Prison of Pain

If you are living in unforgiveness you are living in a world the one who wronged you created for you.

In the ministry I have seen it over and over again, people living in a prison of their own making, a prison of pain, tortured by a wounded heart, a heart that could be healed, a prison from which they could escape but for one thing—an unwillingness to forgive the one who hurt them, the one who owes them.

 

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I can never forgive them! Do you know what they have done? Usually, yes, but God doesn’t put any exceptions out there for this principle. His grace, his forgiveness, as illustrated by the story of the unforgiving servant for example, (Mat 18:22-35) is unlimited and unconditional—unless we fail to reciprocate it. That’s not His doing. That’s a heart becoming hardened by unforgiveness to the point where it can no longer even accept it, can no longer receive healing, no longer feel love, no longer heeds the Holy Spirit—and the Spirit is grieved.

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I often struggle with this as a pastor. It’s real hard to tell someone whom you know is bound up, tortured in their very souls by the bitterness of unforgiveness, to forgive. When you know how badly someone was hurt, how wronged, mistreated and abused someone was by someone who still may have no remorse and take no responsibility. It’s hard to let go, and it’s hard to tell someone they need to.

But I do, because I have seen the incredible healing and transformation that takes place in a person when they do finally forgive.

Think about it. That bitterness in only poisoning your own soul. That hatred, the thoughts of revenge, the fantasies of repaying them that replay in your mind over and over, the obsessing over the injustice of it all—no matter how much energy you put into your desire to repay or be repaid, you are not harming that person, you are only perpetuating your own hurt.

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And if they truly are as bad as you imagine, they are probably relishing in the misery of your grudge burdened heart, they are probably flattered in their perverted arrogance that they live in your mind rent free. You are hurting no one but yourself.

You have to let it go. Be free of the prison of your own making. Only you hold the key—that key is forgiveness. If you cannot do it alone, ask the Lord for help. He desires nothing more than to set you free so that you can fully experience the joy of his forgiveness for you.

 

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Jesus was sent to set you free. That’s a flat out promise not hidden in a parable but stated plain and clear.

If you want to be a free and functioning citizen of the Kingdom of God you must forgive as you have been forgiven.

Now, as a note of caution, forgiveness if not the same as trusting. If someone has abused you, hurt you and has not proven to you that they are able or willing to stop, you do not have to allow them a chance to hurt you again. Forgiveness happens in your heart, it doesn’t have to happen to their face. It can, and it can be beneficial, but do not put your self at risk.

If Jesus has set you free by giving you the grace to forgive, then let him restore your sight also that you may see the dangers and avoid them in the future.

There’s a big exciting world out there waiting for you to conquer and explore if you’ll just open up that prison door and step out into it.

Institutionalized

‘But I like it here, I know what to expect and I have good reasons to stay in my little corner of the world where others can care for me and keep trying to teach me things. There’s a word for that, it’s called being institutionalized. There are people who have been in prison for so long that they are afraid to get out. There are those who are afraid to leave school, they have no concept or desire to get out into the real world. They go from preschool to kindergarten to 12 more years of public school to several years of college to then working at or teaching in that college and their whole world is that campus.

I remember when I was in Job Corps, there were guys who were afraid to graduate and go back to the real world. They came there from high school to learn a trade so they could get out and make a living but the thought of being out in the big wide world where you have to buy you own food, pay your own rent, get up and go to bed when you want, have to be responsible for your self—that’s scary!

I would think;Are you kidding me? I can’t wait to get out of here and be free to find my own way, to make a living and make my own choices and decisions.”

I want to live in the real world—it’s a challenge and an adventure, an opportunity waiting to happen, life is what you make of it. Unless you choose to stay confined in one someone else made for you. If you are living in unforgiveness you are living in the world the one who wronged you created for you.

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Be free. Step out of the prison of pain and into the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a real world, it is the real world, and you need to get out there into it. God has a plan for you and freedom is just a prayer away.

