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.

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.

On the Mountain part 2

And now, here we are, on the doorstep of another year—wondering, praying and hoping that the new year is better then the old, forgetting that we can only live one day at a time anyway and that every one of those days is a gift from our creator until the day when we step into eternity, where a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day. Where we will be reunited with those who have gone before us, as has been the way of man since the beginning— pandemic or no pandemic.

So, since we insist on looking at individual years as somehow being a cohesive and cosmically manipulative unit—what do suppose the new one holds for us? I can just about guarantee you it will have plenty of both—mountaintops and valleys. The real question is; what are you going to do in those valleys?

We have all echoed the cry of the frightened father as he helplessly watches his son being tormented by evil—“Lord, I don’t know how you can fix this but I want to believe that you can! Have mercy!”

Yellowstone Park Dan Swaningson

We all believe. But when the valleys seem darkest, it’s hard sometimes to feel like you have enough faith to get out. And that’s when we can count of the faithfulness of our God.

I have prayed that prayer many times for myself—”Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief!” and the valleys are suddenly not so dark.

But you know, there are no true valleys for those who believe because Jesus is with us no matter the elevation or the obstacles in the path. Some places are just more challenging than others. Each day is what you make it. And if you pay attention, sometimes the valleys are the places where the real learning happens, where you truly see God at work.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the valleys, the low swampy parts of the valleys it would seem, and I have to be honest—2020 was not a valley for me, compared to some. And because I spent the year or two previously, fighting my way through some pretty dark valleys, seeing the enemy wreak havoc and attack my family and my church—if you think you know me—I can guarantee you, you do not know even a half of it. 2020 was a victory dance in comparison.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But the lessons I learned and the bonds that were forged in those fires are priceless, indestructible—and eternal.

49 “For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.” Mark 9

And I am stronger and more appreciative of every day the sun rises and I am still walking with my Lord no matter what happens, because my God has proven himself faithful and present time and again. And that’s all I really need—Jesus.

Anything and everything else good in my life is just a bonus that I am immensely grateful for. Even the scars and aches are just reminders of battles I’ve survived.

Fanning the Flame

“It was not long before we heard sirens coming from what seemed every direction, . . . we were now the idiots who tried to blow up Billings. “

Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? 18 Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? Mark 8

Can you imagine standing toe to toe with Jesus and having him ask you this? The indignation of this question is quite obvious in the context. So this was no rhetorical or contrived discussion question.

Welcome to the Capernaum chapter of the Clueless Fishermen for Jesus support group. Let’s break the ice by going around the circle and explaining in two or three sentences why you are still confused about this carpenter/teacher/prophet from Nazareth. Who wants to go first?”

No, This is a question from Jesus that no doubt made his followers a little uncomfortable. It’s like—‘Do I need to call Captain Obvious to explain things to you? Can you not hear? Can you not see? Have you forgotten everything?’

Do we understand? Because it’s easy to miss the obvious truth that Jesus is the Christ and that in him we have nothing to fear and nothing to loose, if we are totally surrendered to and trusting of him.

We have to keep fanning the flames of truth and understanding to really bring the knowledge of who Christ is, and what that means for us, from the head into the heart, into our very spirits. We have to let the Holy Spirit move freely through us and in us and that is a huge challenge because the enemy will do everything he can to block that wind of the Spirit so that those flames will die out leaving us with nothing but head knowledge and a weakness that leaves us susceptible to the yeast of the Pharisees—a yeast of selfish ambition and religious attitudes of judgment and haughtiness.

Look at me. I’m somebody and you are nobody, and I am worthy of more.‘  That attitude, along with the weaknesses of the flesh that we may give in to, can block the Spirit and leave us smoldering.

Why do we not understand? Because we are not putting it all together. This is what the Lord told me, because I asked, and the Lord gives wisdom to those who ask:

“The understanding is in the heart, the wisdom is in the word, and the conjunction is in the Spirit.”

Worldly wisdom comes from the head and what we can put in it. Godly wisdom is seated in the heart, it is a wisdom that comes from God’s word and is brought to life by his Holy Spirit.  

