A Girl Named Hope

Nothin yet

Is your church more than a seeker sensitive message, loud music, trained official greeters and ushers and a fantastic coffee bar with gluten free, sustainably grown goodies?

(note-this message was written for my church in Red Lodge MT but I think it is a question we all need to ask of our own houses of worship.)

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

It’s not random chance that the church the Lord called me to start was established in Red Lodge. I could have, and was willing to go anywhere the Lord would send me. As a kid I lived in 5 different states so I know how to make my home wherever I would find myself, and though I had been in Yellowstone County for 34 years I was not rooted so deeply there that I was not unable to leave. This earth is not my home, home is where the heart is and my heart belongs to heaven.

Yet I feel blessed that the Lord sent me to familiar territory, neighboring Carbon County, where the mountains meet the prairies.. It’s all the best of Montana and if heaven looks just like Montana I will not be disappointed at all.

The point is, this church was strategically placed in Red Lodge by the Lord. Placed here to be a place where people would be drawn, from near and far, to be refreshed and healed, challenged and equipped— restored to effective Kingdom readiness status as a warrior for Christ, strong and confident in their call and in their worthiness to move in the power of the Holy Spirit— in the power and security of his love.

A ministry established at the base of some of the most majestic hills in all the earth, the Beartooth Mountains. People come here from all over the world, not just because it’s on the way to the most famous park in the world, there are much easier routes, but because it is the most beautiful and awe inspiring drive there is, by many estimations, in the country.

And right here, on the edge of paradise, is Hope Chapel Red Lodge—a place of Healing Restoration and Hope. Are we perfect in fulfilling our call? No. Have we had any success in our mission? Much that I am aware of and probably much that I don’t know of, I hope.

No matter the call and our willingness to hearken, we are still imperfect people who are going to make mistakes, maybe let some people down and offend others, but by the grace of God and a willing heart we will do the best we can—and God blesses that.

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Hope

That reminds me of something that happened just a few months ago. A young couple was here that I didn’t recognize, at first. They had a baby with them that was just a few months old. I said ‘hi’ and introduced myself then we had worship. Then during worship I started to think, “They look familiar”—then I remembered that they had been here before, I remembered because they had been real interested in my late grandfather’s creation, a steel eagle sculpture that stands next to the platform where I preach. The young man was himself a welder and he recognized the skill it took to create this.

So during the greeting time I went to them again and said, “You were here before weren’t you? Aren’t you from Worland WY?” They got big smiles on their faces and said “Yes, we were here one year ago on our honeymoon. Today is our anniversary and we knew we just had to come back here.” I said “To Red Lodge?” “No, to this church. We drove up just this morning to be here for church”

“I” the young lady then said, “was pregnant and very scared for our future when we were here last but we were so blessed and encouraged when we were here that we decided that we were going to name our baby after this church—her middle name is  Hope, Kash Hope, because that is what the Lord gave us here at Hope Chapel.”

I was blown away, what do you say to that? God is good—all the time. And he is always doing something and we often have no idea. We didn’t know what was going on in this young couples’ lives and hearts when they were here, bi-racial by the way, but the Lord used each and every one of you (our church family) to touch them. They could have heard the best sermon ever—and not felt loved and accepted by this church family, and left still scared of the future and desperate for hope.

Or—they could have been loved and accepted, heard a great polished sermon and a professionally produced worship set—yet not felt the Lord’s presence, because we didn’t invite him in or leave room for him to work because it’s all about uswhat we can do, how we have the right training, the right people skills, the seeker sensitive message and trained official greeters and ushers—and a fantastic coffee bar with gluten free, sustainably grown goodies.

No, even if we had all of that, if Jesus isn’t here, moving amongst us, touching hearts, healing hurts, speaking words of encouragement and love, filling the air with an unexplainable energy and a peace that passes understanding—then we are just a feel good program with no meaningful or lasting impact on a person’s heart, let alone anything eternal like—oh, I don’t know— their very soul!

That was an encouraging testimony, but that’s just one of the ones who came back to share how they were touched by the Lord through being in this house, with this family.

Keep being Jesus to the stranger and to those who you have come to know, who have confided in you, or that you have come to see as an imperfect human who needs a lot of help—oh wait, that’s just a mirror…—don’t stop believing, hoping, praying, contending and believing for more and more because I truly believe that the best is yet to come and that we have not seen anything yet.

To use the grammatically disastrous but yet very effective phrasing: You aint seen nothing yet.

That goes for each and every one of you who are called by the name of Jesus!

