Marathon

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Someone asked me the other day; “Why does the enemy hate our church so much?” I answered, “Because we are a threat to him.” Really—If we weren’t, everything would be a cake walk. Another question, and perhaps a more difficult one—”Why does the Lord allow it to happen?” The answer, which has become painfully clear to me in this season, is that the Lord is allowing the enemy to sift us like wheat, as he told Peter, to remove the chaff.

Our weaknesses are never so obvious as when we give in to them and are lured in over our heads. Hidden or unrecognized weaknesses are often never truly dealt with, and can impede us so subtly we don’t even recognize we are dragging them until the ones whom we always thought were losers are suddenly at the finish line way ahead of us.

Why does the Lord allow attacks? Because we all have things in our lives that hinder us, sin which so easily ensnares us, and sometimes the only way to untangle us so that we can finish the race, is to allow it to be exploited by the enemy, to even expose us, making it painfully obvious to us that there is a problem, forcing us to make a decision; “Am I going to let the enemy win, and just give up?” Or am I going to lay this aside, do whatever it takes to be free of this, put my head down and push on to the finish where my Lord not only waits, but he sends his Spirit to come and strengthen me, to even carry me on, “on wings like eagles” if—I will just let him, trust him, and not lay down and die.”

No matter what anyone says, no matter the jeers and the taunts of the perfect and pretty people who seem to have it all together and always finish the sprints first and can whip out a dozen pull ups like it’s a breeze—no matter what my flesh is telling me as it screams for the right to just stay down, rest, run away, crawl away, crawl into a hole and die, whatever—just give up— no matter what, I am going to get up, put one foot in front of the other, getting stronger and closer to the finish with every step until I look back one day and see all the perfect people gasping for air and staggering from side to side as they jostle one another for position in the mob that seems to have stalled out short of the finish.

We find ourselves scarred, winded and shocked, ‘I did it! I am at the finish line!’ And there’s your crown, in the hands of the coach, twisted but no longer tarnished and shining like the sun because the Lord has cleaned it up for you just as he did your heart along the way.

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All he wanted you to do was get up and keep going. Because he knows how hard the race is, he did resist to the point of shedding his blood, everyone sneered and mocked, called him a drunkard and a sinner, a blasphemer, even an agent of the devil—”but for the joy set before him” he kept going, putting one foot in front of the other, obedient to his Father who spurred him on. One agonizing bloody step after another, trembling under the weight of his cross, the cross he would soon die on, the cross he could have forsaken and fled at any time he wished.

But he didn’t, why? Because he wanted you to be able to finish your race knowing that if he took away the ultimate penalty for failure to finish, the only insurmountable hurdle in the course, sin—life ending, spirit killing—sin. He knew that if he took away that hinderance for you by taking it on himself, he knew that there would be nothing—absolutely nothing—that would stop you from finishing the race, from winning the fight, if you only made that decision to finish, to look to him to do so. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”

Don’t let the enemy win, don’t give up or give in, don’t fear the race, don’t shirk the fight, it is not easy, it is never easy, it is seldom fun but it is always rewarding and it is always blessed in the end. We are not beating the air, the battle is real, if it wasn’t there would be no need to fight, no one would ever stumble, no one would ever fall. And if you have ever been in a real fight with a real scrapper, you know that even if you win, you will still walk away bruised and bleeding.

And the enemy of our souls, is certainly a scrapper, as is our own flesh. When the two team up there is a real fight with real consequences, but realize that the battle is never over until the Lord says it is over and he calls you home.

Every day is another day to fight, around every turn is another straightaway to cruise through until you get to the next turn or have to jump the next hurdle, all the Lord asks is that we do not stop running. This life is so much shorter then we realize and how we run today will determine our forever.

. . .let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.  You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. Heb 12:1-4

There is a purpose in our striving. We might not always know what it is or why the enemy fights so hard against us, but we must always know that there is a purpose. We have to trust the author and finisher of our faith, that is of course Jesus.

