Blown It?

Have I lost my salvation?

Depression

You ever feel like you’ve blown it so bad with Jesus that surely He must be done forgiving you and you might as well just give up and give in? “I might as well eat drink and be merry because surely I’ve lost my reward and will be lucky if I even make it into heaven. ‘Lord, how can you love a sinner like me?’” Time marches on, the years go by and it seems like the struggle never ends, the temptations keep coming and the flesh keeps falling for the same old tricks and the heart still struggles to hold on to hope.

It doesn’t always happen, some days we feel pretty good about ourselves and feel we might be winning the battle, our anchor is holding fast, but then we stumble again “Oh Lord, how can you love a wretch like me?” And then we read something like Hebrews chapter 6 and we really get worried.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. Heb 6

Encouraging isn’t it?—um, not really… I’d be willing to bet that as you read this it caused you a little sense of panic; “Have I lost my salvation, is this me, is this my wife, my husband, my child?”

But we have to look at it in light of what he said just before this and in the previous chapter–five–that we shouldn’t have to keep laying the foundations again and again, those foundational principles that we are saved by repentance and faith, turning away from sin and to Jesus. We shouldn’t have to keep hounding on the basics of the faith, the resurrection of the dead, the importance of baptism, the power in the laying on of hands and the finality of God’s coming judgement—things which were even basic principles in the Jewish faith before the once for all sacrifice of the Son of God.

He’s saying that it doesn’t do any good to keep hounding people who already know all these things, who have experienced them and understood them, yet have rejected and turned away from them—from God—to hear them again because it will no longer do them any good. They have fallen away and no longer care; they can’t be resaved, when they have rejected what they had. The anchor rope has been cut and left on the bottom with the anchor.

The grace on which our hope is based is a gift. And a gift returned to Jesus because we didn’t like it is a gift no longer ours and may never be offered again. That may all sound a bit unnerving but that’s what it says here. But stay with me here, he’s not talking about misled or foolish believers who make some bad choices, he’s talking about being truly apostate, renouncing faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Those who have received the gift of grace, been reborn by God’s Holy Spirit and even experienced the miraculous transformative power of that Spirit and moved in the Kingdom’s power, only to one day say ‘God is not real, his word no longer satisfies my soul’, They are rejecting the truth and forfeiting the grace they were so freely given.

When they turn back to the sin and bondages that Jesus died to free them from, whether it is turning back to the law—trusting in religious works and ceremony instead of Jesus for salvation, or rejecting the word of God out of hand and living just for the flesh as though Jesus was nothing more than a myth used by the foolish to keep people down—they are basically thumbing their noses at Jesus. Just as those who crucified him did.

The Mob

Jesus Cross

The screaming mob who stood before Pilate and shouted “crucify him” were many of the same people who had witnessed his miracles of healing, heard his words of power and authority proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God and offering peace and forgiveness to all who believed. They had heard of and even seen Lazarus who was raised from the dead, heard the shouts of praise from the blind men and the lepers, the crippled and bleeding women who were healed.

They had seen and heard demons flee in terror from those they had tormented, at just a word from Jesus—and then, because they were led astray by the words of a handful of men in fancy robes who claimed to be too smart to be swayed by such foolishness, they demanded his death.

Why would they do that? Perhaps because they wanted something now that that they weren’t getting. They wanted their Messiah to give them free bread everyday just like Moses had called down for their ancestors or like Caesar was doing in Rome. They wanted their deliverer to charge in on a white stallion leading an army like David and Solomon did in the glory days of old, their swords dripping with the blood of their enemies.

They wanted all their wishes and desires pandered to and they wanted vengeance on their enemies—and they wanted all this today. But it wasn’t happening so they were now an angry mob, and once that mentality takes hold, it’s no longer anchored in hope, it’s anchored in hate.

They hated the Romans, they hated the Samaritans, they hated their puppet king and the corrupt priests. But all Jesus wanted to talk about was love and faith, forgiveness and mercy—heart issues and selflessness—’we don’t need that, we need action, displays of power that will put the fear into the Romans and restore the greatness of Israel, and we need it now. ‘So off with his head!’, the Queen of Hearts is back on the throne, and Jesus is no longer relevant to us.’