The word is the fire that is in the heart and the wind that fans the flames is the Holy Spirit fanning it all to life for wisdom, power and understanding. All of that leads to the faith we need to get us through this life with and for Jesus, blessed, fruitful and advancing the Kingdom of our God.

Fire!

Back in the 80’s when I worked for an outfit that did pipeline and refinery work we got contracted to do the demolition of one of those big oil storage tanks at the Conoco refinery in Billings. The tank was located in a lot just behind the refinery actually, just off the Interstate in what they called the “tank farm.” If you are going through Billings you have surely seen those tanks right near the river just before you get to the Lockwood exit.

Our job was to go in there with cutting torches and cut this huge tank into sheets of metal small enough to fit on a flatbed truck to haul away for scrap metal.

So where do you start demoing a giant steel tank? On the roof of course. So, using a crane with a “man cage” swinging from it they hoisted me up to the top and deposited me with my cutting torch in hand. The Oxy/Acetylene bottles were still on the ground and I had many feet of hose run out to it. I started cutting away, the plan being to cut pie shaped pieces of the lid loose and let them fall down inside. That’s another story all in itself, it’s a wonder I survived my earlier construction years looking back at some of the things we used to do. But anyway, so far, so good.

Now, this tank had been sitting empty for many years and there was a large hole cut in the side big enough to drive a small skid steer through and to let things air out real well. But there was this weird thick black dry residue of something all over the floor. It looked to me like ground up tires, three inches thick or so. It was actually some kind of residue from the crude oil that had been stored in the tank at one time.

We soon discovered that it was somewhat flammable, no problem. As I was cutting on top, occasionally a small fire would flare up on the floor and someone would just go in and pat it out with a shovel.

Then the boss, the owner of the outfit, ol’ Wayne, at least he seemed old to me at the time, decided that it would be much more efficient to put the oxy/acetylene bottles up on the lid, and then we would have enough hose to get two guys cutting.

So they loaded up the bottles into the man cage and hoisted them up to the lid. Everyone’s attention was on the bottles and the people going up to the top—and no one was watching the inside of the tank where a little bit of smoldering residue had got enough wind to burst into flames.

We now had a big enough hole in the roof that the wind blowing through the opening in the side could really get to fanning the flames and soon there was quite a plume of smoke billowing out of the top. I shouted “Hey, there’s a fire down below!”

The flames were now way too big to pat out with a shovel. The boss quickly swung us and the bottles down off the top and soon everyone was running around like chickens with their heads cut off. I was standing there with Wayne waiting for him to tell me what to do and he looked at me and said; “I don’t know what to do!”

By this time there was a line of cars stopped on the highway watching this huge column of thick black smoke billowing out of the top of a tank; at the refinery!—this does not look good. We were a long ways from the nearest phone but the smoke signals we were sending up could be seen for miles. Just imagine a giant burn barrel full of tires; that’s what we had going there.

(A more recent fire) A STORAGE TANK at the ConocoPhillips refinery, above, lies crumpled Friday morning after a fire on Thursday in Billings.

I looked at Wayne and said “We have to stop that wind from blowing in that hole in the side—it’s just fanning the flames and making it look really bad.We grabbed a large tarp from one of our trucks and Wayne and I stood there and held it up against the hole as best we could to block the wind.

It helped but it did not stop the flames, the smoke was still horrendous. It was not long before we heard sirens coming from what seemed every direction. Soon a big yellow fire truck came rolling up and fireman all decked out in their coats and respirators came running at us shouting “What’s going on?”

We were standing the with our arms up over our heads holding the tarp against the tank, futilely trying to cut off the air, our faces black with soot—and Wayne didn’t say a word. I don’t know what he was thinking but he looked like a deer in the headlights. So I quickly explained the situation. About this time hoses were being strung out so we dropped our tarp and got out of the way as they ran headlong into the tank and started spraying foam everywhere.

Photo by Tobias Rehbein on Pexels.com
Here I am– to save the day!

