Stand Firm- (with puppies)

“Putting that tarp on top of that kennel just turned it into a big box kite…”

faith

My faith is a gift, my faith is real and no one nor anything can steal it away–but they keep trying.

When your faith becomes real you will do anything to honor him from whom that faith comes, Jesus, and to let all the world know the good news. Because the life you live on this earth today is just the beginning of eternity.

All who knew Jesus before and after his death, laid down their lives to gain them, knowing they had nothing left to lose. Nothing could steal their faith, or harm their spirit.  The Apostle Paul wrote:

31 I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,

“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”

33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 1 Cor 15:31—33

How are you doing –wondering, struggling? We all do, don’t give up.

Your faith is not in vain, do not talk yourself nor let anyone else talk you out of it. Do not be misled by the foolish. The world is in an upheaval right now like we have seldom seen as the darkness rises up to kill steal and destroy all that is good, all that is holy, all that is right. Every time we turn around something that was unheard of a few years ago or even yesterday, is suddenly right, and we had better not have an issue with it.

The enemy wants to make a mockery of your faith, belittle, humiliate and delegitimize you and all that you stand for, or at least thought you did. ‘Do I really? Do I really want to be the social pariah? How can so many voices, so many seemingly good and smart people be wrong, be deceived? Am I the one who is wrong, am I the one who is deceived?’

That’s the oldest trick in the book—literally. “Did God really say…”Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Am I wasting the few decades I have on this planet trying to live by the standards found in a book that was written thousands of years ago, should I just eat and drink for tomorrow I die? Is God just trying to ruin my fun?

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No, dozens if not hundreds of witnesses who saw Jesus before and after his resurrection gave up everything, their homes, their jobs their lives, even fighting wild beasts in Ephesus —I would like to hear the  rest of that story— for the sake of the good news that Jesus is Lord, that he is alive and that we can share in that resurrection as well, if we keep the faith.

That faith that is a gift from God that tells us this is not foolishness, that there is so much more to this life, this existence, than what we can see, then what we can eat and drink. Life isn’t about wringing all that we can out of it while we have the chance.

Life is about walking in the light of a Savior who illuminates our hearts to see the truth, to taste and see that the Lord is good, to walk in the joy of our salvation, to stand as warriors for the kingdom of God. Warriors for the Kingdom of a God that will return, will have the final victory and where God’s standards of right and wrong, justice and truth will no longer be questioned, no longer be mocked and there will be no more death, there will be no more sickness, no more pain and God himself will wipe away every tear.

We will be resurrected to a new and better day, But today, he wants to resurrect your heart. He wants to resurrect his church, he wants to restore hope, renew faith, he wants you to raise your eyes to heaven and say ‘yes I believe in you, I believe in your love for me.’

He wants you to say ‘yes I will stand for truth, yes I will follow where you lead’ and ‘yes I will pledge in my heart today to allow you open my eyes to see the world through your eyes, to love like you love, to serve like you served and forgive like you forgive, and like I have been forgiven.’

‘Today, the thing that matters to me more than anything else in all the world is you Lord and your kingdom. I want to advance your kingdom starting in my own heart as I let go of the last stakes that are holding me down. and to this earth—the false promises of wealth and happiness that turn out to only be more stress, pain and distraction.

I want to be free to fly on wings like eagles and to seek out others who need to hear the good news as well. Resurrect me Lord, resurrect your church, let your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Lord's prayer

‘Letting go of the stakes…’  Reminds me of a story.

Pulling stakes

Years ago we had a German Shepherd named Tara. Tara got married one day, at least that’s what we told our girls, and became great with puppy—9 puppies actually. After they outgrew their kiddie pool in the basement we moved them out to the dog house in the kennel. The kennel was one of those portable chain link types that you get at a farm and ranch store.

We were still out on the ranch at the time and my wife was worried that a hawk might swoop down into the kennel and carry away one of our little fuzz balls so I tied a tarp across the top of the kennel. I then took several steel concrete stakes, the nice long heavy duty steel stakes that you use to hold concrete forms in place, drove them into the ground around the kennel and wired them to the frame of the kennel panels.