That’s what the writer here is talking about when he says it’s impossible for those who once knew, saw and tasted that God is good, who experienced real forgiveness and felt the power of grace, who throw it all away, who renounce their faith and chase after the things of the flesh once again, to be restored to life. They have thrown away their grace, traded life for death, love for hate, mercy for judgement. Just as surely as those who stood on the hill at the foot of the cross and mocked him—the Nazarene who bled there.

They are committing the worst of sins in their mocking and jeers, that are blaspheming, cursing God himself.  Jesus put it this way;

against me

Still a citizen

So the writer of Hebrews here is not talking about just making mistakes and doing on occasion what we know we shouldn’t oughta do—he’s talking about purposely disregarding Christ and no longer caring or being grateful for his grace. Like the young woman from Alabama who basically renounced her U.S. citizenship to join Isis in Syria who now wants to come back to America. That renounce America and swear allegiance to her enemy thing is not working out so well for her—turns out the enemy’s promises of glory and purpose are not all they’re cracked up to be and now she will have a tough row to hoe proving that she truly warrants another chance to come home to the land she openly mocked and scorned.

In the case of one “fallen away” they just do not want to come home.

Better things

better things

The writer of Hebrews, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as all of scripture is, is convinced that we are not those who have denied our faith and jumped headlong into the pit of doom. Just the fact that one would take the time to read these words is proof enough that the heart is still seeking the Lord, still open to his Spirit and receptive to his grace.

I used to have men ask me back when I was doing bible studies at the jail, men who acknowledged that they have made bad choices—done horrible things and stumbled and fallen in their walk with the Lord— they would ask me, desperate and forlorn, “Have I lost my salvation, can God still forgive me?” And I would always tell them the same thing, the same answer I would give to many others since then, “Just the fact that you are asking me that question, that you are worried about it, means that you haven’t.”

An apostate, someone who has denied Jesus as Lord, blasphemed the Holy Spirit whom it is that bears witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, does not care any longer what God thinks, they are not worried about losing their salvation or being forgiven because they no longer acknowledge that they are accountable to him. A heart that has rejected Jesus Christ as Lord is a hard heart with no room for remorse.

anchored meme

If one reads on in Hebrews 6 you’ll discover that God has given us his word, His solemn oath, that our souls are anchored in him, anchored by hope and that hope is found in his word, trusting his word, believing his word, our hope is his word, in his word we find Jesus, his only Son, creator, redeemer, the word of God, God himself, incarnate.

And hope never disappoints us. —Romans 5:4

So no, you have not blown it.

Be blessed my friends;  Dan–the barbarian Pastor

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Suffer? No Thanks…

suffer meme

Are we setting up the next generation of church leaders to fail?

“…in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” Heb 5:7—8

‘Whoa, wait a minute, I didn’t sign on for this! I came to Christ because I was promised that everything would be wonderful. I would have joy, peace—all my troubles would be over and Jesus would take care of all my problems. Pass me that bowl would ya?— The one with the cherries in it. Thanks, you were saying? Oh, can I get a glass of milk also?’

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Well, I’m sorry junior, but if that’s what you were led to believe then you were not told the whole story and if it hasn’t happened already, you will be sorely disappointed and disillusioned. And if that ‘walking with Jesus is a bowl of cherries’ mentality is what you want to cling to then you will be subsisting on a diet of milk and the meat will be reserved for those who are ready to accept it.

This notion of pain free cross bearing has caused a lack of leadership and the advancement of the Kingdom has suffered as a result. Think about the oxy-moronism of that statement, pain free cross bearing, but that’s exactly what this idea is. This notion that we can be followers of Christ and not have to be inconvenienced let alone suffer has caused many to ignore their call to go and do what they were created and purposed by God to do.

Jesus said if you would come after me you must take up your cross daily, he didn’t say ‘hitch your wagon to mine and I’ll wake you when we get there.’

 “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. Luke 9:23

In the minds of everyone who heard Jesus say this, a cross represented nothing but suffering, so. . . where’s the gilded sanctuaries, Armani suits and life of ease in this Jesus following business?

Cross carry meme

Really?