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The Word Behind You

voice behind

Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,
“This is the way, walk in it,”
Whenever you turn to the right hand
Or whenever you turn to the left. Is 30:21

When us Spirit filled Christians think of the word behind us we tend to think of the voice of the Holy Spirit. And this is certainly a valid thought. But remember what Jesus said the Holy Spirit would do, he will not only teach us all things but he will also bring to our remembrance all that Jesus has taught us as well. We who do not have the benefit of having walked with Jesus know His word via the written word, the Gospels.

25 “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. John 14

I think this applies to the whole of scripture as we know that all scripture is God breathed and that Jesus is God, as he claimed to be on numerous occasions—”Before Abraham was, I am”—and that he was the very embodiment of the word, and he is the word—”In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God”

When we’re walking along, traveling the trails of this life the Holy Spirit is there to guide us, to teach us the way. We have big decisions to make and a verse comes to mind, a story from the Bible, something we just read this morning or something we learned in Sunday school as a kid.

We have small decisions to make, at least what seems small to us, and a bible character comes to mind, something they said or did, and we are inspired to do a certain thing as a result. That is the voice behind you—the scriptures that were written so long ago, way back there between two thousand and four thousand years ago, made alive and brought right up behind us like a GPS unit telling us to ‘take a left here, stop there, turn around.’ It is the scriptures made alive in us by the Holy Spirit in front of us leading us from in front with his words to our hearts and encouraging us from behind with the voices of the past.

In order for that to work, in order for Jesus to remind us of his words, we have to have known them in the first place. You cannot be reminded of something you never knew in the first place.

How can you be inspired to courage in the face of the giants of this life when you never read the story of David and Goliath? How can you know how to pray for God’s will to be done in your life when you never read Jesus’ prayers and his teaching on prayer? How can you trust God to do the impossible when you don’t know the Story of Abraham and Sarah, Elizabeth and Zechariah?

How can you have hope that this life is not all there is and that Jesus will one day return for his church if you have never read the book of Revelation or the myriad other references to heaven and the return of our King scattered throughout his word?

How will you not fear the evil that is rising seemingly unhindered and without end if you have not read those books of the Bible, Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation, the words of Jesus in the Gospels that tell us how we win in the end? And on and on and on.

I find my greatest inspirations to continue the fighting in the stories of Jeremiah, Isaiah and of course the Apostles. People who were maligned and even martyred yet never stopped because they were obedient to the truth, they hearkened to the voice of the one who called them. And because they listened and obeyed—he kept leading them.

Their words still speak to us and their stories inspire millions, today. ‘Lord, let my life be a witness of your love and power. Let me have the Spirit of  a Jeremiah, the courage of a David, to be as bold as John the Baptist, as clever as Isaac and as patient as Job. And most of all, let me love like you Lord, laying down my life for my friends and taking up my cross to follow you no matter where you lead—Not my will but yours be done!’

‘My life is yours because you redeemed my life from the pit and there is nothing else in this world that compares to you.’

When you have tasted freedom after having been ensnared by hopelessness and despair, addictions and the sin which do easily entangles, nothing else matters but keeping that freedom and leading others to it.

That is where Jesus is taking you, that is why we need to follow Jesus, because others are watching to see where we’re going and if it indeed leads to freedom—freedom and joy.

Everyone in this life wants to be happy but few are. That leaves us with a lot of desperate people. We know the way. They only way we can show the way is if we are willing to keep following ourselves, every day, every minute.

And obey

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If you want God to continue speaking to you, you have to actually do what he asks. In my kid’s ministry days, in my classroom if a child refused to listen and obey, if he, or she, just became competing noise making it impossible for those who wanted to learn to do so, I would remove them from the classroom. “Go stand in the hallway until I come and get you.” When they are standing  in the hallway, they are not hearing anything, they are not participating and they soon become bored and frustrated.

Then the attitude usually changes; “Can I please come back in? I will listen, I promise!” I wonder how many times the Lord has put us in the hallway to stew but we were too wrapped up in ourselves to realize that the Lord may be trying to teach us something. “Lord, why aren’t you speaking to me?” Well, maybe because we didn’t do, or even bother to listen to, the last things he told us. —Just a thought.

Reminds me of another bit of wisdom I gleaned in my younger days that I have repeated many times to younger people coming up under me in the construction trades.

Do what the foreman tells you to do and you can’t go wrong. Because then, even if it is wrong, it is his fault. And, his way is a lot less likely to be wrong then your way in the first place. That’s why he’s the boss and you’re not.