Well, that worked great for a while. One day we were gone somewhere and we came home to find a dog house standing alone where the kennel was. and several black and tan puppies wandering around in the back yard just having a good old time. The kennel was several yards away laying somewhat mangled in the nearby hay field.

Putting that tarp on top of that kennel just turned it into a big box kite and those steel stakes were no match for an upper Blue Creek wind. In fact, I think the wind just saw it as a challenge—see if you can blow this over.

Cucumber

Well, the hawks didn’t eat our puppies, they were all accounted for, but we did move them down to a stall in the barn. Which worked well except for the one puppy who got stuck in the wire hog panel I put across the stall door to keep puppies in and to let Tara out– she could hop over the low panel.

Then one day I heard one of our girls hollering “Daddy, daddy, there’s a puppy stuck in the wire!” I followed the frantic girls to the barn to discover a squealing puppy with her head stuck in a square of the hog panel. I had just the solution. I ran to the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of vegetable oil and then poured a good portion of it on the puppies head. This lubed her up enough to slip her out of the wire, no worse for the wear. The girls then named her Cucumber because she smelled like a salad after that.

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Thots

Jesus wants to set you free. You were not meant to cower under a tarp in a chain-link kennel. God created you for a purpose, God has a plan for you and he died to set you free to pursue it. The things you cling to, money, addictions, position and power, the need for more stuff, to be in control, to avoid any unpleasant or uncomfortable situations—anything that becomes more important in your heart and mind, anything that you know God would rather you not spend so much, if any time on, those things are the stakes that have you pinned to the ground.

And if you’ve tried to escape on you own and got stuck, Jesus has the vegetable oil that will get you unstuck. It’s called faith.

 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever. Psalm 23

And that faith will put your enemies to shame in the end as you share in the Lord’s table while they stuff themselves to misery while always wanting more. This world will never satisfy you, only a relationship with the resurrected Lord can do that. Only a faith in the things we cannot see but know with our hearts can satisfy. Goodness and mercy will be our companions, and hope our reality. And we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

 

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Rest in Grace

“After what seemed like forever of the guard just staring at us like he was trying to decide if he should break out his shotgun, I was suddenly remembering the bag of weed and the bottle of whiskey we had in the back seat.”

10 Therefore I was angry with that generation,
And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart,
And they have not known My ways.’
11 So I swore in My wrath,
‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ”

12 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; 13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, 15 while it is said:

“Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” Heb 3:12—15

rest meme

Today, if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts? What does that mean?

God was angry with the Israelites he led out of Egypt because they failed to believe his promise of a better life where they would find rest from their life of pain and hardship as they had in their days of slavery. Today, the rest being offered is a rest from the wanderings and striving of a people with no sense of purpose or direction and the strivings of a people who feel they must earn their way home—us. We have to know that we no longer have to strive and seek our grace, our salvation, we can find our rest in Christ.

If you can learn that lesson, I mean fully understand that we no longer have to work and strive to earn our salvation, our favor with God—we have accomplished something. Today our rest is in Christ, our salvation, our power, our freedom—grace, grace is our rest.

Preparing a sermon on this topic for Sunday I was really struggling to come up with a story to illustrate the idea of what it means to enter into God’s rest. I kept thinking, Ultimately our rest is in grace, so what is grace?  Grace is not getting what we deserve, so the rest we find in that grace is in not feeling we have to deserve the grace we get.

This brought to mind a time when I was very grateful not to get what I deserved, there are many times like that but in this instance it could have meant some serious jail time.

Rancho No Go

rancho deluxe

As my followers know, I was in Job Corps as a young man. While I was there I was in the Heavy Equipment program and one of the projects we did was to build a reservoir on the Montana State Prison Ranch just out of Deer Lodge. It was a big project that we worked on for months, moving massive amounts of dirt. Every day we would load up on the big green bus and drive into the very large ranch like we owned the place, using one of the gates on the back side to get to the work sight.

