Heart Love

This wordless expression of love had to have been a gift that Jesus’ heart desperately needed as he was about to face his final rejection—alone.

We can probably assume that because of the very similar recounting of the story of anointing in the gospel of John that this woman is Mary of Bethany—Lazarus’ and Martha’s sister. The  Mary who had so controversially sat at Jesus’ feet to listen as her sister served, and who would later see her brother raised from the dead. She certainly has reason to be grateful, but more than that, she has allowed herself to be changed, change by love deep in her core.

What we see here is an act of pure unselfish love and devotion as she pours out on Jesus what would have been a very expensive, rare and special jar of ointment called spikenard. Probably brought there all the way from India by camel caravan along the infamous Silk road.

It may have even been an heirloom. But Mary, despite what others may think, or the cost to her, breaks the neck of the costly and beautiful flask, hand carved from alabaster, and pours it on the head— and according to John’s gospel—even the feet of Jesus, and then wipes it in with her hair. Quite unbecoming really, especially for a young woman from a respected household.

But she did not care what others thought, how they would respond. She was not just pouring out scented oil—she was pouring out her heart. She desperately wanted to pour out her heart, to express her barely contained love for this Messiah, and this was the most lavish and sincere way she could think of to do that.

And her heart won the day; her heart was listening to the Spirit and her mind came in line and complied.

And she was derided for it by those who saw with their eyes but not with their hearts. But she was blessed by the one who mattered, the one who saw her heart—Jesus.

It would probably be the only true and pure expression of love and devotion he would receive that entire tumultuous last week of his life. It had to have been a gift that his heart desperately needed as he was about to face his final rejection—alone.

No words

And this love was expressed without a single word spoken. Words are necessary, yes, but they are but a trigger and a reminder of what cannot truly be expressed by mere words.

Love is felt, not heard. Best expressed with the eyes—through which one can see into the soul. It is best received with a look or a touch when the words cannot come because the feeling is too deep. The deepest and truest expressions of love are communicated heart to heart. That’s what Mary was doing here for Jesus.

You all know that look, that feeling, the depth of emotion and conviction that can only pass between a husband and wife, a child and a parent or grandparent, between brothers and sisters in the Lord—those who share a common heart, a like mind and a spiritual bond—when there is something powerful between you that no one else can understand or know but the two who share it.

It’s a love that finds its origins in our God. And it is the love he has for us, the look he has in his eyes when he sees us, if we’ll only take the time to look back at him and respond with our hearts and not just our heads and lips.

26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8

Because if we don’t connect on a heart and soul level with Jesus, we’re missing the whole point and our responses will be way off target.

She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” Mark 14

Because Mary followed her heart and did what she could. Because she did not let her head get in the way as some of the men were doing, and convince herself that this would be an extravagant and foolish waste that really accomplished nothing but making Jesus smell good for a while, embarrassing herself in the process—her mind knew it was a big gamble—because of this, she was fulfilling a prophetic and important act that no one could possibly know the significance of but Jesus.

She was anointing him for his burial a day or two later. And giving him what would be the last and only sincere measure of comfort and assurance he would receive at the hands of another human before his brutal arrest and execution.

Because Mary listened to her spirit and allowed herself to know the truth, she was moving in the prophetic without saying a word. Think about that… next time you are moved to act on something the head doesn’t understand.

This seemingly insignificant act of foolish waste was an anathema to the well versed chosen twelve. But Mary was one who knew what was important. She knew when it was time to talk and time to listen. She knew when it was time to work and time to sit. She was the one who was chided by her sister Martha for sitting at Jesus’ feet listening, while Mary fretted about the work to be done.

Mary was the one who unashamedly and passionately threw herself, weeping at Jesus feet, laying it all out there;  “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died!”

In that moment, hers was a broken, passionate and honest heart that moved Jesus to share in her grief and would spur him on to do his greatest miracle yet—raising a man long dead and buried from the grave.

Mary knew when it was time to connect with her Lord. And this day in the house of Simon the leper, was one of those times—not for her, not for her brother, but for her Lord—they both needed this.

We could all learn a valuable lesson here. If our relationship and time spend seeking and being with our Lord is always to see what we can get—then it is not a true heart response to the love we are so freely given. And it is not a response that is influenced or inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Everything Jesus says, is and does points to one thing–He loves you, right now, just as you are..

And when you realize it—when you understand and open the eyes of your heart to see that Jesus is ever standing before you beckoning you come, cheering you on, praying for you, holding your hand and always teaching you things that will make you wiser, stronger and prepared for the challenges to come in the courtyards of the priests, in the quiet moments when the enemy tries to whisper that you need to take things into your own hands because this Jesus and Holy Spirit stuff is just whatever—you fill in the blanks—when you recognize the love in the eyes that are looking at you from within your very heart—then you will respond like Mary did, and you will finally know what it truly means to be loved.

Abomination That Causes Desolation

‘But the temple is no more—how can this be?

End times prophecy is tricky business with dual and even triple fulfillments, apocryphal symbolism and out of the blue proclamations and narratives that morph from historical records, to warnings of impending calamities, into oracles of events that we cannot ever fathom or foresee until they happen.

But in every case, as history has proven out, when they do happen, it is always starkly obvious for those who are watching. And it is always awe and faith inspiring.

Chapter 13 of Mark is full of fantastic prophetic warnings, and it all ends with this admonition from Jesus:

32 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. 34 It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch35 Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning— 36 lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. 37 And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!Mark 13

It seems like Jesus is trying to tell us something—oh, I know, watch!

It would appear that one of those significant events to be on watch for would be the horrific desecration of the temple.

