’s your conscience? Now there’s a loaded question. “What? What do you mean? What do you know, who told you…?” We all have secrets, insecurities and guilt over something or other—don’t we?. It’s like the joke I’ve heard at work a few times and have even said myself, usually on pay day; “Well, fooled ‘em for another week!”

The inference being that if the people you work for knew just how unqualified, insecure and hapless you are they would get rid of you immediately. Of course it’s meant to be a joke but like any good joke, especially the ones based in sarcasm, my specialty, there is always a nugget of underlying truth that makes it funny in the first place. The reality is, most of us are a little insecure in our jobs, relationships, positions or what have you, and feel like if people really knew the real you, the secret battles that go on in your head and heart they would be aghast and ask you to hit the road Jack.

I know I find myself often lately in rooms full of people with engineering degrees, architectural degrees, PHD’s or whatever, owners of big companies and CEO’s and I think, what am I doing here?

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Especially when they are looking to me for input on how to make things happen on their big construction projects, like I’m the expert on every aspect of the project. Sometimes I just want to say; ‘I’m just a carpenter, don’t ask me’, but I can’t say that so I silently pray Lord help me not to make a fool of myself and I say what comes to mind.

Sometimes that leaves people a bit astounded, like, did you really just say that? Because I’ll tell you what, if you’re leaning on the Holy Spirit to guide you, combined with experience, truth comes out and it’s not always comfortable—yet it always gets the desired results and I walk away respected. Which, I suppose, is why I keep finding myself in those circles. But I’m always a bit insecure.

Or I’ll find myself surrounded by tradesmen, business owners and craftsmen asking me how they are supposed to make things work according to the plans that I am supposed to know every aspect of, and have or know where to get all the answers—and I think, How in the world did I get into this position? I just set out to be a hard working craftsman, to build things efficiently and with pride, and now I’m the Superintendent responsible for all this? Yikes!

The other day my boss called just on the heels of working through issues with the electrician, drywallers and plumbers back to back to back, and asked how it was going and I replied, “Well, I’m just solving all the problems of the world one subcontractor at a time.” Which it seemed to me at the time was exactly what I was doing, and he replied “sweet!”

That’s what I do most of the day, run around in circles and answer questions and solve problems all the while thinking; I could really mess things up here if I’m not paying attention or if I give answers that are beyond my authority or understanding to give. So, I’m still employed as of Friday—fooled ‘em for another week. And every day I continue to pray, “Lord give me wisdom to do my job well and bless my ministry as well, make sure I have plenty left for my church and family.”

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I often go home at the end of the day and wonder, and even cringe sometimes, thinking about some of my interactions with people throughout the day—I’ll tell you what, I don’t always feel very ‘pastorly’ when I’m pushing a big job and having to be the driving force behind a whole bunch of often difficult personalities all trying to work around, over, and with one another all day every day with the shared goal of meeting a deadline that always seems way too close.

Buttons

Buttons sometimes get pushed, and some people’s button are much easier to push. It takes a lot to push my buttons anymore to bring out the—“you don’t want to mess with me or you’ll be out of here in a heartbeat”—old school—“I don’t give a rip who you think you are” —foreman in me. But he’s in there and he serves a purpose. But I try to live by the old proverb that ‘a soft answer turns away wrath’ first and foremost because a hard answer invites push back that does indeed force your hand to play the hard ass card, and when that happens then I go home thinking, “Lord, did I totally just blow any chance of ever witnessing to that person?”

Are they now thinking, if they even know, ‘what kind of  pastor is he?’ What would the people I pastor think? ‘What do you think Lord?’ ‘Oh, man I’ve blown it again.’ —Here comes the accusations, the guilt and the temptations to just give up and give in.