Before it was over we had five different fire crews show up. The City of Billings, Lockwood, the refinery fire crews from Conoco and the nearby Exxon crew and a truck from the now defunct O’Donnell’s Fire service clear out in Shepherd.

I was just shaking my head. I kept thinking, “It’s just a little fire inside of a tank all by itself over here, it’s mostly just smoke!” But apparently everyone thought that the whole city was in danger. The fire was out long before all the trucks stopped rolling in.

Of course we made the evening news and we were now the idiots who tried to blow up Billings. But we went back to work the next day and made sure we kept someone on fire watch. Life goes on.

Thots

Do you understand?

Understanding is the small flicker of flame that starts as a little smolder in a rich and abundant bed of fuel planted in our hearts by God’s word, that has to have the wind of the Spirit to really get it roaring. The Devil will try everything he can to put out that fire. But all he has is a tarp made of lies to try and block the wind. Don’t let him do it.

To understand you have to put it all together, if you understand that Jesus is the Christ, that he is with you, that you have nothing to fear, that he can use what you have to do incredible things from a heart of compassion for people, and do not let the greed of the heart, the lies of the world and the pride that is always prodded by the enemy choke you off, then the Holy Spirit will fan the embers of faith in your heart into a roaring fire that God can use to overcome any obstacle to his purposes that he puts on your heart to achieve.

Not for greed, not for glory, not for fame or self-satisfaction, but for Jesus.

The understanding is in the heart, the wisdom is in the word, and the conjunction is in the Spirit.

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Tradition or Truth?

13 making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” Mark 7

You ever hear something so much that you stop hearing it? Do something so many times that you forgot you just did it? Or don’t remember why you even do it that way? In the Kingdom of God that’s called empty religion. In Jesus’ dealing with the religious of his day, he called it your tradition.

That little word your being the telling and convicting word there. Not because tradition is bad, but because it had replaced, truth–even replaced God.

“Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, Why do your disciples eat with unwashed hands? Why don’t you respect the tradition of the elders?” Mark 7:5

In Mark 7 we see Jesus getting frustrated yet again at the blindness of those who were supposed to know better; with the teachers and scholars of the day who had taken the word of God, the law and the promises, the warnings and the blessings and managed to totally remove God from them. They added to and twisted them to serve their own purposes. They made the words more important than the people they were meant to serve, and the God they were meant to point to.

The Scribes and Pharisees had turned the word of God into something to be worshipped, rather than a means through which to worship. The law was turned into something to serve rather than something serving us. It no longer pointed to a righteous and loving God, it only served, in the hands of the Pharisees and those they deceived, to subjugate and condemn people.

Jesus came saying, ‘No, the word of God sets people free and restores and rebuilds people—that was the intent and that’s why I came—to show, provide, and be the way, the truth and the life that you failed to grasp and attain through the written and spoken word.

The word is not of no effect —because I Am the Word.’

And that’s what all of this–Church, blogging, worship, living for Jesus– is about. That is why we celebrate Christmas, and every Sunday, and every other day that we draw breath, knowing that one day we will draw breath in a new heaven and a new earth from a resurrected and perfect body.

But back to Jesus and the religious know-it-alls.

The word become flesh

Jesus accused the religious scholars of making the word of God of no effect—but we know that the word of God never goes forth but that it accomplishes that for which it was spoken. It never returns void, it is never of no effect—if it is spoken in the Spirit of which it was given—Love. God is love and all he does and says is motivated and grounded in his inexpressible and unstoppable love for his children—for us.

The word of God was and is of effect, because the word is Jesus, and he is among us. He is Emmanuel.

The promise was fulfilled.  The thing mankind and all of creation had waited for, groaned for, believed for. The wait was over, even if some failed to see.

Summer Vacation

Have you ever really looked forward to something?  Like Christmas; the year 2020 to be over… How about the best summer vacation ever? 

When I was ten years old my mom and my step dad moved us from Cloquet Minnesota to Albuquerque NM. Imagine the culture shock -unfortunately my dad still lived in Minnesota.  But my sister and I were going to spend a month with him in the summer—  a whole month!

