Rolling Away the Stone

“I felt like I was trapped in a tomb. . . All I had in there with me was a bag of weed, a bottle of whiskey and a bunch of good time friends to help me consume it.

“Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large. 

Mark 16:3-4

How often do we focus on the stone, beat our heads against it, rail at it, pray about it. And finally just camp out on it because—well, it’s not going anywhere.

The Marys and Salome knew that there was death behind that stone—but they didn’t believe they could do anything about it so they just focused on the stone. ‘Stupid rock! If only we could have done this the other day, before they sealed the tomb, we wouldn’t have to come back and worry about it now.’

If only Jesus hadn’t come back to Jerusalem, if only the Priests had listened to Jesus, if only he had been nicer to them, played their games. If only. . .  there is always an if only isn’t there? But we cannot go back in time, what is done is done. So now all we can do is worry about this big rock that is blocking the way.

Am I talking about the ladies or us? Both.

I can’t really get to my Lord because this stone is in my way.

‘I have to deal with it, or, I guess, just live on this side of it. Scared, alone and hopeless. Just as well, the situation is all hopeless anyway, there’s nothing on the other side but decay.’

That is just a lie, a distraction to keep you from even going to the tomb. At least the women had the faith to go to Jesus, even expecting little when they got there—’all we need is the stone removed—please?!’

Their mustard seed of faith was rewarded, and they realized that their stone, just like the ones Jesus had rolled away from their hearts when he was here, was gone.

Your stone can be drugs, eating, money worries or money clutching. It can be gambling, emotional scars, drugs, alcohol, pornography, physical pain and sickness, family issues, job issues, the cares of the world, the love of the world, fear, anxiety, depression—all of them huge stones that we push and push on to no avail—they are just there, keeping us from our Lord. And true life.

My biggest stone was being stoned. I spent years running around, running my own life, seeking everything that I thought my flesh needed and wanted, but got farther and farther away from my Lord until I felt like I was trapped in a tomb with no escape. All I had in there with me was a bag of weed, a bottle of whiskey and a bunch of good time friends to help me consume it.

But I was seeing and feeling more and more that I was dead and empty inside, and no amount of dope—not weed, not mushrooms, not cocaine, not acid, not speed—whiskey, beer or Tequila could cover it any more. And all the parties always seemed to end in heartache leaving me more lonely and empty than ever. Even the good money I was making in the welding trade that I had worked so hard to excel at was not rewarding in the least.

Then I started to hear the Lord call from the other side of the rock—’I’m here, waiting for you.’ I began to hear preachers preaching about a plan that the Lord had for me. I could no longer stand it—I had to get past that rock. But who will roll the stone away? I tried doing it myself. I tried quitting the drugs.

No smoking, no drinking, no snorting— nothing for a month! I declared. I am pushing that stoned stone aside.

Hah, it didn’t hardly budge an inch. I didn’t make it until the end of the first day and I was not only not moving that stone any farther, it was rolling back over the top of me.

I cried out “Lord, I do not want to be this way! I want to follow you, I want to really know you! I will do whatever it takes, go wherever you ask, I’ll read and study, pray and preach, I’ll make a fool of myself, go to the deepest darkest jungles—whatever—just roll away this stone—I can’t even breath anymore, I can’t stand to live this way!”

 ‘Out of my distress I called on the Lord, he answered me and set me free.’” The words of Psalm 118 that jumped out at me that night of my desperation from the old bible I hadn’t opened in years.

Those words became the messenger from God—the angel—that crashed to the earth like lighting in my soul and shoved that stone away like it was made of paper mâché. It turns out the stone wasn’t the issue.

The stone, the drugs and drink,  were hiding the death inside that was caused by my distrust in the Lord and my desire to maintain control. My real issue, the real stone, was the emptiness that came from running from God, from living for the flesh. I was worrying about the stone of addiction being rolled away when inside I was a rotting corpse.

When I decided to take that walk to the garden where I had last seen my Lord, to express my deep and unwavering love and devotion to him, when I declared that I would trust him, if he only rolled that stone away—that stone was obliterated.