Don’t let anyone slow you down or stop you, especially not the enemy. You won’t always even realize that he is there, but he is sneaky that way. Sticking out a foot to trip, slipping you an intoxicant into your water bottle, whispering in your ear along the way;

Why are you doing this? You cannot finish, you don’t need to finish, you already blew it anyway when you stumbled back there at the curve, you crossed into the wrong lane, you’re probably disqualified, didn’t you jump the gun too? Man, you could be sitting in the bar right now with a cold one watching Basketball on TV—now those guys can run.” “No one cares anyway—loser.”  Lies, nothing but lies.

 Spartan quickly runs through the sand

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7-8

You will finish, because Jesus doesn’t choose losers, and he chose you.

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The Kingdom Whithin

 

The kingdom of God is real, the kingdom is here, the kingdom is the reality you should strive for.

 “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here! ‘or ‘See there!’ For indeed the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20

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What is reality to you? That which you can observe, “see here, see there?” ‘I just need evidence’, Like grainy footage of Bigfoot and a plaster cast of a footprint. Or are you one who will not be convinced until you can go to a zoo and get a selfie with a bigfoot while he sits behind a glass barrier eating a bowl of chokecherries while waiting for the trainer to show up for the 3:00 show right after the 2:00 dolphin show?

Personally my book is still open on the Bigfoot case along with many other mysteries of this world we live in. But, is there more to this world we live in then that  which we can scientifically verify, even harder to verify than Bigfoot and Nessie?

Do you truly believe that the spiritual exists and that it is all around us, within us, and that it is just as real as that which we can go to a zoo or a national park and see? Really it’s a cultural thing. A couple weeks ago a Crow tribal leader’s wife was speaking in our church and she said that “the Crow, the Absaloka, are very spiritual people because for many generations they have been seeking and striving for the spiritual, it is in their DNA.”

This was no surprise to me as I had made this observation years ago in sharing Jesus with our native brothers and sisters— you do not have to convince them that the spiritual is real, they already know. They know also that there is a Great Spirit whom they long to connect with. And that there are other lesser spirits they would rather not know. The first inhabitants of this land are already eager to be protected from, and not just subject to, the malignant whims of the darker spirits all around us, unlike many who stumble into spirituality and call themselves enlightened, willing to just throw themselves wide open to any spiritual influence that will have them. Random spirits are never benign.

The native peoples of this land know there are good and evil forces and that you must be very careful how you embrace any of them. Thus they have no problem embracing the concept of the kingdom of heaven once they decide to accept Jesus as the creator and redeemer— the life giver.

We who come from more worldly backgrounds, where if you cannot hit it with a stick or take a picture of it to hang on your wall, it doesn’t exist, we have a harder time grasping the notion of the kingdom we cannot see with our eyes and touch with our fingers as being real. We just need to learn to develop our spiritual eyes, to be sensitive and acknowledging of the Holy Spirit’s moving within and around us. Because whether you accept it or not, believe it or not, the unseen battles and malicious influences all around us are constant and real.

We can either be a victim or a victor, a champion for the kingdom of light or a casualty of the kingdom of darkness. Not choosing is losing. But don’t despair, the enemy is so outgunned in this battle by those of us who choose to engage in the fight that it is laughably unfair to the enemy, but then the enemy of our souls invented unfair fighting and turnabout is fair play.

We can only live in the victory of the kingdom if it is what we put first and foremost in our hearts and minds. Jesus, as usual, said it best and with a lot fewer words. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things”—all the things we would normally strive for that we think we need—”shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.” Mat 6:33,34

That’s not just a lifestyle Jesus is talking about, it is a new reality, a new dynamic—to get science fiction nerdy for a second here—it’s like living in a parallel universe without actually leaving the one we started in. But rather, using the parallel to affect and alter the first. It’s accepting the invitation to live in both. The purpose of which, is of course, to ultimately bring the two back together, today in our hearts, and tomorrow, in this worldly plain we live in. The two universes, the seen and the unseen, were unnaturally separated but Jesus is rejoining them, starting in us.

because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Roman 8:21—22

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We must live as those who are already citizens of the kingdom, because we are. We must live as those who have the power, because we do. We must live as those who are known by our God, because we are. We must live as those whom our God loves, because he does.

