Justice, and a Cowdog?

Hank the Cowdog by John R Erickson, Image by Gerald L Holmes

Justice is an unalterable law of God’s universe

We serve a God of Justice. Lately we have been tracking along here in this blog with the biblical book of James. He is a no punches pulled kind of preacher and towards the end of his letter he lays in to the “rich”.

Not a lot of happy aren’t you all wonderful preaching in the book of James. But if you dig into his mind a bit and follow his train it truly is encouraging. Because it’s about truth and justice. Something we all inherently yearn for.

James’s words of rebuke and condemnation for the oppressive wealthy are given, not so much as a warning to the rich, as they are not his primary hearers, but as an encouragement to those who are oppressed. This is meant as an assurance that the Lord see’s the plight of the poor and oppressed in his church, and is their vindicator. He is reminding us that final judgement and vindication belongs to the Lord of Hosts and to him alone.

It should be comforting to all who love justice, who have been mistreated and hurt by being treated unjustly or aggrieved at the mistreatment of others, to know that there is ultimately justice. In that is our peace.

Our God is a God of justice, that is where our sense of fairness and justice comes from and why it bothers us so to see it miscarried.

We all do our share of stupid things and we must extend the grace that we receive.  The God who knows everything, does not hold it all against us. Our sins are not ignored but they are forgiven because of Jesus.

Justice must be served and that is an unalterable law of the universe God created that cannot be ignored, but it can be delayed and even satisfied by a proxy.

And we as Christians know that that proxy was Jesus. Justice was satisfied—it was served on Jesus. The one who took the punishment for our sins.

But what about all those who seem to get away with so much, lying cheating, stealing and the really heinous things like sexual assaults and murder, or the rich and powerful whose actions and greed hurt thousands and even millions of people?

Their day is coming.

the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter.  You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you. James 5:4-6

Hank the Cowdog

Our God loves us too much to turn a blind eye to those who hurt us and he does not forget or disregard those hurts or those who inflict them.

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. James 5

My daughter Jessie used to love reading Hank the Cow Dog books when she was a kid. A champion for rural justice.

One day when she was in second or third grade I suppose, all the kids got to go to school dressed up for Halloween. Jessie decided to go as Hank the Cow Dog. So my wife, Donna, rigged up some sort of costume with ears, a tail and painted whiskers on the face. It was pretty cute.

When I got home from work that night Jessie was not in a happy mood, which was pretty unusual for her, and Donna told me that she had had a really tough day because some kids made fun of her for going to school as a dog.

This broke my heart and made me furious all at once. I wanted to go find those kids and tell them, “You little punks, you just wait fifteen years or so and I’m going to find you and kick your butts!”

Of course I didn’t, nor have I, but I never forgot that slight against my little girl. You can’t love someone that much and not feel their pain, maybe even more than they do. Which, I think in this case may have been so.

A couple of years ago we were in some shop somewhere with Jessie, who is all grown up of course, and in the back we find a rack full of old books. I hear Jessie exclaim “Hank the Cowdog! Look, they have Hank the Cowdog books!” Instantly all the hurt and anger I felt that Halloween day so many years ago came back and I hesitantly asked Jessie; “You still like Hank the Cow Dog?”

“Of course I do, why wouldn’t I?” “I guess I thought all the trauma you experienced when you went to school dressed as Hank spoiled it for you.” She looks at me funny and says, What? I don’t remember that?

Apparently if wasn’t nearly as traumatic as I thought it was. Or she forgave and forgot, I’m glad for that, but still—stupid kids . . .

That’s what James is saying here. God loves you and he sees the pain and injustices being inflicted on you, and it may not always seem like it, and you may wish for swift justice and all things to be set right—but be patient, they will.

Your Father who loves you knows all of it, he sees all of it and he will not forget all of it. He hurts when you hurt and cries when you cry and those who cause you pain, if they do not repent, and hopefully they will—which is why God is patient, they will have to answer for what they do to his precious children.

You just keep living your life, investing in heaven and let the Lord worry about the unjust and the oppressors. Life is too short to live it angry and indignant or fearful and anxious.

The precious fruit is coming with the latter rains.

Really? Rahab the Harlot?

“…her words and her actions bore witness to a God given, front loaded, heart of faith.

In the second chapter of James we are given two examples of those who proved that their faith was real by their actions. Abraham and “Rahab the Harlot”.

Unarguably, Abraham’s actions as found in Genesis were a testament to his faith and a fitting seal of a long life of faithfulness and nearly everyone knows who he is still today.

But then, there is Rahab. She is just dropped into the picture out of the blue, a woman with no known history of faithfulness and no long recorded history of interactions with God for us to marvel at. Yet she ends up with a lead role in the story of the making of Israel.

Rahab

You have to wonder, of all the people in the Hebrew scriptures— Noah, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, King David, Elijah, Ruth, Solomon, Jeremiah, Esther—great heroes, prophets and examples of integrity and tenacity—of all the possible examples, to put on par with Abraham as examples of those justified by faith in action, James uses Rahab the harlot.

Really? Rahab the harlot?

Obviously her last name wasn’t harlot but that was her designation, a title actually. Like Builder Bob or Sam the butcher. James makes it clear in that way just to whom he is referring, there is no mistaking—but still, Rahab the Harlot?

You all know that means she’s a prostitute right? Not exactly a career choice that a woman who wants to become a beacon of light and an example of faith in the Kingdom of God, should draw to—let alone even go and stay with, as the spies that Joshua sent to her hometown of Jericho to check out did. Really guys, you went straight to a prostitutes house to find sanctuary?  