When the words of that Psalm opened my eyes to see that I needed to trust Jesus and stop worrying about satisfying the desires of a never satisfied flesh, that I needed to stop worrying about what all my good time party friends thought of me, to see that I would never be free unless I cried out to Jesus—I knew I had to trust him, Trust him with my life, my heart and my soul. And he came crashing out of that tomb I had locked him in, in the dark recesses of my heart, and set me free.

The love and freedom I felt, the peace and the joy I felt, all of this came in an instant that night as I was kneeling on my living room floor with withdrawal cravings wracking my brain and body. On a cold January night the resurrection power of Jesus who walked out of that tomb and embraced me, set me free.

And I have never looked back.

And I have never regretted it for a minute. I have a freedom a purpose and the power of God Almighty backing me up. Because I finally believed—really believed. When I finally gave in and quit running from Jesus, decided to trust him with my heart and my life, the desire to dull my senses with dope disappeared. I did not want to miss a thing.

The stone was rolled away, and it was glorious.

I had been focusing on the stone, wanting it to be removed, but it was the death inside that needed addressed. But overcoming that was more than I could hope for–until I did. The miracle I got that evening was more than I could ever hope for, more than I expected. But we serve a God who overcame death–the stones are easy.

Turns out, Jesus didn’t want my promises of sacrifice and devotion–He just wanted my heart.

Crucified

There is just no good way to communicate all that happened when Jesus was crucified, no adequate words to describe nor explain, and surely, it is beyond human comprehension and description, all that happened that day on the cross, in the heavens, on the earth, below the earth, and most importantly and significantly —in the heart of Jesus, the Son of Man, Son of God.

We cannot fathom the depth of the love that held him to that cross and kept him on mission, thus we cannot fathom the depth of the pain he experienced in the depths of his soul as that intense and never faltering love was rejected, scorned and mocked—as those he loved, from his followers, to his people, to his own Father, turned away and rejected him, leaving him to suffer and die misunderstood and unappreciated.

The few who did still love and feel the pain of his ordeal in their souls were left without hope. And this only added to Jesus’ pain. No one seemed to understand that this was all necessary and foretold. Yet, if they had, it wouldn’t have happened; a plan and scenario only His Father could have foreseen and used for good—taking advantage of man’s ignorance and susceptibility to evil influences, to save him from those very things.

Even in their taunts they proclaimed truth, yet failed to understand the words. In three days this temple would indeed be rebuilt. But it would not be a temple built with hands. The large heavy curtain that separated the Stone Temple Sanctuary from the world was torn in two, perhaps because the Spirit of God had left the building— perhaps as a sign that the way was now open for all who wished, to come before the Father—through Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

 There would be no more need for a temple made of stone for the Spirit of God would soon be residing in the hearts of those who loved him, a new temple was being prepared that day, and would be completed on the resurrection day—a temple rebuilt in three days.

Preparing this message I prayed “Lord, help me to communicate the significance and gravity of this event, what the cross means to us and what it meant to you. Help me to communicate the price you paid for our sin, for our redemption through your words, from your Spirit, from your heartLord, I hesitated (dare I even say it) help me to see the crucifixion through your eyes.”

But then I knew, that’s what I had to do. To try to take you there, to the cross on that horrific and reality altering day, through the eyes of the Savior. As I said, words can never fully explain, nor minds comprehend, the things of the Spirit that were happening simultaneously in history and in eternity that day. But we have to try.

After all, we were there. It was our sinful flesh that was being crucified that day, the evil that dwells in our hearts was being transposed from us to Christ in those dark hours. His death was our death, his hellish nightmare experience should have been ours.

20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2:20

When Paul said he had been crucified with Christ, it was not word play, that is the reality of the believer in Christ. So, since Jesus became us on the cross, maybe it is not so radical to try and see the cross through his eyes. It is after all, not we who live, but Christ who lives in us.

Through His Eyes

Jesus, the Nazarene, teacher, prophet and miracle worker, is being nailed to a rough hewn and heavy wooden cross, the kind the Romans use to cause a slow and hideous death that becomes a fear inducing spectacle for all to see. The sight of a cross struck fear and revulsion in all, because they knew what it was for—so did Jesus, and it loomed large in his vision just before he was forced to lie on it.