 

Tag, You’re It!

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What if everything we are doing is for the next generation. Are we okay with that? Therein lies the problem. I think we have a tendency to be shortsighted— ‘I don’t want to cause my kids any grief’—while we are ill equipping them for the future. And we are still primarily focused on what we can get out of it, I want the best for my kids!— maybe so, but you also want the best for yourself—right here, right now, no conflict, no patience required.

We are all about Instant gratification. No one saves money anymore, no one writes and mails letters, no one lays up stores for the winter.

A lot of people can’t even wait for their coffee to perk anymore, they’ve got to have a Keurig or a Starbucks drive thru and the most popular shows on TV are the ones where people become instant superstars like American Idol, The Voice, America’s got Talent—because who wants to work their way up to the top like those poor saps Johnny Cash or Dolly Parton had to? We can’t even wait until their scheduled air time, we have to download and watch them when we want to watch them on a four inch screen that gives us the world on demand. Anyway, I digress.

The less we miss the more we miss.

Coming

Those who can muster the patience to hear, know there is something big coming down the pike. God has told us, we see it in his word, we hear if from the prophets of old and of today. I have spoken it myself and have spoken about it at great length lately, that we are going to see a great outpouring of his Holy Spirit as the final act of this age is played out. I believe we are being prepared for the final battle— good against evil, believers against the purveyors of evil—those supernaturally empowered, perhaps, by Satan himself to deceive and frighten the world into submission and ultimately destruction.

12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 13 But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 2 Tim 3:12—13

We must not be among those deceived. But it is going to take great patience and forbearance as we anxiously wait for the fulfillment, and as we realize that the battle is frightening and prolonged.

And at this point we don’t yet know if we are going to be the champions or if we are simply charged with preparing the next champions for Christ.

What we cannot do is say, veterans of the battle, “This is the way it is, this is the way we did it and it is as good as it gets, just try to replicate it and pray that you are as good as we were.” No, a good teacher, a real mentor always seeks to teach his charges to think beyond him and exceed him.

I believe the Lord is going to use the next generation to shape the final battle, to help usher in and be the long term benefactors of the next great outpouring. And—I’m talking to Baby boomers—they will do it with us or without us, with our help or without our help. If it is without us it will be a tragic and sad end to our generation, that we were too busy, too tired, retired or apathetic to step up and use our gifts and talents, our experiences and anointings, our God given remaining days, to affect the fight, to come alongside and then spur on ahead— the warriors coming up.

I think one of the great hinderances to this is perhaps pride, like I alluded to earlier, we think we have seen it as good as it gets, like the Israel and Judah that Isaiah was prophesying to, ‘we have reached the pinnacle, we are blessed and have the favor of God, nothing can touch us, nothing can better us—just do everything we do and you too will be blessed.’ Then along comes the Isaiahs, the Jeremiahs, the John the Baptists, trying to tell them otherwise until God destroys both kingdoms from top to bottom and rebuilds them as new generation is prepared while in captivity in Babylon, those like Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea and Esther.

That’s what the promise we see here would come to mean for that later generation.

And it will be said in that day:
“Behold, this is our God;
We have waited for Him, and He will save us. Is 25

 

But today, we have a new generation, the church, waiting once again for the fuller and final fulfillment of the larger part of this same prophecy.

He will swallow up death forever,
And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces;

And it will be said in that day:
“Behold, this is our God;
We have waited for Him, and He will save us. Is 25

 

But we cannot rest yet, we cannot get arrogant and say, ‘This is all there is, the book is closed, the final chapter written and all you can do is wait for it to end with a bang.’ ‘Rapture me up lord before it all hits the fan.’ ‘I went to the biggest church in town, worshiped you with smoke machines and light shows, participated in Broadway quality dramas and saw thousands of people give their hearts to you!’

