Just who is this Jesus? (Crazy Love)

Jesus God Meme

“. . .because we have been to hell and back together. . . and because we have always had one another’s backs . . . we (my wife and I) do not have to fear that we will one day wake up to discover that we are no longer in love and tear each other apart.”

Today begins a journey through the New Testament book of Hebrews. I hope you’ll join me my friends.

Hebrews

The first chapter of Hebrews lays out succinctly and plainly just who Jesus is. This is of utmost importance as this is what makes a Christian a Christian; knowing, believing and accepting who Jesus, not just was, but is. So the writer, gets that point across right out of the chute. And like that 8 second ride that saying brings to mind, you have to pay attention to every twist and turn, buck and snort, because it will be over before you know it and if you weren’t paying attention you’ll wonder what the big deal is and walk away thinking it was all about the clowns.

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. Hebrews 1:1—4

All of that in the opening sentence of this amazing book.

The Only Way

Jesus is salvation, not a component of salvation. Jesus is the way, not one of the ways. He is the creator, not created like an angel. He is exalted because he was exalted. He is a Son of God yet he is God. All that gives his death on the cross it’s power. Without that basis, without knowing and believing who Jesus is, the cross is emptied of power and we are indeed left to earn our salvation by adhering to the Law; by being good enough to get into heaven.

The Jesus described here in Hebrews in great theological clarity is put forth as many things as Jesus’ true being is many faceted. But all this is somewhat cerebral. It’s one thing to know who Jesus is, it’s another to know him. One without the other can be a ‘lose lose’ for both you and Jesus. If you have a head knowledge of who Jesus is but do not know him, you are lost because, as John also said in his gospel, we have to believe and receive.

 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, John 1:12

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But you can also know Jesus, invite him into your heart and be cleansed of your sins, without really knowing on what your faith is based. If you don’t have the word to back up your faith you can potentially be talked out of it, and perhaps end up lost to Jesus.

Crazy Love

I was thinking about a young woman in our church family the other day, how she just seems to get more and more excited and plugged into Jesus as time goes by, and the thought hit me, “Man, that girl is just crazy in love with Jesus!” And I thought, “You know, that’s really what it takes to get us through this life.” We can know all the scriptures, even grow up in church, look and act like good little Christian boys and girls and never really have a deep down love and appreciation for Jesus, and the enemy can come along and steal our joy, our passion—our lives in him.

It’s like my wife Donna and I. We have been married for nearly thirty one years. We have been through some really hard times, we have not always seen eye to eye and we have tested and stretched one another, but we are crazy in love with one another. We started out our marriage in love, and we have always been in love. There were times when we might not have felt it so much or maybe wondered about the whole thing; but we were, and always have been, committed to our marriage.

And today as we look around near and far and see marriages fall apart, people living selfishly or refusing to do things God’s way and then struggling to understand why they are not happy and blessed we find ourselves looking at one another more and more and saying ‘thank you Jesus for us.’

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I know that we are in a relationship that will endure. I can know that because we know one another, better than we ever have, better than anyone else in the world, because we have been to hell and back together.  And, because we have always had one another’s backs and afford one another complete and total trust and honesty, we do not have to fear that we will one day wake up to discover that we are no longer in love—and tear each other apart.

I can say that because we have a crazy love for one another that is based on and modeled after a crazy love for Jesus who promises he will never leave us nor forsake us, and we made that promise to, and before him, to each other. And we are blessed. You know what that blessing is? Love, love is the blessing, love that cannot die, that cannot be taken away, that is ours to keep and live and breathe and sleep in, for as long as we chose to do so because it is a love that comes from Jesus, a love that is Jesus.

Above all else, Jesus is love. This chapter 1 from Hebrews goes to great lengths to explain to us from several different angles and scriptural proofs that Jesus is God, and what is God? God is love.

So if you are going to know Jesus, if you are going to be in Christ, live in Christ, build a life, build a marriage, build a family, on the rock, on Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Son of Man, ‘who was and is and is to come’, you are going to have a love that cannot be destroyed and that ‘overcomes all things’. And if that is all I have, if that is the sum total of my life when I breath my last—I had love. And because I had love, I had everything. I am in love, I am in Christ—and because I recognize and embrace that, I am and will die a blessed, happy and content man.