You mess up enough times because you refused to listen and you will no longer be around to hear anything from the boss. You won’t have to worry about arguing with the boss anymore about how dumb his assignments are. Of course you won’t get paid anymore either.

The Kingdom of God works much the same way. We have to acknowledge; “You are God and I’m not.” That’s a hearkening.

We can have a hearkening today, or a reckoning tomorrow.

35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Mat 12

We are only given so many days in this life, don’t waste today by saying tomorrow you might listen, tomorrow may never come, at least not the one we expected.

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Another Turn of the Wheel

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

adult arts and crafts clay dirty
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

Turns of the wheel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She didn’t.

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

She didn’t

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

She didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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I love you all, have a blessed week!

 

Bad Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Moral corrupters to be sure.

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

selective focus photography of person touch the white ceramic mug with choose happy graphic
Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

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

You can do so much better. . .

 

Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Spartan quickly runs through the sand

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

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

The Strong Man

“We end up tied up in the corner begging for another drink, another hit, searching for a bigger thrill because it always takes more and more— and Jesus? Well, he is shoved into the closet. ‘He’ll be fine in there, a few verses of amazing grace and a communion wafer now and then is all he needs.’”

David and Goliath

“Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.” Mat 12:29

I grew up in the 70’s convinced that drugs were bad. I had heard horror stories about what happens to people who succumb to such debasement. I was raised by truckdrivers and cowboys and only flea infested long haired hippies did drugs. I started drinking now and then when I was fourteen, fifteen, but that was a man’s reward for a job well done and was socially acceptable. So, when I went into Job Corps at seventeen I was hardcore cowboy fresh from working summers and weekends at ranches and auction yards. I was anti—drug with no desire whatsoever to smoke any whacky tobacky.

But, after being there several months, sequestered in the mountains with a lot of other guys that I considered friends, I discovered that a lot of them smoked the stuff—guys that were in the Heavy Equipment training program with me, the cool tuff guys. A group I had never fitted in with before back home. In the evening there was often a bunch of guys that would sneak off into the mountains around the center, sit in a circle and get stoned. It was the Seventies Show in the wilderness.

I would often go along just to get out of the dorm but I would pass on the inevitable joint going around. Beer was my drug of choice—too bad there wasn’t any around. It was a lot easier to smuggle in a bag of weed than it was a six pack of beer.

Then one Saturday afternoon I said ‘What the heck, I’ll try it.’ This was after a lot of encouraging from my friends of course. I mean, they didn’t seem to have fleas, in fact they all had short hair—it was required to be in the Heavy Equipment program—not by choice, it was the seventy’s after all—and they all seemed pretty normal to me.

So I smoked my first weed. It gave me a headache and I went back to the dorm and slept the rest of the afternoon—‘Yay, wasn’t that fun.’

A while later I tried it again. This time, sitting there in that circle in the trees, I got really buzzed. And suddenly everything everyone said was just hilarious. ‘Wow, this was even better than alcohol!’ Even though I was paranoid about getting caught, afraid the staff would see my goofy grin and notice the lovely burnt rope odor emanating from my otherwise redneck appearance, I couldn’t wait to do it again, and again, and again. Soon I was getting stoned every day and even started to smuggle in my own weed.

Somehow I still managed to graduate the program without getting caught and when I graduated Job Corp I just went nuts with the partying and was soon into much harder stuff, always looking for the next thing that would give me that buzz that made everything hilarious and all my friends so fun to be with.

That’s a whole other story that did not turn out so well in the end as the Lord intervened by allowing my life to basically fall apart. But it would take five long years and a genuine miracle from the Lord before I could overcome my need to be stoned all day every day on the weed and to be able to give up all the other bondages I had acquired during that period.

I wasted some of the best years of my life; being stoned, and I am talking about marijuana—the not so bad drug of choice, the other drugs came and went—being stoned on weed robbed me of my ambition, my energy, my confidence, my relationship with my Lord and my sense of who I really was, actually my sense in general. I was in bondage simply because I decided one day to try something, no big deal, just a time or two—and just a little.

I could tell you nearly the same story about drinking, about pornography, about tobacco—both cigarettes and snoose, about speed—on and on. I have been addicted to it all. Things I never thought I would be dumb enough to do yet would find myself craving over and over and over again—that’s a bondage and that is an opportunity for the enemy to come in and do whatever he wants, to kill, steal and destroy.

And that is exactly what he does—unless you cry out to Jesus, trust him and his word, repent and be set free. Restored as the strong man of your house—both the Temple that is your body and the home you are supposed to be building for you wife, your kids, your grandkids or whomever the Lord entrusts you to influence.