‘”Lord forgive me my sins as I forgive those who sin against me’— and help me to forgive them.”

You are a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven, you can do this.

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Don’t be institutionalized in your unforgiveness and anger, there’s a whole new Kingdom out there to explore.

 

Kanye?

“Seriously, there was no twelve step program, no months of therapy or self-help books or seminars, I was changed in an instant”

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Kanye recently bought a ranch just down the road from us near Cody WY and much to everyone’s surprise held a large outdoor church service. Thousands of people showed up and hundreds got saved.

Go figure…

Everyone’s a little perplexed by this Kanye West thing. I don’t know why?

Since then many have asked me what I think about him. Honestly I wouldn’t know Kanye if he sat down next to me in a coffee shop and started singing his biggest hits, but I’m starting to pay a little attention to him now…

Okay church, here’s my answer:

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Do we believe that? Have we experienced that? Have you been born again? It happens instantaneously—when you suddenly realize just who Jesus is, when you recognize just how sinful you are in light of his holiness as his presence knocks at the door of your heart and tells you, ‘it’s all right, just let me in, we’ll take care of this mess—just allow me to—“Lord I believe, come into my heart, forgive me for running from you for so long, I want you, I need you—I trust you!”

In that instant, whatever the words, perhaps no words, it’s a heart thing, you are changed, you went from being dead to being alive. And you are a new person. —Right?

I know it happened to me. And all my friends and family were a little freaked out by the change—’What are you talking about, what happened to you? Have you slipped of the tracks here?’

I was not the same person I was just the day before. Yeah, I had a lot to learn and a lot of garbage that still needed dealt with, but I wanted to share my new found faith, I wanted to share Jesus with everybody—’How can you not want to know Jesus?’ I thought.

I was somewhat famous for throwing great parties, having and selling the best weed, I was game for about anything and I lived for the party—stoned all my waking hours… at the same time I was miserable because it was never enough and I felt like all my friends only used me to try to fill their own empty souls—until I allowed the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ to renew and regenerate me.

In an instant, I was changed. Seriously, there was no twelve step program, no months of therapy or self-help books or seminars, I was changed in an instant, alone in my living room with a bible and Jesus. It was an outright miracle.

So, what’s the difference between that and what happened to Kanye West? Nothing—except he was not just famous for his exploits amongst a bunch of potheads in Billings, he was famous on a world stage.

Now he wants all the world to know the Jesus he just met, “How can you not want to know him?” It’s the same thing we all ask when we first meet Jesus. Does he have a lot to learn and some garbage to deal with yet? I have no doubt. But man, look at what God has done—do not discount this—the world is looking at him and saying “Wow, maybe I want some of that!”

Either it’s real or it’s not. Either we are born again, renewed, regenerated by the Holy Spirit whom God has poured out on us abundantly—or we are not.

Because if we are just a religious sect that is striving for a ticket to heaven by being good enough, saying doing and believing the right things in the right order—than we need to shut Kanye down and to fear what he is doing. And if that is the case, I want nothing to do with any of this religion stuff.

I’d rather be stoned in the morning and drunk in the afternoon and living to fish in the mountains and “ya’ll just leave this long haired country boy alone.”

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But that’s not who I am anymore. I am not foolish, deceived, serving various lusts and hating to be around people that don’t just want to party or fish with me.

I was created to do good works, I am a child of the living God and he has a plan for me, to prosper me and not to harm me. I prosper in his love and grace and he blesses everything I do for him. I fear no harm for I am his and he is mine, and I am never looking back.

I am a fisher of men and I have a peace in my heart that drugs and drink can only dilute.

Jesus is Lord, His Holy Spirit is within me and my righteousness comes from him and him alone. And if you want to argue with, or add to that, well, trust me, many have tried, talk to the hand because the heart belongs to Jesus.

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I know who I am and I know him whom I serve.

