Rest in Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rancho No Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was a sobering experience in many ways.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am what I am

 

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Jesus- One of us?

“Why is it all so hard? –Because we fear God and we believe the lies that we are not worthy and that God does not care about us.”

Secure

Last week we looked at who Jesus is in light of Hebrews chapter one. Hebrews starts out by making it clear that Jesus is God, God the Son, creator and redeemer. The second chapter then explains how Jesus became on of us–and why.

17 Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. Heb 2:17—18

Bottom line, Jesus became one of us to destroy death for those who are willing to accept the life that he offers. And that is of course huge!

But there was another reason. He also became one of us because we just were not listening before. (Heb 1:1) God had sent prophet after prophet, even angels to speak for him. He appeared as a burning bush, a pillar of fire and smoke, He even gave us stone tablets that he wrote on himself, but we just weren’t getting it. We kept turning his living word, meant to turn our hearts to him and each other into just a set of rules and demands. We even used them to lord over, control and condemn one another.

So Jesus came as one of us, a common man with a ready smile, eyes to look into ours, hands to hold and ears to hear, and explained to us what it was all about, what his Father had intended all along and how we could be restored to the life that was lost so long ago, he revealed the love in the word and showed us his Father’s heart.

Jesus came to show us the way.

The One Calf

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Back when we were big time ranchers—not really, we had about thirty pair—I learned a lesson one day about how cows think. Or,  should I say, don’t think. They just do what they do and if you want them to do otherwise you are a lot better off if you can make them think it’s their idea.

It was spring, calving was done, the calves were branded and we needed to move them off the hay fields around the house and into the hills—their summer range. So I enlisted the help of my nephew Mike on his dirt bike and I got on my trusty cow pony Randy, and we gathered up the cows and calves and headed them for the gate at the upper end of the pasture to push them out, across the neighbors field, across the county road and through another gate from there they could be pushed up into what we called “the hills”.

All was going well, we got the cows and calves rounded up fairly easy and headed to the gate, most of them knew what time of the year it was and where they were headed. Cows might be dumb but they have great memories. We got them through the gate, all except for one calf—there’s always one—who just couldn’t figure out the concept of there suddenly being an opening where there had not been in all her many weeks of life before. She peeled off and ran the other way.

I doubled back to cut her off but she just kept getting around me in spite of Randy’s enthusiasm for cutting. I finally had to just let her go because the rest of the herd were on the move and out the gate and we needed to make sure they went where they were supposed to. Mike and I got the herd where they were going easy enough, once they got through the gate across the road they took off up over the big hill towards the sheltered ravines, green grass and water they knew was up there.

Once the cows were out of site and well away from the gate we headed back for the errant calve, Mike on his bike and I on my horse. We chased that calf around on that forty acres for way too long, up and down hills, through coulees and brush—all to no avail, she was not about to go through that gate. “Just let me stay here where I’ve always been, I’ll be fine.” I suppose if I was a real cowboy I would have just roped her and dragged her over. I’m lucky if I can rope a fence post with both my feet on the ground.

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Give me a break, I grew up in Minnesota, on the water, not a horse. I had a good horse though; Randy had a great instinct for herding cows and cutting, but this calf was determined. It’s amazing how they can suddenly find the steepest hills and the thorniest bushes when they don’t want to be pushed.

Well, after  a long frustrating exercise in futility Mike’s bike was running out of gas and so was Randy. I finally said, “We’ll have to just leave her for now, maybe she’ll have a change of heart when she gets hungry.”

I thanked Mike and went back to the house. Later that afternoon I went out to see where my renegade calf was hanging out and I heard a distant mooing being answered by a much closer bawling calf. I realized that the cow who belonged to this calf had come all the way back from over the hill and was standing at the gate across the road mooing for her calve who was now standing at the gate she had refused to go through all day, mooing back. All I had to do was open both the gates and the cow came, retrieved her calf and led her back across the road, up the long trail over the hill and rejoined the herd. Huh, that was easy.

