What’s Important?

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

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

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

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

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

Dysfunction Junction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose wisely

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

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

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

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

God asked Israel though the last Old Testament prophet Micah;

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we do that?

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

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

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

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

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The Harvest

Let yesterday’s pain fall to the ground and die and ask the Lord of the Harvest, Jesus Christ, to grow it into something beautiful.

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I used to love watching the harvest happening on upper  Blue Creek in Montana where we ranched. Our wheat farming neighbors, whose land bordered ours, would have the custom cutters come and harvest their wheat. They would get eight or ten combines lined up in a field, kind of staggered so they weren’t running into each other, and just start knocking down the grain. They could make short work of very large fields.

It was really cool at night when they were all lit up surrounded by a back-lit halo of grain dust as they ate up a field of golden grain and shot it into the trucks coming alongside to carry the grain directly to market or to the grain bins for later sale.

When they were all done there would be a big party and everyone in the area was invited to the Blue Creek Harvest Party. All up and down the creek—the wheat was harvested, the straw was baled, the hay was put up. The cows were bred and the calves were fat. Weaning and shipping will soon start— but first we celebrate. Life is hard but life is good—if you make it so and recognize it.

Invading another neighbor’s yard, we would all wait in eager anticipation as we visited and watched the kids play games while the smells of the roasting pig in the giant homemade BBQ was turning on the spit and making us all voraciously hungry. Usually about the time the one tending the pig was just about three sheets to the wind— tending a pig roaster on a hot late summer evening is thirsty work—the pig would be ready for the carving table.

Oh man, that was good stuff. A fitting celebration for a good harvest. A good harvest is literally the difference between life and death, if there is no harvest there is famine. Walmart and Albertsons do not manufacture food, a farmer has to plow and sow, the rain has to fall and the sun has to shine and then the reaper has to reap and the trucker has to truck. All that assuming the grasshoppers, hail storms, weeds, worms or winds, did not get your crop first.

But right off the bat, the first thing that has to happen and what we don’t really think about is, a seed has to die. There is sacrifice. A seed, literally the grain that could feed us is put into the ground, buried and left to rot, that seed becomes something else, it turns into a plant that yields many more seeds—fruit that produces many times more than the single grain or seed that was sacrificed.

“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. 24 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25 He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  John 12

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by Photos8.com

Let go

Sometimes for new life to start, for a new start or a bigger dream to come to reality, we have to let go of something else. Jesus had to let go of his glory in heaven, to become a man, trading his incorruptible eternal nature for the corruptible fragile flesh of a man. And then he had to lay down the life he had as that man, risking it all with no guarantees that his mission would succeed, that he would be able to resist the temptations of the flesh and the enemy, and wind up in the same boat we were in, sinful and spiritually dead.

And in the end, when he did succeed in resisting the seductions of this world, he had to resist the temptation to flee the cross—the agony and heartache to come.

But he was willing to be that seed that would perish in the lonesomeness and shame of bearing the mockery, slanders and death that would befall him. But he would spring forth with new life, a life so much grander and imperishable, a life that was so powerful that it could be shared with us, those who recognize that the branch of David is now bearing fruit—and we are it.

To be that fruit, and to bear fruit in our own lives, we too have to be willing to lay down our lives. To give something up, to give up the crown of our own little kingdoms of me, to trust the King of Glory with our lives, with our hearts, with our past, present and future.

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Can you do that? Give up your past? The things that taunt you. threaten you from back there, give you nightmares and wrinkles? The things that give you excuses to behave in ways today that you know are wrong? The things that make you afraid to move into your future? “I might get hurt again. I am not worthy, I am not strong enough, I am too angry and confused, frustrated and bitter, and it’s not my fault!”

No, maybe not, but it’s not your burden to bear either, not if you are listening to the one calling you, the one who knows what it’s like to be betrayed and hurt, forgotten and scorned—who even knows the pain of death. He bore that pain so that he could take yours, give him your yesterdays and trust him for your tomorrows—starting with your today. If we let go of yesterday’s pain, we can let go of the excuses and be freed from those things we try to excuse.

Forgiveness, give it, receive it, live it. Put those seeds of hurt into the ground to die and let the rain and sun deal with them and see what the Lord of the harvest grows up in their place.

35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” 36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. 37 And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body. 1 Cor 15

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Let yesterdays pain fall to the ground and die and ask the Lord of the Harvest, Jesus Christ, to grow it into something beautiful.

—As you are beautiful.

No Turning Back

“…we all need something to keep us from kicking the cat once in a while— don’t we?”

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In my early days of following the Lord, when I finally decided to get serious about it—to trust the Lord with my life and my heart and not just for my salvation—I thought about this saying of Jesus a lot:  “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

I believe the Lord had put it on my heart to encourage me to stay the course, to keep my eyes focused on him because at that time in the early days of my recovery, I was tempted often to reminisce about the days of no holds barred, party hardy and cure tomorrows hangover with the next nights party, guilt free ‘aren’t I the popular one’ lifestyle of altered consciousness.