When I first found out I was so excited to go I could hardly stand it.  Not only were we going to get to see our dad, we were going to get to fly on a big Jet for the first time. He promised us all kinds of fun, camping and fishing, and the best part of all— we were actually going to take a trip to Niagara Falls!  On the way there we were going to stay for a couple days in Detroit where one of my aunt and uncles lived and we would all go together from there.  What an adventure.  It was more than I could fathom. 

As the school year ended and the time got closer and closer for us to go, I began to worry that I would mess it up, maybe get grounded for doing something stupid and not be allowed to go.

But my biggest fear was that I would die before I got to go see my Dad, or that some tragic accident or sickness would prevent us from getting to do all those amazing things together. I was living with irrational fear, but hey, I was only a kid, that’s what they do. We’re supposed to know better now—right?

 Anyway, the night before we left, we had the plane tickets and we were still alive and well. I don’t think my sister and I slept a wink, we were just too anxious, it was actually going to happen! And it did. We flew to Minnesota, got airsick and lost our luggage—but hey, we had a great time anyway.

The wait was worth it.

Now, this is a small thing compared to waiting for the Savior to come. But it’s the sense of anticipation, the longing to see your father who seems so far away, the never ending night, clinging to the promise that it was indeed going to happen and fearing that somehow you were going to mess it up, even be hindered by death-—that is what the world, all the world who had put their hope in the One true God, the Father— experienced and lived with for thousands of years.

If we truly love God and believe the promises we are living for the day when we would get to go see the father. But God didn’t just send a plane ticket and wait, he actually came in the flesh so that we could see him, hear him, look into his eyes and know that we were loved. And then he laid down his life to pay for the ticket that would bring us home.  The word became flesh.

Jesus didn’t need religion, and he still doesn’t.  He didn’t need to perform the rituals that symbolized purity and the forgiveness of grace- he was the embodiment of purity, he was forgiveness and grace, he was the very word of God. And in fulfillment of that word, he makes us pure and whole as well. He opened the way to the Father—making Him approachable, just like he was as that baby lying in  a manger so long ago, on a night that changed everything.

That’s a promise straight from God’s word, and God always keeps his promises.

Merry Christmas Family!

The Ghost

If we expect to be overcome and subject to the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of this present age, we will, our authority will go unused, null and void, because we refuse to recognize and wield it.

The sixth chapter of the Gospel of Mark is rich with stories about various groups of people and their reactions and expectations of Jesus. In fact, their expectations largely determine their experiences with him.

Through all of this the ones who would become known as the Apostles see, hear and even do incredible things. From being empowered to cast out demons and heal, to being used to feed over five thousand hungry people with almost nothing. In fact, it is immediately after that miraculous feeding that they go from a God experience euphoria to a woe is me I’m going to die night of terror.

Once again the twelve, as Mark likes to call them, find themselves in a boat at night, in a wind storm, rowing their butts off trying to stay perpendicular to the waves and not get driven out any farther to sea or into the unseen hazards of the shoreline, their short trip down the coast has become an all-night ordeal—what else could possibly go wrong? Oh look, a ghost walking across the water right towards us! And they are scared out of their wits.

47 Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. 48 Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. 49 And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; 50 for they all saw Him and were troubled. Mark 6

Really? You just fed thousands of people with the equivalent of a couple of happy meals. Right after you had returned from a couple weeks missions trip where you just went from town to town and personally cast demons out of people like it was just another day at the office, and now you are afraid of a ghost on the sea?

And you don’t even recognize your own Lord and realize that it could be him walking on the water—like it is the last thing you would expect?Come’on man!

The twelve still had a lot to learn, yet Jesus would continue to invest in, and entrust them with more and more as time went on, and they would change the world–forever.

Isn’t it nice to know that you don’t have to have perfect faith to be used by the Lord to do amazing things for Jesus? It just takes a little faith in the one who has faith in us to accomplish what he sets before us to do. We need to learn to expect God to continue working in and through us. Because he is.

Conversely, if we expect to have the enemy run roughshod over us, he will.