‘’Why couldn’t I do that?’ I had tried all morning to get her through that gate, persuasion, force, trickery—“It’s wide open, just go!—Trust me!” What was the difference? I knew what was best for this calf, all I wanted to do was get her back home with her herd, back where she belonged, but she just wasn’t getting it. I was that big scary guy whooping and hollering on top of that much bigger snorting beast. And then there was the other guy on that roaring metal beast kicking up dust and making a stink.

“I’m not going that way, it can’t be safe!” Then along comes a cow, a lumbering lowly bovine, calling her name, beckoning her come, in her own language, flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone—just like her in every way.Oh, okay, now I get it, just follow you and I’ll be okay.”

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

I just had to get out of the way and let her go where she was led.

Thots

That’s what Jesus did. The Father had tried time after frustrating time to get us to go the right way, to push us, lead us, entice us but we failed to listen to the shepherds, the prophets and the angels who came to show and teach us the way. The Father even came himself but the people were afraid—”we cannot bear to be in his presence, go up and speak for us!” That’s why we got the written law, because the people were afraid of God when he came down on the mountain to be with them so they sent Moses up to bring back a message. Because of our own ignorance and sinfulness people hid from God—Adam, Adam, where are you?

And then came the promised one, Jesus. He came to us speaking our language, flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, a strong, hardworking yet gentle man with a ready smile and a heart for the hurting who said simply, ‘This is the way, walk in it. Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life. Follow me.’

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Why is that? Why is it so hard? Because we fear God, we fear our own sinfulness and we believe the lies that we are not worthy and that God does not care about us. Jesus is still calling out your name and he has opened wide the gates and the way is clear. Stay on the path, stay in him, he will never let you go, you are secure.

27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. 30 I and My Father are one.” John 10

Jesus does not plan on failing. He was sent by the Father to round up all his ch

ildren, his lost sheep, and he is bringing them home where he will present us to his Father with a smile proclaiming to all the heavens:

“Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.” Heb 1:13

Our hearts are safe in his care so long as we just keep following him up that hill. On the other side are green pastures, clear pools of water and the rest of the family who awaits us.

 

 

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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Photo by Murilo Folgosi on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

But to the Son He says:

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

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Tare Publishing?

Where’s the Justice?

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24 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ Mat 13

I have referenced this parable in church recently thinking a tare was just your average weed, like cheatgrass maybe. This week I decided to look up what a Tare is. Tares are actually a lot more cynical then cheat grass. Cheat grass is recognizable by most, (at least in the west) tares are not. They blend right in. Cheat grass will irritate the snot out of you if the heads get into your socks or worse, tares will lull you to sleep.

Here’s what I found:

Tares, also known as the bearded darnel, is a species of rye-grass, the seeds of which are a strong soporific poison. It bears the closest resemblance to wheat till the ear appears, and only then the difference is discovered. It grows plentifully in Syria and Palestine.

A strong “soporific poison”? What is that? Well, I looked that up too:

Soporific is ‘a type of drug that causes an overwhelming desire to sleep.’ Roofies anyone?

Jesus later explains this parable to his followers;

40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Mat 13

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Perhaps here, is an answer as to why there is so much suffering, why seemingly good people do bad things or have to suffer the consequences of those bad things. ‘Why do we have to put up with those who offend and practice lawlessness Lord? Where’s the justice, where’s the fairness, where’s the protection? I’ve been cheated, I’ve been maligned, I’ve been hurt. How can you let this happen?’

The Lord would tell us to be strong. We will have our day, actually, our day is the day of the Lord. In that day there will be no more tears, no more sickness and no more death. I do believe that is worth waiting for.

The day is coming when there will be no more tares in the field, the reapers are coming. But in the meantime we must do the best we can to grow alongside of them because to start hoeing out the weeds now could cause more damage to the grain then the weeds.

Hoeing

In summertime around south central Montana you can drive  by a beet field and see it full of migrant workers with hoes. They are hoeing out every third plant. The beets are planted close together and at some point they have to be thinned to allow the others to flourish. So they go up and down the rows with this thought in mind;Beet, beet, weed.” Every third beet plant is considered a weed and gets it’s top knocked off with the hoe, killing it.

God is looking for good fruit, he is looking for a harvest, we have to trust him, and be ready. Till then we will have to put up with some tares knowing that their day is coming.

