Double Barrel

“When your child is in imminent danger thirty feet is like a mile.”

Surely twomen-drivers-virgil-stephenshe arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. Is 59:1


A while ago, back when we were still ranching on the Heyu-Cow, we needed to move some cows from one pasture to another. We had what was called the lower pasture where we would pasture some cows in the spring and then move them a mile or so up the road to the upper pasture. This involved a little round up to get all the cows and calves out of the pasture, through the gate and onto the road. This usually required a few people on horses and a pick up or two.

Most years this meant that we would have to get a couple neighbors or a friend or two to come help with our little cattle drive. One particular year we were kind of short on horses so some friends from church offered to bring out a few horses and help out. So on round up day they showed up bright and early with their horses in tow, including one big gelding named Silas, that my wife, Donna, rode. Everything went well, we got the cattle in the lower pasture—a hundred acres of badlands—all rounded up, out the gate, up the road, and into their summer pasture. Then everyone rode back to the house to let the horses cool off and have some lunch.

Once back at the house our daughter Jessie, who was two at the time, asked if she could ride the horsy. Donna had been riding the big gelding all day and they had gotten along well, so trusting the well broken horse she set Jessie up on the saddle and starting leading him to the trailer. After they had gone a few feet Donna asked Jessie if she was having fun. Jessie said in her little girl voice; “Uh, huh.” All of a sudden that horse came uncorked and starting bucking like there was a mountain Lion on his back.

Jessie, hanging on to the saddle horn, started screaming and this only made Silas even more determined to rid himself of this shrieking creature. The only thing we could figure out was that she was so light that Silas didn’t know she was there until she said something and that just freaked him out. I’m seeing all this from about thirty feet away and I started running towards them knowing there was little chance of getting there in time. When your child is in imminent danger thirty feet is like a mile.

At the same time I’m trying to cover the impossible distance, Donna is holding on to the lead rope with one hand trying to control the panicked horse, and reach for Jessie with the other hand. She was wishing her arms were longer— but you know what? I will never forget this sight as long as I live. While still holding that bucking horse with her left hand she grabbed a hold of Jessie’s arm with her right hand and pulled her right up out of the saddle—which wasn’t hard because she was about to be launched—letting go of the horse the instant Jessie was clear so she could hold her in both arms, at this moment the horse spun around and aiming for the screaming little girl let loose with what Donna called later, both barrels, and hit Donna just above the knees on both legs with a terrible whap!.

Just then I got there, and Donna breathlessly said “Take her” as she handed me Jessie, terrified but wholly unscathed. Then Donna staggered over to the edge of the driveway, laid down in the grass and passed out for a few moments from the pain of the blast she had just taken from the massive beast who suddenly was not her buddy anymore.

After a few moments Donna was able to shake it off and was okay. She had some nasty bruises for a while but she had saved her daughter and that was all that mattered. Thank God for super human mommy powers.


Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear. Is 59:1


We are blessed to know, because we have the stories and incredible history recorded in the Bible covering many thousands of years, that we have a God who is involved in a very real way in his creation even though it seems sometimes that all is just chaos with no possible way out. But there is always a plan. And we are also blessed to know that there is always a plan for us as individuals too.

We are blessed to know that, God hears one cry at a time and reaches out to take your hand.  He can do that in a very real sense, with nothing hindering him being there for you, because of what was accomplished on the cross so long ago. No longer can our sins cause our Father to turn away, no longer do we have to wait for the promised one, he has come, he is here, his arm is not too short to save nor his ear to dull to hear.

Donna knew when her little girl was screaming in terror that nothing was going to prevent her from getting her off that saddle. To Jessie, that 8 second or so ride probably seemed like an eternity, I know it did to me as I was trying in vain to get there in time. But then the arm reached her, in spite of the pain that Donna had to suffer when that huge, out of control horse turned on her, she rescued her little girl.

I know Donna would willingly do the same thing over and over without hesitation and in fact she still bears the marks on her legs from those kicks, but to her it is just a reminder of her love and an assurance that her daughter is safe, and still here.

Jesus did that for you. He grabbed a hold of that which threatened to destroy you, reached out and snatched you from certain death and he would not hesitate to do it again, even knowing the great pain it will cause him. He still carries the marks, and they remind him of his great love for you. When he opens his hands and see the scars he is reminded of his great love for you, he knows that you are safe, you are in the palm of his hands.

Do not fear, he hears you.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Mark 4:40






Where is Jesus?

Where is God when I hurt?

