First Things First

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

I am what I am

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

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

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

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

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

Chains and freedom

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

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

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

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

Hung Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basics

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

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

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

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

The answer is in our title verse of course;

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

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Jesus died for our sins. —period

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

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

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

Put Jesus first and all else will fall into place.

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;

Luke chapter 1

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

Manger and crosses
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.

Nothin yet

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Important?

Christmas can be a huge bundle of dysfunction and mind games —refuse to play.

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We all know, at least I hope you do, that Christmas isn’t about gifts, it’s not lights and trees, though those things certainly add to the magic that brings a sense of delight to our hearts and reminds us that we are to live in joy because our King has come. Christmas isn’t about programs and parties, though those can be good excuses to get together with friends and family—which to me is what it’s all about—making it a priority to be with those we care about.

I love Christmas because it cause us to do just that; to take a look around us and say ‘Hey, I want to be with you as we celebrate this season of remembering the event that changed the world. I want to forget that we were having issues a bit ago, that we are too busy for one another otherwise.

Christmas reminds us to take a look at what and who is important to us, causes us to stop and think, to reflect and ponder; ‘Do I want to go to such and such house, if so and so is there? Do I want to spend my time working instead of taking my kids to get trees? Do I want to spend this holiday alone, or drinking with my good time friends while my family wonders where I am?’

‘Do I want to spend it reflecting on lost ones from the past and refuse to find any joy today? Do I want to refuse to invite certain persons to my home because I don’t agree with choices they are making? Do I want to blow off certain of those who really ache to be included?’

Dysfunction Junction

Christmas can be a huge bundle of dysfunction, a one way ticket from Dysfunction Junction to Bitterville. Dysfunction Junction is the place we stand as we decide which track to take, the one that makes us feel vindicated but hurts others, or the one where we just do what is required of us by a loving God without getting caught up in the mind games of others.

I for one refuse to play those games. Not just at Christmas but anytime of the year. As I stated in my book, Hope For Families, it only takes one dysfunctional family member, someone who refuses to act in the role they have been given in the family, or refuses to interact with love and respect with the other members of the family, to create a dysfunctional family.

It only takes one, unless the others refuse to play along. Allowing a dysfunctional person to affect how you interact with others in the family, to go along with their anger, their boycotts, compensations, excuses, whatever, only makes you codependent and stressed.

I played too many of those games for too many years and I just don’t anymore. All are welcome in my church, in my home, in my heart, at any time you want or need to be there. And if someone else has an issue with the company I keep then that is their issue—not mine. I am not going to lose a minute of sleep over it.

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And I am in good company, Jesus loved people into wholeness, he never shunned anyone or cared about the feelings of those who thought he should— “Lord, this woman was caught in adultery, she ought to be stoned. This man is a tax collector and a sinner, we can’t eat at his house. Why are you talking to a Samaritan woman, she’s nobody. This man is a Roman Centurion, are you sure you want to heal his daughter?”

“Get these children out of here, the Lord is busy. Tell these people be quiet, it’s unbecoming to be making this ruckus in the temple courts. Lord, by now there is a smell, are you sure you want to go in there? If you knew what kind of woman this is, you would not let her touch you!”

11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Mat 9:11—12

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I could go on but you get the point. All these people telling Jesus the kind of people he should avoid, how he should relate to others. But Jesus didn’t play their games. Jesus loved the people who were hardest to love, and he loved them completely—and you know what? Every one of them became witnesses to who he was, while the perfect and righteous fretted about appearances sake and what was fair or not fair. Jesus ruined their mind games by blowing their minds, he could do this because he knew their minds and he didn’t waste a minute trying to appease those who had no desire to look past their own upturned noses.

Choose wisely

So, Christmas causes us to look at these things in our lives and decide what’s important. We have to choose wisely because we can only travel so many trails before this holiday, before this life, is over.

So how do we know what’s important, on what do we base those decisions, who to interact with and how. What path do we set our feet on and what direction do we set our faces? As believers we should be wanting to make those choices in a way that pleases the Lord and preferably is even guided by him.

So we seek his favor, we try to be worthy, to do the right things, to say the right things, to play by the rules and at least look good. “Lord I want to be blessed, I want to please you, to serve you—How do I do that?”

It a matter of remembering that it’s not about us, it’s about how we treat others—that’s what’s important to the Lord and that is what should be important to us. And that’s not just a New Testament Jesus thing, God has been telling us that from the beginning.