The “abomination of desolation.” Jesus is quoting Daniel here from centuries earlier; words that were initially fulfilled by the Greeks back in 168 BC when Antiochus Epiphanies set up an altar for Zeus on top of the Lord’s altar and sacrificed a pig in the Temple.

The fact that Jesus is repeating this prophecy in answer to the question as to when the temple will be destroyed, again, couched in a warning to flee when it happens, would indicate that it has not been completely fulfilled. And, indeed later, the Romans would desecrate the temple just before they would go on an all-out campaign to destroy Israel and to wipe it’s memory from the map, literally, renaming it Palestine.

But most scholars believe, and it would seem to be the case in the context of the world ending prophecies to follow—like a burnt out sun and stars falling like fall leaves— and in light of other biblical warnings, that Jesus is also referring to a much later temple desecration to come.

This may well be describing apostacies that the Anti-Christ, or man of sin, as he’s referred to elsewhere will commit in the temple. Some believe he will set up the image of the beast in the temple—the beast he forces the world to worship in the last days of his reign of terror as described in Revelation.

Temple?

‘But the temple is no more—how can this be?’ Huh, just a generation or two ago they also said ‘Israel is no more—how can this be?‘ We serve a God of the impossible. The meaning of these prophecies is often debated on the grounds that the temple cannot be rebuilt. Excuse me but—that’s absurd.

Because of Jesus’ words here, also repeated verbatim in other gospel accounts, I have always looked for the temple to be desecrated as a precursor to the day of the Lordfor these prophecies to be literally fulfilled.

I’m just reading the prophecies. Like this maddeningly out of the blue tidbit in Thessalonians, offered by  Paul as a supplement to a verbal lesson he gave them earlier, of which there is no record. All we have is this:

This passage would seem to indicate that the literal temple would be intruded upon by a usurper who sets himself up as God and actually takes a seat in the temple. If that’s not an abomination, I don’t know what is. Now, there is disagreement as to who this is, if it had been fulfilled by the Roman invaders. Or, if it is future, is it referring to a rebuilt temple, or to our own hearts as we are now temple of the Holy Spirit?

There is no historical figure who completely fulfills this prophecy and the immediate and plainest understanding of these words would make one picture an actual stone and mortar temple— The temple.

Which means what? That the temple would need to be rebuilt before the return of Jesus for his elect. And this all seems to be an echo of Jesus’ own words in Mark.

Impossible?

A rebuilt temple is something that indeed seemed entirely impossible until 1947 when Israel returned to their land with the blessing of the United Nations and reclaimed Jerusalem as their capital, which finally got the blessing of the United States just three years ago under President Trump with the relocation of our embassy.

Don’t underestimate the significance of the most powerful nation on earth acknowledging Jerusalem as the capital city of the people of the covenant after two thousand years of exile. I can guarantee you the enemy is livid over this, as are all his servants.

“But there is a mosque sitting smack on top of the apparent temple site!” Yes, Captain Obvious, there is. But God has overcome much larger obstacles than that in preserving Israel as a people without a homeland for thousands of years, even in the face of varied and many attempts at genocide over the centuries. Restoring the land to them and then preserving them there, even though they are a tiny island in a sea of mortal enemies.

So don’t be so sure there is anything in the way. Watch, that is the point of today’s lesson—watch. The branches of the fig tree are getting tender. (Mark 13;28-30)

Keep an eye on Israel, keep and eye on your own heart and fight with all your might to preserve and restore truth and the freedom to live and proclaim it. Pray for the church, for the United States, and keep praying for Israel—for their protection and for them to recognize their Messiah—many have and are.

Israel is intrinsically intertwined and a major, the major, player in all of end times prophecies. How we relate to and support or neglect Israel will determine how we fare as a people in these final days as well. So, be watchful for all of that.

The enemy is not done trying to destroy Israel and his greatest and final attempt is yet to come.

Armageddon

Blessed is he who watches. . .” We must be vigilant, watchful for the tricks of the enemy, so that we are not deceived into unwittingly supporting him against Israel, and against us– the church.

The enemy has plans, plans that are laid out in great detail in the old and new testaments, to stop and destroy Israel. He needs to destroy Israel because he is well aware of their key role in the final redemption and judgements of this earth that spell his final doom. The final desecration of the rebuilt temple in Israel will start the final countdown to our Lord’s return to avenge and rescue his people.

But we already know his battle plans;

This is but a small snippet of the great details given of this final battle and the preparations for it found in scripture. But there is something in the way right now, preventing thisus.

It would seem that we, the United States, are the major obstacle to the plan of the enemy, by way of the Antichrist and his pet beast, to his being able to make war on and destroy Israel.

Which is why the enemy is hell bent on destroying us, at least as the God fearing, freedom loving country that we have been who sees Israel as being the rightful inhabitants of the promised land and the people of the covenant of which we are now benefactors.

This goes way beyond politics, we are in a battle for the soul and survival of this nation, the world. Jesus will not let his people, nor his creation, be destroyed, and he will put an end to it all before that happens—and then, it is all over. Then, the day of the Lord will come. And that final battle on the plains of Megiddo will not go quite like the enemy hoped.

Because, news flash—Our Lord was Jewish, and he plans on returning to the same land from whence he left.

Zechariah goes on the say that Israel will be saved by fleeing through the valley created by the Lord’s splitting of that mountain. And the carnage that befalls the enemies of Israel in that day is described in great detail as well. And it is not for the squeamish.

So, If this is the generation that will witness the final days and get to represent Jesus Christ even in the midst of the great tribulation, what an honor and a blessing to be counted among those chosen for such a time as this, for our eternal reward will be glorious and wonderful beyond comprehension.