Suffering is a complicated issue to be sure and the reasons are many and varied. All we can say for sure is that there will be, and is, suffering. And it is a major cause for people to question God and his existence. Ironic that God gets blamed for the suffering he has spent all of human history trying to first prevent and then rescue us from. Even to suffering himself for us.

No doubt the writer of Hebrews has that agonizing night of prayer in the garden of Gethsemane in mind when he wrote this. Jesus suffered to the point of sweating blood on this night knowing that his arrest was imminent and that the cup of God’s wrath was about to be poured out on him.

So who do we think we are when we whine about our sufferings to God? Even Jesus suffered in order to learn perfect obedience. Jesus fervently prayed to be delivered from his suffering but it was with a healthy dose of fear, knowing that He should not be disrespectful in his petitions to the one who had led him to this place of danger. Jesus didn’t pray to his Father as though God didn’t know what he was doing or had messed up, and Jesus ended his prayer with not my will but thine be done.

Jesus trusted his Father implicitly and was obedient even to the cross which he knew full well was coming.

There are many still today who have given all in their obedience to Christ, to go where he sends them and do what he asks for his glory and his people. But there are too many who are called who have not answered because they are holding out for something better or are afraid of suffering—it just doesn’t fit their idea of ministry.

I think the church has done a real disservice to the Kingdom of God in the megachurch movement which has created a myriad of full time ministry positions where people can come to work every day in comfortable casual clothes, looking hip and stylish, have an office in a building surrounded by nothing but other Christians who all run down to the coffee shop in the foyer at break time and strategize together about how they can get more people into the building to see the show. 

Of course they don’t call it a show but if you look at the effort time, talent and money poured into the stage and the auditorium, the lighting, the sound, the message, the music, the drama presentations—it truly is theater. I know, I’ve been involved in all of that to some extent. And yeah, there’s some value to that and people are getting saved, I think, but they are being set up to fail.

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Those watching the show are given the notion that church is what it’s all about and you had better make me feel good and delight me or I will find another—’I hear that church on the other side of town has an amazing drama team.’

And those who feel called to minister and serve believe that they need to be one of those pretty people up front, or one of the professional organizers behind the scenes, all of whom get to come to work each day in the ivory tower called a church. So everyone from the new person in the back row with a new found zeal to see other’s come to know Jesus, to the college student who grew up in the church and feels compelled by God to devote their life to full time ministry, has the notion that ministry is for the professionals and getting that office and that salary equals success.

In the meantime no one is planting churches, all around me in in neighboring towns of Montana churches are shutting down for lack of leaders, other churches cling to life waiting years for a new pastor to step up, beautiful paid off buildings sit empty, small churches everywhere have to forego youth ministry, discipleship and evangelism. Homeless people on the streets and the down and out in the shelters and in the jails never hear the good news, people pine away in despair in retirement homes and hospitals—all because the called do not want to suffer for the call. Thus there is no victory for them or Jesus in their lives.

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Jesus asks us to bear fruit, not make money. “What does it pay?” I have heard this question way too many times over the last couple decades when I have offered people opportunities to minister, to use their gifts, in a meaningful way. Young and old, people on fire for Jesus, people who claim they want to serve, refusing to step out and get dirty. Not all, but many. Like I said, we have done the next generation a real disservice, actually it’s been affecting a couple of generations now—suffering is no longer a given let alone a component of serving Jesus. Because the media savvy, seeker friendly, everything must be polished and perfect church, has made it look too easy.

It’s not, but it rewarding and it is what we were created and called to do. Grab your sword, put on your work pants and get to work. Victory awaits you—warrior.

3-3-19 meme

 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. 2 Tim 1:8—9

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Fence Crawling

“The answer is always the word of God—it’s really that simple—live it and live, or ignore it and die.”

The Double Edged Sword

Last week we talked about the rest that is offered by God, the rest from our striving and anxieties caused by having to try and earn our way into the Kingdom of God and by facing this life’s challenges alone. We discovered by studying chapter three that our rest is a result of trusting in God’s grace through Jesus Christ and his righteousness rather than in our own. It is also rest from our fears and worries knowing that we do not have to face this life alone and that his grace is power and freedom.

In other words—stop trying to do everything yourself and let God be God, cling to his promises and live in the joy and the hope that that confidence brings. Faith is freedom—faith is rest.