What then shall we do? Whatever Jesus tells us to do.

God is on the move; you think this thing with Kanye is making ripples that the church doesn’t know what to do with? You just wait, it’s just beginning.

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God chooses and uses the willing. Not those we choose and are willing to accept. Bear fruit for the kingdom and use every tool at your disposal. And remember Him who is in you.

That’s all.

Tastes Like Chicken

“… I started paying attention to the hooting of the owls I was also hearing. This is nothing new, we have had owls around the house for several years–but we never had chickens before…yikes!”

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“For we were also once foolish…” It’s easy to get arrogant when you are suddenly unlike so much of the rest of the world who seems to revel in foolishness and debauchery.

When we are transformed so completely by the power of the Holy Spirit it’s easy to forget that we were once totally deceived by the flesh and the enemy as well and if we do remember we think, “Wow, I really cleaned up my act, I really pulled it together!” No. actually, you barely did squat, Jesus did it—you just finally allowed him to do it in you, and for you.

We can’t be like the pharisees acting holier than thou and we can’t act like the pagans indulging in whatever the flesh decides it wants at the moment. We need to behave like those who hold ourselves to a higher standard while still treating others like we truly care about them, to treat others the way we want to be treated.

This is what gets people to stop running from a God whom they think they could never please, and gets them coming to him and asking “Please; I want to stop running.” It can be hard to be a friend to sinners because they are so deceived they don’t recognize the danger and when they do, they don’t know where to turn. And even when they ask for help and desire rescue from their misery and addictions, they still run from the one who could truly save them.

Chickens inspired that, people are often no smarter than chickens.

As I was working on my sermon Tuesday evening the two chickens we are watching for our daughter Jessie interrupted my study. A couple weeks ago she brought over two of her chickens, one of which had an injured leg that made her a target for the other chickens of her flock who sense any weakness and pounce on it. And she brought over a friend to keep her company.

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She put them in the dog kennel with the big dog house in it. We don’t have a dog right now so that works fine, except the chickens soon figured out that by getting on top of the dog house they could fly over the fence and get out.

So Donna and I started just letting them roam around in the day time and then we put them in the dog house at night and put a hog panel in front of the door to keep them in and the predators out. The problem is, they insist on roosting on the patio furniture on the back deck as soon as the sun goes down so we have to catch them and carry them to the dog house. No big deal, once they roost they become pretty lethargic—more like half comatose.

I’ve never had chickens before so I find this all very interesting. Anyway, Tuesday night I was in my office sermonating when I hear the chickens, which were just settling in to their roost mode on the back of a patio chair next to the sliding glass door, pecking on the glass and making  fuss. At first I ignored it, it wasn’t the first time they thought they should be able to come in the house, but they were getting more and more rambunctious.

Then I started paying attention to the hooting of the owls I was also hearing. This is nothing new, we have had owls around the house for several years, but we never had chickens before…yikes!

So I made a beeline to the patio door, saw the chickens, apparently safe on their chair but still doing the chicken “buck buck  buck-oc!” thing so I step out on the deck and see a big ‘ol great horned owl, sitting on top of my truck about 15 feet away. I’ve seen these massive owls at various times ever since I was a kid and for some reason they always send a shiver down my spine. Maybe because they are huge and fearless and have a way of appearing out of nowhere.

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This one was no exception, suddenly sitting there like some grey stone gargoyle on top of my truck. He doesn’t seem a bit concerned that I’m out there. I look for something I can throw and don’t see anything I really want to hit my truck with so I just run at him yelling and waving my arms and he takes off on those great silent wings.

At the same time I see another owl take off from off a fence post on the opposite side of the yard, they had our chickens surrounded. My wife Donna wasn’t home yet, she’s usually the one who puts the chickens to bed, but these girls need to get tucked in now!