Watch, stay diligent, stay on task, and keep the faith. That’s what Jesus wants us to really understand, that he has not forgotten nor forsaken us and we are on the cusp of the greatest adventure of all time.

Even so, come Lord Jesus–come.

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

Rev 22:16—17

Stay on Task

This nasty cold subzero weather we have been enduring lately has me praying often for ranchers who are calving. I used to calve in February and remember well the struggles of keeping calves alive and well when these cold fronts hit. You just did what you had to do, no matter the cost in sleep, comfort or resources. The life of every calf is precious, not just for money but because you love your animals—the money could never be enough to motivate all that you endure for these critters.

If you visit or talk to any rancher who is calving in weather like this, if they had time to talk, you would find that they have or have had brand new wet calves in the cabs of their pickup trucks, in their kitchens, even in their bathtubs, sometimes all at once and at all hours of the night and day. While the ranchers themselves are emanating the pungent aroma of old and new afterbirth, manure and sour milk as they guzzle coffee and try to thaw out their feet in time to go catch the next calf.

I have an old black and white photo hanging in my church office, counting my years as a children’s pastor it has been in my office for almost 20 years now. I found in at the big museum in Cody WY years ago and instantly fell in love with it because it so captures that spirit of doing whatever it takes to care for your animals, staying on task no matter the cost.

Charles Belden circa 1920-1930

It’s a picture of a Cowboy taken in the 1920’s near Meeteetse Wyoming. The cowboy is on a horse in a blizzard, bundled up as best he can against the cold, and he has a new Herford calve draped across his lap as his horse struggles up a hill against the wind driven snow. It hangs in my office as a reminder to me that ministry is not always easy nor fun. That reaching the lost and caring for the flock is seldom convenient nor is it a part time, yeah, I think I’ll stay in tonight, everyone will be just fine without me kind of assignment.

What does that have to do with end times? Everything. But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. 

No matter what you hear, no matter the forecast, the rumors or the challenges—you need to keep trusting in me and the strength that I will give you to complete your task of reaching the lost.

If you read through all of this chapter 13 of Mark and catch the heart of what and why Jesus is telling the disciples of the storms to come, it is so that they are not caught off guard, that they know he expects them to keep seeking the lost, to stay on task and no give up no matter the struggles and difficulty of the times and places they find themselves. And that goes for all of us who follow Jesus and are called according to his purpose.

Every life, every soul, is precious and worth facing the storms for.

Are you ready to face the storms? How have you been holding up in the storms? These are important questions and are exactly why Jesus warns us of them, so that we do not get discouraged and thinks it’s all over, that this is our end. It is not, remember, there is no past tense for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Mark 13 is an entire chapter devoted to Jesus’ warnings of the tribulations to come.

The big scary end times, death and destruction, persecution and tribulation, desecration and desolation, Jesus is coming and the angels are going to gather the elect from the four corners of the world chapter.

“For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be. 20 And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.Mark 13:19-20

It’s scary both to read and to try and teach on because Jesus gives us just enough detail to let us know scary big events are coming, but not enough detail to know exactly when and how they are going to happen. And Mark, as per his usual style, just records the facts and leaves the commentary and analysis to the many generations of preachers and scholars to come.

It’s not scary to me personally, I actually love that Jesus gives us these words of warning and encouragement, detail wrapped in mystery. An eternity altering mystery whose clues will not entirely be understood until they all fall into place as they happen and we who knew the clues say, “yes, yes, yes,—that’s it, that’s what it all meant, the prophecies were true and God is in control!”

But as a pastor it’s scary to teach on because so many have such strong opinions as to what it all means and will argue it as though their salvation depends on it.

That’s just wrong. Your salvation does not hinge on how you interpret end times prophecies—on when you think you will be whisked away, from bliss to bliss or from tribulation to bliss. Nor does it depend on where you think we are in the timeline of God’s plan for the last days. Your salvation depends on one thing, or one person rather, and that is Jesus Christ and whether you have accepted him as Lord and Savior—period.

Jesus is not concerned with how good we are at solving prophetic riddles, he is concerned with how seriously we take the need to stay on task no matter the chaos and challenges around us—Chaos and challenges we were promised and warned would come.

But he also promises to ride the storms with us, giving us the strength and the passion to complete our mission. Don’t give up cowboy, the big roundup is still to come.

No Past Tense

There is no past tense in eternity.

18 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. . . .  23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

Long story short– ‘Okay Jesus, This woman was widowed seven times, at the resurrection snicker, snicker, whose wife will she be?’

24 Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? Mark 12

The Sadducee’s had their own version of the truth, (There is a lot of that going around these days) but Jesus was not about to let them get away with that.

Jesus has just told them in no uncertain terms that their version of truth is wrong. Telling someone they are greatly mistaken may not sound very loving—but letting them continue in their misconceptions is not loving either, because these were very destructive lies they were buying and selling—as Sadducees they believed there was no resurrection—just a long dirt nap in the end.

So he destroys their lies with truth—the truth of who God is and our place in eternity with him.

And all who put their faith and trust in that truth, will always be among the living.

There is no past tense in eternity. We serve an eternal God who created us as eternal beings. The death thing, we brought on ourselves. But he offers us the truth that overcomes that death, restoring our eternal nature. Thus we will never be past tense either.

Remember what God told Moses his name was from that burning bush so long ago? I Am That I AmYahweh in the Hebrew. Not ‘I was but now I’m not’ or ‘I will be that I will.’ Simply—I Am. “Yesterday, today and forever.”

Jesus claimed that eternal nature and name of God for himself when he declared to those arguing with him in the gospel of John about his true nature: “Before Abraham was, I Am.”