His arms are lashed to the cross beam with ropes and he turns to look at the soldier who has placed a sharp spike against his wrist. He sees the hammer rise and fall and he cries out in pain. He is startled by the sudden intensity of the pain that manages to override momentarily even that of his lash torn back pressed against the wooden beam, and the new puncture wounds being made in the back of his head, as he is forced to lay his thorn crowned head against the cross beam.

But what he sees as he looks through swollen eye lids at the soldier who is swinging the hammer is a man who has no idea the evil he is perpetrating and who it is that he is piercing with the nails. He is just a soldier following orders to execute what he believes to be just another Jewish rebel. Jesus looks at him, the one who sees him as just another worthless Jew to be rid of, and loves him, him and his fellow soldiers; and prays, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

The next thing he sees is the soldier reaching over him to nail the accusation against him to the cross above his head. He feels the vibrations of every blow painfully transferred through the three nails holding his hands and feet.

He sees the dusty sandaled feet of those passing close by as they mockingly read the charge on the sign—“King of the Jews” And they laugh as they begin making jokes among themselves at his expense. He sees the hobnailed sandals of the soldiers as they push back the jeering mockers lest someone grab the pile of clothing that Jesus’ had just been stripped of—the sum total of his earthly belongings, now spoils to be gambled for.

To his left and right, he sees from the corner of his eye, other crosses and hears pained and hoarse voices alternating between curses and taunts as they too–mock him.

Lying on his back it is hard to see anything really, as He is forced to squint his burning eyes against the glaring overhead sun, a sun seemingly intent on adding to his misery. Suddenly his vision is swimming as he is quickly hoisted upright in one swift, well practiced maneuver, and he finds himself looking down on his world as the cross is lifted up and dropped with a flesh tearing thud into a hole in the ground.

Looking down

His vision soon clears as his dehydrated and blood loss weakened head stops spinning. He can now see the whole crowd, the same that has jeered and hissed at him all the way to this hilltop. He sees through the blood and sweat that flows unchecked into his tortured eyes, the Chief Priests who are now defiling themselves by looking upon the blood of a man who will soon be dead. Yet Jesus knows they must be there, the Chief Priests are the ones who must oversee this offering of the final Passover lamb.

Mark 15:31-32 Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”

Yet the taunts of the priests are like a knife to his heart, because he knows that they will suffer greatly for what they do, and they don’t have to —if they had only listened and believed. They were the first ones to be shown the truth; from the prophets, to his visit to the temple as a boy, and his many visits to the temple. God was speaking, and they were scheming.

He looks at the gathered crowd; he sees the faces in the crowd, and he sees into their hearts.

He sees the angry man who just lost all he owned to a crooked steward. He sees the hurting woman who just lost a baby girl to sickness and is despairing beyond words. He sees the horrified child peering out from behind his father. He sees the disappointed rabbi who really believed that he could be the Messiah, but is now angry that he was apparently duped—yet again.

Their taunts and jeers, rage fueled by disappointment and hopelessness, tears at his heart.

He sees the women who followed and cared for him looking on from a distance, horrified and confused. Their faces a mask of disbelief and pain as they weep into their hands and try in vain to comfort one another. He aches to be able to comfort them and tell them to not give up hope, ‘this is not the end’—but he knows that all they can see and hear now is death and despair.

Then he sees a sight that horrifies him more than all the rest—his mother, Mary,  standing next to his good friend and devoted follower—John. She desperately reaches out to him but is held back by John and the gleaming points of Roman spears.

The pain and anguish he sees in her eyes as they search his for some kind of answer, is another knife in his already aching and straining heart. “Mother,” he croaks between labored breathes “behold your son” referring to John. He then admonishes John —’this is now your mother’–care for her.

Everywhere he looks he sees and hears human pain, anguish, anger, fear and rage. All directed at, and magnified by his body pinned to this pagan cross.

But through it all, through the pain induced haze that causes his eyes to dim and nearly black out at times, through the taunts, cries and jeers, he still has a strength and a measure of peace; a strength and a peace that has been with him through all the years of his ministry, a presence he felt even as a child and recognized as a presence that he had known even long before that—a presence and oneness that had been his for eternity past—it was the presence of his Father.