All right ladies, bed time. So I plucked one of the now quiet birds off the chair back and carried her to the dog house/coop, placed her inside and went back for the other one who now decided I was the one she need to be scared of. So she made me chase her around the deck, off the deck, back on to the deck, under the chairs, all while trying not to get her too riled up, until she finally paused long enough for me to grab her without pouncing like a hungry cat.

It must be hard to be a chicken, pretty much everything wants to eat you, because, well, after all—chicken really does taste like chicken. I know many of you here have learned the hard way how many critters want to eat your chickens.

So I get the second chicken into the dog house with the other hen and put the panel across the door, safe and sound. I went back to work on my sermon and, after hearing the owls commence their hooting again, I remember that I didn’t shut the kennel door. Better do that to keep the coyotes out. So I go back out and here’s one of those very large owls sitting on top of the kennel and her partner just a few feet away on the fence. Right up until then I thought it was pretty cool to hear these owls at night, not any more.

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Thots

The chickens were smart enough to call for help. But then they were too dumb to accept it. Anyone relate?

That’s the way the world is, and honestly, too often we are also; “Help me help me” What? No wait, I want to stay here where I’m comfortable, where are you taking me? And we run around in circles while the Lord is patiently trying to move us away from the great horned death looming in the darkness just waiting for a chance to finish us off.

“Don’t mind me, I’m just a little ‘ol hoot owl, here to sing you a lullaby.”kindness.jpg

Funny how we have to keep being reminded of God’s mercy and kindness.

 

Help Me, Please?!

We can all remember a few people in our lives whose advice we treasured

Okay, last week I picked on us “Older guys”, now for you golden girls out there “the older women”– (he says while being careful not to look at anyone in particular, oh wait, you can’t see me-whew!)

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Paul has some important advice for the mature gals in the early churches of Crete:

the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. Titus 2:3-5

I love this exhortation here to the older women to teach the younger. One of the things we are sorely lacking in our culture is this generational connection and continuity. Each generation of late seems to despise the older as out of touch and clueless. Nowadays that often comes with a whole list of accused ‘phobics attached, as the younger, supposedly enlightened, generation thinks they have it all figured out.

The older I get the more I realize just how foolish I was when I was younger and how I treasure the wisdom of those who are older then I. I’ll bet, no matter your age, you can all remember a few people in your life whose advice you treasured because in spite of any youthful bluster we all know we are actually clueless and about half scared—even more scared that everyone may see how clueless we are. Life is hard.

I believe it is even harder for a young woman who is expected now to not just be and do everything only a woman can be and do, but to do everything a man can do also, and preferably without a man—’they’re just bumbling idiots who only want to keep you down. ‘Oh, and you had better look good while you’re doing it.’

 Most young women are pretty good at pulling this off, at least in appearances, and this can make some of the older women who should be encouraging them, despise them instead. We are all by nature very competitive and anyone who seems more assured and better put together is a threat to our place in life.

That’s not the way God desires us to behave and see one another. Which is why we need these admonitions in the scriptures. We all need to get over our bad selves and remember what Jesus said the law was actually all about, that we “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

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This is what the law and the prophets were all pointing us to, Jesus says.

So, be the mentor you wish you had.

One the things I have heard here from younger folks in my church, especially the younger women—some of whom have come and gone now—is the desire for older women to mentor them in a real meaningful way. I have tried real hard to encourage this in recent times but it just was not happening and that is why some of those younger women have left—just being honest with you here.

I can’t make it happen, I tried and it backfired. The older women didn’t see themselves as qualified and the younger felt rejected. Thus the enemy used it to discourage everyone, including me, by making it look like my failure.

I’m sorry, I know by today’s standards, I could identify as an older woman and mentor the young women in my church myself, but, you know, I’m just one of those clueless old guys who still believes that God determined my sex when he created me, so that leaves you mature women, in years and in the faith, to be the ones to instruct the younger.

the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that they admonish the young women

How many of you younger women—new mother’s, those trying to navigate the single life, trying to keep up with the bills and the challenges of work and life, trying to live a life pleasing to God—how many would treasure any time spent with you by a woman who has been there and done that and managed to survive?