So Jesus is arguing here, with those who denied the resurrection of the dead, that there must surely be a resurrection from the dead, that death is not final for those whose hope is in the Lord, that they are not bound by time, and are in fact alive and eternal with the great I Am.

am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’

There is no past tense for those who die in Christ. The Lord would tell us: ‘I am the God of your departed spouse. I am the God of those Christians slaughtered by ISIS. I am the God of that child you never got to hold, or held all too briefly. I am the God of that Mother or Father you said good bye to.

I am the God of the living and not of the dead. And that is truth.

That is the hope that the world needs and is desperate to hear. It is the withholding of that truth, that lack of hope that has the world living in the grip of fear and turmoil, that has allowed the enemy to wreak havoc on our society, our lives, our hearts and our churches.

Jesus only spoke truth, difficult truth, but truth that prepares, strengthens and assures us that we will get through this:

“In the world you will have trouble, but fear not for I have overcome the world.” —“Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” —“I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.” —“Anyone who loves this life more than me is not worthy of me.” —“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God.”

That’s the truth we need to remind ourselves of and the truth that the world needs to hear—from us!

They need to see it in the way we live, the way we react, the way we stand up for what is right and shine the light on what is wrong. They need to hear the truth in the way we love—boldly, fearlessly, and unfailingly.

Love God and your neighbor above all else, and then the people will listen when you speak the truth.

30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Mark 12

Speak as Jesus did

Speak truth, speak in love, speak boldly. The common people will hear you and the powerful will fear you.

We, none of us, fully understands or appreciates fully the power of the weapons we have to affect change, to affect good, to right wrongs and expose the lies that kill and destroy—none of us fully understands the power we have at our disposal if we will simply speak truth, fearlessly, boldly, in love and in season, as the Spirit brings to our remembrance all that he has taught us and gives us the words to speak.

Read his words, know his heart, heed the voice of his Spirit and walk humbly with your God, we are a nation of Kings and Priests to our God. And we cannot be silenced.

And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
10 And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.” Rev 5:9,10

And we shall reign on this earth for and with our King.

Jesus loves you–right now! There is no past tense–or future tense–in his love for you.

Invest Wisely

We have all been entrusted with so much, what are we doing with it?

Reading through the stories of Jesus last trip to Jerusalem we see a much different Jesus than the one often portrayed, or at least perceived of, by the church. We see a passionate and determined Jesus–not unusual–but the way that passion and determination is expressed here strikes modern readers as difficult so we either explain it away or ignore it in favor of the John Lennon version of Jesus; All we need is love. . . because, well, that Jesus looks the other way when we are being stupid, arrogant or selfish.

The Jesus I know is passionate about my soul and our relationship and wants nothing to hinder nor harm either. Not does he allow any excuses for not accepting and using what he so freely offers. He is patient–oh so patient–but there always comes a day.

So, back to Jerusalem. . .

First we see his cursing of the fig tree to death just because it had no figs, followed by the violent driving of the merchants from the temple. You don’t normally associate Jesus with violence and cursing—that’s old testament stuff, right?

We tend to forget that this is the same God whom we see in the Old Testament—come through His Son to usher in the covenant of grace yes— but sin is still sin, wrongs still need to be righted and the laws of cause and affect are still in place.

In other words; God still gets angry at the things that are detrimental to his purposes and the redemption of his people. And he is a God of action, not just talk.

Notice that Jesus did not hurt anyone nor curse any people. But he made his point very clear by his harsh words and actions. Jesus was no push-over and he was fearless. But he knew when it was time to meekly suffer injustice also; only when it was directed solely at him, and when it served the larger purposes of His Father’s plan, as we will see at his trial and execution, but even then he is kicking some serious butt in the spiritual realms.

But today, coming into the capital city of Israel, he is on a tear. He is a man on a mission who knows right from wrong, greed from good, and he knows who he is and that he has the authority and the right to do what needs done. He has been warning and teaching the people for three years now and he has no more patience for anyone or anything that is using Kingdom resources and producing no fruit.

And remember also, he knows that this is the end of his road. Despite the reception of the adoring crowds who hailed him as a victorious king as he rode into the Holy City on a donkey’s foal, he knows he will soon be facing a much different reception as he is mocked, scorned, beaten and killed— as he had told his followers on the way there he would be.

So he is not messing around anymore—time is up. You either get it or you don’t. You either show me the fruit, or you get removed. It’s time for truth and nothing less. This is your last chance, time to decide if you are going to be on the side of God or the side of the enemy.

Jesus was not going to be denied, he was not going to tolerate the unfruitful, the arrogant and the greedy who were just taking up space in places that were supposed to be used for giving, not taking. The fig tree and the temple priests were collecting for their own enrichment and not feeding anyone.  Jesus had had it and he wasn’t going to take it anymore.

This would seal his doom, but that was all part of God’s plan as well. Jesus was making it perfectly clear on his last days before his crucifixion that there would be a reckoning and that in the end—everything and everyone who does not use what God has entrusted them with, to love God and people, to advance His kingdom, would be destroyed. And what they had would be given to those who will invest it in the kingdom.

That should remind you of at least a couple of parables Jesus taught.

All of God’s riches are available to all mankind, some refuse to see, some take and hoard, and a few invest. But in the end, all will answer for what they did with it all. The parables and Jesus actions here make this clear.

Invest wisely my friends, the time has come.

Church is Not…

Jesus was asked the question one day; By what authority are you telling us how we should do things here in the house of the Lord?’ Boy, if that doesn’t rank as the stupidest and most ironic questions of all time, then it is certainly high on the list. ‘Who am I to demand that things be done God’s way in God’s house? Well, I’m God—any more questions?’