Fast forward a couple of years. Me and some buddies are partying and one of them has just gotten a new car—“Hey, let’s take a road trip!” So, about midnight four of us get into the car with an ample supply of beer whiskey and weed and off we go, west.” We drive all night and 250 miles later we end up watching the sun rise over the beautiful Pintlar Mountains just out of Anaconda MT, not far from where me and one of the guys who was with us were in Job Corps together.

This got me and my buddy reminiscing about our days in the Job Corps heavy equipment program so on a whim, and with no other  destination in mind anyway, we decided we would head over towards Deer Lodge and show the others, one of whom happened to be a girl we thought we should impress, the reservoir we built—never mind that it happened to be on State Prison property.

Apparently when you’ve been drinking and smoking for 16 or so hours straight your judgement is off a bit. So off we go. Just before the town of Deer Lodge we cut off on a dirt road heading straight for the mountains that butt up against the ranch and we get to the familiar gate—the one that says; “Montana State Prison Ranch, Authorized Vehicles Only.”

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Whatever, no one will ever see us, we’re in the middle of nowhere. My buddie is driving at this point so I get out and open the unlocked barbed wire gate, the kind you find on any ranch, and drive on in. We get in a ways, maybe a half mile or so, and we see an approaching dust cloud. An official looking pickup truck with the seal of the great state of Montana emblazoned on the door is barreling down on us from the other direction.

The truck pulls up alongside of us flashing his headlights and waving for us to stop. The driver, decked out in a cowboy hat and a prison guard uniform, looking very stern and perturbed asks; “Who are you?” My buddie says, “Oh we were in Job Corps and just came in to show our friends the dam we built.”

The guard just looks at us like, “Are you kidding me?” After what seemed like forever of the guard just staring at us like he was trying to decide if he should break out his shotgun I was suddenly remembering the bag of weed and the bottle of whiskey we had in the back seat. I was sitting in the passenger seat trying to look innocent and harmless wishing my buddy wasn’t looking so defiant while wondering what the penalty was for smuggling drugs and alcohol into a prison and how we could have been so stupid.

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Finally the guard just says—“You can’t be in here, turn around and go out the way you came.” My buddy just says, okay and I quickly followed up with “Yes sir, thank you sir!” And off we went. Back to the gate no one watches with a prison truck right on our tail.

That was a sobering experience in many ways.

That was grace—not getting what we deserved, not even close. When we got past that gate, after waving at the trustee in the road grater who was looking at us like “what the heck?” and down the road a ways I was finally able to breathe again. I was resting in the knowledge that I was not going to be spending a lot more time in Deer Lodge than I had planned.

I would do many more stupid things after that, maybe none quite so stupid as that, and I usually somehow managed to stay out of serious trouble—Grace. If I got pulled over today as many times as I did back in the 80’s for driving while wasted I would still be in the system, back then I just got lectured and sent home.

Many of us have stories like that where we just go along not worrying so much about whether what we are doing is right or wrong and then we concede that maybe someone is looking out for us and we turn our hearts to Him. We find freedom and grace, strength and joy, in knowing the truth, in having a purpose. But then we get more bound up by guilt and stress then we ever were because we suddenly care and we realize that we do not deserve to be forgiven for our foolishness.

No rest there. That’s not the way it is supposed to work. Recognizing our grace should not cause us to fear that it will fail us. Yes, I still do some stupid things, nothing near as stupid as I used to because I have God’s word to guide me, and more than that I want God’s word to guide me so I avoid a lot of the situations where I had to worry about getting in big trouble, but I still make mistakes and sometimes bad choices, but God’s grace is still sufficient and He is still looking out for me.

I no longer have to worry about getting a DUI or being busted for possession—or smuggling contraband—but I now have to learn not to stress about not being worthy of God’s grace. Jesus makes me worthy and in that I can rest—I can rest in His promises.

Like I said; Grace is not getting what we deserve, and the rest we find in that grace is in not feeling we have to deserve the grace we get.

