Today, Sunday, October 25th, marks the tenth anniversary of Hope Chapel Red Lodge. The humble little church my wife Donna and I planted in the little town of Red Lodge MT in 2010.
It was meant to be a day of celebration with our church family, a day of reflection and prayer for the season ahead. Instead, for the first time in those ten years, we had no church service, no one at the church, not even a livestream Covid shutdown type message. Pastoring in a mountain town in Montana snow storms are more the norm than not it seems, and I have never not had services, nor been unable to make it myself because of weather. But this weekend we just flat could not make it and I did not want to encourage anyone else to be out on the treacherous roads as we had an unseasonably nasty snow storm, a series of storms actually, blast their way across our state this week. And as I write this it is only 7 degrees Fahrenheit outside my door-in October!.
I just spent two days driving back from Coeur d’Alene ID where my wife and I were blessed to have been able to attend the Foursquare Church North Western District conference. It would normally only take seven hours to drive back, but driving through numerous mountain passes in a snow storm tends to slow you down a bit–and, we spent the night in Belgrade (MT) as they closed the Interstate ahead of us. So, no church, no celebration, just icy roads and and the company of crawling semi trucks, grateful for every mile that we were still moving past the many who were not, as they slid into the guardrails, barro pits and snow filled mediums.
But we made it home and look forward to gathering with the church next week. Best laid plans. . .
But isn’t that the way it’s been lately? “Lord just help me keep moving forward, mile by mile, step by step, inch by inch. Keep me out of the ditch and don’t let this be my end!”
I just spent a few days in the company of 250 other church leaders, most of them pastors, (masked and socially distanced, kinda) and they all seemed to be in the same state of Lord, just get me through this and to the other side! Many, like myself, are feeling a little shell shocked and even, dare I say it, hopeless. It seems that every snowy mountain pass we get through just leads to another, and another, and another. For me, and many others, this started long before the Covid gift from the wise men in the east showed up.
The enemy has been running rough shod over the church, over my people, for a few years now. I have seen way too many marriages end, families torn apart and pastors crushed. Yes, there have been victories and yes, God is still on the throne. And I know that much of what has happened, including this year with it’s race riots, shutdowns, deaths and sicknesses, persecutions and general mayhem and panic, is not caused by God, but is being used by him nonetheless, to prune and refine his church.
The church that is still standing, if and when this time of trial is over, will be the true church of Jesus Christ. And they will be the ones used to bring in the great harvest that is coming and has already begun.
Across the board, and around the world, churches have been forced to decide what’s truly important, what being the church really means, and face the reality that much of what and whom they counted on were not real, were not true and were not truly of God. Many of those we thought we had discipled have turned against us and all the trappings of religion and all the programs people demanded have been stripped away.
And what’s left? Exactly what should be left. The resurrected Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross to save us from the many sins we are all guilty of. The Holy Spirit who has been poured out on those who believed in that Christ to give us life, healing and the power to be his witnesses in all the world. The word of God, unchanging, eternal and absolute. And the peace and joy that comes only from a relationship with that Savior who died for us, found in this word, and made alive in our hearts by his Holy Spirit. So that we can come boldly into the throne room and be loved and blessed by our Father God.
And what is church? The gathering of two or more to celebrate, honor and worship that God who loves us so, to learn and be encouraged by his word and to be blessed and healed by the presence of his Spirit. PERIOD!
If that gathering has to happen in a building against the wishes of the authorities, than so be it. If it happens in a home, on a beach, in a catacomb, so be it. But it must happen.
The church is going through a forced reset. When all is stripped away, long enough that it cannot easily be brought back, and all that is left is us and Jesus, we will remember what it was all for in the first place–for HIM.
We love him because he first loved us.
I try to live by a simple mantra, I am after all, just a barbarian with a Bible:
Keep it simple stupid…
This is a picture of me 10 years ago, preaching my first sermon at our new church in Red Lodge. I had nothing but a bible, a guitar and a roomful of used chairs in a 900 square foot rented storefront-and a handful of good friends who believed in what we were doing there. Preaching the gospel and worshipping our Lord.
I preached that first message without notes. I simply told the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, dramatically acted out and as boldly as I could. As I told the story I literally built the cross that has adorned our sanctuary ever since. It was made from scrub Cedar logs that had been knocked down by heavy snows on our old ranch. I was making a statement, that Jesus would always be the center of all that we did there, that as Paul had told the Corinthian’s, “I come to you determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
That message is still central to our ministry, and always will be. There have been times when I have succumbed to the pressure to “do more” to please and attract the people. But now I see that the simplicity of the church I felt led to start and maintain is the model that has stood. We have not attracted the masses and gotten noticed by the important people, but we are still standing— focus on the road ahead, and a steady hand has kept us out of the ditches..
So, “Lord, as your church is being “reset” in this season of trial, please give me, and all my brothers and sisters in arms, the strength and grace to stand, and when all is finished, to still stand. And to prepare a people committed to you, to reap and welcome in the harvest of souls that you have prepared even in the chaos.”
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.” -Jesus
Little children, Love.
We will make it home, just keep moving forward, stay focused and keep praying. The sun always rises, spring always comes and our God still reigns.