The stories in Mark 11 can be difficult, it’s like–Wow Jesus seems a bit harsh in his responses to a couple of different situations here—is he having a bad day or what?

No, Jesus is just done. He knows his time is short and he had no more patience for seeing his Father’s resources and gifts wasted, squandered and used for personal enrichment at the expense of those who need fed.

From a distance the temple of Jesus’ day looked spectacular. It was by far the grandest and most magnificent thing most of these people had ever seen. ‘Surely God dwells and moves in this place and I am excited about getting what my weary soul needs once I’m in there.’

Then they walk in and find themselves surrounded by a market place atmosphere being overseen by high and mighty looking men in very expensive clothing and bling that cost more than many of them made in a year, or maybe a lifetime. Yet the smell of manure hangs heavy in the air.

They are told their sacrifices are not sufficient—but for a price, they can exchange them for an acceptable animal, and they can exchange their heathen currency for a holy shekel—for a small fee of course—so that they can pay their entrance fee. . . er temple tax, and of course, still tithe and give alms.

Then, you can stand shoulder to shoulder with the crowd and watch the spectacle of the sacrifices being made by the professional priests up on the big platform—but then, ‘please move along, there are others waiting to come in.’

They then find themselves back out in the street, hungry both in body and in soul, feeling empty and taken advantage of. So they use what little money they have left to buy lunch and head home telling themselves that they are better off because they did their religious duty and went to the temple.

‘Well, maybe next time I’ll feel like I had an encounter with God. I had better start saving up now.’

People were going to the temple hungry and going away hungrier—and that made Jesus furious. He could see exactly what was going on, he could see into the hearts of greed that had made the temple a business, and he could see the sorrow and despair in the hearts of those who came to be blessed and forgiven but found only outstretched hands, not in blessing but in taking.

They were not being challenged to draw near to God, they were being manipulated, shamed and marketed—all wrapped in a polished veneer of religion to make them think this was all necessary to keep them from being damned—it was truly evil.

So yeah, a little violent overthrow of some tables was in order to try and set things right. But the arrogance of the priests, Scribes and Pharisees would not let them see that Jesus was trying to spare them the true destruction that their hard hearts would bring on. When the Romans would destroy their temple and the very ground it was rooted on.

Then they, like the fig tree, would be cut off from the source of life.

Sobering

To me there is a very sobering lesson in all of that for us as the church and for me as a follower of Christ. Are we being fruitful? Am I being fruitful?

We have talked about this often lately because it is literally happening at breakneck speed all around us—churches and ministries drying up from the roots. Dying overnight. It has been happening for several years actually. Church attendance in America is dramatically down and churches have been closing left and right.

And now the process has been sped up as all that many ministries depended on—the financing their huge buildings, staff, programs depend on—has been severely cut. Because people have either not been allowed to go to these programs and huge buildings, or because they realized that they were not truly being fed, only entertained, so they decided to stay home—and, to keep their money.

Or they’re happy to just watch church online—it’s just so much easier, and I don’t have to pretend to be okay.

Thank God for the means to bring the message to those who cannot be in house, but I’m sorry—that is not church.

Church is not—

Church is not just a sermon, online or otherwise. Churc is a gathering together of the saints- a coming together to learn, worship, encourage and exhort, pray and visit, laugh and cry, hug and touch—things we all need as human beings—as the church of Jesus Christ. Church is not a place or an event, we are the church—wherever we are together is church.

Church is us coming together to have God sit enthroned on our praises, to have Jesus move among us when two or more gather, to feel the presence of God as we invite his Spirit to move among us for healing and correction.

Church is a place where you gather to be taught the word of God by a pastor who loves you and knows you, who invests in you so that you can bear fruit to share, who challenges you to be a better person, a true disciple of Jesus Christ, not just a ticket holder to heaven.

It’s a place where we bring our voices together and lift our songs and our hands straight to the throne of God and feels his pleasure in our sacrifice and open our hearts to hear his voice.

Church is where we gather to share and give of what we have been entrusted with, knowing that it will be invested back into the Kingdom where God would reveal needs to alleviate, and opportunities to sow and equip the workers of the harvest.

When a place that calls itself a church stops doing that, any and all of that, Jesus takes issue and starts cleaning house. As a pastor in this consumer oriented society where the church at large has embraced a marketing mindset not unlike the cooperate world, that is very frightening.

I have been involved in church leadership and ministry for a few decades now and I know all the reasons for everything shiny and professional, all the bling and the pop, the technology and the marketing—and it all seems very reasonable and necessary to take advantage of every means possible to share the gospel.

But it too often turns into a beast that has to spend more energy and resources to feed itself then it does others.

Then you wake up one day and find that the people who are being drawn to your grand design are walking away empty never to return.

‘I thought; Surely God dwells and moves in this place and I was excited about getting what my weary soul needed once I was in there.’

Instead they found salesman with outstretched hands promising the means to a more pleasing sacrifice to the God who wants to bless you—if you’ll only commit to the program and keep paying the temple tax. Then Jesus comes in and turns over the money tables and drives out the merchants, rebukes the priests, and speaks in parables the mysteries of the kingdom for those who have ears to hear.

True Church

And those who stick around to hear, will be asked to share—and they will. Because they cannot hold in the fire. God cannot be stopped and his plan cannot be thwarted—and the enemy fears that. The true church will survive—and prevail.

“Because the people have spoken these words,
    I will make my words in your mouth a fire
    and these people the wood it consumes. Jeremiah 5:14

Who gave you the authority!? God did. Any more stupid questions?

No one can stand up to or prevail against the word of God and the wisdom given to those who love God and his word.