Funny, I got home the other day and grabbed the mail. I noticed that I had a letter addressed to me from Foursquare, the big headquarters office in LA. That’s not unusual, but this one, this one made me uneasy right off the bat and I first didn’t realize why. I looked at it again and it was addressed to Dan Swaningson, yeah so? Well, most everything I get from Foursquare is addressed to Rev, Dan Swaningson. So you know the first thing that came into my mind? ‘Am I fired?’ Foursquare finally figured out that I am not qualified or worthy to pastor and they are stripping me of my title?

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I knew that wasn’t the case but isn’t that the way our minds work?-instant guilt, instant fear. My mind instantly flashed back to something I had written on a monthly report a couple months ago about the tight winter we had here—instant guilt and conviction. They’re going to replace me with a charismatic millennial in skinny jeans and a Prius rocking a man bun, and… Birkenstocks? —I don’t know, I’m not even hip enough to know what millennials wear, if it doesn’t say Wrangler, Stetson or Carhart on it I wouldn’t know if it came from the Dollar Store or from 5th Avenue, nor would I care.

So, I’m getting a it off track here, my point is, I panicked just a bit as that all too familiar fear of failure and judgement hit the pit of my stomach.

We are always a little afraid of getting into trouble, of maybe being found out like we have to hide who we really are, what we really think and probably some things we say or do, maybe I’m worse than most because of my codependent tendencies, but overall I think this is just human nature and part of our spiritual makeup. As we talked about last week, that’s the conscience pricking us, something it’s really good at.

Some of that may be the accuser whispering in our ears that we are miserable failures doomed to fail and to be cast aside by everyone who matters and by our God. And some of it is the legitimate feeling of guilt we have by virtue of having God’s laws and ways written in our minds and on our hearts.

10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Heb 8

We who know the law better than most because we care to read it and study it from our Bibles, often experience that guilt, fear and panic more than most. But that’s not the way it should be. We need to remember who we are, loved children of the Living God washed and guiltless before our Father by the blood of the Lamb of God—Jesus.

So, anyway, I didn’t get my ordination revoked so my church is stuck with this old redneck, cowboy shirt wearing preacher for now with no tattoos, an Ironworker vocabulary that I work hard to suppress every day, and a Pickup truck powered by Ford.

Turns out that letter was just a notice of some changes to my 401k and was from the financial dept at Foursquare, and their services being available to all paid staff across the board they don’t necessarily know or care who’s ordained and who’s not.

So, I’m fooled ‘em for another day. I’m still credentialed and okay to preach on Sunday—whew!

Barbarian meme

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Suffer? No Thanks…

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Are we setting up the next generation of church leaders to fail?

“…in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” Heb 5:7—8

‘Whoa, wait a minute, I didn’t sign on for this! I came to Christ because I was promised that everything would be wonderful. I would have joy, peace—all my troubles would be over and Jesus would take care of all my problems. Pass me that bowl would ya?— The one with the cherries in it. Thanks, you were saying? Oh, can I get a glass of milk also?’

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Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

Well, I’m sorry junior, but if that’s what you were led to believe then you were not told the whole story and if it hasn’t happened already, you will be sorely disappointed and disillusioned. And if that ‘walking with Jesus is a bowl of cherries’ mentality is what you want to cling to then you will be subsisting on a diet of milk and the meat will be reserved for those who are ready to accept it.

This notion of pain free cross bearing has caused a lack of leadership and the advancement of the Kingdom has suffered as a result. Think about the oxy-moronism of that statement, pain free cross bearing, but that’s exactly what this idea is. This notion that we can be followers of Christ and not have to be inconvenienced let alone suffer has caused many to ignore their call to go and do what they were created and purposed by God to do.

Jesus said if you would come after me you must take up your cross daily, he didn’t say ‘hitch your wagon to mine and I’ll wake you when we get there.’

 “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. Luke 9:23

In the minds of everyone who heard Jesus say this, a cross represented nothing but suffering, so. . . where’s the gilded sanctuaries, Armani suits and life of ease in this Jesus following business?

Cross carry meme

Really?