Faith in what? That’s the million dollar question. We find the answer in God’s word, and the answer is God’s word. We must trust God’s word, we must know God’s word and we must live God’s word. I can say without hesitation that every evil perpetrated on mankind, every fear, every malady, every grief—every struggle we face and issue we fear—has it’s roots in sin somewhere, the failure by someone, somewhere, to live according to God’s word.

It really is that simple. Whether it was a decision you made five minutes ago to do something contrary to God’s word, or as a result of the original sin back in the garden of Eden that opened the floodgates of death and decay on God’s perfect world, it could have all been avoided by resting in God’s word and not having to try the boundaries just to see what will happen. “It seems right to me, what can it hurt?”

—Everything.

That’s why the first few verses of Hebrews four warns us, as did chapter three for that matter, not to harden our hearts, not to walk in rebellion and disobedience—to what? To God’s voice, to God’s word.

Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, (His rest) and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said: “Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day.

Heb 4:6-8

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Thinking about this, ‘trying the boundaries and hardening our hearts to God’s voice’ I was reminded of back when we were ranching and we still had a good part of one of our summer pastures fenced off with electric wire. Parts of the original ranch had been subdivided so Donna’s dad had just put up electric fence to keep the cows off the sold parts.

The fence was pretty remote so he had a solar charger hooked to a 12 volt battery powering the fence, which worked great—most of the time. One summer the cows all decided they really wanted to get through that fence and into the neighbors pasture, you know the old saying; “The grass is always greener on the other side”—A cow first said that, and it is one of the primary cow rules of thumb.

Up there with; Never go graze when there’s a hay yard to stand next to all day while we wait for food. Never start calving until it’s storming and cold and; Make sure you do most of your pooping in the barn so the rancher has something to do in the spring. Important lessons that cows pass from generation to generation.

So, after finding the cows in the neighbors’ field a couple times and the electric wire down I started keeping a closer eye on them. I would go up the hill to find them all standing along that fence a few feet back making sure they didn’t touch it because cows really do hate being zapped, as does anyone, but their calves—well they didn’t know better.

So, cow’s aren’t as dumb as they pretend to be, they would let their curious calves get between them and the wire and about the time they were sticking their noses out to sniff at this strange little wire their momma’s all seemed so intrigued by, the cows would nudge the calf from behind pushing it through the wire, or at least causing the calf to jump and maybe snag the wire pulling it down or breaking it. As soon as the wire hit the ground it would short out and voilaParty time—’let’s go girls!’

No more boundaries, they didn’t even care if I was watching them, rebellious ungrateful cows. Ranchers call these kind of critters “fence crawlers”

They had a 150 acres behind them  and they had to obsess over the 20 acres next door.

The problem I ran into was the more the wire got knocked down, the more charge it would take out of the battery and it would take the solar charger a few days to charge it up well enough to put the fear back into them. So after a while it was, hey, this zap ain’t so bad—let’s just do it. They wouldn’t even bother pushing the kids through first anymore.

Seek first meme

Thots

Sounds like us. ‘Rules schmules’, I been beyond those boundaries many times, I don’t even feel a twinge anymore. And we’re off where we shouldn’t ought to be and then wondering why we are being chased by a frazzled shepherd and we’re not being blessed in our wanderings—we have stopped even realizing that we are wandering. ‘Oh, that fence has been down for a long time—nobody pays attention to that!’ Abstinence till marriage? Pshaw! Closing down the bars and shaking my bootie for all to see? Don’t body shame me!

Watching porn and shows that glorify sexual pursuits, fantasizing? So what? Ignoring God’s call to use my time, talents and money to glorify him? That’s old school, I have a career and a dream to pursue—I need to take care of me right?

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Mat 6:33

Those fences have been down for a long time—nobody pays attention to that!’— God does.

His ways never change, his word is eternal. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” And what is Jesus? The word of God, the one who also wields the sword of judgement. We need to wake up church and look at where we’re at. Are we even close to the right pasture anymore or are we in the neighbors hay field bloating on alfalfa because it just tastes so good.