Don’t give up, don’t give in, this is just getting good. . .

A Word

You want revival? –Be prepared to suffer first.

Praying as I was preparing my message for my church this past Sunday I received what I believe to be a word from the Lord, something we all need right now–if we dare listen.

This is a time that calls for wisdom, this is a time that calls for patience, this is a time that calls for perseverance. Fear not for I am with you and we will see this through. The days are evil but I am still God and there is no other. My glory I will not share and I will not be mocked—nor will my people who are called by my name. -HS

Responsibility

The Lord is preparing and readying us—and has been. Just as he tried to prepare the twelve for their last trip to the capital city of Jerusalem.

The first thing we must recognize is that the days are indeed evil. The condition of mankind and the voices that dominate our culture in comparison to what the word says clearly indicate their unholy nature. The Lord has indeed been pulling all those who will listen aside, those who are still following Him, and not just a watered down nicey-nice version of him, and explaining what must happen before he is glorified—before he is revealed to the world.

And he will continue to do so for those who are brave enough to ask. The Lord does not do anything but that he reveals his plans to his servants the prophets. That’s a promise from scripture. (Surely the Lord God does nothing, Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets. Amos 3:7) Listen to the Spirit, servants of the Lord, and not to the voices who only speak what you want to hear.

Too many people put way too much hope and expectation on one man. Trump is not the messiah—we put way too much stock in him and expected him to do all of our fighting and be the sole and primary preserver of our freedoms. God is the source and we the people are solely responsible for whether they are preserved or not.

 This nation’s form of government, based and founded on the principle of scripture and given to us to live out as free and responsible morally guided people, will not work apart from God, and a general consensus that his ways are just and his word absolute and that in the end he will judge us all.

Without that we have no absolutes, we have no compass to keep us all moving in the same direction, and if no man fears God or believes that he will one day stand before his maker and answer as to how he lived his life and whether he dealt fairly and honestly with everyone, treated others the way he wanted to be treated—if we do not fear a just God then he will do whatever is necessary to get the most out of this day for no one other then ourselves.

If the majority acts this way then a free people cannot remain free no matter who is president because they will only be taken advantage of and will have nothing greater than themselves to fight for. Then whoever has the most power and influence will take advantage of all others to acquire more power and influence until they have it all—and the rest have none—no money, no freedom, no influence, no voice, no freedom and eventually—no life.

The late Paul Harvey used to remind us that with great freedom comes great responsibility. That responsibility requires wisdom, courage, fortitude and faith. I takes facing the hard stuff—and taking some abuse.

As followers of Jesus, why would we expect to not be abused by the world that crucified our Lord? Jesus was not swayed from his mission, even though it involved pain. And he is far from finished. Neither are we.

The Lord is preparing you to do mighty things. You are not a loser, you have nothing to fear, you will be seen as an expert in the things of the Lord and people will be amazed and afraid at the mighty things you know and do. But they need what you have because they have not.

Compared to where the world is—you, who know the Lord and his word, will look like the wisest and most knowledgeable person they have ever met—God will raise us up, God will raise you up, so that his glory may be revealed. And it will.

Be encouraged church.

We Just Aren’t Getting It–Yet

Or —‘What the Hell is Going on Here!’

We are all a part of a much larger plan and are being prepared for the full implementation of it.

As the followers of Jesus headed to capital city with him, they had visions of grandeur that turned into horror.

They say a baby’s world ends where their vision does. If they cannot see it, it does not exist. So when Momma leaves the baby’s sight she has left him all alone in the world. But when their world is about to end because there is this sudden pain of hunger or an uncomfortable squishy feeling in the diaper causing a wail that in their minds can be heard by all of creation—all 10 feet or so of it—Momma suddenly comes back into the world and fixes it.

‘Momma—don’t you leave me again, when I wake up you had better be here. I have big plans of a bottle, a burb and a song.’ As far as they know that is all there is and all there ever will be. Sometimes that daddy person pops his face into the world and makes goofy noises—but then he just vanishes also.

A baby cannot fathom that there is a whole grand world out there full of many babies just like them and that the people who pop in and out of their world have a life and an existence apart from them, and that they are all part of a bigger plan, of which they will be more and more a part of.

Their scope and perception is very limited—as is ours. We have a hard time imagining anything beyond our own corners of the world, let alone Heaven and the spiritual realm, the true nature of eternity and the grand scope of the billions of human souls just like ours who all have a stake in how eternity plays out.

We cannot fathom how it is all affected by what happens here in the realm of time and space where the most important thing is how we feel at the moment. We think we get it, and we try really hard to look past our noses—but we are really clueless.

When our expectations of what is going to happen, what must happen, do not happen—we lose all hope; “The world will never be the same, there is no way this can work out. ‘Lord how can you just leave me here hanging like this? This person must be president, this person must be stopped, this policy must be secured, this wrong must be righted, I have to be allowed to do this and that, go here and there, I must be seated at the right hand of power— I must have my bottle filled and my diaper changed today or my world will come to an end!’

No little Johnny—just be patient, don’t sell the farm just yet—there’s a much bigger picture, a much larger battle, a much grander plan being implemented and today is just a tiny part of it.

Just because you’re uncomfortable today does not mean you have been abandoned. Just because you sister dumped the strained peas on your head and seems to have gotten away with it because daddy was off in the kitchen for a moment, doesn’t mean you are forever doomed to have a sticky head and a mocking sibling.

Okay, that got a little strange and I’m not sure where to take it from there, but I hope you get the point. We do not see the big picture, we do not know how today will affect tomorrow and we certainly do not know what tomorrow holds and just exactly what our Father in Heaven had planned for us as we squabble over the strained peas.

