Shunned -(The Wall part 2)

12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near, reconciled through the cross and bringing peace. Ephesians 2

Separated

It stinks to be excluded, to not be able to join in the reindeer games. Today, we call it being excommunicated, shunned, or our new favorite; tough love.Those who experience it just call it being judged and scorned.

In this scripture Paul is urging the gentile believers in Ephesus to remember how they once felt when they were not a part of the family of God, separated by different belief systems, different cultures and traditions—different gods entirely. The Ephesians had been living without hope as their gods promised nothing but demanded everything, leaving them without hope. They were looked down upon by the Hebrews, those who worshipped a God who offered the hope of eternity and blessings in this life and the next but shunned all who did not adhere to their laws or even belong to their race.

They were unclean, and as far as,any of the Israelites of Paul’s day were concerned they could just stay that way, but more importantly, just stay away!—Open hostility. The Israelites had always been called to be a light to the world but they didn’t always do a very good job of it.

Remember Jonah? He decided he would rather die in a storm at sea then go preach God’s message to the dirty Assyrians. “Just throw me overboard and the storm will cease…” But God wouldn’t let him off that easy He sent a great fish to swallow Jonah before he drowned and to spit him out on the shore so he could fulfill his mission of giving the Ninevites a chance to repent and be redeemed from judgement.

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He did, they did, and Jonah was furious. “These people deserve nothing but judgement, they deserve punishment” “Seriously God, where’s the justice?”

Mercy

That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry? Jonah 3

‘Really Jonah? You’re going to be angry because I am merciful and give second chances? You just need to get over your bad self.’

We don’t know if Jonah ever did (get over his bad self) his story ends with God rebuking him for being angry at God for his mercy toward sinners—the religious rebuked and the sinners restored. An unexpected twist and a theme that would be repeated over and over again throughout scripture.

Even Jesus said, “I did not come for the healthy, for the healthy do not need a physician.”

Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ 12 But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’ Mat 9:11—13

“Go and learn what this means.” That is a challenge from Jesus to those who deem themselves righteous.

We serve a God of mercy, a God so merciful that when he saw no other way to overlook the sins of humanity, who constantly rebelled and forsook his ways, He became one of them and bore the penalty of that sin in his own body, purchasing our mercy with his own blood.

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…thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Eph 2

Has God put to death your hostility? Or has it only shifted focus or even intensified? That’s a hard question we all need to be asking ourselves.

Restoration

The specific and unique mission the Lord gave me for my church is that we would be a place of healing, restoration and hope for the church, for God’s people, for his children. For the wounded and weary soldiers of the Lord’s army who have fallen for whatever reason, and have been kicked aside by the church. What about the unsaved? Without a healthy church there will be no saved, which is largely where we are today I’m afraid.

Back in 2011 I told our young church; “I think the biggest hindrance to people coming to the Lord through the church is the church.  People look in at us working ourselves to death, shooting our wounded, snubbing the world and say, ’I’ll just stay out here and take my chances, thank you very much.’”

I strive to lead a church where there are no walls of hostility, where all are welcome, all the time. The only people I have ever had even a hint of a harsh word for here are those who come in looking down their noses at me or at any of you. The religious and judgmental do not normally last long here and in fact the only spirits I have ever personally had to cast out of here have been religious spirits. Yes I mean spirits, not people. People are just pawns used by the spiritual forces of darkness, and self-righteous indignant people are  his favorite weapon for destroying churches.

A few weeks ago, I was beating myself up for not being able to prevent people from making bad choices and feeling the condemnation of those who think me too easy on the fallen and hurting—In my lowest point of discouragement The Holy Spirit told me in no uncertain terms, “All I ever asked you to do is love people.” Those words set my heart free.

It just dawned on me this last week that that is exactly how my mission to restore the wounded of Christ’s army is lived out, just loving people for Jesus, letting God be the judge.

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. Gal 6:1—3

Love gently restores. Only love can gently restore the wounded and weary, and the broken and fallen.

Fallen soldiers are not to be used by the ‘more spiritual’ for sword practice as they test how sharp their blades are by hurling God’s word at them like bayonets on the end of a Japanese rifle during the Baton death march where weary American POW’s were stuck mercilessly like living pin cushions.