Where is Jesus? It’s Easter, so of course we will say; “He’s resurrected and sitting at the right hand of the Father.” And, that would be correct. But here’s a harder question, one that I Scary forestheard recently, that has been echoed in various forms throughout my years of ministry but has become especially poignant since I have started ministering the love of Christ to the places of the heart that can be the most damaged, the places where the hurts of the worst kind of abuse is festering, the abuse that has now given rise to our Wildflowers (Survivors of sexual assault) ministry: “If my own parents looked the other way while I was being abused, how can I believe that the Father in heaven wasn’t just looking the other way also?”

So again I ask; without the expected easy ‘you’re  good little christian so you better give the pat answer— the  Sunday School response— ‘Where is Jesus? Where is Jesus when I hurt? Where is Jesus when I am afraid? Where was Jesus when I was being abused, teased, maligned and bullied? Where was Jesus when I was being cheated, when I was being wounded physically or emotionally, when my loved one died? —Where is Jesus, where was Jesus, where is God when I hurt? The short answer is everywhere, the hard answer is— and the one that has to be the basis for the rest of the answer—Jesus was on the cross.

Jesus was not looking away uncaring or ignorant of your suffering, he was not busy doing something more important for someone he loves more, Jesus was on the cross. We all know he died for our sins, but he also died for our sufferings—we always forget that part, we blame God, we get angry: ‘Where were you, why did you let this happen?’

We cling to the promise and the knowledge that Jesus bore our sins on the cross, we don’t get angry and ask: “Where were you when I was sinning?” Because really, we hope he wasn’t around, yet we earnestly and eagerly believe and receive the grace that removes that stain, but we don’t apply that same standard to our sufferings, the things that may come as a result of our sins or the sin of others.

We need to claim the grace for the removal of our pain just as we claim God’s grace for the undoing of our failures, grace that comes through the cross of Jesus.

Let’s read the words of the prophet Isaiah concerning the Messiah.

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
Isaiah 53 Written 700 years before Jesus’ death

On the Cross

Where was Jesus when we were being hurt? Why doesn’t he care, why doesn’t he do something. He did, He was on the cross doing something about it. Jesus was on the cross witnessing our hurt, witnessing all the evil that has been, is, and will ever be, purveyed by, and against, mankind. He was not just witnessing it, he was being it. He who knew no sin became sin… we cannot even began to grasp what that means. Jesus wasn’t just paying the penalty for our sins, bearing the griefs and sorrows, pains and regrets that come as a result of all that sin, he was experiencing it.

He experienced it in his flesh as he was beaten and whipped beyond what most could have survived even before the crucifixion. And, he experienced it in his Spirit, as time stopped and he spent three hours in the hell of torment and rejection as all those evils were placed on him to bear, causing his Father to turn away from him. The only time his Father had ever looked away from his Son, and the last time the Father would ever turn away from any of his children.

…we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Cor 5:20 NKJV

Jesus was steep
ed into eternity while still in the flesh dying on the cross and he experienced all the hurts, was accused of and bore all the sin, witnessed every evil and heard every cry. He bore it in real time just like he was there—because he was. That is why Isaiah could write about the event 700 years before the crucifixion just like he was  witnessing it— because in eternity, it had already happened, was happening, and was yet to happen.

Remember when Jesus said: “Before Abraham was, I am.”? Same thing, Jesus is God and is therefore not bound by time. But he did have to step into time, he laid aside his glory to take on flesh and bone and mortal life, so that he could give up that life for us.

Here W
ith Us

“Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”

Where is Jesus? He is on the cross, he is on the throne, he is in my heart, he is everywhere but most importantly, in this realm of man where we are limited by time and space—he is right here, right now, fully present and fully committed to loving you and I.

Open your eyes and see him, that’s not the gardener offering you healing, that’s the Lord Jesus.

I told that woman, who had asked me where the Father was when she was being abused even as her own parents looked the other way, refusing to acknowledge or believe the story of their little girl being used in such a detestable way—I told her: ‘Your Heavenly Father was not looking away, he was weeping for you and already planning your redemption, providing for your healing and he was laying out a path before you that would allow you do use what the enemy intended for harm as a weapon for good.’

Surely he who was able to undo his own death can undo your hurt as well.

He is risen, your new life awaits you.

Happy Resurrection Day!



Stained Glass Jesus

‘I don’t need no fancy preaching…’  My first Cloquet Jesusmemories of church are from when I was a little kid in the northern Minnesota town of Cloquet. My parents were divorced but when my Dad would come to visit, up from the Twin Cities, he usually came on a Sunday in time to pick up my sister and I and take us to church. Now there was no mistaking that this this place was a church, unlike our converted pole barn/shop where I pastor in Red Lodge.