But I do know this—we are all a part of a much larger plan and are being prepared for the full implementation of it.

Today we may feel like helpless children—I think that is God teaching us that we must be like helpless children, we must be humble, urgently seeking our Father; ‘Please! Come back into my world and fix this—I can’t!’ Exactly—you cannot fix it. Only God can.

You just need to learn to trust, to be patient, to look for and be ready for, the day when you are used to win the final victory.

Today you are the servant of all, taking the scorn, the mocking and the beatings so that tomorrow you can be great, so that you can be used of God and see his glory revealed, washing away all the darkness and vileness that has mocked us and oppressed— not just us, but our God as well.

Today we are being taught these lessons, being taught how to trust and persevere so that we will still be here when His day comes. In the meantime it will get messy, and it is. Nothing really worth having comes without a price and a fight.

Hard Lessons

The twelve were learning this on this journey to Jerusalem.

The disciples expected Jesus to just waltz in and claim the throne. They weren’t understanding the fights required to get to where they were truly headed, the patience, determination and faith it would require. Nothing good comes easy. Not when evil insists on having it’s day.

The 12 fully expected to see everything work out according to the scenario they had imagined and conjectured, maybe even by the end of the week—’We know what’s going on, we know the scriptures, we have been following and being taught by the Messiah himself day and night for three years! I mean, it just has too, because the only other outcome is our end. We are not welcome in Jerusalem, the seat of power, not if we are with Jesus and are known as his followers.’

So this must be it! This is our day! Here we go!

They were sadly and profoundly mistaken. Instead of the glory they expected and promised one another, by the end of the week the  scorn and violence they feared had fully overtaken them, murdered their King, turned them into refugees and outlaws hiding for fear of their lives—silenced.

Glory revealed

But what happened three days later? The very thing they were promised—Jesus rose again and he was seated on the throne. But that throne and that kingdom was not earthly, the throne was at the right hand of the Father and the kingdom was the universe, and, our hearts.

The days of scorn, mocking, abuse and violence ended in the revealing of the Son of God in all his Glory. And suddenly—they, who had been scorned and mocked as ignorant fisherman and uneducated nobodies from obscure fishing villages up north, would be looked to as the ultimate authorities on all things concerning the Messiah.

They were the experts and the final word in the quickly expanding church of Jesus Christ that would soon eclipse the precious traditions and religion that the Pharisees and Priests clung to, leaving the experts who scorned them looking like fools. And they were. Fools who completely missed what God was doing because of their arrogance. Because they were sure that they were first. But in the Kingdom, the first will be last.

The follower of Jesus who thought they had missed out on and blown their chance for glory days because it didn’t happen in their time and in their way, were given their positions of authority in the Kingdom just when they least expected it, after they thought all was lost. Because they had drank from the cup and shared in the baptism of Jesus.

But today, heading toward Jerusalem, they are still in the humbling and learning stages and things are about to get real.

Before they could be washed in the blood and baptized with fire they had to see the blood shed and fight the fires of hell’s fury. They may have been born and raised at the knees of the rabbi’s who taught them the prophets and the law, they may have been hearing talk of the Kingdom to come straight from Jesus for three years now, but they were still a long way from glory, at least as far as the price to be paid.

They still were not prepared nor seemed to understand the suffering that must happen first.

See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34 they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”

They had to pay their dues so to speak, learn their lessons, get kicked around by the best for a bit, mocked, scorned, bruised and tried—it would be nothing compared to what their Lord would suffer of course, but nonetheless it all seemed pretty hopeless and final; ‘This is as big as our world gets and we just lost it allwe just watched our last chance die.’

Little did they realize.

One Word–Divorce

Hard lessons learned

I refused to condemn and stop loving and welcoming anyone.”

I’m going to lay it right out there— two or three years ago we had over 40 people here pretty consistently in our small rural church, and there were times when we were looking for extra chairs to put out. Today 20 seems like a lot.

What happened? One worddivorce.

I hate to admit that because it doesn’t seem to speak well of a ministry. But we cannot hide from the truth and pretending that it was something else does not fix it nor heal it. There are no dark corners here to hide things in.

We had a handful of divorces and a broken engagement or two all within a two year span. In a small tight knit church family, that is devastating and has immediate and long lasting ripple effects on everyone.

And honestly, all things considered, especially that they involved the worship team and my own family, I don’t think many churches could have survived the devastation, period. But God is good and he led us through as best as possible and we are now rebuilding wiser and stronger and I hope more in tuned to, and certainly more dependent on, the Holy Spirit and his presence here than ever.

But the casualty rate was high. I don’t blame anyone but the enemy—and he is a clever and wily one. He just started peeling people off– How?

For starters, in a divorce—everyone takes sides and soon one side has to leave because they cannot be in the presence of the other side.

Then some people feel condemned and judged—so they leave.

Others feel the tension and the pressure—and they leave.

There is a fear that it is contagious and fear for their own marriages—so they leave.

Others do not like the way the pastor handled it—so they leave.

Some of the most challenging ministry and spiritual battles I have ever fought happened in the midst of all that.

If I did everything everyone thought I should do, everything that the flesh demanded I do—the carnage would have been horrendous and our building would be a Hair salon or a Yoga studio right now.

And the flock would all be somewhere else telling everyone what a judgmental bible and head thumper I was.

As a result some people were upset because I refused to condemn and stop loving and welcoming anyone. (You would not believe the backlash that created.) That is a battle that still continues, the dysfunctions caused by divorces are long lasting and far reaching.

Dysfunctions

But I refuse to play those games. If you have read either of my first two books you know why, I’m just done with accommodating other’s issues—done.