Suffering is a complicated issue to be sure and the reasons are many and varied. All we can say for sure is that there will be, and is, suffering. And it is a major cause for people to question God and his existence. Ironic that God gets blamed for the suffering he has spent all of human history trying to first prevent and then rescue us from. Even to suffering himself for us.

No doubt the writer of Hebrews has that agonizing night of prayer in the garden of Gethsemane in mind when he wrote this. Jesus suffered to the point of sweating blood on this night knowing that his arrest was imminent and that the cup of God’s wrath was about to be poured out on him.

So who do we think we are when we whine about our sufferings to God? Even Jesus suffered in order to learn perfect obedience. Jesus fervently prayed to be delivered from his suffering but it was with a healthy dose of fear, knowing that He should not be disrespectful in his petitions to the one who had led him to this place of danger. Jesus didn’t pray to his Father as though God didn’t know what he was doing or had messed up, and Jesus ended his prayer with not my will but thine be done.

Jesus trusted his Father implicitly and was obedient even to the cross which he knew full well was coming.

There are many still today who have given all in their obedience to Christ, to go where he sends them and do what he asks for his glory and his people. But there are too many who are called who have not answered because they are holding out for something better or are afraid of suffering—it just doesn’t fit their idea of ministry.

I think the church has done a real disservice to the Kingdom of God in the megachurch movement which has created a myriad of full time ministry positions where people can come to work every day in comfortable casual clothes, looking hip and stylish, have an office in a building surrounded by nothing but other Christians who all run down to the coffee shop in the foyer at break time and strategize together about how they can get more people into the building to see the show. 

Of course they don’t call it a show but if you look at the effort time, talent and money poured into the stage and the auditorium, the lighting, the sound, the message, the music, the drama presentations—it truly is theater. I know, I’ve been involved in all of that to some extent. And yeah, there’s some value to that and people are getting saved, I think, but they are being set up to fail.

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Those watching the show are given the notion that church is what it’s all about and you had better make me feel good and delight me or I will find another—’I hear that church on the other side of town has an amazing drama team.’

And those who feel called to minister and serve believe that they need to be one of those pretty people up front, or one of the professional organizers behind the scenes, all of whom get to come to work each day in the ivory tower called a church. So everyone from the new person in the back row with a new found zeal to see other’s come to know Jesus, to the college student who grew up in the church and feels compelled by God to devote their life to full time ministry, has the notion that ministry is for the professionals and getting that office and that salary equals success.

In the meantime no one is planting churches, all around me in in neighboring towns of Montana churches are shutting down for lack of leaders, other churches cling to life waiting years for a new pastor to step up, beautiful paid off buildings sit empty, small churches everywhere have to forego youth ministry, discipleship and evangelism. Homeless people on the streets and the down and out in the shelters and in the jails never hear the good news, people pine away in despair in retirement homes and hospitals—all because the called do not want to suffer for the call. Thus there is no victory for them or Jesus in their lives.

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Jesus asks us to bear fruit, not make money. “What does it pay?” I have heard this question way too many times over the last couple decades when I have offered people opportunities to minister, to use their gifts, in a meaningful way. Young and old, people on fire for Jesus, people who claim they want to serve, refusing to step out and get dirty. Not all, but many. Like I said, we have done the next generation a real disservice, actually it’s been affecting a couple of generations now—suffering is no longer a given let alone a component of serving Jesus. Because the media savvy, seeker friendly, everything must be polished and perfect church, has made it look too easy.

It’s not, but it rewarding and it is what we were created and called to do. Grab your sword, put on your work pants and get to work. Victory awaits you—warrior.

3-3-19 meme

 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. 2 Tim 1:8—9

book coverBarbarians in the Kingdom

 

 

 

 

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

reaper 2 meme

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!

 

 

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.

coming meme

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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Photo by Life Of Pix on Pexels.com

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.”

man wearing a suit jacket and stripe necktie
Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

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.

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.

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