Worth It?

Such are the dreams of the bi—vocational small town pastor.

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For all it’s challenges, I love pastoring a small church. We had such a wonderful and sweet Christmas eve service just gathering together with old friends, and new; seeing the kids have such a wonderful time as they acted out the nativity story, learning the real meaning of Christmas in the process while reminding and blessing the rest of us at the same time. All this on the heels of Sunday morning and having the kids, all ages together to make up a small chorus, to sing a few Christmas songs.

Props were handmade or came from the Goodwill store and special effects consisted of an illuminated star ornament hanging off the light fixture above the stage, and a halogen work light hidden under a chair to illuminate the angels.

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But I can guarantee that everyone left  leave here last Sunday and Christmas eve with a heart full of joy and memories that a professional high budget mega church presentation could never replicate.

I know I was blessed. I’m still replaying the events of those two services over in my mind, it was just so rewarding in so many ways.

But you know, it’s a lot of work, and that’s what I was thinking about between Sunday afternoon and Christmas eve service. Pastoring a church while working full time besides, is a lot of work and takes a lot of discipline and commitment–and then you throw in an extra service?

Now I don’t do this alone, many are involved in making this church work, and we all have responsibilities and challenges, and that’s the point.

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Blow it off?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just say, the heck with it, I’m going to just pursue my own fortune, spend my time and money on myself, my own pleasure and just worry about me, me, me. Like all those other people. I don’t want to write another sermon, I just wrote one last week! (and every week before that) I don’t want to spend another Saturday alone at the church, I have a lot of better things I could be doing, camping, fishing, hunting, fixing up or even building myself a house.

Or I could just go home after putting in my time at work and just sleep in front of the TV with a beer or two while looking forward to a vacation in Vegas. ‘Been saving up all year, it’s going to be a blast!’ Or maybe something more noble like a trip to the Holy Land or my ancestral Scandinavian home lands.

I could at least try to get a job in a big church so I wouldn’t have to work two jobs and then I could travel to exotic places now and then and call it missions or at least earned sabbaticals.

Such are the dreams of the bi—vocational small town pastor.

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And just saying all that out loud makes me cringe because down in my heart I know—No, I wouldn’t rather do any of that. Because in the end, none of that matters. What matters is that I am serving my Lord, the bridegroom, in the manner and place he wants me to serve him. If it means standing in a dark place with my flickering lantern ready to be put to good use at a moment’s notice, so be it.

What matters is that you, are being fed, you are getting oil for your lamps. What matters is that those kids, my kids, your kids, are hearing about Jesus, that they know they are loved and that they are important to me, to you and to their heavenly Father.

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(One of my grand daughters, and a grandson in the background expressing his opinion of the music)

What matters is that I am ready for Jesus to come back at any moment and that I am not going to waste any time. I will keep doing what I can to prepare myself and others in the meantime.

And the joy I feel when I see the smiles of those kids, the treasures I have amassed in my heart at seeing those the Lord puts in my path have a little better day, a little more spark in their eyes and spring in their step and maybe a song of praise on their lips because we simply showed up here and did what the Lord called and gifted us to do, I wouldn’t miss any of that for all the gold in the world.

The world can have their gold, Gold won’t burn in a lamp or light the way to anything. It only weighs you down and adds to your burden. Only love will keep those lights on, those lamps burning. And I have a never ending source of that love, his name is Jesus.

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The NIV study bible suggests that those virgins were “perhaps bridesmaids charged with preparing the bride for the groom.” If that is the case, the church is the bride and I will do all I can to be a wise virgin so that the bride of Christ will be ready for her groom.

We need a lot more wise virgins I can tell you that. Because there are a lot of messed up brides out there who won’t even know who their groom is when he does show up. Because here’s the little secret about the oil—it has to come from the groom.

And once he is on the way, he’s not carrying his supply any more to give to those who ask, the time for preparation is over, the hour has come, it’s His wedding day.