A cow loves green alfalfa—but it will make a cow bloat up until it can’t even breath—and then it dies. That’s not in the cow rule of thumb hand book and that’s why the rancher builds fences. I replaced that electric fence with barbed wire by the way. God won’t do that, we are not livestock, we are his children, created in his image with the understanding of what is right and wrong—because he puts it in our hearts and teaches us with his word—but he leaves it to us to obey or not to obey. A caged child is an abomination and God loves us too much to do that to us.

The question is, do we love him enough to obey and stay in the pasture he has prepared for us knowing that he will always lead us beside the still waters? One thing I noticed about wandering cows, they usually come back when they get thirsty enough. There are only so many watering holes in cow country Montana, as there is in life. God always puts us where we can be taken care of, we just need to stay there.

How do we know where that is? Again, the answer is, the word of God. The answer is always the word of God—it’s really that simple—live it and live, or ignore it and die

Sorry if that’s not a feel good sentiment but the church has had too many feel good sentiments fed to her as a steady diet of; platitudes and catchy sayings that fit well in a song posing as the word of God and we are about ready to bloat and suffocate as a result. It is already too late for many.

Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. Heb 4:1

If you are reading this, it is not too late for you.

Grace meme

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb 4:15—16

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Barbarians in The Kingdom

Be blessed my friends!

DanIMG_3945

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.

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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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My Rock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mountain praise

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

Jesus is my rock and I shall not be moved.

rock mememy

Am I okay?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shame?

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

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

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

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

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

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

God will not be mocked and you are his.

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

Hang in there my beloveds…

 

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

 

 

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The Simple Gospel

First Things First part 2

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

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

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

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

Sin?

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

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

 

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The Cost

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

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

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

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

Jesus Cross

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

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

 

Wages of sin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chains and freedom

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

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

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

How About you?

Grandpa n Quiny

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

First Things First

“You know I’ve been to the edge, and there I stood and looked down. You know I lost a lot of friends there baby, I got no time to mess around.” –Van Halen, Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love

I am what I am

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures 1 Cor 15:3

So here we stand, on the precipice of a new year. A fitting term I guess because ready or not it’s happening, and we can either fall into it headlong and hope for the best or we can try to control the descent knowing that we could still lose control at any given point.

(I’m not sure what that means but in light of the past year it made sense when I First wrote it.)

We can plan and hope all we want but ultimately we cannot control the future, all we can control is our response to events that we incur along the way, and really—that is everything. Because if we lose control of that, we are undone and I for one refuse to let anyone or anything undue me because as Paul wrote:

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

Chains and freedom

Rush Limbaugh, (whom you can love or hate, don’t miss my point here)  has said of President Trump; “The press did not make Donald Trump so the press cannot unmake Donald Trump, only Trump can undo Trump.” —referring to his support in the eyes of those who voted for him.

Well, the world did not make me, the enemy did not make me, circumstances did not make me, you did not make me—the grace of God made me what I am so only he can undue me, so long as I understand and cling to that. And I chose to do so. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is my rock and I will not be shaken. So bring it on 2019, let’s see what you got. I’ll go into it safe in the grace that made me, and I’ll come out of it still safe in that grace, stronger for having survived another year.

So, as Van Halen once said, “You know I’ve been to the edge, and there I stood and looked down. You know I lost a lot of friends there baby, I got no time to mess around.” (When was the last time you heard Van Halen quoted by a preacher?) But it makes my point exactly.

As we stand on the precipice of tis new year, we need to stop messing around, for a bit anyway, and remember what is important because we have indeed all lost a few friends who perhaps just fell headlong over the edge, forgetting what’s important, not keeping the first thing first. We can’t get hung up on things that can destroy us or neuter us. —And yes, that’s exactly what I mean.

Hung Up

Speaking of precipices, I used to enjoy rappelling back in my younger days; going off a cliff backwards while hanging from a long robe looped though a carabiner attached to a nylon strap tied around my waist and between my legs to create what we called a diaper.

I think they have more specialized gear nowadays, fancy riggings, but it worked for us, a rope, a strap and a couple of carabiners, mixed with some knot tying skills, and a little courage. It was all we needed. It was simple and basic but it did the job. We would tie one end of our second hand fifty dollar rope to the bumper of a truck, a tree or a rock, toss the other end over the side of the cliff, and off we would go, descending like we knew what we were doing with ultimate faith in our equipment.