I have spent my entire life either being a victim of, or trying to minister to, other victims of those games. And what truly makes me angry is that it’s usually the children who suffer most. So whenever I find myself standing at dysfunction junction again deciding which track to follow—I will go down the road of the heart that functions fully in love.

It is the hard heart that always leads to destruction.

And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. Mark 10:5

God only allowed Moses to write a provision for divorce into the law because of man’s stubborn and self-seeking nature. But the heartache is then only exacerbated by the heart hardening that follows and demands that everyone else follow suit.

That doesn’t mean I condone or turn a blind eye to sin and bad choices, it just means that I love, as Jesus loves, unconditionally.

I will not be an enabler of your dysfunctions.  But neither will I stop trying to love you back into wholeness. And that, my friends, is a very fine and hard line to walk—apart from the Holy Spirit.

And if the trials of the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that nothing is more important than being completely sold out and 100% obedient to God no matter what or who is coming against you.

We must continually recognize that our enemy is not flesh and blood and that we are all susceptible to making mistakes and just outright foolish choices. And all I can do as a pastor is to keep loving you and inviting you to follow Jesus—for real, not just with lip service. This blog will always encourage and challenge you in that.

Love

The Lord gave me a real simple mandate in the heat of these battles, and he reminded me of it repeatedly as I struggled with—’what do I do?I feel like I need to rail on the virtues of marriage, to call people out, to bang some heads together—how do I make everyone happy, how do I appear in charge and make sure everyone knows just how I—I mean God—expects them to behave? “Lord, what am I to do here? How do I make these people see?”

You know what he said to me? “I have called you to love people. You let me take care of the rest—Just love people.”

 I cannot tell you how freeing that was to my weary and tortured soul. ‘Yes Lord, I can do that. Just love people.’ If that makes those who believe I need to come down on some, and vindicate others, angry to the point of leaving—then so be it.

The angry people needed to leave, or just get over them bad selves. Because, honestly— It was the tension and the whispering and the rumors between the various camps that did the worst damage—more so than the actual divorces.

Jesus’ love is unconditional—and so is mine. And anything and anyone that gets in the way of that love being known by his beloved will be dealt with in no uncertain terms.

If you have suffered the violence’s that that divorce does to your heart and soul, or picked up the pieces of the damage done, you know what this means and why God hates divorce. He hates it because of the violence it does to the hearts of those he loves. If you are that bruised soul–HE DOES NOT hate you, he hates what has happened to you, and he only wants to heal and restore you–just trust him. You are loved child.

In the Valley–Buried Alive

Rise to a new day

Sometimes the greatest changes happen on the heels of the worst nightmares.

Goodbye 2020 Glad to have survived you. . .

I’m not sure how this story relates exactly to all of what this last year was about, but I believe the Lord put this on my heart to share with you for this day. Some of you have already heard the story of how I was buried and nearly killed years ago. I was working at the Conoco refinery in Billings, once again, actually this story happened a few years before the one I shared last week. Again, it’s a wonder I survived all the stuff we used to do, but anyway.

It was November 4th, 1980, I was 19 years old and working in the valley, in a twelve foot deep hole in the middle of the valley, moving a gas pipeline on the edge of the refinery so that another could run under it. The hole was not shored or sloped as per OSHA regulations and I was too inexperienced to know, care or protest.

Towards the end of the day I was working on one side of the pipe, doing the messy job of wrapping the pipe welds after having primed them with a black mastic, the other guys were on the other side of the pipe wrapping up welding leads and picking up tools, when suddenly the very high and steep bank right behind me let loose and hit me from behind like a runaway freight train.

In fact that was my first thought as my face and chest was slammed against the black sticky pipe leaving me completely buried and unable to move a muscle. We were close to the railroad tracks so I thought “A train has fallen into the hole.”

As I realized that my mouth was packed with dirt and everything was black, I knew I had been buried alive. A true nightmare scenario. I had my whole life ahead of me and now it was over. I was not sure that even if they did get me out before I died from lack of air that I even wanted to live because I was sure I was paralyzed.

The weight of the soil on top of me had me pinned so completely that I could not even tell if I had the use of my arms and legs anymore. I could not even expand my lungs to breath or shout. This was as bad and as frightening as it could possibly get. But in those brief moments between life and eternity, where time slowed down to a crawl— I had an encroaching sense of peace.

I knew my Lord, and I knew my Father was with me, and I had no doubt that when I fell asleep in that dark hopeless valley I would wake up in his arms. And I did go to sleep there in that unexpected grave. But when I woke up I was not in the arms of my father, I was being shaken by my boss who was yelling at me to breath.

They had dug me out in time to stop my premature departure, I don’t know how, but I’m glad they did.

A new start

And, this is the reason I think I was supposed to share this today; the next day we had a new president. As I was being buried in that hopeless hole an election was taking place— back in the day when elections took one day and there were no computers to muddy things up— and the next day Ronald Reagan was President elect.

Soon the economy turned around, the fuel crisis was over, the Iranian hostage crisis ended on inauguration day and the days of the Iron curtain and the cold war were rapidly coming to a close. And I bought a house and got married.

The point?

Things can change in a moment, even if the moments you are in seem like the last.

So as we pop our heads up out of what many consider the pit of doom that 2020 was, let’s be hopeful that tomorrow will be a new and better day—more than just hopeful, let’s contend for, believe for and facilitate that being the case.

You are not just a hapless victim, you are a champion for the Kingdom, and God has spared you the death in the valley for a time such as this.   

Pilots Index Peaks Dan Swaningson

The timetable belongs to God, and he will yield to no other.