I just love the realness and grittiness of the bible. God uses real people to do his greatest works, and he doesn’t gloss over their flaws. It gives me hope.

So, why Rahab? Why would God lead the spies there and why would James use her to make his point?

Easy—She was able to show them the money. She probably didn’t talk a lot of bible speak or come across as a religious person, she was, after all, a harlot in a pagan city. But when it came down to it, she was able to show the fruits of her faith in the one true God by her actions.

In that regard I think James was quite ingenious in using her as an example of what he is telling us here when he says that we are to show our faith by our works. There was nothing else about her,at least not that we are aware of, that would have merited her a place in the family of God, as a recipient of what was apparently a saving faith totally apart from the law and any religious expression in regard to Yahweh.

There is nothing about her, no moral witnesses, no history of her talking the right talk, saying the right words, praying the right prayers, no self-proclaimed rights to righteousness, seemingly nothing to merit her becoming listed as an ancestor to King David and thus to the Messiah, Jesus himself—she was not even Jewish! Let alone a worshipper of their God.

Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David the king. Mat 1

But when called upon to fulfill her destiny, to become a key player in the fulfillment of God’s promise to his people that he would deliver them from slavery and give them the land of Canaan, she acted with a courage that would set her apart as someone who truly had a faith in the God whose mighty acts she had only heard about. She had a faith in this unknown God who had apparently been whispering to her heart— that he was indeed real and loved her.

How do I know that? How do I know that God had been whispering to her heart? Because God does it all the time, and he has done it to me. And because her words and her actions bore witness to that God given, front loaded heart of faith.

Spies

Do you all know the story? From the book of Joshua?

The children of Israel had been miraculously delivered from slavery in Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, lived in the desert for forty years eating manna from heaven and were now finally ready to enter in and take the promised land under the leadership of Joshua.

But first, they have to get past Jericho. The fortress city that dominates the first region of the country the Lord is giving them as their new homeland, the very land he had promised hundreds of years earlier to Abraham, where he would become a great nation.

So Joshua, as any good military leader would, sends of a couple of spies to do some reconnaissance.  The spies make it into the city of Jericho largely unnoticed but word soon gets around that they are not just ordinary nomads coming to trade goat milk for pottery.

They are part of that very large group of former slaves from Egypt known as the Hebrews who have just crossed the Jordan river and are wreaking havoc on anyone who tries to stop them, and many have. So the spies seek out a place to hide, preferably someone who can give them a little insight as well, and somehow or other, I have to wonder at the thinking that led them there, but they end up in the home of a local prostitute named Rahab.

But, it turns out, little goes unnoticed in this town and word gets back to the King himself that there are enemy spies staying at Rahab’s house on top of the wall. So he sends troops to arrest them. But Rahab gets word that they are on their way so she takes the Israelites up on her roof where she has flax laid out in the sun to cure, and hides them underneath it. When the king’s men show up she tells them that the spies have already left and that if they hurry they might be able to catch them, so off they go.

After a time Rahab has the spies come out from hiding and tells them that she can lower them over the wall from her window, as her house is on the massive wall that surrounds the city, with a rope so that no one will see them leave and that they can then go in a different direction, avoiding those who are pursuing them.

But first she wants a promise. She has helped them at great risk to herself. But she realized that they were on the winning side, because she believed in an unseen God, heard the stories of his power to deliver those who serve him, and she fears him more than she fears the soldiers banging on her door.

She believes that the Israelites will indeed take the city she dwells in and that all their enemies will be destroyed. So she asks them to remember how she helped them and to spare her and her family when they return to take the city.

The spies tell her to tie a scarlet cord in her window as a sign and a reminder to the Israelite army that they are to spare her and all in her house. And indeed that is what happens. When the Israelites return and do their now famous seven day march around the city walls and blow them to smithereens with nothing but a shout and a trumpet blast, Rahab and her family are spared and become a part of the nation of Israel.

Now, thinking about this story, it seems that her part in the big picture conquest of the promised land was pretty small. I mean, Jericho probably would have been taken regardless of the spies eluding capture, but that is not the point.

The point of the story, the point of God’s favor and blessing on Rahab, and the point that James is making, is that it is not the significance or standing in man’s eyes, it is not the outward appearance or having a clean record of holiness and purity—it’s what are you doing today, it’s who are you when the chips are down, how do you respond when your hour comes and God is giving you an opportunity for action, calling you to fulfill your purpose, to make a real difference, to bless and help someone in a real tangible way.

Rahab literally saved the lives of two men and endangered her and her family in the process; two men she had never met before from a strange people she had only heard horror stories about—the Hebrew refugees from Egypt who are mowing down everyone who gets in their way. But, they have this God. . .

And what this God saw in Rahab the Harlot was a heart that wanted to do what was right, that said yes to him when it mattered the most, and when it was probably the hardest to say yes.

God said ‘show me the fruit Rahab’, and she did. And her faith saved her.

A faith lived out is a faith lived in. A faith walked out is a faith that will carry you home.

Pentecost Challenge

“The Holy Spirit does does His greatest work when we are gathered together in one accord. If there was ever a time when we needed that, this is it.”

It disturbs me greatly as a pastor and preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ how casual much of the church has gotten in their embrace of questionable behaviors. Or, to put it bluntly, why is sin not taken seriously anymore?

lay aside wickedness

James 1:21

Perhaps the church has gotten so good at loving the sinner that they forgot to hate the sin, and then got sucked into it. Perhaps we have become so focused on grace that we misplaced repentance. Perhaps we became so adept at hearing the word that we confused hearing with doing.