Tare

Speaking of injustice; as many of you know I have had a few books published. For my latest book I had to use a different publisher then I did with the first two. My first publisher went out of business and the former CEO’s are now awaiting trial by the Oklahoma State Attorney General for multiple felonies stemming from fraud and extortion. They keep postponing the trial because they keep finding more and more people who have been defrauded by them, 1300 or so last I checked.

This was a Christian publisher, in business for years publishing Christian materials (though towards the end that was debatable) and in the beginning I think they were sincere. And I know they had some really good people working for them. But then they got greedy and the fruit they bore started reflecting what was in their hearts.

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They outright stole $1200. dollars from me. They had sent me an email with a promotion they were running, one they had run a couple other times in the last year or two, so I was saving up money just waiting for this opportunity because I was working on my third book at the time.

The promotion offered in this email was that if I bought $1200. worth of any of my previous books or pre-ordered future books, I would get a publisher for life addendum on my contract with them. This meant I could publish as many books as I liked in the future without having to pay any more fees. Services for my previous books had cost me much more than that so this was a great deal.

I called my connection at the Publisher and said I would like to do that. I deposited my hard earned and saved cash into my checking account, including my year end safety award bonus from my construction job, and had them charge the $1200. to my debit card, which they conveniently keep on file.

After a few days I never got a receipt so I emailed a reminder, no response. I emailed two or three other people finally emailing one of the owners whose connection info I had and finally got a receipt and an apology.

Less than two weeks later I got an email from another publisher offering their services to me because they had heard that my former publisher had gone out of business. What? No way, I just gave them a lot of money! I emailed everyone I knew there, I called every number I could find. No response to any of them. They had apparently just turned off the lights, locked the doors and left. Leaving me and many, many others holding the bag, and the bag was empty, as was my wallet.

Tares

I am fairly comfortable in guessing that the people who ran this outfit might be tares. (In fact, if you replace one letter in “tare” you have the name of that publisher.)

They literally conned me out of $1200 knowing full well that they were never going to deliver, or at least that chances were pretty slim. I found out that there was already a two million dollar law suit against them. They had laid off most of their staff and it came to light that they had been spending cooperate money like it was their own, buying houses, toys and vacations. Since then their property has been seized and auctioned off to pay their debtors.

And, they knew full well that I am a pastor. That’s what bothered me. How can you call yourself a Christian and knowingly cheat a pastor, one whom you know works two jobs just to make ends meet? And I know I am not the only pastor they stole from. Being a pastor doesn’t make me any better than anyone else they stole from or make it more of a crime—but really; If I as a Christian, ordained or not, was going to cheat someone I’m pretty sure a pastor would be my last choice.

It’s like stealing from the Salvation Army kettle or making off with your worship leaders guitar while he is watching. ‘Where you going with that?’ ‘Oh, I’m just going to get it re-stringed for you.’  then he takes it straight to the pawn shop—I mean, you just don’t do that right?

So I was incredulous and shocked; ‘Really? Lord, that was a lot of money!’ What can I do? I reported it to the Better Business Bureau and the Oklahoma Attorney General. But other than that there was nothing I could do. The AG is pushing for restitution, but as many people as they cheated and the huge law suits against them, there is small chance of anything being left to return.

But I could be really angry—right? Go all barbarian on them and seek the justice of the sword? I would certainly be justified.

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I could stew and fret, or pout and whine–or, I could just let it go, give it up to the Lord and let him deal with them. (In fact it has been two years ago now and this is the first time I have publicly told this story.)

I had to decide right away that I had to give this to the Lord or I would only be bitter and angry and that would accomplish nothing but to distract me from what the Lord wanted me doing, helping him sow more wheat. I cannot let the weeds poison me. “Lord, this is your money, it was for your work, I am only a messenger. I trust that you have a better plan.”

He did. I found a different and better publisher, Redemption Press, and I got to involve my church as I was blessed by many in their efforts to help me raise the funds to get Barbarians in the Kingdom ready for the printer. Because of that fruit was borne in many lives before the book was even published and the message of the book, resolve and determination to accomplish God’s purpose for you, was only reinforced. And, I believe, that adventure has just begun and there will be much more fruit. And best of all, I got to see God at work.