God asked Israel though the last Old Testament prophet Micah;

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
Ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:7—8

What God wants from us, what he deems important for our lives?—is not what our hands are doing but more where our hearts are. That we behave justly, love mercy and walk humbly; three attributes that can affect how we live our lives in virtually every circumstance. Attributes that affect how we treat others, to do justly simply means to act impartially, honorably and to deal fairly with everyone. Mercy is kindness and forgiveness, and to walk humbly is to be lacking  in selfish pride.

If our priorities are colored by those three things we might have a very different set of priorities from most people around us—and that’s okay, because the world for the most part is anything but fair, merciful or humble.

Life is short, pick a trail and stick to it until you get where you are going. But choose wisely because, like I said, there is only time for so many and make sure others are blessed in the process.

How do we do that?

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Choose love. We all have many choices to make every day, big decisions and little decisions, this trail, that trail, no trail. Who wants to go with me, who will I allow to go with me?

I have come to a place in my life and in my walk with the Lord that I realize that I am not smart enough, discerning enough or strong enough to judge others as to their worthiness to garner my love or acceptance.

I have discovered that life is a lot less stressful if I don’t have to hold the doors shut to certain people, to deny them grace, mercy or justice. Only the Holy Spirit can and should convict others of sin, I have too many logs in my own eye to do so.

So when I have to decide how to respond to those whom the Lord puts in my path, My heart chooses love. And that’s what pleases the Lord.

Barbarians in the Kingdom

BAR COVER

Disappointed?

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I heard a story years ago about a man who lost his job and was ashamed to tell his wife. So instead, every day he would get up, his wife would fix him breakfast, he would put on his suit and tie, kiss her goodbye and go to the park and feed the pigeons until 5:00, then head home and have dinner with his wife. He did this for a few months until his savings were all used up and he finally had to admit that he had lost his job and didn’t know what to do.

Flabbergasted that he had not shared his pain and struggles with her earlier she asked? Why didn’t you tell me sooner? He replied; “I was afraid that you would be disappointed in me.”

I have heard these words several times in the last couple of years from people I love. People who have been going through hell but were afraid to tell me because they thought I would stop loving them. The pain that caused me, that somehow my love could be perceived as conditional, is far more grievous than any fleeting disappointment I might have felt and that hesitation to be honest prevented me from being able to help in any way with the pain and grief that was being inflicted and experienced in the loneliness of a heart that is afraid to be forthright.

In each of those cases I said the same thing: Nothing you can do will make me stop loving you. I want to sit on the park bench with you and figure out together how we can move forward and away from the pain.

That’s all our God is asking of us, that we trust his love for us enough to come to him no matter how much of a failure we feel.

So how do we come see the Lord? How do we approach him? Quiet your heart, focus and listen—he’s waiting for you.

For thus says the high and lofty one
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the humble,
and to revive the heart of the contrite. Is 57:15

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Joy in His Presence

“I remember a pastor rebuking me one time—’You jump around like a rock star when you play.’”

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Check out this awesome video from the boys of For King and Country –Little Drummer Boy. 

I love the energy of these guys- the sheer joy and passion with which they perform The Little Drummer Boy is a delight to watch. It makes me kind of jealous though— I want to be able to move like that again. When I see something like that it makes me look forward to the resurrection when I’ll have a new body, regenerated without all the aches and pains of decades of hard work and play hindering me anymore. I want to dance with joy for my king.

Back when I was a little younger (and still had all my fingers) I used to lead worship quite often and I always loved it, playing my guitar and singing for the Lord. And I always had a blast doing it, especially if I got to play with other talented musicians and when the people I was leading were into it—I always made sure they were. The energy of a room really feeds the soul of a musician—and vice versa.

I remember a pastor rebuking me one time—“You jump around like a rock star when you play.” He thought it was unbecoming a worship leader—that it was prideful on my part. I was like, ‘If you can stand still and play with all your heart for Jesus then your heart is not really playing for Jesus.’ My Jesus brings joy to my heart and when I am giving him the gift of worship, using my gifts and talents for him, that is pure joy. That is a direct gift to him.

I didn’t say that to that pastor, I was busy trying to be submissive. I considered and prayed about what he said, and decided not to change a thing. I was playing for Jesus, not a pastor. I just didn’t play at that church anymore.