His Father’s Will

He knows he has to do this. He knows the prophecies and the promises, that he is the promised one, the suffering servant, the seed of Evethe Lamb of God, he knows he is in his Father’s will. And that is what gave him the strength and the will to face this day in the first place, to come back to this city knowing it would be his end.

His cousin John had confirmed his mission at his Baptism—”Behold the Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world” and his Father had sent his Spirit to affirm and empower him in his human and frail form. But what happens now, as he hangs there on that fated cross, he is not prepared for.

Although he knew it had to happen, there was just no way of being prepared for it—the Holy one, the one through whom, for whom, and by whom, all things were created—he who knew no sin, had no way to comprehend, or scale by which to measure, the darkness that He was about to become—in the eyes of his Father.

And he feels the darkness as much as sees it approach.

He turns his eyes heavenward as the bright sun that had earlier tormented him now inexplicably dims until he can see nothing, not with his eyes—but his heart and soul are witnessing things he had never been forced to look upon before, he is feeling things he had never felt, and hearing voices of pain, vileness, condemnation and curses in his head that drown out and overshadow the mocking voices and the angry and anguished cries that have besieged him all day.

But then, the worst pain of all—the heart ripping, spirit killing, bone chilling feeling of sudden emptiness, scorn and abandonment, as all things good, all things right, his very sense of self and his very identity is suddenly ripped away—his Father has turned away—all of heaven, has turned away.

He has become sin, he has become darkness, he has become death. He is totally and utterly alone as all the heinous and vile things mankind has ever done or imagined doing is now in him. He is living it, breathing it, it is emanating from his very pores like the blood he had sweated out just the night before as he anticipated this moment.

He who knew no sin—has become sin. And his Father has forsaken him for it.

He looks down for a moment, forced back into the present by the painful reality of having to pull himself up against the nails just to take a breath as the pressure on his hanging torso makes it impossible to breath normally, and he sees, in the light of a few hastily acquired torches, the faces of his sheep—the ones he has promised to shepherd even if he has to go looking for them, and he knows—he knows, a sense from somewhere deep in his tortured core, that he has to endure this—for them.

But the anxiety, the rising feeling of panic, the bottomless pit of despair that has taken the place of the fullness and love he had always sensed from his Father is almost more than he can bear, and before he even realizes he has decided to speak, the anguished words of his ancestor King David are ripped from his cracked and bleeding lips—spoken in the language he learned at his mother’s knees “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” — “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

And still, the darkness grips him. He vaguely sees a sponge lifted before his face, he smells the sour smell of wine but it is soon withdrawn as those below shout something about Elijah.

He sees in his minds eye the brief image of Elijah as he was on the day that he and Moses had come to prepare him for this day, on the mount of transfiguration. And he is reassured just a bit, just enough to keep him from cursing the day he was born into this vile planet.

And he continues to fight to remember why he is here. To bleed for the sins which continue to course through him, and he understands the darkness of the sun. The Father had turned away from the sin he has become and the light of the world has departed, the Father has looked away and the Life and the Light of men is being extinguished.

Then suddenly, it is done. Three hours of torturous outer darkness separated from the love that is his Father, eons of compiled sin—blasphemies, perversions, murders, greed, vile and heinous acts of every nature, all crammed into the longest three hours ever lived by anyone on this earth—has ended.

He is still on the cross, he is still bleeding and fighting for every breath, still racked with pain and heartbroken for those he loves—but he sees the sun began to shine again and he hears the voice of his Father as coming from a distant place, and it whispers—it is finished.

‘It is finished Son’— words that Jesus quietly repeats. He looks down and sees the wide eyes and expectant faces of the now silent crowd and he knows that he has completed his mission. He senses his Father drawing nearer and he cries out— a cry of triumph mixed with pain and fury as from a warrior who has vanquished his foes yet still bleeds from the fight that was fueled by a need to finally and utterly destroy the enemy.

The body still wants to fight, his muscles quiver with the effort and his mind races with the implications of it all but he knows he is finished—for now. There is nothing left to do here and he releases himself from his battered flesh, he gives up his spirit, with the words, “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.”  

 He is leaving his battered body behind, the shell of the man he had become for thirty three years, but he knows he will return because he knows he has defeated death on that Roman cross—no one else knows it yet—but they will—soon, very soon.

 Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid. Mark 15:46-47

Mocked and Mobbed

The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial is one of mocking, misery, injustice and slander. All against an innocent man.

Just the day before he was the long awaited King, the Son of David come to restore the Kingdom, in the minds of the adoring crowds. But today, those same crowds are calling for his death. And they use the title, King of the Jews, to mock and convict him. Their adulation has turned to mocking.

The mob is a dangerous and fickle beast. Our forefathers recognized this and it is why we have the court system that we do, or are at least supposed to have, where all are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. And all have a chance to defend themselves and to face their accusers. Jesus was convicted and sentenced to death here merely to gratify the crowd who demanded justice for a crime that could not be named or proven.

That is also why we in this nation have a representative form of government, restrained within a long standing and time tested Bill of rights that is supposed to prevent rash and emotional sentiments from ruling the day no matter how big or loud a mob demands it. We are not supposed to be ruled by the whims of the crowd, much to the surprise and dismay of many today—we are not a straight out democracy. Reason and truth are too hard to hang on to when emotions and peer pressure are running high. We are a representative republic, governed by representatives that we choose.

Jesus is the victim of mob rule here, straight up on the fly democracy, subject to the verdict of the people who were persuaded by those who were supposed to be the experts in these things, to demand the release of a murderer at the same time they are demanding the execution of a man who has never committed a crime in his life.

This is probably not the usual track you see a preacher take when he is teaching on the trial and conviction of Jesus but I believe there is an important and relevant message here for the church today. We cannot get caught up in popular sentiment and assume that just because most say something is so, or because the experts say it is so—that it is.

And when those popular sentiments turn against us, when the band wagon we refused to jump on tries to run us over, we must not give in, and we must realize that sometimes the best response is just what Jesus did here. Stand on truth, don’t waste your breath arguing with the hysterical and the liars, and never compromise who you are—a child of the Most High God.  A God who in the end will not be mocked and will remember all the mocking and pain inflicted on his children.

We must not be swept up by crowd or emotion driven passions and become hysterical caricatures useful as tools for those with whatever agenda. You stand apart, you stand strong, you stand dignified and tall—even if you must stand alone. The quiet and nonplussed demeanor and reaction of a child of God, to the abuse of the mob, drawn from the hope and the strength of our faith, will drive the mob insane with fury, but it is our victory and our greatest witness and may even win some to Christ.

“Surely, this man is a son of God.” —The words of one Roman soldier after all he witnessed on this day when the crooked politicians and the lynch mob prevailed over the body of Christ, yet could not break his spirit.

That soldier spoke as one, not as a mob, because, after all, mobs are made up of individuals. Individuals that, when all the noise and peer pressure subsides, must wrestle with all they have just been part and parcel to.

But what about us? How do we respond to the mob?

For years I read the story of Jesus’ bogus trial and marveled that Jesus did not do more to defend himself, to stand up to and counter his accusers and mockers. But he remained mostly silent, speaking only a few words, basically just confirming their accusations against him, which of course had to do with his claims to be the Messiah, the Son of God. With very few, yet poignant words, he confirmed both to the Sanhedrin and to the Roman court that he was as they said, the Christ, “the Son of Man who would return with the clouds of heaven”, and that he was, in answer to Pilate’s query, “the King of the Jews.” Thus he was crucified for telling the truth.

But he didn’t argue his case—that he really was the Christ, the King. He didn’t explain how the scriptures bore that out. He didn’t use any of the mike dropping responses that he had so often used against those who challenged him or perform any of the miracles he was so widely known for, he just went along, as the prophets said he would, like a sheep—dumb before it’s shearers and then led to the slaughter. We know he had to die to fulfill his mission to purchase our salvation. But how could he be so passive about it? It’s not really passiveness though—there’s a real dignity to his unflappable nature in the face of such horrific mocking and abuse.