We threw out the baby with the bath water. Embracing the free gift of grace while forgetting why we needed that gift in the first place—because we have all transgressed the law of God from top to bottom—and needed to bathe in the blood of Christ and the waters of baptism.

But then we threw out the law entirely because it makes us uncomfortable. It reminds us of who we were and that at the same time we are not yet anywhere near where we should be in the holiness department by God’s standards.

We can’t repent of something if we don’t know it’s a sin. If there is no penalty for sin, then why worry about it? Well, there is a penalty for sin, and the Son of God suffered it. He suffered a horrendous and unimaginably horrible death that afflicted every nerve in his tortured body with pain, and he endured betrayals and injustices that tortured his psyche in ways we cannot fathom—all of this at the hands of the people he created and loved enough to endure it for.

So yes, your grace is a free gift to you, but it cost the one who purchased it for you dearly.

1 Cor 6 Jesus

So when you look in the mirror and see a hearer of the word and not a doer, (James 1:23) resolve to do something about it. You’ll be surprised at the power that comes with that free gift of grace.

Grace is not just forgiveness, grace is power, the power of God in your life to be holy just as he is holy, the strength to overcome and the catalyst for the renewing of your mind that gives you the desire to lay aside all filthiness and to overflow with living water instead of wickedness.

The Holy word that was planted in your heart to the saving of your soul is also your strength and your call to cast aside the sin which so easily entangles (Heb)and walk in the freedom of his grace as doers of the word and not just hearers only.

Today is Pentecost Sunday. GO TO CHURCH. The Holy Spirit does does His greatest work when we are gathered together in one accord. If there was ever a time when we needed that, this is it.
And if your church is not open–find one that is! Yes I said it.

‘The Holy Communion of the saints is essential for the life of the church and for the strengthening of the covenant.’ –HS

Pentacost Dove

Triggers

“Triggers are only the flesh trying to convince you that you are weak–you are not….”

Pressure is pretty much unavoidable in this life so avoiding it is not really an option nor a sign of godly character, actually quite the opposite is true—it seems the more you care about others and doing right, being responsible and loving, the more apt you are to experience and feel pressure. And the more you are entrusted with, the more apt you are to feel pressure.

So then the question becomes—how do you respond to pressure? It’s how we handle that pressure? That becomes the important thing as far as our emotional and spiritual health goes; and that is what the Lord is watching and hoping we learn because if we are not exuding grace under pressure, we are probably not handling it right, and that can get us into big trouble.

tempted drink

There are many things that can trigger us. Trigger us to do stupid things–to sin.

Pressure can cause us to sin through anxiety or fear. ‘Oh my gosh! How am I going to get through this—survive this? What if I don’t? How could you leave me here to suffer and deal with this? Why God, why did you do this to me?’ That is a total lack of trust and faith and borders on blasphemy, blaming God for our troubles as though we deserve nothing but sunshine and roses.

God does not cause our troubles. Nine times out of ten it is a result of our own bad choices, somewhere along the line. And the rest of the time it is the result of someone else’s bad choices—maybe even all the way back to Adam and Eve whose bad choices brought sin, sickness and death into this world to start with.

Another way we can give way to sin under pressure, fail the trial, is by turning to harmful substances or behaviors to distract and “help us forget our troubles.”

Now there is the biggest lie we have ever told ourselves. Drinking, smoking, snorting or shooting, however you feed your mind numbing addictions, only make the troubles loom larger and seem more overwhelming as you dull or alter your ability to deal with or resolve those problems in a healthy constructive way. And that quickly creates a whole new set problems—more unneeded, totally avoidable, bad choice pressure.

Everyone forgets that alcohol is a depressant until they drink to forget their woes and turn into the saddest whiniest fool in the room.

And marijuana just makes you stupid as you forget everything, including your ambitions, goals, and where you left your car keys.

All the other drugs just make you forget what your car even looks like and how to drive it—but that’s okay because eventually you will not have a car, or a license, a job, or any dignity—but you will have a purpose in life—getting more of your drug of choice no matter what it takes. Addicts are the most dedicated people around, dedicated to self-destruction and avoiding all responsibility and pressure.

Anyway, backing up just a bit from sleeping in a carboard box surrounded by empty cans of Schlitz tall boys—the lie that gets us there, to that ‘nothing else matters anymore except getting my fix’ state, is much more subtle and starts small. It’s a little here, a little there as the flesh is a many deceitful thing left to its own accord.

‘A little was okay yesterday so more must be okay today, and I need this.’

Part of the deceit is that the things we claim to be doing to forget our pressures, are things the flesh is pushing us to do anyway, pressure or not. And this latest pressure we may be experiencing, whatever it is— there will always be something— is just a convenient excuse to indulge the flesh. And whenever we dull our senses, we open ourselves up to even greater sins.

put off the old nature

The same goes for succumbing to lust, pressure is another excuse we use to indulge in things we know we ought not. I just need comfort, to relieve some stress, to be understood. This can lead to all kinds of unhealthy and grievous sin that only hurts our relationship with the Lord and damages our own souls.

Blessed

So, you probably get the point by now—withstand the test

Persevering under trial means not giving in to sin. Not giving in to temptation, not using it as an excuse or justification for sin, and not losing control of our emotions and lashing out to hurt others.

Grace under pressure, tapping into the power of grace under pressure, leaves us blessed—wiser and stronger—for the battles ahead.

We must allow the Lord room to work and give him the glory when he does—we are not in this, any of this, alone.