In the long run, God always takes care of those who look to him, who are patiently waiting for the final harvestharvest meme

 

Until then, hang on, be strong and stay awake, Jesus is indeed coming to harvest. And God will not be mocked!

 

 

Barbarian Women?

The mindset of the barbarian of old was one of simplicity of purpose, singularity of mission, and determination of spirit. Attributes that influenced the early church and made her strong, and, I contend, attributes we need to reclaim to save the church today.

This includes women; ladies, stand up and claim your place in the Kingdom!

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Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful;  it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

          To me this verse says everything you need to know about the Barbarian woman in the Kingdom. She is love personified, not the mushy everything is sunshine and roses fragile kind of love that can be shaken to the core at the first sign of trouble, but the passionate deep down ingrained love that can overcome anything the world or the enemy throws at her. A love that can bear all things and come out stronger in the end. A love that is patient and rational when all others around her are lost in emotional chaos or jealous pettiness.

She does not rejoice in the hurt of others but is strong enough to allow even those she loves to experience the consequences of their own foolishness should they refuse to listen to her warnings. And she will be there to pick them up when they land in the mud face first, with a firm hand and a gentle smile offering another chance to choose the right.

The Barbarian woman is not given to hysteria or panic. Her emotions, though deeply felt, are not on the surface causing her to lose control; if she does you had better run for the hills, but for the most part she is in control. This allows her to think through, to listen and observe, seeking truth and resolution before running or attacking. The fight or flight mechanism prevalent in the man is controlled in the woman by an instinct to protect and nurture. She knows that she can best serve her family by remaining calm, she often has to be the eyes and ears of her Barbarian man to direct his sometimes-misguided fury. She is the radar he needs to hit the mark without destroying the village. I’ll let you figure that one out…

The woman hears and understands things—call it a spiritual discernment or woman’s intuition—that men sometimes blissfully miss. The danger in this is that women can also be offended a little too easily and hold grudges way too long. They are very tuned into the perception of others, particularly what others think if them.

This brings me to a very important point. The key reason why we need to adopt the Barbarian mindset in order to engender emotionally healthy women in the Kingdom of God, women who are able to accept the love of a Father God who loves them for who they are; if you want to be a woman that is able to be strong and courageous, even-keeled—even stoic when need be, while at the same time loving passionately and unselfishly—you cannot, and must not, allow your sense of self-worth to be determined by what others think of you.

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Barbarians do not connect their self-worth to what others think of them. They do not care if everyone does not like them. Barbarians know what is inside of them, what is in their hearts, because they have been taught what is right and wrong, it is written on their hearts and the person laughing at you, calling you stupid and ugly does not, cannot, know what is in your heart—only you can. With the exception of one other Person; Jesus.

The Barbarian Woman

The barbarian woman shares the passions of the barbarian man- feels and fuels them longer and deeper than her male counterpart and fights to defend her own in her own way. She loves deeper, laughs louder, burns fiercer and is unconcerned with the pettiness of the civilized. She is comfortable in her own skin and does not measure her worth by what you think of her or by how expensive her wardrobe or accessories are. She loves her man, her children and her God and speaks her mind.

She says what she means, means what she says and doesn’t say anything just to be mean. If she lays you out with her words than you needed it. Like the barbarian man, she prefers her life to be uncomplicated and uncluttered. Her weapons are her even tempered determination, unshakable sense of what is right and true, and a steely eyed look that will put the fear into the heart of any who would get in her way.

The Barbarian woman perseveres through times of hardship and trial, her resolve is strengthened by challenges, she faces them head on and alwaysholds on to hope because she knows the sun will always come up tomorrow and she will have another chance to live, laugh and love, without shame and without apology.

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That’s why we need Barbarian women in the Kingdom!

(Photos from Shutterstock)

Adapted from my book Barbarians in the Kingdom

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Available today from your favorite online bookseller in print or digital form.

 

 

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.”

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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.

Barbarians in the KingdomBAR COVER

 

How Can This Be?