The strength and wisdom behind Jesus reactions and responses to his abusers and accusers becomes more evident and admirable the more you understand who Jesus is and the nature of men. Jesus once taught that the meek would inherit the earth. Meekness is not weakness. It takes incredible strength and restraint not to respond in kind to mocking and abuse, to stand tall when others are doing their utmost to knock you down. Often the best defense is a refusal to rise to the bait, to let the evil have their say and to let them fully expose themselves in their foolishness and hate. Hate always proves itself the fool if given enough opportunity to do so. Even Pilate here was beginning to have his doubts as to the legitimacy and justification for crucifying this supposed rebel and troublemaker. As heartless and hardened as Pilate was, he was struck by the strength of one who would so calmly face and stand tall in the face of such abuse and frenzied accusation. And he even tried to find a way to release Jesus. “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy.

But the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them. Pilate answered and said to them again, “What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” Mark 15

But the mob continued to vote no. And Jesus continued to stand tall and refused to debate with those whom he knew he could not dissuade. He was listening to his Father and he knew the prophecies, he knew he would be mocked, scourged and crucified no matter how he responded. Evil was having its day, or so it thought. It was actually playing right into God’s design to overcome death itself.

But today, standing before the dignitaries and the thronging holy day crowds in the City that God had chosen for his Temple, it sure seems like Jesus would have had a great opportunity to expand on why this was all a mockery and that they were all being duped. I think Jesus also understood that they were past that. He had spent three years doing just that already, they knew the truth yet they chose to accept the lies. There comes a point when you must realize that you have nothing left to prove; you know who you are, your life and words have proven it time and again, and it is only the wannabe’s who are still squawking.

Jesus was not going to dignify their foolishness any longer and his actions today would become his greatest witness to date. That is something we all need to learn from. Honorable restraint and wisdom comes from listening to the Father, and from knowing where you stand. Truth in the light of lies needs no defense, does not dignify a response, when it is evident that the one perpetrating the lies will not hear nor stand for truth—and will only mock it when it is present.

We win in the end, our God will not be mocked-nor will his children!

Sandy’s Boy

What does the darkness that Jesus experienced at the end of his days on earth have to do with me? Everything!

A couple of weeks ago I was blessed to get to take a day off work to attend a spiritual healing seminar put on by a group called Elijah House.

Basically there were several sessions of teaching, each followed by a time of quiet prayer—just you and the Lord. One of the sessions had to do with overcoming shame; shame that may have been inflicted on you by the rejection or condemnation of someone in your life that caused you to question your worth, or your worthiness to loved.

Which of course greatly affects how you relate and respond to the world around you. Being despised and rejected can have great psychological effects that last way beyond the initial hurt.

We were instructed to ask the Lord to reveal to us words or an event in our lives that may have caused us shame. Something that we may not even remember as being anything that really impacted us.

As I was praying I kept having this memory of Hockey Practice in Minnesota when I was 7 or 8 years old. It wasn’t a repressed memory, it was something that I remembered very clearly and often, and have dealt with it. And, as far as I know, gotten over it.

We were doing reps back and forth on the ice under the lights and the falling Northern Minnesota snow, and near the end of practice I see my stepfather standing by the coach, come to pick me up I suppose, which was weird because I usually walked home. I skate over to him just in time to hear him respond to a question or comment from the coach with—“Oh, he’s not my boy, that’s Sandy’s boy. Just wait till my boy gets old enough to be out here, he’s gonna be a real athlete.”

Photo by Tony Schnagl on Pexels.com

As I have told you before, I was never the best hockey player, and I had plenty of reminders, like this one. But what was hurtful about the experience was that my stepfather felt the need—this wasn’t the only time I would hear this—to always make it known that I was Sandy’s boy, not his. Like that would have been embarrassing to him to have me as a son.

Fine, whatever. I got over that long ago and I always knew my real father, and my mother loved me and were proud of me. So, although it didn’t do a lot for my self-esteem in the moment, it wasn’t really life altering.

My real Father never despised or rejected me. And my mother always made me feel special by telling me that I could do whatever I set my mind to, and I believed her. Hockey was just not one of those—I just wasn’t that into it. Small wonder with the great encouragement from my step dad.

Anyway, something was just not clicking in this prayer time. It wasn’t the negative aspect or the rejection that seemed to be the focus of this memory that the Holy Spirit seemed to have planted firmly in my mind—it was those words that kept echoing over and over in my head—”that’s Sandy’s boy.”