‘I used my vacations to go to third world countries, help at church camps—I mean, we’ve reached the pinnacle—we have our own TV stations, radio stations, my face is on the cover of bestselling books and I have a million Twitter followers, look at what we’ve built!

Let’s build a tower that reaches the heavens! –Oh wait, that’s a bad thing.

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Well, that’s all great, but what about the next generation? Are we building them? Or are we setting them up to fall short because we have gotten this church thing so polished and professional that the pressure that they watched kill many of us off is nothing they want anything to do with.

Is this what we waited for?

No, this is just the precursor to what God is doing next. Now is the time to stop looking at what we built, and start looking at who we can build.

That takes patience, that takes time, that takes commitment and most of all, that takes humility. When we point others to Jesus, we then have to get out of the way so they can see him and so that they can follow. Can you say John the Baptist?

So I say to the next generation— Tag, you’re it!

 

The Battle is Real

“I think the next generation of warriors are being prepared to fight on a higher plane.”

warrior-armor-helmet-shield-sword-background-renderingThis charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience. . . 1 Tim 118,19

We have the power of heaven at our disposal if we’ll just believe and learn how to wield it. We can command demons to flee, illness to cease, darkness to dispel, curses to be broken, broken hearts to mend, the lame to walk and even the dead to rise—if we only learn to walk in that power, to fight the good fight, to keep striving for, praying for, fasting for, trusting for, the power of God that lies within us to be released, for our will to come into perfect alignment with God’s will, for all fear to vanish and all doubt to be no more.

That is where God is taking us, that is where I want to go. I want to take that sword and shield and wield it like I was born with it in my hand. I want to cleave the enemies skull and watch his minions run in terror as God’s angels rush in to rescue the children of the Lord they have left behind as they fled. I want to stand firm in the face of evil and say “No more, your day has ended, this is the day the Lord has made.” I want to speak the words of God that always find their mark, that never return back void and always accomplish that for which they were intended.

 

I want to find myself standing at the gates of heaven one day, weary from preaching the word, even that very day, still swinging the sword he has given me and feeling the sudden release of pressure as the enemy that had just been pressing against my shield is suddenly not there anymore. I want to see heaven for the first time through the visor of my battered helmet as the Lord comes and pulls it off my sweating brow and says “welcome home warrior. You have fought the good fight, and you have won.” Like I heard one of my heroes in the faith, the late 4sq Rev Jerry Cook, say one time, “When I am finished I want to have nothing left, because I am going to use it all for Jesus.”

I’m not saying work yourself to death—I am a big proponent of not working yourself to death for the church, of knowing when to say when. But the point I am making here is, if we are answering the call in the time and place, if the yoke we are bearing is indeed the one Jesus gave us, we can and should go down still swinging. We are eternal beings created to affect eternity, why would we stop just because this temporary flesh is aging?

I just want to encourage you to keep fighting the good fight. If you haven’t stared, start. If you have stopped, pick up your sword and sharpen it up. The Lord still has some battles for you to fight, and if you are a veteran of many battles, you should be leading others into the fray with you.

Paul ends his letter to Timothy the same way he started it, with an admonishment to keep fighting the good fight of faith.

11 But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Tim 6

We lost an incredible warrior for the Kingdom this last week, Billy Graham, he fought the good fight and rescued many, many souls, but—the Reverend Billy was your grandparents warrior. I think we are entering a new and maybe more intense period of warfare, most likely the last gasp of a defeated enemy as the Lord readies to reap the harvest of the earth and put an end to his days and execute the sentence that was handed down to him the day Jesus walked out of the tomb.