What do you do with pressure? Do you carry it alone thinking that you are alone, and you alone can fix it? Do you panic? Stick your head in the sand? Drug yourself until you are comfortably numb?

Or do you give it to God, seek him for wisdom and strength, and learn all that you can in the midst of it so you can be stronger and wiser the next time.

The answer is indicative of where you are in your walk with the Lord, your state of grace; whether you are walking the walk or just talking the talk, as James so poignantly challenges us with throughout his letter. God’s grace is fully available and accessible to all who trust in his Son. We must learn to trust in it and keep us in the fight growing and learning, don’t be deceived, you cannot be destroyed and God is not out to get you.

He loves you immensely and desires to bless, heal and equip you.

Triggers are only the flesh trying to convince you that you are weak–you are not, you are a warrior and a child of God.

Barbarian woman wolf

Free your inner warrior today; Read  Barbarians in the Kingdom

book cover

 

How Are You Doing?

Grace under pressureMany in this season of uncertainty and change are feeling the pressure of stress and disappointment. The stress of the unknown and uncertainty and the disappointment of ruined plans and dashed hopes. You may even think God’s plans for you have been stymied, and that is hugely disappointing. I know, I have been there, more times than I care to admit.

But God is not so easily thwarted and he only sees opportunity where we see dead ends—we need to learn to do the same.

If God has called you, gifted and equipped you for a specific mission, ministry, career or given you a passion to affect change somewhere, to make a difference in the world, in people’s lives—whatever it is that you feel God was leading you into to be a light and an instrument of change—that has not changed!

Sovereign

God is still sovereign.

Do you really think a Governor or a county health director can stop God’s plans? Do you really think God is not bigger than a virus that only picks on the old and compromised?

Do you really believe that God is sent into a panic and mere survival mode by a hyperventilating news media or confused by ‘he said, she said, it’s your fault, nuh-ah it’s your fault’ bickering and power hungry politicians?

Do you think God is stopped short of finishing what he has started by a lack of funds because of lost jobs and the fact that his offering plates aren’t getting passed because the big houses of worship are closed? —NO!

He is in fact seeing what we are all made of in all of this and using this time to refine his church. We are all in the pressure cooker right now and our preparedness for his service is being expedited like has not happened in a long time.

crown of life

Those who persevere will be rewarded, they will receive all that God had and has planned for them.

Those who were only in it for what they could get will be cast aside like yesterday’s chicken bones.

The Call

God is not done with you, God is not discouraged, and God cannot be stopped.

gifts from above

That calling, that equipping, those talents and experiences and the wisdom to know how to use those all together, or at least were beginning to have an inkling of, as the Lord was leading you step by step—those things were from God. That was, and is, the Holy Spirit leading you, encouraging you, giving you a vision.

“Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of heavenly lights.” You didn’t conjure up and develop those gifts on your own or for no good reason.

You did not acquire that “fire in your heart and shut up in your bones” (Jer 20:9) just to have your plan and purpose stymied by  a sickness induced political and social shift.

Schools may be shut down, travel made nearly impossible and social interactions limited, but God is not.

Businesses may shut down and many most likely for good as they fail after months of no revenue meaning lost jobs and opportunities, but God is not worried.

Weddings and funerals, birthday parties and graduations cancelled, funerals banned and still, the uncertainty of whether or not we are even safe yet from this virus as many of the so called experts and those in power are all screaming we’re all going to die if we dare get on with life! while others are calling it all one big conspiracy designed to strip us of our freedom and our identity— hangs over all of our heads, but God is not worried.

We don’t know what all the agendas are behind all the hype and seemingly over the top power grabs and irrational controls, and what is truly necessary and what is just human foolishness swayed by demonic deceptions and intrigue, but God is not worried.

We don’t know a lot of things in this season as a nation and as citizens of a world that has gotten very small in our lifetimes.

What we do know— is that our choices are severely limited right now as are our options and opportunities. This is truly causing a deep societal anxiety that has us all under a great amount of pressure, that cannot be overstated or ignored, it’s very real.

It seems that all our hopes and dreams, our plans and schemes are all in jeopardy of crashing down, as are the plans that God had for us.

But are they? Are God’s plans for you thwarted? Is your life and purpose forfeited because God was caught off guard by this upheaval? Are your opportunities to serve, follow, growto fulfill the dreams and chase the plan he has for you wherever it may lead— are they all gone?

No, they most certainly are not. The one who gave you those gifts to use, develop and to make a difference, to advance the Kingdom of Heaven and to storm the gates of hell, setting the captives free and bringing sight to the blind and healing to the broken hearted, He does not change like shifting shadows.

And  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth,” God’s word does not change, it does not perish, it is never wrong and it is what he used to place that fire in you, to cast the vision in your heart, and it will not return back to him empty and unfulfilled.

And the pressure you are feeling and experiencing today may very well what God is using as the catalyst for your tomorrow, to perfect you and move you into your destiny.Jeremiah 20.9How are you doing?

The Dreaded List

“One of my buddies oh so casually sidled up to the table and got a good look at the list—it had only one name on it, Nador, the urinal hugger”

No One condemned you

Remember the story of the woman caught in adultery that John recounts in his gospel?

“We caught this woman in the act of adultery and by the law of Moses she ought to be stoned!”

Jesus didn’t argue that the woman had not done wrong, he simply argued that no one there had the right to accuse her, to testify against her, because they were all guilty of something as well.

What happened? They all dropped the stones they had been about to pummel her with and walked away leaving the woman standing before Jesus, forgiven and given another chance.