Oil in the scriptures is often a representation for the Holy Spirit and perhaps that is what the oil in this story is. How do we get the Holy Spirit? How do we keep in tune with the Spirit?- live for the Spirit and not the flesh. We have to keep going to Jesus, and to the Father through Jesus. Spending time with him in prayer, in his word, in worship, meditating on his word, seeking wisdom, believing for miracles and intervention, trusting him for our needs while working with the hands and the gifts he gave us.

By seeking his Kingdom first and foremost and trusting that all else will be added unto us as we need, not as we desire.

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It’s living for the groom, not for ourselves. Keeping our jars full at all times.

Broken

“That cup in its state of scarred repair is more beautiful than it ever was.”– So are you!

A year or two ago our daughter Cally was over for our annual Christmas morning potato pancake breakfast. A tradition that started somewhat by accident as I enjoyed making breakfast for my girls when they were little and as I perfected the elusive perfect potato pancake. Enjoying a cup of coffee and the company of family gathered, she somehow chipped her coffee cup, the one with a real cool Currier and Ives type Christmas scene on it, that she was using. I heard the clink but didn’t see the damage and I said half-jokingly, “Oh don’t break that, that’s Mom’s favorite cup, she picked that up at the Christmas stroll.” A few minutes later, amidst the chaos of many little ones playing and adults visiting, she’s frantically searching the house for super glue—she wanted to fix the cup.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It wasn’t until later when she was explaining to her mom in tears that she had broken her cup that I realized the tragedy I had exacerbated. She felt horrible about it. And then I felt horrible because I had just made things worse with my off handed remark.

My wife, Donna, of course told her not to worry about it, she loved Cally more than any cup. Donna later fixed the broken cup.

Can you tell it was once broken? Yes, but it is more valuable now than it ever was because of the incredible love and emotion that was poured back and forth over that cup, because of the accident and the heartache it caused.

That cup now says to Donna, “My daughter loves me so much that she was broken over having chipped what she knew was something that I valued.” And that glued together cup also now says, “My mother loves me so much that she was more upset over my heartbreak than she was about her once beautiful but now broken cup.”

That cup in its state of scarred repair is more beautiful than it ever was.

Jesus tells several parables in his last days, many of them aimed at the religious hypocrisy of the Priests and Pharisees of his day. And the end of one such story he warns:

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Sounds dire, unless you know a little more about the nature of our God and the symbolism of his word built  in the scripture over time.

The way I see this, this business about falling on the stone and being broken? Being broken can be a good thing. And if you are going to be broken, the rock is the place to do it because the rock is where you can be rebuilt, it is after all a cornerstone, the chief corner stone.

The commentaries and study Bible notes will tell you that the reference here to falling on the stone and being broken means you’re done. That’s just not consistent with scripture. Being broken is always a prerequisite to being repaired, fixed—born again. God loves the broken. In fact, it is the only sacrifice he requires.

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I think the more profound and certainly more encouraging message here, the secondary and more consequential meaning of this prophetic word first uttered by Isaiah and then claimed by Jesus, is that if you fall on the stone, purposely throw yourself on the stone, broken—broken down, brokenhearted, a broken soul who has realized just how empty, sinful, hopeless and lost you really are apart from the chief cornerstone, you will be rebuilt.

Repentance—repentance is the first step to becoming a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

Powder?

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Now, rejecting the rock, Jesus, out of hand and in the end having to be crushed by it, is certainly a bad thing–something that’s ground to powder ceases to exist. But something that is broken can be fixed. God loves a broken spirit, God loves a broken heart, because it is usually a heart that is open for him to repair, to rebuild, to remake—better, more resilient and more committed to remaining strong and whole than ever before.

I believe that for you! Yours is now a heart that now knows that if it falls, it can get up and go on, that if it breaks it can be restored and it is now in a solid place where it can be rebuilt to withstand the storms. The rock is a place to build, it is not a place of destruction.

The Holy Spirit told me as I was starting to work on the larger part of this message for my church Sunday–and it didn’t make any sense to me at first in light of what the parable says:

“The rock is here and it is a place to stand, a place to be strong and a place to grow.”

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To us a Son is given, the rock has come. Claim your healing, claim your peace.

Barbarians in the kingdom

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Preacher Dan

Have a most blessed and merry Christmas everyone!