Everything else the Lord entrusts me with is just icing on the cake. Everything the world and the enemy throws at me is just a nuisance and a temporary heartache. I know who my Jesus is, I know my Jesus and he knows me.

If you fall madly in love with Jesus, you are in Jesus because Jesus is love. Thus you now know who Jesus is.

Just crazy

That head and heart understanding of who Jesus is has carried me through and beyond challenge after challenge, trial after trial, grief after grief, temptation after temptation, failure after failure—for 34 years now. 34 years this last week in fact. I know I would be a mess otherwise.

I have a mind that is always rebelling against my heart and a flesh that is constantly fighting with my spirit. And I know if I were not crazy in love with the real Jesus, the Jesus who is Lord, Lord of my life, I would just be crazy.

Instead of crazy in love, I would just be crazy and I would have to turn to something else, things that would ensnare me, and I would probably be someone I didn’t like very much. But because I have a God who believes in me, who loves me and always sees the best in me and encourages it, I can love myself. And because of that and my love for him, I desire to be the best that I can be and I have a reason bigger then myself to do so.

grayscale photo of couple holding frame while kissing
Photo by Murilo Folgosi on Pexels.com

That carries over into my marriage also, because I love, and am loved, by a Lord who upholds all things by the word of his power:

“and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”  Heb 1

Because of that I can love others sacrificially and unconditionally as well, just as I am loved.

And just as the trials and challenges that Donna and I have faced together have served to make our love and respect for one another only grow stronger over time, so the many trials and tribulations that I have faced, and face, only serve to make my love for Jesus stronger and my relationship with him ever more precious and appreciated.

You can take away all that I have, but you can never take away my love and knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord and King—my God.

But to the Son He says:

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. Heb 1

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What’s Important?

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

mind games meme

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

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

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

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

Dysfunction Junction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose wisely

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

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

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

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

God asked Israel though the last Old Testament prophet Micah;

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we do that?

number our days meme

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

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

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

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

Barbarians in the Kingdom

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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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Another Turn of the Wheel

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

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

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

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

Turns of the wheel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She didn’t.

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

She didn’t

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

She didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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I love you all, have a blessed week!

 

The Potter’s Hands

Why do we sabotage ourselves?

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But now, O Lord, You are our Father;
We are the clay, and You our potter;
And all we are the work of Your hand. Is 64:8

I remember as a teenager in the 70’s reading a newspaper article that said scientists had figured out that if you break down the makeup of a human being into its primary elements that we are pretty much composed of the same things as clay. I was no Bible scholar at the time but I remember thinking, well, that’s no big revelation, the bible teaches us that right from Genesis where God forms man from the dust of the earth. Not to mention the myriad other times we are referred to as clay or earthen vessels.

It might seem weird that we would basically be walking dirt. But it makes sense really, clay is perfect for forming things and if nothing else it comes in real handy for analogies—I mean, clay is moldable, it is worthless unless you take the time to make something of it, holds up best if it’s gone through a fire to acquire strength and will last forever, but it can be shattered and rendered useless if not handled with care.

Sounds a lot like us doesn’t it? We are either pliable and moldable, allowing ourselves to be shaped and worked into something better and better or we are just dry and crumbling, refusing to drink from the living water of the word and the Spirit and slowly turning back into dust. Or we have been through the refining process, shaped, molded, reworked and set in the sun to cure so that we can be painted, the master craftsman not satisfied with just utilitarian precepts but wanting to give us some flare and beauty. He paints a unique design on each vessel making it special and giving it its own character to show us, and the world, that we were created not just for a purpose but by a craftsman who cares about his creations.

Then, when we are just the way he wants us, we are put into the kiln to be tempered with fire making us hard, a resilient kind of hard, and able to withstand washings and repeated usage carrying the precious life giving fluids that sustain and refresh all who drink of what we offer. The firing also makes our design, the hand painted design that makes us beautiful and unique, glossy and brilliant, bringing out the colors in ways that dull unfired glazing never does.