And this was before Jesus had died for our sins, before he had given us his Holy Spirit as a witness to our place in him. Yet no one could stand up to him and say, she deserves to die for her sin! Let alone cast the first stone.

Imagine the authority and the protection he gives us against those accusations today, even from the chief accuser himself.

accuser thrown down

The devil will try to mess with your head, but you must not let him, there are no witnesses against you.

I have witnesses

Reminds me of a time back when I was in the Anaconda Job Corps center. I was eighteen years old and stuck in a center with about two hundred other young men, many of whom were always looking for a way to party without getting kicked out.

One guy had the bright idea of hiking the ten miles into Anaconda at night, through the mountains, to buy a bunch of booze and hike back hopefully undetected and  unmissed. So he went around in our dorm and solicited money from several guys that he trusted to keep quiet, with the promise that he would bring back alcohol for them.

I was among that group. I don’t remember for sure but I think I might have pitched in ten bucks, it just would not have been cool not too, and I was all about being cool back then.

Honestly, I thought he was nuts and I really didn’t think he could pull it off, and I would get my money back and we would all have a good laugh at his expense and move on.

But lo and behold he made it through the mountains to the Liquor store on a Friday night, filled his back pack with whiskey, and got back and into bed before the RA (Resident Advisor) realized he was missing as he made his rounds at night.

The next night the party was on. Several of us, maybe ten or so, were taking shots from the bottles, drinking it with coffee or putting it in half full soda cans, whatever, finding ways to consume mass quantities while staying out of the way of the RA and keeping a low profile.

Most of us did alright, except for one guy—Nador.

He did not handle his liquor so well and before the night was over he was hugging a urinal in the large communal rest room, throwing up and shouting his hatred and defiance for all authority and pretty much everyone. He might as well have had a bull horn because his rants were echoing in this large tiled bathroom like an amphitheater and right out the door-less entry, down the hall and into the RA’s office. . . . busted—at least he was.

By this point the rest of us had melted away into our various corners of the dormitory, suddenly we were all sound asleep in our beds, interspersed amongst the other 50 guys in our dorm.

Well, as you can imagine this opened up a big ‘ol can of worms. Drinking on this government run training center was strictly forbidden, as was leaving without permission—otherwise known as being AWOL. Those in charge of the center were determined to get to the bottom of all this; “Who brought in the booze? How did they do it? Who paid for it? Who all was drinking?”

bust

The administrators made a big deal out of finding the answers to all of this. Problem is, no one was talking. They threatened, lectured, offered to go easy on anyone who would give them names—claimed they knew things they didn’t know.

After a few days they tried a different tact, they claimed they had acquired a list of names of all involved and if any of those whose names were on that list would confess, they would just give them a month of KP duty and restriction, instead of kicking them out.

But if anyone who was on that list did not confess, they would be discharged and it would go on your permanent record—the dreaded dishonorable discharge.

The List

The dreaded list. The head administrator would make a big show out of sitting at a table in the mess hall during meals, holding his clip board with the dreaded list on it while giving everyone from our dorm the stink eye. Like he was plotting our demise.

After a few day of this, of compiling his big list of bootleggers, he made the mistake of leaving his list lying on the table as he got up to go to the restroom. One of my buddies oh so casually sidled up to the table and got a good look at the list—it had only one name on it, Nador, the urinal hugger who had drunk his bottle so hard and fast he couldn’t remember his own name that night, let alone who else had been drinking.

Shortly after this, by virtue of being a dorm leader I suppose, I got called into the administrators office for a personal interview.Dan, we know you know what happened that night, we know your involvement. I like you Dan, you’re a good kid, you’re smart—seriously, you set a record score on your GED test—you don’t want to go down like this.”

The smooth talk was coming on heavy. I calmly replied, I don’t know anything about this.“ Okay, disclaimer here, I was not comfortable lying and I’m not proud that I did, but there was a lot at stake here and I was no saint back then. Knowing Jesus notwithstanding, I was pretty much living for the flesh at the time.

Then came the threats;

 “I have witnesses and if you don’t confess to what they tell me about you, you are going to be in real trouble.”

I was not worried in the least. I knew there could be no witnesses to anything serious, I did not bring in the booze and I knew that no one who was drinking with me would say anything, but most reassuringly, I knew that my name was not on that list—there were no accusations against me that could be backed by any witnesses.

But you know what list my name was on? A few months later my name was on the list of people who had completed the program, I had finished my high school education in record time, completed the Heavy equipment operator and the welding programs. I graduated, received my papers, my money and got on with my new life.

My permanent record with the US government was spotless. Was I a perfect student? No, but those who would accuse me were silent and the only testimony on my behalf was positive.

Thots

Are you tracking with me here? There is no list of wrongdoing against us and the only list that we are on is in the Lambs book of life. Because we are perfect? No, but because the only one who has the authority to judge us has no charges against us that can be substantiated because the only witness whom the Judge will hear will only testify that we are spotless.

No Condemnation

If you have trusted Jesus with your heart, if you are wanting to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh, you name is written in that book of life and there are no charges against you. You are loved, you are his—you are okay.

We have to know that we are okay, don’t we?

In times like this, it is especially poignant that we know, that we have that witness in our hearts and that we do not let anyone steal it away.

Witness Dove Life

We Have a blessed assurance, we have Jesus.

If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. 10 He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; . . . that you may know that you have eternal life.

1 John 5:9—13

The Altar Call

“We get down to the stage and he introduces me to a young man in a suit saying, ‘this is my nephew Dan, he wants to ask Jesus into his heart.’  Well now, imagine my surprise!”