The Best Present

“It was a reminder of simpler days when we never had much but we always had love.”

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I love the Christmas season. Perhaps because I have rich memories of Christmas from when I was a child and of when our kids were young. The traditions that bring you together and the anticipation of that glorious day when you get to give the ones you love those special presents you have put so much thought into, or shopped so diligently to find.

You know, and it’s really not the money you spend, it’s more the love behind it. I remember one Christmas when our girls were little we didn’t have much money and the little we had to spend we spent on the girls. But I was determined that I had to get Donna something. So I went to K-Mart a day or two before Christmas and right there near the front entrance was the cutest little mouse figurine. I picked it up expecting it to be porcelain and expensive but it was actually a wax candle and it was only $1.00.

Perfect for my budget. I felt kind of bad only spending a dollar on my wife for Christmas but I literally only had about $2.00 in my pocket. Times were lean but life was good. I gave Donna that mouse on Christmas morning and she loved it. It sat on the window sill in the kitchen for years so she could see it as she washed dishes until it finally got totally bleached out by the sun. It was a reminder of simpler days when we never had much but we always had love.

Of course as a child it’s the receiving that’s so exciting, the anticipation. I remember it well, the magic of Christmas as a child as it seems the whole world is celebrating one great event together as it does at no other time.

And the presents! Just what is in those beautifully wrapped presents under the tree? Did I get what I asked for? Maybe something so wonderful I never even thought to ask? Oh the anticipation is almost too much to bear—I have to know the secret to what’s under the tree! But you know you have to wait, Christmas is coming, all the signs are there, the lights and the decorations, the special shows on TV, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, the Johnny Cash Christmas special, the Little Drummer Boy.

There’s driving around town seeing all the lit up houses and the lights on main street, the Santa Clause who shows up at your door just after dinner on Christmas eve who looks strangely like a friend of your parents, scares your baby sister half to death, and leaves with a cold Grain Belt beer in his hand.

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Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

And then it’s bedtime and your parents tell you that tomorrow is Christmas morning so you had better get to sleep. But you lie awake for what seems like hours, too excited to sleep. Tomorrow is the day I get to find out the secret to what’s under the tree, to see what shows up in the stockings hung on the mantel with care. And then it’s time, the break of dawn, family gathered—finally, come on mom, we’ve been waiting forever!

I can remember almost everything I got when I was a kid. The 60’ and 70’s was the golden age of toys. Hot wheels and matchbox cars. Apollo moon mission astronaut action figures, GI Joes, Johnny West and his horse, Tonka toy trucks made of real steel, Rock ‘em Sock ’em Robots, Gumby, real Slinkys, not the plastic things they sell now, cap guns Etch a Sketches, Little Golden books and Scooby-Do lunch boxes, and the best toy of all, the Daisy BB Gun! Christmas’s were great!

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As you get older, sadly, you lose some of that excitement, the Christmas spirit can be replaced by the stress of having to be the one to make that Christmas magical for the kids. But remember, it’s not so much the stuff they get, it’s what you make of the holiday for them. The joy and the love that is felt and shared, whether it’s a one dollar mouse or a Tonka Toy Bull Dozer big enough to dig a swimming pool in the back yard, don’t lose the joy, don’t lose the wonder.

Remember whom we celebrate.

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If you have been born again you remember well the joy of discovering the secret of our salvation, of having the greatest gift of all revealed to us—that Jesus came to this earth from heaven as a baby, to grow up teaching us the mysteries of heaven and then opening the door for us to walk in by giving his life for us, and all we have to do is believe and receive.

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God sent us the long ago and oft promised gift, we didn’t know exactly what it would be or how it would help us, but when it was revealed on the day we heard the gospel and it finally clicked, it was better than we could ever have imagined.

I am loved! I am forgiven! And I am part of a family–a family that get’s to celebrate everyday the life that he gives us and the life to come.

I remember well when I first realized what the answer was, the answer to my question; Is there really a God? Can I know him if there is? What’s this cross and resurrection business about anyway.

As I sat there as a teenager and read through the gospels something just clicked in my mind and spoke to my heart; ‘God is real, Jesus died for you and you are loved and going to heaven.’