Remember who ended up winning that war, the scorned and shamed Americans.

The point is, we are to be merciful and offer the hand of restoration letting God be the judge while offering to help bear the burdens of those we think least deserve it.

Save the bayonet practice for the real enemy, the one who is trying to destroy all of us, the fallen and the strong.

We do not kick our brothers and sisters when they are down, we do not shoot our wounded. We gently restore them because without mercy we are nothing. If we are not bearing one another’s burdens, we are deceiving ourselves if we think we are any better than anyone else—if we think we are anyone’s judge.

The one thing I have heard over and over again through the years from people who have stumbled and even fallen in the eyes of the church is this: “Where is the church when I need them? When I needed the church the most was when they shunned me.”

Up go the walls of hostility.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.” There are hurting people who need mercy, who need healing, who need restoration, who need love. We do not know the whole story, their story. I don’t care how discerning or informed you think you might be, there is always a much bigger story, causes, curses and pitfalls of hearts and minds damaged and bruised by the flaming arrows of the evil one in days gone by. Arrows that can smolder for years.

All we see are the sudden bursts of the flames that we are convinced must have been started by the wounded playing with and delighting in fire.

There are a lot of hurting people out there who need a church family and who need us to be there. Where are we? Are we the guards ready to shoot those who dare approach the walls?—“Release the hounds!” Or are we those who see motion on the other side of the walls and rush towards them, overwhelming those walls and the guards until the walls come down and we become one again.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. Eph 2

Jesus set aside the rules and just loved people into wholeness, gently restoring them. As he said to the woman caught in adultery; “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.”

And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

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Jesus came not to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved.

Jesus loved people into the Kingdom. Can we do the same?

 

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Love Complicates Everything

Why is love so hard?

Conscience

11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. 12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. Hebrews 9:11

It’s easy to get lost in the theology of all this as Hebrews really does get into the ways and means of God’s redemptive work on our behalf as he strives to bring us back to the garden, so to speak, to a place where we can once again be in fellowship with him.

Love Rules

But let’s remember why he does all this, why he didn’t just give up on us, brush us off the face of his earth and just start over with some more grateful and obedient beings. Why? Because he loves us and love complicates everything.

Love that matters, love that makes a difference, has to be forged and proven in the fires of adversity. It has to be chosen willingly and clung to against all that can oppose it and all that would tell you it’s not worth it. Love that stands despite all that would destroy it, love that is chosen even in the last hour after everything else is tried first, love that says I will do whatever it takes because I now see that it is worth fighting for, that is the love God wants because it is who He is. God is love and that unstoppable love is the kind of love he has for us.

That kind of love in return can only be generated in a heart that is free to chose against it, that kind of love can only come from a heart that can fail, and has failed so it knows the difference and now clings to it with all that it has. That kind of love can only come from a heart that knows what it’s like to be loveless, to be scorned, to know the guilt of a conscience that is screaming at it that it has failed to the point of no return—only to look up and see the eyes of the one who cares.

The one who would say to the woman who wept at his feet while the others mocked her—’they who are forgiven much, love much.’

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You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” Luke 7

God did not want brainless spineless wimps who love him because they don’t know how not to, because they don’t know there is a choice let alone make it, He wanted children created in his image, with all the nuanced complexity of thought, the passions of emotions that can make or break, the intellect to even question God himself as we decide we might even be smarter then He. No, God wanted real people with hearts that felt what He felt even if it would at times lead us astray as we outsmarted ourselves—so that we could love like he does.

And he proved it all to us by becoming us and walking in our shoes to show us the way he intended for us to live—totally in love with him and with our fellow man. That leaves no room for selfishness, rebellion, hatred or pride and thus by default eliminates sin.

Still Selfish

But we are not like that are we? Despite the example of Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God, we still do things out of selfishness, pride, hatred and rebellion—’you can’t tell me what to do, I need this for me, I know what is right and you had better not get in my way as I pursue my passion for what is right—you stupid liberal, or, you bigoted denier . . . I mean, have you heard about Jesus—he loves you?’