Only Jesus can truly free you from bondages that destroy, that render you useless for the Kingdom of God and ineffective as a protector and provider for you family. We have a much higher purpose, dad’s, then just surviving and numbing the flesh with the things that it demands. We are the strong man, we are the guardians of the hearts of our children for as long as they are under our roofs or you give them away in marriage.

And even then you are a spiritual covering as your prayers, depending on your righteousness, are powerful and effective in protecting them from the evil one. You are the protector of your wives’ heart as well, the one whom you vowed to love, cherish and cling to only, for as long as you both shall live.

But you cannot do that if you are in bondage, if there is anything apart from your Lord and your wife that is more important to you, that you cannot give up or get through a week or even a day without. Anything that causes her grief when she thinks of your need for it, anything you would be horrified to learn your kids were also doing—you need to break free from that.

I am the warrior

Would You?

Ask yourself this next time you indulge; Would you drink that, would you smoke that, would you watch that, if Jesus were standing next to you? You think Jesus doesn’t know? Of course he does, yet he loves you and wants to set you free, free to be the strong man. Choose to be loosed, pick up your bibles, get on your knees and cry out to Jesus and then find some Christian brothers who will stand beside you.

Make it a habit to go to church, fall in love with worship, those are the things—repentance, scripture, worship fellowship—that set and keep me free, and I am no one special, I am just a man like you, a person like you ladies—you are not exempt from this, you need to be the strong woman also.

The rewards are so much sweeter than the temporary thrill of whatever high you are getting from your mind altering, dopamine releasing, hangover inducing, bondages of choice. Kids look to you dads to be strong for them, your wives look to you husbands to be strong for them. The younger men you work with look to you to see how a man is supposed to act. The guys next to you in church look to you to know how a godly man is supposed to cope with this life. What are they seeing?  A strong man living in freedom or a pretender living in bondage?

  43 “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. 44 Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Mat 12:43-45

The Salesman

The enemy especially loves to bind Christians. We turn to Jesus, we get the house all cleaned up and ready for company but then there’s a knock on the door and there’s a salesman. Those Kirby vacuum toting, encyclopedia Britannica hocking, Fuller brush pushing type remnants of a day gone by.

Good day sir, I am selling feel good goodies. You’re a man right, the man of this house, the king of this here castle? Your daddy and your granddaddy loved this stuff and they were manly men right? Here, try some of this, by one get one free. Oh, and this here goes great with that, I’ll throw that in free, just this once though. And then—whoa ho ho! —how about this huh? Have you ever seen anything like that before? You know you want it. Here, let me just come in and unpack all this stuff for you, have a seat and re—lax.

We end up tied up in the corner begging for another drink, another hit, searching for a bigger thrill because it always takes more and more— and Jesus? Well, he is shoved into the closet. ‘He’ll be fine in there, a few verses of amazing grace and a communion wafer now and then is all he needs.’

Just keep the blinds closed and the porch lights on and everyone will think your fine—because you are , right?

Depression

Am I the only one who gets visited by this salesman now and then? I know I’m not, I’ve been in this ministry game a long time and I have seen a lot of very full houses. Houses full of everything but what they should be full of—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.”   Mat 12:33

A tree cannot grow both good and bad fruit, the choice is yours, and your family are the ones who have to live with the fruit. But Jesus doesn’t tell us this just to condemn us, he tells us this to give us the way to be loosed. Remember, the whole premise of this story was that the Kingdom power is here, he brought it and he still makes it available to each of us. We just need to clean house, using the power, and then keep it and ourselves unfettered. For those you love if not yourselves.

Jesus said it best— “If the Son sets you free you are free indeed.”

Barbarian meme

Read ‘Barbarians in the Kingdom’

You Don’t Know Me!

 

  Prodigal meme

Prodigal—Exceedingly or recklessly wasteful. From the Latin word Prodigere—to drive forth or away.

So, who really is the prodigal son in the story?

Most people are familiar with the story of the prodigal son; the younger brother who decided he was due hid inheritance only to go blow it all on wine, women and song (or something). Broke and ashamed he came home to beg forgiveness and a scrap of bread only to be welcomed and treated like the son he was to a forgiving and loving father, with grace.

while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

But—

Then there’s the older brother who had his own issues, the other prodigal son who apparently blew all the grace he had been given because he had none left to give his little brother when he came home.