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If you are an “Older woman” reading this, know that every young heart that read this just just cried out in their hearts–“Help me, hear me!”

I’ll let the Holy Spirit take it from there. That’s what I have learned regarding this issue. If it’s going to happen, it’s got to come from you, so. . . listen to that still small voice and obey.

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Find your freedom, release your inner barbarian

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You Old Guys!?

You can either have a person’s back and know they’ll have yours, or you can stab a person in the back and expect to be stabbed.

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Don’t be a grumpy old man. At 58, I’m starting to understand why some old men get grumpy—it gets wearisome sometimes when all the been there done that’s under your belt keep coming up against all the haven’t been there and haven’t done that yet—‘but let me tell you how it is’ —punks who want to have the same old fights with you that you’ve dealt with a hundred times.

Just imagine how God feels, the one who has always been there and knows all things, when we try to tell him how to fix things— how to answer our prayers. One thing I’ve figured out along the way is to always pray the Lord’s will be done, my prayers are suggestions, unless the Lord shows me specifically how he wants me to pray, and my faith is in the fact that God hears and knows how to handle my petitions, he doesn’t need me to give him a step by step fix it list.

That’s just an aside; the point of these instructions are to tell us older guys not to be grumpy old men.

Older men be sober, reverent, patient and loving. Sounds pretty basic. But how many are good at that? As one who is now falling into the “older men” category I become ever more mindful of how I relate to other guys because a lot of them are now younger then me. I had kind of a reality check a year or two ago on my construction job.

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I was getting on a plumber on my job one day about getting his under–slab rough-in done so we could pour the floor slab on schedule. He was a young guy with an even younger helper and struggling a bit to figure things out. So I, apparently not so patiently, explained a couple things to him; *“Let me explain the situation here, A. you’re getting me down. B we got us a leash law here and C. You’re in the wrong town.” (Okay, only you fellow baby boomers out there will get that one) and he looks at me and says: “You older guys need to be patient and help us out a bit, we don’t know everything yet.”

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I was kind of convicted by that—I try to be patient but job pressures sometimes make that tough—but what really struck me was that designation; “Old guys”. I didn’t think of myself as an old guy—the old guys are the old guys—wait, my old guys are dead or retired, I am the old guy!

I’ve tried to change my outlook a bit since then. Instead of getting frustrated at having to deal with the same things yet again and teach yet another green hand how to do things, I remember all the “old guys” I learned from and respected along the way and I want to be one of those guys. It takes on a whole larger and more critical aspect when you are also representing Jesus.

I did change my attitude toward that young plumber, made it a point to teach him a few things by helping he rather than riding him, and as the project progressed we ended up having some real good conversations about the Lord.

It’s hard to witness to someone whom you just belittled or got short with because they irritated you with their ignorance or lack of apparent motivation. You can be patient and respectful while still being firm in making sure the task at hand is being done to the best of everyone’s ability.

I learned a long time ago that a hand that respects you will do their best for you while someone whom you treat with disrespect will be looking for ways to get away with doing the minimum required and may even look for ways to make you look bad.

It’s about having one another’s backs. You can either have a person’s back and know they’ll have yours, or you can stab a person in the back and expect to be stabbed.

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Guy’s, don’t discount this. I have worked with some of the same guys for years, guys who don’t know the Lord and would much rather sleep off a hangover on Sunday morning than sit through a church service. But because I have earned their trust and respect they will actually listen to me when a door does open to interject my faith into a conversation and, even better, they will even ask the questions that start those conversations.

Many of them have asked me for my books and even read my blogs (I know right?). On the other hand, I have worked with guys who let everyone know right up front that they are religious, ‘I go to church, I teach Sunday school, I only listen to Christian radio…’ and they have a special way of looking down on the dirty heathens they are forced to work with. ‘I’m going to be late coming back from lunch because I have a noon Bible study.’