It was indeed a miracle that set me free in a moment’s time from a years long life of substance abuse—pretty much any substance would do me for a while there, but weed and whisky were my fall back favorites—but even after the Lord set my heart on fire for him and surrounded me with his sustaining love, I still was not convinced I could stay free for the long term. It was a process of changing my way of thinking and letting my heart convince my head that I would never allow myself to be lured back into the embraces of Mary Jane, Jose, Jack or Johnny. If you don’t know who any of those are, God Bless you!

So I initially set one month as my goal—drug and alcohol free for one month—and that was blown after only one week I when I gave in to a buddy who came over and convinced me to smoke a bowl or two with him. I was sitting in my living room minding my own business, my newly rediscovered bible sitting on the coffee table where my bong used to sit, when a friend came over, asked me about the Bible and wondered where my bong was—“I’ve got some good stuff here.”

“I don’t do that anymore, I’ve found something better—the Holy Spirit has filled me with everything I need.” “Well, that’s great. But what happens when you have a really bad day? You still need something to mellow you out once in a while don’t you? I mean, we all need something to keep us from kicking the cat once in a while— don’t we?”

That is literally what he said, and yes that was all it took to convince me to get stoned. I mean, I really didn’t like cats and I was tasked at the time with taking care of my roommates cat while he worked out of town.

The devil is a crafty one and the flesh is ridiculously weak.

So, since I didn’t produce the bong he was hoping to use, he pulled a pipe from his pocket, filled it up, lit it and handed it to me and I, probably from force of habit more than anything, took it and smoked that smoke. I got good and stoned, laughed with him for a while, then he left and I found myself alone—I mean really alone. I had never felt so alone. The presence of God that had been on me like a warm pair of flannel pajamas on a cold winter night for the past week—was gone.

I was stoned and the Spirit was quenched. So I vowed right then and there that I was not going to get stoned for a month if the Lord would only come back—I did not want to be alone.

You might be saying “A month? big deal.” But I took a vow to the Lord very seriously and I did not want to take a chance of being damned because of a broken vow to the Lord if my foolish and weak flesh could not resist more than a month—I mean I had already blown it after just one week. And, after having been stoned literally every day for five years—5 out of only 23—a month seemed like a very long time.

And I suspected that if I could go that long, I would be able to keep going on, weed free and Spirit filled, without the fear of a broken vow tempting the enemy to keep poking me with stupid cat analogies. It’s no wonder I don’t like cats. By the way, the Lord’s presence did embrace me once again and gave me the strength to keep, my vow, and then some. And the cat died just to spite me, and no I did not kick it.

I have been free from substance addictions for 30 years now.

No Looking Back

And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”

No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:61—62

The enemy is always looking for an opportune time to drag us back, even if it’s only in our minds. Just don’t go there.

Jesus is making with his response here I believe. telling those listening—’there is nothing back there worth going back for, pining for, or clinging to, if it means not answering my call to follow. . . now.’

Jesus calls us when he wants us to follow. It is not a preemptive call; ‘Get ready, I’ll be back in a year to lead you on.’ Or, ‘Go out and party hardy, make a bucket of money, eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow the work starts. Jesus knew that this particular gentleman’s final farewell was an excuse to postpone his call, a longing to cling to, or go back to, what he had, and it would probably have delayed him longer and longer until it was too late. His own heart disqualified him before he even started. Sad.

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Keep your eyes on the prize, no turning back. You have not missed anything that is worth more than the prize at the end of the road—not by a long shot. St. Paul would come to the same conclusion and said as much often.

…forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Phil 3:13, 14

Forget those things back there, those technicolor remakes of black and white memories that our brains keep replaying in our heads.

Only the lies of the enemy make the parties we missed look attractive—“Oh the fun I could have had if I wasn’t a follower of Christ trying to live righteously” 

Ever thought that? ‘If I only knew now what I didn’t know then, the fun I could have had.’ Or more like; ‘If only I didn’t know then what I knew, I could have had a lot of guilt free fun and memories to cherish in my righteous doldrums today.’

Only a dog returns to it’s vomit—I know that’s gross but that’s the way the scriptures describe a fool returning to his sin after being delivered.  ‘Hmmm. It was good the first time, I sure miss it, hey there it is, let’s. . .’—I’ll stop there.

22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

You were made for so much better.

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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

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

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

Turns of the wheel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She didn’t.

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

She didn’t

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

She didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

mountain preacher

 

I love you all, have a blessed week!

 

Bad Company

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

Slide1

 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?

bar club nightlife party
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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
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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. . .