I think the next generation of warriors are being prepared to fight on a higher plane. We have a generation who is hungry for spiritual things, who embrace things past generations feared and recognize that there is so much more than what we can see and touch with the flesh. Even the directions of the sciences are turning in that direction, physics and astrology—string theory, parallel universes, worm holes, black holes, dark matter, wrinkles in time—suddenly science, who had denied for years anything beyond the readily explainable, is peering into the unseen realms just beyond our grasp.

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The God of order and design who created this world of carbon and hydrogen that we live in, also created the spiritual, so chances are it is also put together in an orderly and ultimately understandable way. We, who have been given the eyes of the spirit, need to learn to operate in those spiritual places, to recognize the light and the dark aspects of that realm so as not to be seduced by the evil and live in the power of the good so that we can overcome.

The name of Jesus is more than a get out of jail free card—it is the key to eternity—an eternity that we were created for and are now given the keys to.

The Lord has waited patiently for two thousand years, not wanting to put an end to things just yet as he wants to make sure more and more souls have the chance to hear the message of the gospel and to also have a chance to make the good confession and lay ahold of eternal life. But things are spiraling out of control and The Father will not let that happen, not while Jesus is on the throne.

I believe we are on the cusp of seeing an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that will make the Azusa Street revival and the great awakening of the century before that look like warm up bands. We are being called to the front lines, being prepared to face battles ahead that we never dreamed we could ever win let alone witness. We will see the Spirit do things we only read about in the scriptures and scarcely dared believed could be literal.

We are the church, and we will be victorious, if we remember who we are and who our Lord is and why he called us for such a time as this.

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, 2 Cor 10

The battle is real, but so are your weapons— hone them.

 

 

Empty Trenches

Where is the next generation of warriors?

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“. . . what did they have for a model? Big haired makeup slathered mega church pastors on TV who fell from grace like leaves on a Minnesota Maple tree in the fall?”

“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
For you shall go to all to whom I send you,
And whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of their faces,
For I am with you to deliver you,” says the Lord. Jeremiah 1

God said what?

The prophet Jeremiah was called, but he had to make a decision, in spite of his youth and inexperience, in spite of the unpopular messages he was being given as he preached repentance to the nation of Israel who thought themselves beyond reproach, he had to answer the call and obey his God. God did not allow excuses; “Oh gee, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize how young you werewhat, are you kidding me!? I formed you in the womb, I knew you before you even knew you existed, I set you aside for a special assignment and I had your life planned and I ordained you to speak to the nations on my behalf before you were even a twinkle in your father’s eye.’

‘So you are going to tell me you can’t handle this, that you’re too young? —I don’t think so. Here let me touch your mouth and give you the words, let me give you courage that you may go where I send you, let me give you an assurance of protection as I deliver you from your enemies and all who would seek to destroy you and your message. So please, no excuses, we have work to do.’

And, if you were to keep reading in the chapter, you would see that he started immediately. ‘Oh good, I see you brought your tools, let’s get started. Here’s your vision, here’s the words, here’s what they are going to do to you and here’s how I am going to deliver you.’

Everyone told Jeremiah he was crazy, a blasphemer, that he was not qualified, trained, from the right family—whatever. They threw him in prison, in a cistern, stocks and chains—but he never quit, and his God always delivered him and set him on the next mission. Why? Because he would do it. We don’t know how many others said no, how many others chose the cushy life of being one of the official prophets in the Kings courts who assured the king everything was hunky dory, how many broke God’s heart by choosing prestige and comfort, an office in the Temple, over obedience and purpose, but we know Jeremiah said yes Lord, I will go, and he is the one we remember. He wanted to say no, suffering is no fun, but he couldn’t because ignoring his call was worse.

Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him,
Nor speak anymore in His name.”
But His word was in my heart like a burning fire
Shut up in my bones;
I was weary of holding it back,
And I could not. Jer 20:9

Jeremiah is my hero. You can keep your mega churches, TV shows and national book tours as you hock your book with your smiling airbrushed portrait splashed across the cover, if your obedience to the Lord takes you there that’s between you and him, but I pray for a Jeremiah spirit. I choose to go where the Lord is, even if the road is hard and leads me only to a stockade or a muddy cistern, and today, the Lord has led me here to you. And he has a message for us. One first spoken through Jeremiah for Israel and now given to the Church.