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“For with God nothing will be impossible.” Luke 1:37

I don’t know about you but for me this has been quite a year. A year full of challenges, victories and heartaches, blessings and losses. It’s been a year full of promises, but at the same time a year that has challenged my faith and made me ask at times; ‘Did I really hear the Lord?’ And if I did; can I keep believing for the promises.

When everything and everyone says things are one way, and God says ‘No, this is the way it’s going to be’, can I find a joy in the as of yet unseen?

Honestly, I think I have reached a new level of faith in recent months, I had to, because to not would have meant my end. I am not strong enough to live by sightbecause what I see only discourages me often times—I have to live by faith. That is a lesson we all must keep learning and it is what those who took part in the events leading up to the birth of Christ had to learn. We indeed serve a God who specializes in doing the impossible—if we just let him, if we’ll just say yes.

Many years ago  two women, from different generations and towns, but who shared an uncommon faith believed, said yes, and the world was forever changed;

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Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”

38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1

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A wooden manger and three wooden crosses

The Bible is full of amazing stories, stories of the impossible happening—miracles. Often the people in the stories have a hard time believing what they hear from the Lord. But not these two women—Mary believed, I want to be like Mary. (This is Mary, Mary believes, be like Mary.) Elizabeth believed as well. Two common women who didn’t care what people said or did, they knew their God had spoken and they rejoiced in the hope they had.

Twins

I decided that since this might be the last Christmas our boys, Rowdy and Randy, are around, I am going to share the classic story that many who have known me for a while have no doubt heard; but a great story that bears repeating nonetheless.

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The boys, as we call them, are our twin geldings. We had all girls in our home as we raised our three daughters so there was the girls and there was the boys, and we all knew who we were referring to, and still do. Rowdy and Randy are 24 years old now, old for horses but not extremely, but considering they are twins that should not have even survived the womb, yes, that is very old.

They are having some health issues in their later years that may force us to put them down as their lameness causes them more pain then is fair to put them through. But then, we thought this day would come several years ago, and the experts thought it would come even long before that, so who knows?

The boys aren’t the only twins in our family anymore, we now have twin grandchildren, now three years old. So, apparently twins run in our family. Something that makes our other daughters real nervous, or maybe it’s just because I like to remind them of that.

Actually, twins amongst us humans isn’t that rare, not like it is in horses. In fact, most vets, and other horse experts, would tell you that it’s nearly impossible. Just like the birth of our boys should have been. I am certainly no horse expert, and 24 years ago I was much less of a horse expert; ‘Yeah, our mare had twins, great, two for the price of one, what’s the big deal?’ I had no idea at the time that it would be so hard for horse people to believe.

So, join me as we take a trip down memory lane to the Heyu-cow Ranch, Montana.

 Rowdy and Randy

One fine April day while I was out and about in the barnyard and I noticed that our Quarter horse mare, Babe, was acting peculiar.  She was nervously going in and out of the barn and neighing softly as if looking for something.  I wasn’t too familiar with foaling horses but I had been around enough cows at calving time to recognize that Babe, who was great with foal, was thinking of having that foal real soon. I put Babe up in a stall in the barn and kept an eye on her.  At bedtime she still had not foaled so I went to bed. We knew that Babe had thrown a few foals before we got her so we weren’t too worried about her.

At 2 am I dragged myself out of bed and went to the barn to check on her.  The first thing I saw as I peered into the stall was a bright eyed little foal lying in the straw and looking around at his brand new world. I then poked my head in to see the other end of the large stall and there stood Babe.  It was then that I noticed something very peculiar; Babe had eight legs!  I stepped into the stall to get a better look and there on the other side of Babe was another foal going after mother’s milk; Babe had twins!

After getting over my astonishment, and comprehending the situation as much as my 2 am, half asleep brain could, I made sure everyone was okay.  Both the foals had already been cleaned up by Babe, I watched them both suck before I left them alone and headed back for my bed.

As I crawled back into bed satisfied that all was well and thinking that nothing too extraordinary had happened, Donna woke up. “What’s happening” she asked.  I told her that Babe had two new baby boys. “Ha, ha, very funny” she said, “what really happened?”  I replied, “She had twins, you know, Pete and Repeat, Thing one and Thing two.”  She exclaimed, “That’s impossible!”