The church is full of people like the big brother who all have their own issues and you may have experienced their wrath. Perhaps their issue is that they have not yet recognized that you are just as loved by the Father is they are, you are just as valuable as they are. Or- they are just bitter because they are getting tired. Tired because they have spent too much time working and not enough time sitting at the Father’s feet and listening. So when they look up and see the Father rejoicing over you they just naturally get angry.

That creates a whole other class of prodigals who will also need to have a genuine home-coming one day.

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ Luke 8

You cannot always listen to the older brothers, the wise and authoritative self-appointed representatives of the Kingdom. There is a time for reproof and there is a time for correction but if you are going to take on this task you had better be sure it’s from the Lord because usually the Holy Spirit is quite good at handling this himself.

And it’s usually the busybodies in the church who start the lynch mobs, not the ones who are being guided by the Spirit.

There are well-meaning big brothers who are genuinely concerned and zealous for the things of the Lord, perhaps too zealous and this taints their concern, shifting it from concern for others needs and leaving room for the Lord to work— to concern for justice. There must be justice, we must have a stoning!” Guess what, they have just become prodigals, because that’s not where the Father is.

That’s not what we, the church, were called to do.

The Lord me to Red Lodge to minster grace and healing, and he has entrusted and called us especially to minister grace and healing to his weary soldiers. To those who have served, who have worked and strived, given their all to serving the Lord— serving the church—until one day they just can’t do it anymore.

And to minister to those who desperately want to serve the Kingdom but are told they are not worthy, that they miss the mark. Well, if that is you, you are in good company, David and Jesus both found themselves there;

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people. Ps 22

God did not create any of us in the image of a worm, he created each and every one of us in his image, you are his child, he knows you, loves you, and just wants you to come home.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

And by his Spirit we cry Abba Father!

That call should not be unique to any particular church—we are all representatives of the one who freely gives grace.

You don’t know me

Only Jesus truly knows us, knows what goes on in a heart, in the mind. Only Jesus knows what made the younger son run. All the older brother knows is what his eyes and ears tell him. He only knows what the rumors are, what his imagination tells him. He thinks he knows his brother, the selfishness and evil that drives him and it makes him angry—‘How can he be so foolish? You deserve nothing but scorn, you had it all and you blew it, you had the same inheritance as me, and you just threw it all away like it was nothing!’

‘Look at me, I held on to mine, in fact I am using it to take care of the business of the one who gave it to me—I stayed and served our father while you were out playing your games like there were no rules, like our father’s feelings weren’t worth a second thought—and now you just come crawling back and I’m supposed to welcome you? I know what you did!’

‘Yes, maybe so brother, but you really don’t know me, and our father has welcomed me back—who are you to do any less?’  

There is so much more to every story, to every heart, then we ever imagine, that is why we only have one judge.

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. 1 Cor 4:5

Honesty

What’s important for us as a church family is that we keep things in the light, that we are not afraid to share our thoughts and struggles, our failings and our temptations so that they are in the light where they can be dealt with before they get to the point where they are suddenly exposed, to our shock and dismay, and everyone goes UUUHHH!

That can only happen in a church that does not judge a person’s heart so we can punish it, but desires only to heal and restore, to encourage and forgive—that’s called grace. If we are not living in, trusting in and exuding grace we are not living in, abiding in the words of Jesus as—harkening back to last week— we must absolutely do if we have any hope to stay in the grace and blessings of God, as a church and as individuals.

Because that’s what a church is, a collection of individuals who are all part of the same family, God’s family and we all find ourselves looking at the horizon once in a while and thinking the party over the hill has got to be more fun than the narrow road we walk to the fields every day.  

We have to be the ones that go after the one, even if the running they did was only in their hearts and minds.

What kind of church we are, one that can weather the storms together, each of us pulling on the oars as we are able while those who are weary and wounded find rest and security in the hold?

Or one that throws it’s weary and wounded overboard until we run out of warriors to keep this longship moving forward and it capsizes in the waves.

We are never going to fully be where we are going until the Lord calls us home for the wedding feast, it’s who we are in the journey, what we did along the way, and whether we got there with the warriors and crew he entrusted to us.

viking-longboat-art-by-david-seguin

I call our church in Red Lodge the barbarian church and yes our ship is a Viking longship; the longship was a boat whose design allowed it to flex and bend with the waves never capsizing or breaking it—as long as it took the waves head on, and that never happened by accident, it took a determination and an endurance, it took a crew.

Let’s weather the storms together be the first to make it to Vinland where we will drink a toast with the groom in celebration.

“This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. 25 Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:24, 25

And I’ll take my wine in a drinking horn thank you.

Barbarians in the Kingdom