They have  the effect of driving people farther away from Jesus.

Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1—2

In short, don’t be a pharisee—be Jesus to the world. Don’t shun sinners, eat with sinners, and exemplify a better way. The sinners drew near to Jesus. Are they drawing near to you? Or are they speaking evil about you behind your back?

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*CW McCall Crispy Critters

img_2941Barbarians in the Kingdom

Do I Know You?

Do you want to know me, or just pretend to? 

 

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21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’   -Jesus  Mat.7

So this begs the question; what does it mean to know Jesus?

Anyone can know about him, know his story, his birthplace, his travels and teachings, his very detailed, execution narrative and resurrection witnessed by hundreds—I mean, his life and death and the politics and list of named characters that had a anything to do with his life, and the world stage that set up the scenario that facilitated the events of his life and death—the event that was Jesus Christ and the birth of his church is the most historically recorded event in human history by both biblical and non-biblical sources bar none.

Really, anyone who is willing to read a little can know about Jesus, they can join an institution that teaches them more about Him and even offers to make them a part of his church—’just sign here, sprinkle here, put money here, repeat after me and don’t let us catch you misbehaving—and you’re in. Here’s your wafer.’

But do you know me? Jesus asks, because I’m not recognizing you. . . have we met?

I’m afraid you fell for the lies…

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How?

So, how do we know the Lord? The best way I can illustrate it is by comparing it to a marriage. Which is after all, what Jesus does—we are his Bride.

It’s not just enough to know about the person you’re married to, anyone can do that. We have to become one with them—to have no secrets from one another, to spend enough time together, to be honest and forthcoming, to have shared experiences, to go through trials and share joys—we have to have all that, to eventually begin to be able to see the world through their eyes, and use that ability to serve and encourage that person as only someone who knows and shares a heart can.

Knowing Jesus is the ability to see the world through his eyes, to hear with his ears and feel with his heart. It is to have things between you that make sense only to you and him because you have those things between you that no one else has as he has been guiding you, teaching you, stretching and even rebuking you for years.

My wife Donna and I have things between us of great meaning, rich histories and connotations that can be communicated with just a couple of words, words that may mean nothing to anyone else listening. That’s the kind of relationship we must have with Jesus.

When Jesus told me a few years ago he sent me to Red Lodge “because he needed a barbarian here, not a politician” I knew exactly what he meant.

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I had to write and entire sermon series that later became a book (Barbarians in the Kingdom) to explain to you all what that one sentence wrapped around one word, spoken to me from Jesus meant to me. I knew what it meant because I had been allowing Jesus to turn this undisciplined, if it feels good do it, and if it doesn’t feel good, kill it barbarian, into a barbarian that could be used to advance his kingdom for many years. It was both a joke and a term of endearment between us when the phrase came to be my call sign, so to speak, according to Jesus who was now in the pilot’s seat of my life while I manned the torpedoes in the back.

Only a God who knows me because I have committed to knowing him, could turn being a barbarian into a good thing. He can do that for all of us, or whatever it is between you and him that has come to have great personal meaning because it comes from the one who knows you intimately. Are you tracking with me here?

I can’t tell you the specifics of how you have a relationship like that with Jesus, I can only point you in the right direction, the rest is up to you. It takes work and commitment just like a marriage does.

It’s walking with the Lord, praying and listening for the still small voice that speaks truth into your heart. Reading his words in the gospels and allowing the Holy Spirit to make them come alive in your heart. Learning to discipline the flesh so that those words move from your mind and into your heart.

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Knowing Jesus is knowing and acknowledging his presence in you by his Holy Spirit, seeking and allowing him to fully immerse you in the baptism of that Spirit and then not quenching Him nor expecting it to be some sort of new age phenomenon that that allows you to amaze and delight your friends and neighbors. It’s recognizing that the Holy Spirit is a person with a personality and a presence who desires to empower you for the Glory of the Father.