It would be several more years before I fully opened the gift and embraced the Lordship of Jesus by heeding his Spirit and letting him free me of the self-destructive nature of the flesh, but that was another glorious day I will never forget, one full of joy and excitement; Look what I got! It’s the greatest gift ever! Even better than Rock’em Sock’em Robots!

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But then the stresses of life start creeping in and we start to lose that enthusiasm, the magic is gone and it just becomes one foot in front of the other. Don’t lose the wonder, don’t lose the excitement, you still have the gift and the gifts and it can be new every morning if you just keep looking to him, to the one who reveals the secret things to your heart.

You have so much more to learn, he has so much more to give—and for you to give others.

Your place is assured, keep looking to tomorrow and don’t let the cares of this world steal your joy, you belong to a higher kingdom. Keep shining.

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You have life, you have Jesus. And that’s the best present of all!

 

Secret Things

Who am I, why am I, who put me here and where is he?”

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We all love to learn about things that have been kept secret right? Whether it’s the secrets of the universe we live in, the secrets of the government, the secrets of our neighbors or, more frighteningly, our kids—let me see that phone!

We hate having things kept from us and the more information we are entrusted with, the more valuable or important we feel.

We are a curious lot, insatiably curious; ‘Just what is on the dark side of the moon?’ ‘What is in a black hole?’ ‘What is dark matter?’ ‘Is there life out there?’ ‘What’s over the horizon?’ The questions are endless and our thirst for knowledge constantly leads to more and bigger questions. God created us with a capacity to dream up, explore and comprehend incredible mysteries.

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We are never satisfied; Just what is hiding in Area 51? Did Lee Harvey Oswald really act alone? Where in the world is Jimmy Hoffa’s body? What happened to Hillary’s Emails? Did Noah really forget to load up the unicorns? If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

We may never know.

I mean, how can we? Just how many peppers make up a peck and just where do pickled peppers grow anyway? I do know this— two pecks make a kenning and four pecks make a bushel—and if you give me two bits I’ll stop…

Peter Piper—Now there’s a useless parable. I’m glad Jesus wasn’t just into telling nursery rhymes, tongue twisters and conspiracy theories.

Parables and mysteries

His Parables answered questions, revealed mysteries, that had been kept a secret from the very foundation of the world.

Here’s a head scratcher—If there is no one to ponder a mystery, is it a mystery? If there is no one to desire to know something that is being kept secret, if there is no one to keep a secret from, then are there really any secrets?

So, by that logic, there were no secrets to reveal about any mystery until there was a sentient being with enough self-awareness to ask the question, to seek an answer. And the greatest mystery of all, the most ancient secret, the first heart cry question— “Who!?” And it came from mankind. Who am I, why am I, who put me here and where is he?” It’s the question that reverberates in the heart of every man and woman who has drawn breath ever since.

And then, eons later, comes the answer, the answer with the answers. He is the embodiment of the answer to who we are, why we are and who put us here—Here I am—even before Abraham was, I Am. And he is also the one who illustrates the answers, reveals the mysteries of the Kingdom he brought, with his stories and with his life.

We are beings created by and in the image of God. We are created for good works, to love and be loved by God, and he is now here among us by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit. And we are now citizens of the Kingdom of our God, the King of heaven.

 

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Jesus is the answer to the most important questions ever asked, the eternal questions, and he reveals to us that He is the answer, in part through his parables. Descriptions of the kingdom within and the kingdom to come.

The Kingdom of heaven is like. . .

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Matthew 13

We get to know the secrets that people have longed to look upon since the fall of mankind back in the garden. When the Kingdom was lost to us and the restoration promised. That was a very long time to wait, but now we know the secret things of God.

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I Am

We now have the answers to all the mysterious promises made by God down through the ages. And they are even greater than Moses, who wrote these mysterious words from Deuteronomy could ever have dreamed. Because his I Am that I Am burning bush, rumbling mountain, all powerful and awesomely frightening God is now our personal Lord and Savior. The great I Am became a Son of Man and now we can say I am—His.

 

 

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.