That prison guard would have had every right to call for back up, drag us out of the car and search it. We had no right or reason to be there, but we were allowed to go on our way unscathed. That’s grace.

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The difference between the grace I received that day from that guard and the grace we get from God through Christ? We can depend on God’s grace, we don’t have to sweat it our hoping we don’t get thrown on the ground and cuffed.

God’s grace is our salvation and that we can rest in.

I am what I am

 

My Rock

“Jesus is not going anywhere, he is not changing and we do not have to wither.”

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Do you ever feel like life is spinning helplessly out of control? You find yourself asking; ‘How can I continue like this, why does everything have to keep changing and how can I possibly hang on, keep my sanity, and not just give it up, be swept away by the current of mishaps and messes that seem to surround me like the vortex of a whirlpool that threatens to suck me down the drain?’

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‘Why should I keep fighting the good fight when others around me are giving up? Why do I keep striving for righteousness when others I thought were doing the same seem to have given up? How can I keep fighting for those I love when the enemy seems to keep stealing them away making me look like a fool?’

Your heart is crying out; ‘I feel like I’m sinking! Help me hang on!’ but you are afraid to verbalize it because then good well-adjusted Christians will clamor all over you with ‘there there’ smiles, and platitudes, that leave you feeling like a fool for not just being happy. And worse, you are afraid to verbalize it because you are afraid God himself will be disappointed in you. ‘Oh ye of little faith, here’s another dose of trouble to teach you perseverance.’

Christians are funny creatures, but not very. Navigating your way through this life is serious business and is not something we were meant to do alone—not in the flesh or the Spirit. We need each other and we need the Lord. We need to know that we are connected to something bigger and that we have a landmark, an immovable rock to always come back to, more of a fortress I suppose.

I am often tempted to give up, and give in to despair and hopelessness. But I don’t and I won’t. Because no matter what the world around me does, when all is sinking sand and it seems that there are more arms reaching out to pull me down then there are to pull me up, I am planted firmly on the rock.

I will love You, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
My God, my strength, in whom I will trust;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised;
So shall I be saved from my enemies. Psalm 18:1—3

Mountain praise

Apparently David felt this way at times as well. We all do, life happens and often happens the way it wants to regardless of our desires or plans. At last that’s the appearance. Those of us who know the rock, who cling to and make our stand on the Rock, know that there is someone else who is ultimately in control and He will not let us sink or be shaken off that rock so long as we trust and desire to stay on it.

Jesus is my rock and I shall not be moved.

rock mememy

Am I okay?

I was thinking the other day about what I was going to preach on this week after having had last week off. It’s funny how just one week can seem to totally throw everything off kilter, but then, much of these last couple of years have seemed a little off kilter to me. A lot of hard things in my life, a lot of good things for sure, but some real challenges too, things that are still a challenge.

Seeing people you love getting attacked by the enemy, trying to understand the incomprehensible, having things you built that you thought were being built correctly threaten to fall apart, or be torn down, it can all be very disconcerting, leaving you wonder—what is going on? Not just in my life, but in this world? The whole world seems to have gone mad, am I next? People are ripping each other to shreds just for sport, gleefully and vehemently.

I was thinking about this the other day, the challenges I face and my own failings, and where my heart is right now and I have to say, my heart is okay.Well, how can your heart be okay? Don’t you care? Don’t you see what’s going on? Are you just selfish and uncaring? You need to stress and worry, weep and mourn, fight and strive.’ Well, maybe—there is a season for all those things, but it is not my life, that is not where my heart dwells and that is what the Lord is teaching me lately.

I have to trust in him. I do not have to—I cannot—succumb to the fear, panic and despair that my mind would drag me in to. I can honestly look into my heart, see Jesus, and know that I am okay. I am planted firmly on the rock and I cannot be moved. People can shove me, ridicule me, shame me, ignore me—whatever, I am building on the rock and I will complete the project and I will win the prize at the end of it.