10 See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms,
To root out and to pull down,
To destroy and to throw down,
To build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:10

Back when I first got delivered from my addictions, set free and overwhelmed by the Spirit of the Lord as he spoke to me through his word, I was filled with a sudden passion to share the good news of the freedom and joy that is available through Jesus Christ.

I was 23 years old, just a pup, far from being ready to pastor, but I soon found ways to bring the good news to those who desperately needed to hear it. I started teaching Sunday school at church for little kids. The Sunday school teacher that I was helping as I got started, soon invited me to go to the Yellowstone county jail with him and help lead Bible studies. I found that these hurting lonely men who had hit bottom in their lives were eager for the hope that they heard in the message of Christ. So I kept going, every other week for many years, under the banner of Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship.

One day I got a call from my partner saying that he had been asked by the local Christian TV station if he would come in for an interview. He was fearful of doing it so he asked if I would. ‘Sure, why not.’ I saw it as an opportunity to spread the word about the jail ministry and get more people coming in as it was hard to fill the slots available twice a week.

My only fear was that I would be overwhelmed with phone calls from people who wanted to help after they heard how fruitful and rewarding the ministry was. I expressed this concern to the folks doing the show and they said I could give the number for the TV station during the interview and they would field the calls. Thank you. The interview went great, I still have it on VHS somewhere, and I waited to hear about all the committed Christians who were calling the station for more information about this opportunity to share the good news—not a single person called.

This was about 1989 so it was not the millennials who were slacking, it was the baby boomers, the ones who are now bemoaning the fact that the next generation is not stepping up and getting into ministry—what did they have for a model? Big haired makeup slathered mega church pastors on TV who fell from grace like leaves on a Minnesota Maple tree in the fall?

Three times a week church goers who got together for banquets to prophecy about the big revival soon to come to town? Preachers who spent more time raising funds for their next building project then they did ministering to the sick and hurting? I don’t know—I know I was seriously disappointed and surprised to discover the lack of spine in the army of Christ.

Over the next few years I began to realize that wherever I went to share the good news with my guitar and my Bible, the jail, the mission, the women’s shelter, the youth detention center, I always saw the same handful of believers who were in the trenches getting dirty. I was just a punk kid with no formal training and big dreams of one day pastoring a church, a big church full of real soldiers for Christ, but in the meantime I was just a beggar who knew where to get bread and I was going to share it with the hungry—I was called.

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Now, I am not bragging. I know I could have and should have done so much more and I know many who did, and still are, as far as reaching out to the least of these, of visiting Jesus in the hospitals, the prisons and the gutters. But life happened and there was never enough time and I never felt brave enough. And my dream of standing before thousands and equipping an army has been replaced by the plan the Lord had for me, of being here today and being your pastor, which I am very humbled and proud to be, humbled by your trust and proud of your commitment to Jesus.

He has also given me and helped me fulfill the dream He has given me of reaching the world through this ministry; through my writing both in print and on-line, right here from— “Lord why would you send me to Red Lodge? I can’t build a mega church there—right here from the top of the world, above the nations, at the gateway to Yellowstone Park.

And I am not giving up, I am not giving up on you, I am not giving up on the next generation and the one after that just being born because the kingdom depends on it and I am called to be a citizen of that kingdom, to be a soldier of that kingdom, and to equip the saints for the work of the ministry because the Kingdom is here and the world needs to know about it before it’s too late.

All I know is that the fields are ripe for the harvest and the workers are indeed few and in a blessed land of plenty there is little excuse for that. And whatever fields are not ripe need to be sowed.

We need to get back into the trenches before they are full of nothing but corpses.

gauntlet

 

There’s the gauntlet, who’s going to pick it up?