I did have a couple of close calls; like the time my front shirt tail got pulled into my carabiner by the rope. There is no going back up the rope, it only goes down. The only thing I could think to do was cut off my shirt tail but I couldn’t get into my pocket to retrieve my knife because of the way the diaper was tied around my leg.

I called out for help and one of my buddies still on top peered over the edge. “I need a knife!” “How am I going to get it to you?” I didn’t dare try to catch it with one hand as my other hand was keeping the rope securely pinned behind my back to stop my descent. If I missed it we would really be up a creek without a paddle and the motion of trying to catch it could have set me to falling until I was hanging there off the rims over Billings with my heavy shirt pulled into my rigging until I was hopelessly stuck, or my shirt just ripped and I fell.

Then it would have been—”Run and find a payphone to call 911, Swany’s hanging off the rims like a scarecrow tangled in a clothesline!” Remember the good old days before cell phones? At least I wouldn’t have become a YouTube video.

Well, luckily I wasn’t that far over the edge so I yelled, “Lower it down to me somehow—use your boot laces!” So he hastily pulled the laces from his heavy 1980’s waffle stomper hiking boots, tied those together and then tying that to the belt from his pants he finally had enough length to lower me his pocket knife so that I could cut off the chunk of my shirt that was getting pulled into the ‘biner.

I was very relieved, needless to say, and I continued my descent down the cliff face—good times. Tell you what, I never rappelled with my shirt untucked again, I could hear my high school shop teachers’ voice ringing in my ears as I was stuck there on the cliff side; “Never wear loose clothing around machinery kids.”

man wearing a suit jacket and stripe necktie
Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

Anyway, it was a pretty basic rescue for a pretty basic operation, but it worked and we conquered many more cliffs with that same simple equipment in the months and years to come. We kept it simple. It was simple, life was simple. No high dollar custom harnesses and safety backups. No helmets, no GoPro’s, no Facebook pages to brag to the world about how adventurous we were. No YouTube videos to study or to post to, no classes, certifications or permits.

‘Here’s your rope, here’s your diaper and ‘biner, just back off the cliff and keep a firm grip on that rope, you’ll get the hang of it. Oh yeah, wear a pair of insulated leather gloves so you don’t get rope burn.’ It was a blast. Once you became comfortable with it, and got out there on your robe a ways you could push yourself out from the cliff face with your feet at the same time you were letting out some rope and just feel like you were flying in midair. What a rush.

Of course getting good instructions from someone who was there to guide you through the process was essential. You didn’t just jump off the cliff and hope you are doing things right.

Basics

So, as we get ready to jump into 2019,let’s try to do things right. I think the best way to get off to that right start is by getting back to the basics here to start, peeling off all the advancements and extra paraphernalia we have accumulated that keep us from truly experiencing the moment and only serve to disconnect us from the rawness and realness of it all anyway, and just remember what’s important, what is critical—what is the rope we hang on too—because without that, nothing else matters.

A good sound rope with just enough stretch, that is tied off securely and reaches all the way to the ground—nothing worse then running out of rope before your feet touch the ground—because you are going down one way or another.

First things first. What is our rope? What is it that is critical to our faith, to our doing church, doing life as a believer? I hope you all know the answer here—just like the kid in Sunday school who knows that whenever the teacher asks a question there is a good chance that the answer is Jesus. In this case ‘you would be correct little Johnny, the answer is Jesus.

But it’s not just Jesus, what is of first importance? What is it about Jesus that is critical to our faith, our getting through this year, this life—eternity?

The answer is in our title verse of course;

 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures 1 Cor 15:3

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Jesus died for our sins. —period

Nothing in this life, nothing in the universe, all the wisdom of the ages, the prophets and the sages, is more critical then this; That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. He made the promise, he is the promise, and he fulfilled the promise. He is our hope, he is our rope and no matter what else you know, no matter what else you do, have, or give away, nothing else will matter.

If you show up at the cliffs edge without your rope—you’re going to make it to the bottom, but you are not going to survive the journey.

So I want to start this year by remembering what’s important. Jesus Christ and him crucified—the gospel.

Put Jesus first and all else will fall into place.

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