Epic fail. We are far from perfect, we do not deserve the love as we blunder through life walking the line between light and dark wondering why it always seems the dark has the loudest voice so often in our heads.

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But remember, it’s not what we do that makes us perfect, it’s what Jesus did. ‘with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.’

This is what I want you to see, this is all God really wants you to see, it is all he has ever wanted you to see—He loves you so much that he shed is own blood for you, gave his life, emptied himself of all pride, all power, all glory and became the worst of all we are, “He who knew no sin became sin that we might live.” While Jesus hung on that cross He took on himself all of the things that destroyed our relationship with God, all the things that our conscience loved to beat us up for and all the things the enemy delights in reminding us of, even though he may be the one that threw them in out paths to stumble on in the first place.

Jesus, love incarnate, who never failed in doing all that He did and saying all that he said because of his love for his Father’s lost lambs, became the perfect lamb that would be slain by hateful, angry, mocking and jeering crowds—why? Why would he do such a thing? Because he loves us and love overcomes all things—true love overcomes all things and God’s love is the truest thing in all of existence.

God grieves for us in our sins and engenders an incredible passion to do whatever is necessary to restore us and restore order to his creation, his order being love. And the final piece that would bring our peace was the sacrifice of his only Son.

22 And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. Heb 9:22

Cleansed

Under the old Covenant everything that was to be set aside as Holy; things and people set aside exclusively for use in the Temple had to be purified with blood. Blood is life, and life is the cost of sin. Life lost for love rejected. But on the contrary, and now under the new Covenant, Life gained for love accepted.

But what’s the difference, why can we now gain life and perfection? The difference is we have now been cleansed by blood that was perfect, blood that contained the life that is eternal, unblemished and indestructible.

The blood we have been sealed with by our acceptance of it’s sacrifice was offered willingly, unlike the sheep, goats and cattle that were offered as foreshadows of better things to come. Jesus gave freely of his life, experienced death so that we would not have to fear it as the end—because it was not the end of him. Death could not hold him because he shed the blood of the very author of life itself. The creator became the created to be destroyed by the created—but that was impossible.

But it didn’t matter because it satisfied the just requirement of the law nonetheless. Jesus was given the death sentence, by man and by God, and he died so the judgement was fulfilled, the sentence carried out. The fact that Jesus didn’t stay dead doesn’t reinstate the punishment, not for Jesus and not for us as Jesus died in our place.

God can now exonerate us of all charges and he hears no more accusations from the prosecution. The lawgiver handed down the sentence, the wages of sin is death, and he became a proxy for the accused and condemned to be executed and even die. But love overcomes all things—even death. And that love overcomes our death as well.

Love bears all

No hiding

So I may at times fail miserably, or at least feel like I have. I may want to hide away from God, ashamed and fearful because I know he knows how I really think, feel and act sometimes, but I don’t —I don’t get to fool God for another week. I can’t and I won’t try because I have a God who has proven to me over and over again that he loves me. He loves me more than I love my own kids, more than I love my grandkids, more that I love my wife—and I love all of those people with a love than can never ever die or be taken away.

In spite of my failures I cannot let anything or anyone stand between me and my Father. I love him with a love that overcomes all things as well, because he first loved me. And that is why I keep trying, day after day, I keep doing my best to live a life pleasing to my Father—not because I have to, but because I want to.

I am not perfect, not in my eyes, not in your eyes, I cannot be, but I never have to fear the rejection of my Father. Because in his eyes, the eyes of love, I am perfect. He sees the person I want to be, the person he is leading me to be, the person I am becoming by the power of his grace. Jesus has torn down the veil to the Holy of Holies and is showing me the way in. He has gone before me and made the sacrifice that purifies me so that I can receive the grace, love and strength I need to make it through even the valley of the shadow of death unscathed and still clean before him.

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Check out my latest book  Barbarians in the Kingdom

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Just who is this Jesus? (Crazy Love)

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“. . .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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

Dysfunction Junction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose wisely

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

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

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

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

God asked Israel though the last Old Testament prophet Micah;

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we do that?

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.

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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.”

mountain preacher

 

I love you all, have a blessed week!

 

The Potter’s Hands

Why do we sabotage ourselves?

returning

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.