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He is not just an impersonal, or cosmic power that we tap into with the proper channeling or incantations.

 

Knowing Jesus is sharing a heart with God. It is feeling his grief at others pain and trouble. It is feeling his joy when you or those you love overcome the flesh, accept freedom from addictions, when chains are broken and hearts are touched by love, real love. Knowing Jesus is loving others with a love that can only come from him, loving when no one else does, standing with those who are being kicked by the world and by those who only know about Jesus but have stopped short of truth.

 

 

It’s hard

Knowing Jesus is hard because seeing the world through his eyes reveals how messed up, hurting and ensnared it is, but that pain is love motivating us to do something about it, and that something is something that only you and him can know—because he knows you and just what he has equipped and prepared you to do.

Knowing Jesus is trusting him with your heart.Heart n hands

He will never leave you nor forsake you.

 

 

Mushrooms, Beer and -Jesus?

“…there are few feelings of emptiness and disconnection from all things good, and all people  living, like there is when you are coming down from a drug induced high. Especially when you just want it to be over.”

A few years after graduating from Job Corp back in the 80’s my best buddy Bob and I, whom I had met in Job Corp, decided we were going to go visit another friend from Job Corp whom we hadn’t seen since he graduated and returned home to Aberdeen SD. So on a Friday evening after we got off work we jumped into the ’72 Pontiac Bonneville I had recently bought from another buddy. It didn’t have plates on it yet but oh well, we were driving at night and decided to take the chance.

So we grabbed a cold pack or two of Rainier Beer—and a bag of mushrooms we had just scored, not the kind you put on a salad—and took off, party time. We were jacked, the plan was to just party our brains out for the weekend on a whirlwind trip to Aberdeen and back. It was fun, a lot of fun—for an hour or so.

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We were cruising along Interstate 94 with Mollie Hatchet blaring on the 8 track stereo as the psychedelic mushrooms were starting to kick in and the beer was tasting better and better when all of a sudden the car just stopped running, about the same time I noticed the sweet smell of antifreeze permeating the car.

Bob and I looked at each other in disbelief as I turned off the music and coasted over to the shoulder. I popped the hood and peered through the steam at the massive 455. Pontiac engine—not much to see in the dark. The radiator cap was hotter than all get out and I knew better then to try to open that. As we were sitting there with the flashers on waiting for the engine to cool a car pulled up behind and asked if we needed help.

This was long before the days of cell phones when people still stopped for motorists in despair.

I had already tried to restart the car and it wouldn’t turn over so he offered to give us a jump. Still nothing (I later discovered that a radiator hose had burst and was too busy partying to realize that the car was overheating to the point where the engine seized up) The good Samaritan was anxious to get going so I asked if he would give me a ride to a phone.

I looked up and saw that we were sitting right next to a sign that said “Custer 10 miles”. I reluctantly left my car and my buddy behind as my new friend gave me a ride to Custer to look for a pay phone so I could call back to Billings for help. Well, Custer is one of those towns where they roll up the streets after dark—nothing was open, so we headed to the next exit, the Little Big Horn river exit, where there was a bar. At this point my new friend’s charity and patience was plum out so he told me he was going to drop me off here and leave. “Good luck, bye!”

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I thanked him for the ride and watched as he drove away leaving me in front of a strange bar in the middle of nowhere Montana. I walked in and several dusty cowboy hats with weathered faces under them looked my way. I mustered up my courage and asked the bartender if they had a phone I could use. I’m sure my pupils were as big as saucers about then but I did my best to be redneck. He pointed to the corner near the door I had come in and, wasting no words, said “Phone’s broke.” I turned and saw a pay phone hanging on the wall with a note taped to it that said “Out of order.”