Jesus water believe

Many seek to elevate their authority and power over people by diminishing Jesus.

We can’t have people just going to God on their own, just praying random prayers whenever they want and thinking they can understand the bible just by reading it. You need me to teach you this, to absolve you of that, to minister to you and to tell you when you are good or bad.

‘Then maybe you’ll be saved, then maybe God will pay attention to you and reward you.’

That’s not the way it works. God has no secrets that only the ruling class or priestly class or a secret society can understand and pass on to the ignorant masses.

God’s redemptive work, his dealings with mankind and his incredible acts of love are always done in full view of all who care to see and have ears to hear.

The only thing you need to do to be saved is to believe. And to believe you have to hear the truth. God’s Holy Spirit does the rest.

Altar Call

I first met Jesus when I was 14.

It wasn’t at a church, a camp, a concert or a confirmation class. In fact, there was no one else involved and no one to lead me in prayer or tell me what to do or not do. I was hungry for God, my heart was longing for truth, for answers so I started reading the Bible my dad had given me years earlier.

I read though the gospels, I had originally started in Genesis when I was younger but soon got bogged down in the heavy books to come and gave up. But when I finally just read the gospel accounts of Jesus life and teachings, everything clicked and something inside of me came alive.

From then on I just knew that I was going to heaven, that God was real and that he loved me. I had a peace in my heart that had never been there before.

I know now that it was the Spirit bearing witness to my spirit (Romans 18:6) that I was saved. At the time I just knew that somehow Jesus was in my heart and I resolved to do my best to follow his ways.Spirit bears witness

A year or so later I was staying with an uncle who took my sister and I to a Lowell Lundstrom concert. I had no idea what it was all about but it turned out to be a squeaky clean family of evangelists who sang gospel songs and preached the gospel—cool, kind of lame but all right.

We were in a big auditorium and near the end of the show they did an alter call. I had no idea what was going on but my uncle stood up and motioned to me with a questioning look on his face, I couldn’t hear what he was saying over all the hoopla but I got the gist that he wanted me to go with him. I thought ‘all right, he wants to go forward and he wants me to accompany him—cool.’

We get down to the stage and he introduces me to a young man in a suit saying, “this is my nephew Dan, he wants to ask Jesus into his heart.” Well now, that was a surprise. The stranger before me says “is that right?” At that all I can think is, I already know I have Jesus in my heart—why do I need you?

But I loved my uncle and I didn’t want to embarrass him so I just played along—I nodded my head and said sure. My uncle then disappeared and left me standing there awkwardly with this stranger. He instructed me to bow my head and I repeated what I have since come to learn is the sinners prayer.

When he was done I only felt embarrassed and phony, but this young counselor was very happy, as was my uncle when he finally reappeared to rescue me. All I knew was that I still had Jesus in my heart, I was still saved and apparently this was the official way to do it—whatever.

Turns out, the reason my uncle was going down was because he was a volunteer counselor—ironic that I thought I was going down to support him.

Now, I have no problem with evangelists or alter calls, I have been involved in facilitating that myself many, many times and I know many have met Jesus that way. My point is, in the end, it is the testimony of God’s word and the witness of the Holy Spirit that tells you how and if you are saved. Man can only point the way.

But when the Spirit seals that in your heart—no one and no thing, can take that away or add to it. If you are a child of God you know it, and if you are not, you won’t know it, there will just be an empty spot in your heart where the Lord should be.

Can a child of God be cast into doubt? Yes, the devil is a wily one, but please, listen to the Spirit and be assured of your place in God’s family. That is the whole point of 1 John letter, and most all of the bible for that matter.

witness Jesus woman

Spirit bears witness

Don’t let your head talk your heart out of the joy of your salvation. The flesh and the devil will mess with your head, Jesus witnesses and ministers to your heart— your spirit.

The Apostle Paul wrote: The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. Romans 8:16

And John confirms that in his letter.

And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. 1 John 5:6

I love that, I keep coming back to that and so does John, it is really the assurance that we have— the only real assurance—that we are saved. That is God’s testimony to us, the one that seals the deal for us in our hearts.

Words are only words without the Holy Spirit bearing witness of their true meaning to us. There has to be power behind the words—a witness confirming them to your heart—to make them real.

Monkey

I could spend hours, days, years, trying to convince you that you are a chimpanzee. I could give you books about it, have experts tell you why it may be so and make up a whole history as to why you are a chimpanzee descended from chimpanzees. But unless your heart tells your head that you really are, unless something inside of you bears witness to your psyche that you are a chimpanzee, you will never believe it.

You can swing from trees, eat bananas and look for fleas in your best friend’s hair to eat, you can identify as a chimp all you want, but at some point you are going to realize that you are just going through the motions, that you are not really a monkey after all.

So it is with being a child of God, being a Christian. Either you are and your spirit tells you so or you are not no matter how much someone teaches you about it or no matter if you are going through the motions.

If you are truly a believer, the Holy Spirit tells you so.

“And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth.”

evil sway

There is nothing more assuring, no greater strength, than knowing that you are right, that you are innocent and that no one can honestly testify otherwise. When you heart is secure in truth, no one should be able to talk you out of it.

In these uncertain and frightening times, we need that witness, that assurance, more than ever. That assurance that we are saved, safe and loved, that we are going to be okay.

We have to know, we need to be reminded, lest the enemy snatch away our faith, we need assurance.

You have it, let the Spirit speak to your heart. If you don’t call on the name of Jesus, now.