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I learned how to lead worship by teaching kids how to worship and if you can engage kids in real worship, then you are a worship leader. And if you bore a child during worship, they are not going to even start to pretend that they care about anything you are doing. Adults will pretend, they will at least stand up and move their lips, kids will poke their neighbor and create their own noise that has nothing to do with what stoic song you may be banging out.

In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11

Worship is about coming into the presence of the Lord, a privilege given us by Jesus and one we should not take for granted nor dread. People who dread or fear coming into his presence or who do not believe they are worthy are not going to know how to worship, nor find any joy in it—‘There will be no dancing, no jumping, no drums, no joy. Just play the organ and pass the plate, let’s get this over with, I’ve got football to watch.’

Well Mr. Holierthanthou Worship is not for us, it’s for Jesus, it’s a gift for him. Yet in it, we are always blessed. How can we not be blessed by coming into the presence of the Lord? Which is what we are talking about today; approaching the throne of grace.

Gifts for Jesus

Giving the Lord the gift of our presence, of our time and talents, doing our best for him. I guess that’s why I’ve always loved the Christmas classic The Little Drummer Boy. I always enjoyed teaching it to kids in my children’s ministry years and included it in several kids Christmas programs.  I loved leading the kids in the little drummer boy because it’s a fun song to play on the guitar and I love the message. It just speaks of the approachability of our God. That even this little child with nothing to offer a King—a Son of God, God in the flesh—can come before him and offer what he has and be accepted and welcome.

Now, yes, I know there was no little drummer boy visit recorded in the gospels. But, everything we know about Jesus Christ and his coming tells us that we do indeed have a Lord who is approachable and that all of us, no matter our station in life, can come to our Lord and be welcomed. All were welcomed at the manger and we are all still welcome into his presence today, as long as we are coming with a humble heart and open hands, to give and receive truth.

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At Christmas we celebrate an event that changed everything. It changed the way we approach God and if that isn’t life changing, world changing, then nothing is. If people only spent as much time pondering that as they do worrying about climate change, the world would be a very different place. And, frankly, there is a lot more evidence for the former then the latter.

Warming

Jesus coming allowed us to warm up to God the Father in a way people only dreamed of before and we are the continuing evidence of that. Sinners one and all, living in the grace and love of our Savior.

Jesus’ coming as a man, initially as an infant the very same way we all come into this world, made God approachable. Of course we all might have different circumstances surrounding our births, we might be born in a hospital room, at home, or like my youngest granddaughter, Raelyn, in a car doing 90 down the interstate in the middle of the night on their way to the hospital; certainly not the way they had planned it.

Yet, Jesus, the Son of the most high God, who surely could have planned and ensured his birth in any way he deemed fit, chose to be born in the humblest of circumstances. Certainly a big departure from the grandeur of the temple where people had been going to be near their God. He was now coming to be near his children as a child born to those who were little more then children themselves; Mary and Joseph.

That big scary God that we meet in the old Testament that seemed always having to be straightening people out, whom people feared coming anywhere near—let alone see him—lest they die, was born a tiny helpless baby to a teenage mother in a stable with only lowly shepherds as witnesses.

Think about that- if you were God and were coming to earth in the flesh so that you could make yourself known, would you make such a low profile entrance?  Probably not, but our God was not coming to impress, scare or smite the slacker, quite the contrary- he had come to be with those who thought themselves unworthy. He became one of us so that he could die as one of us, for each of us, so that we would never again fear to come into his presence.

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Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb 4:16

Safely Through the Valley

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow. . .”

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One of the biggest privileges I have as a pastor is getting to dedicate babies to the Lord.

This morning we dedicated Rick and Cindy’s little girl Ashleigh. Truly a blessing that, unless you know the whole story, you can never fathom. Just as, unless you have experienced the grief of having walked through the valley of the shadow of death, you cannot appreciate the joy of getting to celebrate life like we did this morning as we gave a little life over to the care of the redeemer, to the restorer.

As the young shepherd boy become King once wrote:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23

No doubt all of us have walked through that valley and have had to say goodbye to people we love, if we were fortunate enough to have time to say that goodbye. And if it was a child, you know it is especially hard. Nine years ago, this very week, I was doing another baby dedication for Rick and Cindy as we committed the soul of their stillborn daughter Hanna to the Lord.

It was a funeral that tore at my heart but at the same time boosted my faith and confirmed to me like few things ever have that faith is more than a feeling and that our God is alive and well and gives us faith and grace when we are not strong enough, when there is no earthly or tangible reason to have any. Not because I had it, but because I saw it lived out before me.