I thought; “There has got to be a phone behind the bar!” But he wasn’t offering and between the drug induced paranoia I was feeling and all the love in the room for this long haired 20 year old kid in a cowboy hat, I wasn’t about to question him. Knowing I was now up the proverbial creek without a paddle I turned on my heel and vanished out the door.

Now what? I am totally abandoned, alone and stoned in the middle of Montana in the middle of the night. 50 miles from home, 12 miles from my worthless car and the only person in the world who even knows I’m out here somewhere, and he is stranded as well.

Well, I’ll start walking, surely someone will pick me up. Across the interstate and down the ramp back to the east bound lane I went. I started walking, sticking my thumb out whenever a car zoomed by. Turns out no one is too keen to pick up a young man walking down the Interstate alone late at night. It was kind of cold out but I had on my favorite old Levi jacket and I was wearing my Tony Lama’s—not exactly the best boots for a long hike.

And hike I did, mile after mile, counting the mile markers knowing that I had to pass twelve of them to get back to my car. To this day when I see a mile marker on the highway I often think about how far apart they are when you are having to walk from one to another.

Somewhere in that hike I came across a rest stop and went in hoping to find a phone—seriously? No phone! I thought about approaching someone and asking for a ride but my courage alluded me again. The extreme shyness that I had not yet conquered coupled with the knowledge that I was still high on the mushrooms and probably pretty scary looking stopped me from approaching anyone.

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So dejectedly and resolutely I headed back down the highway. If you figure a person can walk 3 or 4 miles an hour I had a very long walk that night and it seemed like it took forever. After a couple of hours I was even hoping a Highway patrolman would stop and even though at least one drove by, none did. I was getting cold, my feet hurt and I was exhausted when I sat down on a guard rail post and started to pray—”Lord, no one will help me, I don’t know if I can make it, please give me strength!”

I was totally tapped out but as I got up and continued my walk I suddenly saw in my mind’s eye Jesus walking beside me. I know I didn’t physically see him but I know he was there and I can still see him in my memory just as though he was. I didn’t deserve his help, I had gotten my own stupid self into this mess but you know what? I knew at that point that he still loved me, that he cared and that he was there and suddenly the mile markers did not seem so far apart. And as I counted off number twelve I looked up and saw my car across the road.

A dead car never looked so good. I climbed in as Bob, who had been sleeping in the back seat asked what had happened. I told him I got abandoned on the Big horn and that I would tell him the rest of the story tomorrow. I then laid down and passed out on the front seat.

In the morning I flagged down another ride, much easier in the daylight when you are standing next to a stalled car, and got a ride to the gas station in Custer, called a buddy who came and towed us back to Billings.

So much for that road trip.

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That seems like another lifetime ago and I have long since given up the partying in favor of a real relationship with Jesus,  but I remember that feeling of Jesus’s presence like it was yesterday and it was a catalyst to me finally being willing a couple of years later to fully surrender myself to him because I knew that if I did, I would have that presence, my Jesus standing with me, more than just when I was desperate–and I do.

 

Why didn’t he just stop a car and get me a ride? Because then I would have just attributed it to luck, but even more importantly, I would not have had that hours long experience of having my Lord walk beside me through what had started as a very dark, cold lonely night of despair. And really, there are few feelings of emptiness and disconnection from all things good and all people like there is when you are coming down from a drug induced high, especially when you just want it to be over.

There was no reason Jesus should have paid me any never mind at all that night, but he did. He walked by me and got me through it safe and sound. And because of that, I know that no matter what, no matter how badly I screw up in this life, no matter how put upon, abandoned, lost or alone I might feel or be, I am never alone, and I can always count on Jesus to stand with me.

I have been through several long dark nights of near total despair since then, dark nights of the heart as the world seems to turn against me, but through them all, my Jesus stands with me.

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I am never alone and there is always hope.

What does it mean to have Jesus stand with us? It means to have strength, it means to have peace, it means to have hope.

The mornings are always brightest after the darkest nights.

Yetrday's troubles