But, as with real ceramic treasures, we must still be handled with care or we can be broken. We have to stay in the hands of the one who created us with such beauty that he handles us and uses us only in ways that will not see us crashing to the floor to be shattered and he instructs others to handle his treasures the same way.

If one is broken, only he, the master craftsman, the God who created the world and all that is in it with a word, only he can put back together the shattered pieces, if we so desire and allow him too. A stubborn jar— broken out of misuse that refuses to be recreated by the creator—is good only for the trash heap or the dust bins of history at that stage.

So there shall not be found among its fragments
A shard to take fire from the hearth,
Or to take water from the cistern.”

15 For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:

“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”
But you would not.   Isaiah 30:14—15

 

Only a clay vessel who refuses to acknowledge the creator and the need for his counsel and protection gets to a place beyond repair or usefulness. Stubbornness and pride are our biggest obstacles to God’s ongoing work in our lives and the ultimate completion of the masterpiece he wants and envisioned us to be in his artist’s eye. All the Creator is asking of the created is that we come back to him, stop our striving and fighting and rest in him in quietness and confidence.

I love that. We don’t have to shout and fret, jump up and down and make a commotion, to get God’s attention or to win the battles that continuously threaten to dash us to the floor, we just need to know that we are loved, that we are protected, and that we are still in the potter’s hands. 

Our greatest hinderance is arrogance, believing that if we cannot see the answer, perceive of the solution that there is none, that it’s done. The epitome of arrogance is saying to yourself: “This is as good as it gets and I will just have to be fine with it.” And saying to God: “I am as good as I will get and you will just have to be fine with me.”

For shall the thing made say of him who made it,
“He did not make me”?
Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“He has no understanding”? Is 29:16

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

Why?

So, why do we sabotage ourselves? Why do we insist on introducing impurities that we know will hinder and mar the masterpiece we could be? Why do we fly off the potter’s  wheel and refuse to get back on?

Maybe because we  don’t believe we can get better, let alone become a masterpiece. “This is as good as it gets, this is as good as I get, take it or leave it.”

I’m sorry but it does not say that in scripture anywhere. You are a work in progress, a masterpiece in the making and God will be working on you for eternity.

God loves you just as you are, yes, but he also loves you too much to leave you there. All of us know we are far from perfect and that there is a hunger in our souls for more. That hunger is the vast emptiness left in our psyche by the unfulfilled potential as creatures who were meant for such higher things, eternal and deep, unimaginable things that we sense are just beyond our grasp we just don’t know how to reach them. The one who does know is holding out his hand and offering to show us, to create that reality in us, to continue the beautiful creation that is us.

Be still, and know that he is God.

 

 

Restored Dreams

Ruth

Sometimes we give up on dreams, and sometimes they are just stolen from us—no matter what we do.

It is often the unfulfilled expectations of this life that weigh us down; things that happen to us in this life can leave us desperately searching for a reprieve, a redo, especially when it involves our families. I mean, it certainly doesn’t seem to be an overreaching expectation to be loved and surrounded by family—right?

It seems such a simple dream to be a part of a healthy whole family.  Then the drama comes, the unforeseen crisis, the pain of losing one we love—or fearing that we will— and we say “Why God?  “Why have you destroyed my dream, left me without hope and no reason to go on?” 

But we serve a God who can restore even the most hopeless and seemingly out of reach dream. Just ask Naomi.

Naomi lived long ago in Israel and she had a dream. A simple dream really, of passing on  the family farm to her sons and grandchildren.  She dreamed of growing old with her husband and watching her family grow, of getting to be grandma and seeing her sons marry women who loved and respected her and in return she would love them and hand down the wisdom of life’s lessons learned.

But this dream was shattered by one tragedy after another.

First a famine hit the land and the farm stopped making money, no rain, no graindust bowl time! So they walked away from the farm and moved west to the country of Moab.  Then, just as their fortunes seemed to be changing Naomi’s husband died. But Naomi found solace in that her two sons had both found nice Moabite women to marry. Then, tragically, both her sons died.  Within a ten year span Naomi had lost the farm, her husband and both her sons.