Nine years ago Cindy was pregnant with the second child they had wanted for twenty years, a miracle. Then, well into the pregnancy trouble struck, I won’t dredge up the details but it was dire for the baby. But, after a lot of prayer it seemed another miracle had happened and the baby was hanging in there, and then, after enough time had passed that it seemed the miracle was secured, the worst happened, the little girl was lost. The emotional roller coaster of hope and fear came to a bitter end as it appeared to plunge irreversibly into darkness.

And so, on a cold December day we committed her body, placed in a tiny stainless steel coffin, to the ground, and committed her spirit to the Lord who created her and loves her still. But, for those who are loved by God and called according to his purpose, darkness cannot hold us anymore then death can. “O’ grave where is thy victory and death where is thy sting.”— Destroyed on the cross, that’s where.

Now, here’s why my soul found restoration in the midst of this tragedy, I watched my good friends—who had every reason in the world to lose their faith, to turn their back on God for apparently turning His on them, and simply walk away, angry and justified—I watched them cling to Jesus. I feared for them. I feared that the pain and disillusionment would be too much for them and that their faith would be shattered, but it wasn’t. They walked right on through that darkness and feared no evil and goodness and mercy followed them.

Of course I was praying for them but nonetheless, I was amazed and blessed. Many prayers were being offered in that season by many people as we stood in the gap for them.

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I feared for them as a friend and as a pastor because as a pastor with the call to comfort the broken hearted there is nothing harder than having to explain to someone why God let the one they cannot imagine life without die. Theologies and platitudes have no meaning in times like that. But, what does have meaning, and it is something we cannot explain or understand, until we are in it, is the presence of God.

I knew God was real when I saw Rick and Cindy hang on to their faith and never waiver in their commitment to being a light to this world and in their belief that they indeed had a second daughter who they would one day get to hold and cherish, in the resurrection or when they join her in heaven as they await that resurrection day.

God sustained their souls and because, I believe, because they were faithful in their recognizing his goodness, they have seen a restoration in a way they would never have imagined. Yes there were tears, yes there was anger, but through it all there was faith, faith that what the enemy had meant for evil, the God of restoration could turn to good.

Hanna is safe and loved, her parents are living in the faith that will ensure their reunion, and she now has a younger sister; Ashleigh.

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The God of restoration saw a baby in need, a little girl whose parents were simply not willing or ready to be the parents she would need, but were committed to bringing her into this world and allowing her to live. So the Lord moved the reluctant mother to call uncle Rick and Aunt Cindy, whom God remembered and already had this planned when their Hanna went home early.

A few short months later Rick and Cindy were in a hospital room witnessing the birth of a healthy little girl whom they got to hold, name, and take home just as they would a daughter of their own. And now she officially is. Two weeks ago the adoption was finalized and today in her dedication to the Lord, they took the step of faith and obedience to commit themselves to raising her to the best of their ability in the ways of the Lord and to entrust her soul into his hands until such day as she can make that decision to make him her Lord, to choose whom she will serve.

On that day she too will get to experience the joy of knowing that she has a restored soul. A soul that we pray was never rent by the enemies wiles before she recognized and accepted the Love of her Savior with the faith of a child that will never waiver, just as her parents faith hasn’t.

That is why they are blessed, that is why they have been able to live to see this incredible restoration, and why we have been witnesses of it today.

So today we got to dedicate their third daughter to the Lord. And together, this family of five, will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Let’s read that whole Psalm.

Don’t just read it, own it.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

Yetrday's troubles

God is good. He is more than good, he is love. He is not Santa Clause, he is not an insurance agent. We don’t just get to give him a list of things we want and wait by the tree for the presents to show up. We don’t get to file a claim for things that were lost and wait for a check. We get to live in the knowledge that we have a God who knows better than we ever will what we need as opposed to what we want. How those around us will be affected by the choices we make, and by how he answers our prayers.

Only God sees the big picture and understands how everything is tied together and will affect people he died for in years to come, even for eternity. God is shaping our eternity first and foremost. We must trust him with our todays if we want our eternity, our tomorrows secured or restored.

I know enough about people to know that you have probably experienced great restoration in your life, restoration in very important areas. But, if you’re like many, you may not recognize it and fully appreciate it enough to live in the joy of that knowledge. When you do, you will get that loving feeling back—soul restoration.

Only you can know what that will look like, you and your Lord.

And he has only just begun.

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Barbarians in the Kingdom

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