We cannot get caught up in the garbage that is thrown at us and around us all day long. We have to have a dogged determination to remain strong by knowing and abiding by God’s word. Only His word, made alive by His Spirit, will allow us to see past and through the manure that is always moldering and smoldering around us. “Let’s build our house on compost”—said no one with a brain ever.

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Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.

Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture,

“Behold, I lay in Zion
A chief cornerstone, elect, precious,
And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”

Shame?

What is it the world tries to do to us, what is the enemies’ primary weapon? Shame—minimalizing us, embarrassing us—making us question our faith, our love, our purpose and our relationship with the Lord. ‘Am I really doing what is right? Am I really hearing God? Can I really trust in his word, that his promises are true and that I am not just wasting my time and my life when others are mocking me? When they are accusing me of being shortsighted, bigoted, intolerant and prudish? Am I really just judgmental and out of touch with reality? Can I really live in the modern world and adhere to a religion that is two thousand years old that is an extension of religion that is as old as creation?

‘How old is creation anyway? Am I a fool? Am I just another animal among many who evolved from slime in a tepid mud pit to become a hairy ape who eventually became so full of himself that he made up a story about being created in the image of a God that we cannot even see?

The world would call us a fool, our flesh would call us a fool, and we become ashamed to admit, to confess what we believe—and the enemy has won. We have been put to shame. Until we look down and realize that we are still standing on the rock and Jesus is not going anywhere, he is not changing and we do not have to wither.

He is building us into a spiritual dwelling that cannot be destroyed, that will weather the storms that wail, and the assaults of those who hate us. Because as long as we are building on that rock they have a constant reminder that they are trying to build on ever shifting sand that cannot sustain anything for very long.

A sand castle looks great until the tide comes in and then you have to start over. I do not ever have to start over. My foundation is secure and no tide is taking me out to sea.

So whether you are a Covington Catholic school student, the wife of the Vice President being mocked for teaching in a Christian school, a resident of New York City who had your heart ripped out this week when you saw your city celebrating the murder of fully viable unborn babies, or a seemingly invisible highschool or college student who got mocked because someone saw a Bible in you backpack, stand firm and know that when all else crumbles, YOU WILL STILL BE STANDING!

God will not be mocked and you are his.

i am his meme

I know I don’t have to worry that I might wake up tomorrow and be someone I don’t want to be, someone I don’t like. I am not going to lose my religion (to use an old phrase) not so long as I choose not to—and I choose not to. In that there is a peace. Let the storms rage— slander me, kick me, rail against me, give it your best shot. I know Him on whom I stand. My Redeemer lives and I will too, now and forever.

Hang in there my beloveds…

 

Check out my latest Book- Barbarians in the Kingdom and discover your strength.

 

 

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The Simple Gospel

First Things First part 2

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The church of Jesus Christ, I believe and see evidenced, is going through a period of shaking and refining to determine who really believes, who really loves the Lord and who is just giving him lip service; presuming on grace while making no real attempt to live by his word. We are seeing a renewed call to holiness by the Spirit of our God. The call to holiness should not be for just a season, it is basic to being a follower of Christ and has always been a prerequisite to being a believer in the one true God. We do the best we can and his grace covers the rest.

That is why, as we start another year, I urge you to remember and look at the gospel, the simple and beautiful gospel. The gospel cuts through the fog of theology and cuts to the chase.

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins 

If we keep this first, and foremost, if this is always before us, not just a tale that gets lost in lofty theologies and pop psychologies, we will have a much more difficult time justifying or not recognizing our sinfulness.

Sin?

Jesus died for our sins. What is sin? Well, I’m glad you asked. Sin is anything we do that goes against the standards and rules laid out quite clearly in the scriptures; The Old Testament and the New. If you want a blow by blow list, read Exodus and Leviticus.  If that is too extensive just read the summary we call the Ten Commandments— and memorize them. Then measure everything you do or think against them. You will figure out pretty quickly that you are a sinner.