Knowing more about horses than I did, she knew that for a horse to have twins, especially healthy ones, was virtually unheard of. I finally convinced her that I was serious by telling her that I could not possibly be that clever in the wee hours of the morning and that everything really was all right.

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Donna woke the girls up early in the morning to tell them the good news,   Cally, who was four, was only concerned with what color they were, she was hoping for a paint.  Jessie, who was two, was just excited to get to go see the baby horsies.  Shortly after sunrise we all went to the barn to see the new family.  They were beautiful; sorrel brown with a white blaze down the front of their faces just like their momma.  As is typical of new foals, they were all legs, necks and fuzz.

We promptly named them Rowdy and Randy, telling them apart by the white “sock” above Randy’s left rear hoof and the opposite white “sock” above Rowdy’s right rear hoof.  We then called our veterinarian to share the good news and he all but panicked saying, “Twins, what? They’re all right? They can’t possibly be alright, at least one of them has to be a runt!” We couldn’t convince him that he didn’t have to rush the 30 miles, all the way from  Shepherd to Blue Creek, but he insisted on coming out.

After looking them over carefully he finally conceded that they seemed to be alright and gave them each a shot of anti-biotic just to be safe, (or maybe so he could charge us for something to pay for his gas) all the while telling us how unusual and rare this was– “one in ten thousand” and that the chances of foals born as twins both surviving their first year was “one in fifty thousand.” He left us with some horse milk replacer telling us that we would have to help feed the babies because there was no way the mare would be able to feed both these colts.

Neither Rowdy nor Randy wanted anything to do with this phony milk from a bottle.  Apparently Babe hadn’t been listening when the vet said she wouldn’t be able to feed them both because they were both getting plenty, often feeding together, one on each side of Babe.

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When they were about a week old we let them out of the barn for the first time.  They cautiously ventured out the door and then took off running, both in different directions. Babe was beside herself, not knowing which one to chase after first. She eventually managed to get them both rounded up and herded them back into the barn where they would stay out of trouble.

Around this time ol’ Bud, the owner of the Morgan Stud who sired the boys, came out to see them. As he stood admiring them in the corral he was as proud as a grandpa over these boys his beloved Morgan- Parade– had sired.  He told us his father and his grandfather had raised Morgans and these three generations of horse breeders had never seen a set of twins.

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Rowdy and Randy grew up the best of friends, always looking out for one another. They are both retired now, but in their day Randy loved to work cows. And Rowdy, who would rather just stay away from the cows, just loved to be ridden, especially by the girls— The boys, twins that “couldn’t be” yet still are.

  Thots

When Rowdy and Randy were born the experienced horse people were truly perplexed at such a thing as a healthy set of twin foals born unassisted in a cow barn to an old mare, crossbred to an even older stud; “That’s not possible”.

This was the same sentiment that was expressed over and over again by the religious “experts” so long ago when they were told that the Messiah had been born in a stable to an unmarried girl from Nazareth.  Yet the lowly shepherds, living in the fields with their flocks the first to hear the news, had no trouble believing. They believed that that the Lord himself had come to earth as a baby boy, and they hastened to worship this heaven sent Savior.

Later it was the common working men and women and even some Roman soldiers, “tax collectors and sinners” as the experts called them, who embraced this carpenter from Nazareth as the Son of God he claimed to be.  The experts in the Law, who should have been the first to recognize and rejoice in the coming of the long awaited Messiah, instead had him crucified and then gloated over their success in stopping this threat to their precious religious traditions.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Another Mary, a woman who had formerly been possessed by demons, Mary  Magdalene, was the first to see this impossible Savior after his resurrection from the dead and quickly shared this information with the commercial fisherman who had devoted their lives to following him.  These hardened fishermen became the first to share the news with the world that this simple man born in a stable and crucified on a Roman cross was indeed the risen Savior.

Jesus laid down his glory, and then his life, so that all men might see and believe that God does indeed love every one of us; don’t let what is “not possible” get in the way! To many people who think they know so much end up missing out on the truth because they simply cannot accept the impossible.

“Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”.

Lord, I believe, help me to live I the joy of my hope, and help me to hear your voice in the year ahead, and give me the courage to say yes.

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