If that really had been a ghost, a demon spirit coming for the apostles in the dark of night, as they were all trembling with fear, they might have all jumped overboard to escape him. Rather than commanding he leave, they were screaming like little girls. “ they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out”

 If we expect to be overcome and subject to the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of this present age, we will, our authority will go unused, null and void, because we refuse to recognize and wield it.

But if you expect to be listened to by the powers of darkness when you speak, if you expect the Holy Spirit to have your back and give you an infallible blanket of protection as you do battle with the enemy, if you expect the authority of God to be at your disposal as you pray against sickness and oppression—it will be yours.

It is your birthright as sons and daughters of God, once robbed from us by virtue of sin and disobedience, doubt and pride, handed down by our ancestor Adam, but now restored and made available for the taking by the new Adam—Jesus Christ.

Do not wallow in defeat. Do not wallow in pity and sorrow, do not expect your lot to be defeat and misery—expect God to hear you, to accomplish his purpose for and through you. And expect the enemy to flee at the sound of your voice never even showing his face because he does fear you.

We might have been a little hard on the boys; screaming like girls and all. . .

It might be too easy for us to look back and wonder; ‘Why were the disciples afraid of the ghosts anyways? They had just cast out demons left and right, and now they are fearful of one?’

But we are all afraid of certain things or situations, aren’t we?

I think we’ve all been in that wind-blown boat in the darkest hours of the night with nothing but an oar and a prayer to hold on to.

The disciples, most of whom were seafarers as a requirement of their fishing trade, were no doubt apprised of the prevailing superstition that a seeing a water spirit in the dark of night at sea was a sure portent of imminent death.

It didn’t matter how much time you spent at sea, the thought of drowning as you descended into the black depths of the unknown was terrifying, perhaps more so to those who have had more time to ponder it as those who spend their nights fishing from wooden boats would have. And tales of terrors in the seas would be a common theme haunting seaman of all ages.

Yet, for all their terror and appearances of doom, Jesus was there for them in the end. Even if they were expecting death to come for them, at the same time their hearts were crying out for God’s mercy and help. And it came in the form of Jesus. Once Jesus became apparent, once they heard his voice. they expected things to be okay, and they were.

But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” 51 Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. 52 For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.

Mark 6

Their picture of Jesus, although not yet complete, was getting there. But they had to open their hearts.

We cannot let our hearts get hard. We have to understand that it is not all up to us, we are not alone, we are never alone. Jesus has got us. Believe it, expect it, know it.

He’s got you

Back when we were ranching, on the Heyu Cow Ranch, I came home from work one day to find quite a scene. Ralph, my Father in Law, Charlie, my brother in Law, and my wife, Donna were trying to herd a heifer into the barn so they could help her calve. (A Heifer is a two year old first time calver)

She, the heifer, was at the stage in calving where it was evident that she needed help, (They don’t always) the calve would have to be pulled. The water had broken and the little front hooves were playing peek a boo.  The three trying to help were certainly capable and qualified to do so, but there was one problem, this heifer did not know them, at least not well enough to trust them.

They had managed to get her into the barn but she was still frantically trying to avoid them. About this time I walked into the barn from the opposite door, turned the corner coming into view and said, “What’s going on?” No sooner had I said that when the heifer plopped down in the straw and let out a huge cow sigh. (Yes they can.)

From behind her the other three were looking at her amazed and somewhat incredulous and then back at me and Charlie said, We have been trying to get her to let us help her for half an hour and she wasn’t having it. As soon as she heard your voice she just laid down!

She knew me, she knew my voice, and she expected things to be okay because I was there—and they were. I got behind her and with the help of my able crew we pulled a healthy calve as I continued to speak in reassuring tones to my frightened heifer, now a new momma.

You know what the primary difference is between the twelve in that boat, the heifer in the barn, and us? We do not have to wait for the master to show up. He is here, he is always here. We just need to expect to hear his voice of reassurance, and we will. We need to expect his help, and we’ll have it.

We need to expect grace, strength, peace and wholeness—we need to expect love, because we have it— we have Jesus.

Our Old Barn

“Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”

The only ghost that can touch us is the Holy Ghost.