Soon the session was over and it was break time. I checked my phone and saw that I had a message—I listened to it and immediately ducked into a storage closet and called back the person who had called. It was an outpatient nurse who worked with my mother. My mother was in the hospital, again, and was having a real hard time and the nurse was really hoping someone from the family could come be with her.

She had already called my brother and sister and they were unable to leave their jobs right then. My mother had just had a similar thing happen a month earlier where she was in the hospital with what they thought was a stroke. That earlier incident had been accompanied by terrible hallucinations and great confusion that had left her traumatized and terrified of hospitals. So this had me very worried.

As I was listening to the nurse I heard those words again—“That’s Sandy’s boy.” But now it was also accompanied by the pressing thought—Sandy needs her boy.

So I immediately excused myself from the conference and headed into Billings. I found my mother in a room off the emergency room, very agitated, scared and confused. Turns out she had a brain bleed caused by high blood pressure and it was causing all sorts of issues.

I spent the day with her comforting, reassuring, and praying for her. And, long story short, she is on the mend, and between my siblings and I, over the next week we kept her in a place of love and reassurance knowing that she would be okay.

God showed up—once again—to be there when I needed him most.

In what could have been a very dark and lonely hour—those words, and the fact that I knew without a doubt that they came from the Lord in just that moment, gave me assurance that I was not alone, that I was being comforted and remembered in what could have been a very distressful time.

And, just as importantly, that He was remembering my mother and had set up this day just so that we could be there togetherSandy and her boy. Knowing that God was in control, that he remembered both of us, made that dark valley a lot less frightening.

Thots

Because Jesus was rejected, we never will be, and he proves it over and over again.

I tell you that story, as inadequate as words are to explain what was truly a deeply spiritual and emotional encounter and experience, to try to illustrate to you the incredible and almost unfathomable significance  and veracity of the love of God for us, and the treasure we have available to us because of Jesus’ willingness to experience being rejected and despised.

The Holy Spirit, working well in advance and through multiple levels of players and circumstances set me up to take off a day from work—my first this year, to be at a conference where I would be in a room full of people who were contending and believing for the Holy Spirit to move among us unhindered by the doubts or distractions of those who don’t believe or aren’t comfortable with the personal encounters with the person of the Holy Spirit.

So I was in a room saturated with his presence and given opportunity and encouragement to listen for a word. The word he gave me was relevant to what we had been learning and did encourage me, but more importantly—he set me up spiritually for the raw experience of seeing my mother in a near death state of delirium and physical peril.

And then he stayed with me, throughout the day. He made known clearly, powerfully and sweetly through all of this, that I was not alone—that I was not despised nor rejected by my God—no matter what—I was never, and would never, be alone.

But more than that—through this experience he was caring for my mother. He didn’t just set the stage for me to be able to handle the challenge of the day and weeks to come, he was also setting things up for my mother, whom he also loves and will never despise, reject or leave alone.

He made sure she would not be going through this dark valley alone—that I would be there and able to assure and remind her that her Lord was there as well. And I’ll tell you what—that made the difference between a nightmare experience for her and just a hurdle to get over. I know because the nightmare and the darkness was hovering all over and just itching to take control—it has before.

But not today bubba. Because my God was despised and rejected, me and mine are not. My mother is on the mend in a great rehab facility and me and my siblings were brought together in this in a way we have not been in many years.

An anguished and lonely prayer in a garden, a kiss of betrayal, a curse and a denial from a best friend, a crooked trial amid horrendous accusations by the very priests who claim to serve the Father who sent him, and a death sentence for the blasphemies that the Son of God is incapable of committing—pain, anguish, betrayal, abuse and slander—it all led to a whispered word to a descendant of barbarians a half a world and two millennia away—“That’s Sandy’s boy.”

But you know what that really means? What it meant to me? That is not just Sandy’s boy, the Heavenly Father says in that “That is my boy, and his mother is my daughter, and there is now therefore no more shame, no more fear and when he walks through the valley of the shadow he shall fear no evil, for I am with him.

And what more could we possibly need, want or desire?

Oh yeah, this:

I Am— The one who was and is and is to come, is coming back for you and me.

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 question 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.

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.

On The Mountain

Should I be running in terror or kneeling in awe!?’