So here they are, three widows without much cause for hope, when they heard that the famine in Israel had ended.  With no other recourse Naomi decided to return home and hope for the best, but she still held out very little hope.  She told her daughter in laws:

Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, (for you to marry) 13 would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.14 Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, (a goodbye kiss) but Ruth clung to her. Ruth 1

Naomi was convinced that the Lord was against her and she was destined to live out her miserable life alone.  But one of her daughter in laws, Ruth, was not about to leave her. Naomi was her family now and she would stay by her no matter what.

Naomi was blessed by the unconditional love of her daughter in Law but still she tried to persuade her to return home to her own mother’s house not wanting her to have to suffer the same hopeless destitute and lonely life she was sure would be her lot.  Ruth responded to her mother in law in no uncertain terms, “You are my family, your people will be my people, your God my God— so stop telling me to leave you, where you die I will die!” Wow, don’t we all need a Ruth in our lives?

Or a better question might be, Who’s Ruth am I? To whom have you said?—  I will never give up on you no matter what.”

Ruth said this to Naomi, so off they went; this tiny family, Ruth and Naomi, back to Naomi’s home town of Bethlehem.  They got there just as the Barley harvest was taking place. So, lacking any way to support or feed themselves, Ruth said she would go to one of the nearby farmers and ask if she could pick up the left over grain from behind the reapers.

ruth-gleaning

She chose a field that happened to belong to Boaz who turned out to be a relative of Naomi. Impressed by her willingness to work from sunup to sundown picking up dropped gleanings behind the paid harvesters to provide for her and her mother in law, Boaz told his workers not to harass her and  in fact to look after her and to make sure they left enough behind so that Ruth would get a good bushel or two to take home.  Boaz even told Ruth not to go to any other farms because he was afraid she would not be safe on another place.

When Naomi heard about all this she was filled with hope for the first time in years and exclaimed— ‘Boaz is a relative of mine, obviously he likes you, maybe this is the Lord’s way of providing you with a husband and restoring our family.’ ‘Uhm, I just had an idea.  There’s a harvest party tonight at his place. Wash yourself up girl, put on some nice clothes and some good smelling perfume and get on down there and make yourself known!’

“Here’s your one chance Fancy don’t let me down!” No wait, that’s Reba’s mother, not Ruth’s.

Long story short, Boaz did take notice of Ruth and impressed by her loyalty and virtuousness, he married her. And because he was a relative of Naomi he was even able to redeem the family farm that had been lost to Naomi’s family when all the male heirs had died off.

It wasn’t long before Naomi had a grandson and her long dead dream of being the grandma, of handing down the family farm, and having a daughter in law to share life’s joys with, was restored.  Her dream, her long dead— ‘never gonna happen now’— dream, was restored, as was Ruth’s.

 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin;  and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.”  Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse.  The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David. Ruth 4:14-18

I love that the Holy Spirit put this story in here, sandwiched between much weightier books,  to remind us that he is a very personal God who cares about the individual. 

He cared about Naomi even though she had given up hope. She had given up hope but she never stopped trying, she just kept pushing on and though she was convinced that for some reason God was against her, she never turned to another God, she never rebelled. God was still her God and he came through for her in spite of her hopelessness and despair.

The Red Tent

Then there’s Ruth, a foreigner who did not even know Ruth’s God. Yet exemplified the purity of simple faith, in her willingness to follow her dead husband’s mother to a land she did not know, and worship the God of that land though she saw no tangible benefits to that worship.  She had a faith and a virtuousness that put to shame many more religious women who never knew the tragedy she had endured.

Because of her astounding character she was restored and blessed, even becoming the great grandmother of King David, the throne of whom the Messiah himself would occupy forever.

Both of these women just kept putting one foot in front of the other and recognized the restoring hand of God when it appeared, and appear it did, when they least expected it in a way they could never have imagined.

What a great reminder of who our God is—the restorer of dreams. 

Never give up, never lose hope, your God loves you and hears you.

 

You Don’t Know Me!

 

  Prodigal meme

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

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

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

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

But—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And by his Spirit we cry Abba Father!

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

You don’t know me

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

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

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

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

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

Honesty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

viking-longboat-art-by-david-seguin

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

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

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

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

Barbarians in the Kingdom