When you walked in the first thing you noticed was the huge gleaming polished brass pipes from the pipe organ that covered most of the wall behind the pulpit and put out a sound to match. Then you looked up and saw the stained-glass windows depicting, what to a little kid, were some very bizarre scenes—giant glass cartoons that to me were on the wrong walls because during church you had to turn around to see them. Much more interesting than the preacher in his funny robes talking about mysterious God things.

There was the one with the guy being blinded by a bright light from the sky, and one with another guy trapped in a deep hole with hungry lions who looked about to eat him. And then there was the 3 half-naked guys hanging on crosses all looking miserable and the guy who was having huge rocks thrown down on him by other guys in bath robes—come to think of it they were all pretty disturbing— except for one, the biggest one; it was a handsome fellow kneeling down and resting on a huge rock looking serenely up to heaven while a light shined lovingly on his face. I asked my Dad who that was and he told me it was Jesus praying. I remember that one the most because it wasn’t nearly so traumatic as the others, in fact it looked rather pleasant—A gentle, happy Jesus praying in a garden.

Little did I know in my childhood innocence that it was anything but a gentle and happy time for Jesus. That little prayer time in the garden was a pivotal moment for him, for us, and for all of creation, as the fate of all mankind and the defeat of the enemy who had stolen the earth and our lives from us. Even the next to sit on the very throne of God himself was being decided in that garden in the middle of the night on a hill outside of Jerusalem.

It would come down to one thing, obedience, Jesus willingness to be obedient to the will of his Father who was asking him to do something that every fiber of his being told him he could not bear, not just suffer the wrath of man and the torture of his flesh, but to suffer the wrath and rejection of his Father.

Father’s Will

37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” John 6

I have come down from heaven to do my Father’s will… Jesus knew where he was from and he knew why he was here. He was here to do the will of his Father, and the will of his Father, indeed, his very own will—for he and his Father were one—was that everyone who believed in and looked to him would have eternal life. Quite a high calling and goal.

But that didn’t make it easy, even though Jesus knew where he was from and where he was going, while he was here he was a man in every sense of the word with all the weakness, fears and emotions of any other man, or woman. And he knew, because he was also still God, that he would have to bear all the failings of all those with whom he now shared—yet without falling into—those same weaknesses and temptations.

Think about that, God becomes a man so that he can suffer the wrath of God so that we will not have to. It was the will of God the Father for his children to be exonerated from the death penalty we deserved by dying in our place through God the Son so that we could have life both today, and forever, through God the Holy Spirit. I think I like the will of God.

So why do we still struggle to trust that God’s will is one we want to submit to fully? Human nature I guess, but we can overcome that human nature with the nature of God now living in us, super nature if you will. The more we submit to, and trust his will, the more supernatural we will become as the glory of God falls on us and we receive all the benefits of the life Jesus purchased for us on the cross. I know I just got a little deep there for some of you but if you can grasp it—and you will if you want to—it can change your life.

God bless that little church that set me–and many others I’m sure–on the path to one day find Jesus.

But as for me- ‘I don’t need no fancy preaching, I don’t need no shiny organ pipes or funny collar, all I need is Jesus’ and I come before you determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.  Because of that, I too–just like serene happy stained glass Jesus in the window–can have perfect peace.


Submit Dang It!

Casting no shadow“I used to hear a lot: ‘I’m learning to submit.’
This often troubled me because it too often sounds like the words of a slave who has no say and is allowed no opinion about what they are supposed to be doing…”

Back in my Job Corp training days I was running a big rubber tired scraper on a road project in the mountains North of Butte MT. We were making a cut into a mountainside for the new road bed and hauling the dirt to a lower spot farther on. There was an instructor close by, Ol’ Will, we called him. He was giving me signals as I came in for the cut, I dropped the can and just as the blade started to bite into the dirt the push cat came in behind to push me as the can filled with dirt—a perfect maneuver by my good friend Ted, an Oglala Lakota Sioux from Porcupine Ridge S. Dakota.  He hit me at just the right speed just before I bogged down and lost momentum, and not so hard that I got whiplash.

I looked at Will and he was motioning me closer to the downhill edge, so I moved a little closer, he motioned me to go closer still, I went a little closer still, apparently is wasn’t close enough and his signals were getting more pronounced, but I hesitated because my bubble (the instructors had told us that “all good operators have a bubble in their ass”) was telling me that if I got any closer to the edge I was going over.  Will was determined to override my bubble and I could see he was getting angry as he started motioning quite dramatically, (Submit Dang it!) I thought, “Fine, have it your way!” I went over where he wanted me and sure enough, I started going over– the right front wheel breaking through the fragile edge of the ledge we had been cutting.