In the ninth chapter of Marks gospel we see the disciples go from a mountain top where they literally get a glimpse of God’s glory, to a crowded valley where the enemy is wreaking havoc on whom he wishes. They had to be asking, as we all have–Can’t we just stay on the mountain?

We know that on the day of Pentecost the Kingdom of God would indeed present with great power, as it came blazing into their lives by way of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. But more immediately, just six days later, three of them did get a glimpse of the Kingdom as it descended onto Jesus so he could have a brief conference with key players of the Old covenant of law, presumably about what it would take to usher in the New Covenant of grace.

The disciples must have had their heads spinning. “I don’t know if I’m coming or going, if I should be scared or thrilled, running in terror or kneeling in awe!” One minute I’m on a mountaintop with the very Son of God shining like the sun and the next I’m in the valley being derided by an angry Scribe and a desperate father while we battle a demon and a crushing mob.

Life

Sounds a lot like life—doesn’t it? Sounds a lot like this past year. Are we coming or going, suffering the attacks of the enemy or the judgements of God? Are we blessed or cursed; finished or just beginning? ‘Is it right for me to feel so blessed when the world is in turmoil? Is it right for me to be afraid of the turmoil when I know I am so blessed? I am blessed— right?’ Should I be running in terror or kneeling in awe!?’

We don’t even know how we should feel anymore. This generation of Americans has never been forced to face the battles we have faced together lately just to live as a free people who love God, one another, and an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. Yet here we are today, fed, clothed, carrying Bibles and still breathing the clean air of the most beautiful place on earth—Montana. (At least for those of us who aren’t in the shut down states)

So feel free to be happy and blessed. Every day is a gift.

And you know what? We are not being set upon in any new and unprecedented way. If you take an honest look beyond your own bubble, all the world for most of human history has lived this way; mountain tops to valleys,with the mountains being steep and difficult to climb and the valleys being deep, long and immersed in shadow.

But one thing we all share and have in common, around the world and thru the ages, at least among those who put their trust in God, is that we can always see that light just ahead of us, guiding us, beckoning us and calling us home. No matter the difficulty of the trail, with every step we take in faith, we are always one step closer to home.

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!

Warrior’s Reward

Bottom line; We win!

Today’s blog will be short and to the point.

It takes no great insight to see that the world is in a state of chaos and turmoil right now. I’m not just talking political and societal, that is nothing new, although we are suddenly getting smacked in the face with it here in America where we have lived in relative peace and security until now.

I am talking about emotionally, relationally– spiritually. We all seem to be living on edge. As I write this a presidential election is about to take place that will determine the direction of our country, two radically different forms of government and economic philosophies being what is actually on the ballot. The future of the country and the church as we have known it are on the line. (Please vote!)

Even if we as a people should choose the conservative side and preserve what we have, the opposing side promises to riot, burn and loot-and they have proven they are up to the task.

We are still largely living under the thumb of a virus and the fear it’s presence has ginned up. The church and the rights we have enjoyed and taken for granted have been under blatant and outright attack and people, neighbors, families and even believers, can no longer have civil discussions as all who have an opinion that does not match your own are evil and must be destroyed. Thus we all live in fear of being attacked and cancelled from life.

And there seems to be no end or relief in sight. The long dark winter of our discontent is fully upon us and our eventual dissolution as a church and a free nation seems to be inevitable.

Except for, that one thing, that Jesus thing. We have promises, we have assurances, we have a recourse and most importantly-we have a hope.

We have a God who comes in the darkest nights, in the coldest winters, like a warrior come to rescue his children from the enemy just as the enemy thinks he has won. When all seems lost our God proves that he is indeed the Lord of Hosts and the King of Kings and no one and no thing can stand in his way or steal any of his precious lambs from his hand. He had time and again, and he will again.

The Lord goes forth like a soldier,
    like a warrior he stirs up his fury;
he cries out, he shouts aloud,
    he shows himself mighty against his foes. IS 42:13

So, hold your head up, keep looking to your redeemer, keep the battle cry on your lips and keep your sword sharp. Our redeemer lives, and so will we.

You will receive the warriors reward–a place to raise your family and live in peace where their will be no more suffering, no more tears and no more death.

So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.
Mark 10:29-30

Until then–remember you are more than a conqueror and no weapon formed against you will prosper.