And then read the Gospel of John–or Matthew, or Mark, or Luke– from the Bible.

And let the Spirit be your witness.

What Manner of Love?

‘And the chickens all pecked to death the one who didn’t look like them and the rooster crowed his approval.’

death to life

Do you ever feel like you have never gotten out of middle school? Like, why do people still belittle and mock one another, why do they disparage me? I hate this, and I hate how it makes me feel, I just want to be left alone, I just want the world to grow up!

If you are truly in Christ, you are different; bottom line.

The world hates everything that is not just like it, that does not think like it, look like it and behave like it because the world is darkness right now, controlled by the devil as he scrambles relentlessly to stop all who have the light in them from shining and dispelling the dark he depends on to keep as many deceived and lost people in the dark as he can until it is too late for him, and for  those he kept away from the light.

Darkness permeates our culture masqueraded as social justice.

‘Conform, submit, cancel this person, shadow ban that person, panic now because we said so, hate that person, protest, boycott, stay away from these people and those places, it’s just too risky and it’s all so and so’s fault. Don’t you agree?How dare you have another opinion—hater, denier!’

And the chickens all pecked to death the one who didn’t look like them and the rooster crowed his approval—And things were good in the coop until another Peacock dared to show up.

I’ll let you sort that one out.

What manner of Love

So what

The world hates us? So what? The world has no idea who we are, they have no idea what manner of love we have lavished on us, the joy of knowing the love of a Father that cannot be destroyed by anything this world can throw at us, they cannot even imagine what we know we get to look forward to when this weak flesh perishes and our spirits are set free to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The world cannot fathom the marvel and excitement we have of looking forward to discovering what manner of being, perfect in every way, as we get to rejoin our regenerated, resurrected, flesh on that glorious resurrection day when the trumpet sounds and it is revealed fully what we shall be.

What we shall be

The world hates us because it hated Jesus, the Son of God, because it refused to give up the artificial joy that comes from living in rebellion, seeking to quench the unquenchable thirst of the flesh with the temporary thrill of hurting those they think are a threat to their pursuit of guilt free debauchery.

Nothing has changed. People still prefer to live in what they think is freedom, that is until they get a taste of true freedom, as we who have turned over our hearts to Jesus, have. People prefer to live to love themselves, ‘me, me, meI want more, I deserve more, you owe me more’until they experience a bit of real love, a love that saturates and satisfies the soul.

The only way they will ever draw near enough to Jesus to get a taste of the manner of love that is available, is if we, the children of God keep it on display, for them and for one another, no matter what manner of evil they inflict on us or accuse us of. We cannot stop loving or we become like Cainthe son of Adam and Eve who killed his brother—the world is Cain, Cain is of the Devil, don’t be like Cain, deceived and ignorant, full of hate. We are of the Father, full of all wisdom and love—love that never fails.

Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3

Do not let anyone deceive you into thinking you are anything less than perfectly loved, into thinking you have anything to prove to them or your Lord.  This fear of failure and this perception that you do not, nor cannot, measure up is a lie from the devil and leads to sin.

Leave the sin to those who are his, don’t get sucked into it. Their most destructive sin is in tearing others down to build themselves up. And they cause you to sin by making you think you have to do the same, by making you loathe the person you are, the person God created. They make you sin by convincing you that you cannot accomplish anything worthy for the Kingdom of God and that you are not worthy.

They steal your fruit, the fruit that you are supposed to be bearing and sharing for all the world to see, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. And they leave you with that which they are full of Lust, uncleanness, lewdness,  idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, angry outbursts, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness—party, party, party, (from Galatians 5) —the works of the flesh which run contrary to the spirit and leave you feeling rode hard and put up wet.

You were made for more, you are somebody, you are a child of God! And he sent his Son to destroy the works of the devilJesus came to destroy the works of the devil—in you!

The enemy cannot steal your salvation, he cannot steal your joy, he cannot steal you away from the Father—your status as a favored child of God—unless you let him.

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God! (1 John 3:1) The manner of love is such that it cannot be stolen away, shattered or even diminished.Pure in Christ

Jesus won the victory, tricked the devil into killing him, making him the blood sacrifice that became the price for our redemption. We are pure.

So–

Don’t hate me because I’m Beautiful

The Apostle John asks us the question in his letter: “Why did Cain murder his brother?”

Cain and Able

 

Cain hated his brother thru no fault of Abel’s, Cain hated his brother because he was righteous. Wow

If the world has a problem with you, hates you as both Jesus and then John warned us it would, it is likely not because of any deficiency on your part. It is most likely because you exude a joy and a confidence, —the light of Jesus shines forth from you, even when you don’t think so—making you beautiful.

The world is threatened by that.

The Holy Spirit within you gives you gifts and enhances your God given talents, blessing that which you put your hand to, and the world is threatened by that.

They are threatened because it exposes the falseness and futility of their selfish and frustrating attempts to stand out, to be somebody. Your light makes their darkness seem especially dark and they desire to destroy you, to drag you into darkness with them so they can rule over you and be your better.

In short, the world hates you because you are beautiful.

But don’t let them change you. Because whether they are ready to admit it or not, they want to know if what you have, if who you are  is real, because no one is truly happy living in the dark.

Fearfully Made sheild maiden

1 Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 1 John 3:1

Keep this in mind; if it seems others hate you, it is born of fear, fear of the unknown  and you are an unknown to them.

The world does not know us, but our Father does, and he calls us child.

What can be better than that?

book cover

Set the beautiful barbarian in you free!