But Pastor, we are not bound by the law, we are not judged according to the law, we are in the period of grace, of freedom and love.’ Yes pilgrim, you are correct, what I am asking you to do as we head into this new year, and what I believe the Lord is wanting to remind us of, is the reason that we are not judged by the law, the reason we are in a period of grace, is because Jesus died for our sins.

 

Stripes meme

The Cost

This is the cost of our grace, this is the price of our freedom, this is our redemption. You cannot have this picture in your mind, not if you truly love the Lord and understand the magnitude of his love for us, proven to us by the stripes on his back and the blood on his brow, you cannot have this picture in your mind and be comfortable sinning.

This is the gospel, this is of first importance in the life of a true believer, it is the only hope of humanity, that they know and understand this simple truth; that God became a man and suffered the horrendous death, both physically and spiritually, that we all deserve.

You cannot know the command; “thou shall not commit adultery”, and all the nuances of that, spelled out in the various parts of scripture— even put into the realm of lusting in the heart just by thinking about it by Jesus—and blissfully pursue the whims and the lusts of the flesh outside of the marriage bed; not if you know what your failings cost the Lord to purchase your forgiveness.

You cannot know the command “Thou shalt not bear false witness…” and relish in telling embellished tales about people you know, stretching the truth or putting a certain spin on things to make another look bad and yourself look better; not if you know the pain those who bore false witness caused Jesus.

Jesus Cross

You cannot revel in games depicting slaughter or turn your back on those who are in mortal danger from war, terror, famine and disease, if you know the command “thou shalt not kill.” Nor can you shout curses at, or belittle and mock your enemies when you know that Jesus said just calling your brother “Racca” is a murder in your heart, a heart filled with hate—the hate that put Jesus on the cross and reveled in his death.

I could go on—sin is sin and it always has a price.

 

Wages of sin

The gospel, knowing the reality of what Jesus did for us, the horrible price he had to pay for our forgiveness should compel us to desire above all else to live a life that honors him, that desires to not add to his suffering for our sake. It’s more than just the pain he endured in the flesh, it’s the grief he still suffers when he sees us suffering as a result of our poor choices, of our refusal to take his precepts seriously and to realize the consequences of sin.

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 6:23

It’s a simple law, the wages of sin is death, our death, if we stay in our sins, or— the death of the Lord if we receive the grace offered as a gift in spite of us, and because of his willingness to take that death from and for us.

Don’t let his grace be in vain. Believe the gospel, remember the gospel, I have said it many times to my church and it is a founding principle of my ministry, that I will come to you each week knowing nothing—at least nothing with absolute certainty—but Jesus Christ and him crucified. -1 Cor 2:2

If we like Paul recognize that we are sinners saved by grace, and live as those who appreciate and understand that, our faith will not be in vain. God can then, and will, use us to do things we never imagined we could, because we can’t, not apart from him.

I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

If Jesus is first, all the rest will follow. Jesus is the rock that our rope is tied to and by which everything hangs. (See last weeks’ Rappelling Story) Don’t lose track of that, throw off the sin that so easily entangles and be free to enjoy the ride.

How do you get rid of it, how can I be free of sin? Repent, turn from it and turn to Jesus and find the strength to overcome and the grace to get back up when you stumble.

Chains and freedom

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

What am I? I am a child of the living God who loved me so much that he sent his only son to die for me and I will not be undone. Jesus didn’t just die for me, he conquered death! And that same power that enabled him to do so, now resides in me. I am an overcomer, I am His.

I, Dan Swaningson, am a Jesus Freak, a barbarian with a bible, a witness of the grace I was so freely given that was purchased by the blood of the Lamb. And I shall never forget.

How About you?

Grandpa n Quiny

May your days and your heart be full– Have a Blessed New Year!

What’s Important?

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

mind games meme

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

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

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

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

Dysfunction Junction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose wisely

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

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

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

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

God asked Israel though the last Old Testament prophet Micah;

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we do that?

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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.

Barbarians in the Kingdom

BAR COVER

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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Check out my latest release; Barbarians in the Kingdom