Fortunately, all the times I had had it drilled into my head by the instructors, that if you ever got in trouble on whatever you are running “drop the bucket or the blade as hard and as fast as you can.” was now instinct and I did just that. I shoved that can control lever forward as hard as I could. About this time, Will started waving at Ted who was still pushing me with the fill cat, he hadn’t seen the front half of the articulated scraper going over because he was focused on the tail of that scraper (the stinger) where his blade was doing its work.  When he saw Will waving at him and pointing down—meaning ‘drop your blade and stop!’ he thought Will was trying to get him to look down at his gauges, so in the meantime he just kept pushing me right over the edge.

But this actually worked in my favor, by the time he realized he needed to stop, the front half of the scraper—the part where I was sitting—was completely sideways hanging off the mountain side, but the can was buried so deep that I wasn’t going anywhere, I was firmly anchored.

Ted sat there on that old Euclid cat wide eyed and scared for me, I unbuckled my seat belt, climbed up on the left tire, which was now way up in the air, and jumped to the soft ground. I waved at Ted to let him know I was okay and then I sauntered down the slope to Will and said, Well I got over, looks like we might need to go get the D-8 Cat to pull us out.” Will, who wasn’t shy about expressing his opinion especially if he thought you messed up, just said, “Yeah- you’re probably right” So, none of us having a vehicle around and having both pieces of equipment in somewhat precarious positions, I walked a mile or two to the other end of the job to where the big Cat was working.

There are times to submit, and there are times that maybe, it’s just not the best idea.

I’m pretty sure that little episode was one that was on the minds of these old union hands months later when they explained to me why I was declined for the I.U.O.E. apprenticeship program offered to some Job Corps graduates. It was decided that “I was too aggressive to be an apprentice” and that “I should go out as a journeyman.”  I guess my inner barbarian was showing. I was surprised to hear this because I usually thought of myself as shy and submissive so I took this as a huge compliment. It meant that I had proven my mettle, earned their trust and respect and was ready to go to work doing what I loved. I got there by listening, submitting to those in authority over me, and by listening to my own instincts—trusting the bubble in my rear.  I had earned respect by giving it. I had learned to submit without being a door mat.


We don’t always get respect from those who demand it of us though do we? That’s especially troublesome in the church. I hear people in the church all the time say to me—actually, not so much anymore since I have started encouraging people in my church to be disciples of Jesus rather than disciples of pastors—but I used to hear a lot: “I’m learning to submit.” This often troubled me because it too often sounds like the words of a slave who has no say and is allowed no opinion about what they are supposed to be doing—a door mat—and that’s just not right.

But we can’t ignore or discount the whole notion of submitting to spiritual leaders. Learning to submit is important and Biblically you can’t get away from the fact that we are supposed to.

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority…Heb 13:17

You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to submit to such people… 1 Cor 16:15,16

So I guess the real question here is, to whom?  To whom, in the family of God, are we supposed to submit, when, and for how long?  A casual reading of the verses we just looked at would suggest that we do a lot of submitting to a lot of people and it becomes a blanket we throw over the entire leadership structure of the church that covers all situations and all aspects of our lives in Christ. I think this is a gross misunderstanding and it has crippled the average Christian and put undue pressure on the leadership.

 A closer look at the context of these verses in the chapters they are in, and at the scriptures as a whole, reveal that the submission of believers to those given authority is a very tricky, and actually quite limited, proposition.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to this: Legitimate authority is God given and must be kept in balance by the Spirit of God, any abuse or misuse will have to be answered for by both the one leading and the one who allowed himself, or herself, to be misled.

We all have the same Holy Spirit (our spiritual bubble to guide us) and access to the same Holy Scriptures. And no matter who we are asked to submit to, we all will have to answer to God, now, and in the end.  We must get past the tradition of blind submission and take an honest look at the heart of the scriptures concerning this issue. Submission is biblical so I am not here to tell you to rebel but we need to keep this concept in a healthy perspective.

If these verses are being used to beat down and hamstring the people chosen and called by God, then they are being abused. Leaders who will not allow people to use the gifts the Spirit gave them to pursue the passions God has given them to make an impact on the Kingdom of God, are doing the Kingdom and its warriors a huge disservice.  Every church leader as a responsibility to protect their ministry and prayerfully select that which will enhance it; but they do not have the right to hamper another from following the Lord outside of that area—that’s not a submission issue, that’s a control issue— that is overstepping the authority granted to them by God.

At some point a soldier in the Lord’s army needs to be trusted, to be released to engage the battle in the arena of the war God has prepared them for. Submission does play an important part in that preparation but the drill sergeant then must relinquish his authority to the general who determines where and how you will engage the enemy, or serve your fellow troops. Jesus is that general—the King of kings and the Lord of Lords.

—Taken from Barbarians in the Kingdom by Dan Swaningson