 

 

You Are . . .

Everyone has a little barbarian in them, a heart that years to be free and uncluttered by anything that hinders us from being all that God created and called us to be.

Fearfully Made sheild maiden

Barbarians do not connect their self-worth to what others think of them. They do not care if everyone does not like them. Barbarians know what is inside of them, what is in their hearts, because they have been taught what is right and wrong, it is written on their hearts and the person laughing at you, calling you stupid and ugly does not, cannot, know what is in your heart—only you can. With the exception of one other Person; Jesus.
‘For it was you who formed my inward parts;
“You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works” Psalm 139:13, 14

You are wonderfully made, embrace it.

Read the rest of the story here

Barbarians ad copy axe

No Hitting, No Spitting…

“Mom she’s touching me! She stuck her tongue out at me.” “Ow! She hit me! Well she spit on me!”

Boffalo abide

My wife Donna and I went to Yellowstone Park last weekend to celebrate our 32nd anniversary.

We love the park, winter or summer, and have been there many times, from our honeymoon on. It’s our backyard after all–just over a few mountains.

Too bad we have to share it with the rest of the world.

But, then again, that’s part of what makes it so unique. I always love seeing people experience it for the first time, we can start to take it for granted so it’s good to see it through the eyes of others sometimes.

Snow Coach resize

We took a snowcoach into Old Faithful and there was a young couple in our coach who had a couple of kids—8 year old twins; a boy and a girl. They were very well behaved but they were still kids and kept their parents on their toes, especially walking around the geyser basins where you have to stay on the boardwalks, out of the boiling water and away from the buffalo.

Of course this reminded Donna and I of the many times we took our girls to the park. Keeping three little girls from getting lost, gored, boiled or eaten was always a challenge, as was keeping them from killing each other after too many hours in the car.

At one point last weekend as Donna was laughing to herself at the antics of our 8 year old companions she said, just loud enough for me to hear; “No hitting, no spitting, no fighting no biting.”  She was quoting the Swaningson family rule that our girls now know well. This rule was actually born on one our trips to the Park when the girls were young, no doubt after the umpteenth squeal of “Mom she’s touching me! She stuck her tongue out at me.” “Ow! She hit me! Well she spit on me!”

If you’ve ever been a road trip with more than one child in the car you know what I mean, right? Finally in exasperation, somewhere between Canyon Village and Yellowstone Lake I declared, in what Donna refers to as my scary dad voice, which always became the final answer— “No hitting no spitting, no fighting no biting!”

It’s that simple. Follow that rule and we’ll all get along and have a great trip, and life for that matter.

I don’t think I had intended it to be a rhyme but it turned out that way and turned out it pretty much covered all the basics and was fun to say, so it eventually turned into a joke, a joke with meaning, because I meant it and more importantly, it was not a suggestion, it was the law. If you are a part of this family, those things will not be tolerated. And what’s left? Respect, kindness, patience, gentleness—love.

It’s quite simple, abide in the rules, abide in Daddy’s word, and you will continue to abide in this family as a happy camper.Geyser basin resize

Now, I would be tempted to say here of this family rule, that it was—Abide by the rules—’No hitting, no spitting, no fighting, no biting.’, And you can continue to abide in this family!”—but that’s not entirely true. Nor is it true of the Family of God. We are not children of God, we are not brothers and sisters, by virtue of having kept all the rules. We are family by blood, and love–the blood of Jesus and the love of the Father.

My girls know now, and they knew then, that they will always be a part of the family, the Swaningson family. ‘This is the family that gave you your name and your genetic makeup. The family abides in you, it’s in your blood, it’s in your DNA and you carry the name.’

‘You cannot make me stop loving you, and you cannot make me stop caring for you, but if you want to be at peace in this family, if you want to be trusted and enjoy the blessings of a real relationship with me, and others in this family, you need to abide by the rule.’

The rules make the family a safe place. A place where we can abide in love.

Keep my commands water fall

Our family rules were condensed into one easy to remember principle. So is the word of God—all the rules handed down from generation to generation, as revealed in great specificity to make sure we had no excuses to do harm to one another, were boiled down and condensed into one easy to remember all encompassing rule, a new command that could only be given by the Word of God become flesh, the only Son of the one true God and that is “love one another as I have loved you.”

Do that and you will be abiding in my word, my word abiding in you and you will have my joy abiding, remaining, in you.

What a promise; just, love.

Here’s what the Holy Spirit told me as I was working on this message:

Abide in me as I abide in you, and your love will never fail. Do not grow weary, just love, keep on loving, never stop loving.

annointing buffalo

When in doubt, love. When in doubt, receive love.

Abide in love. Let the Holy Spirit bear witness to your Spirit that you are loved. That’s what that anointing that John talks about is, (“But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.” 1 john 2:10) it’s the Holy Spirit telling us that he is in us, that Jesus is Lord and that he loves us. It is our salvation and our joy, our hope and our strength. The Holy Spirit is our guarantee.

Real Love Fire Hole River

Which brings us once again to the key verse of my recent blogs, and the core principle behind the Apostle John’s writings, the one thing he desires more than anything for us to do, as those who love and are loved by the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.

1 John 3:18

No hitting no spitting, no fighting, no biting. Wouldn’t the church be a wonderful place if we all abided by this?

little children love 1 John

And if you look deep inside where the Holy Spirit resides, (If you have invited him to do so) you’ll know that it is true that you are loved— Jesus loves me…. And you cannot make him stop loving you.

Lord I believe, help me in my  unbelief !

book cover

Claim your place in Christ!