Chosen Vessels

Have you said yes?

When the Radical and hateful Pharisee Saul was called by Jesus to carry his name to the nations, all were astounded, including Saul, but he was about to become known as the Apostle Paul, because he said yes.

A chosen vessel? Me, I don’t feel like a chosen vessel…

There was a time in my life when did horrible things that I am ashamed still to admit. Stealing, cheating, lying, using my God given gift of leadership to lead others astray, talking others, even in my own family, into doing drugs and setting them on paths of destruction.

I stole goods and gas from the Salvation Army truck, sold drugs to teenagers, spent my weekends drinking and tripping on psychedelics, and my work days stoned on weed and powered by whatever stimulant I could find to swallow or snort. And my temper was legendary—and embarrassing.

I was running like the wind away from myself and my labels, but I could not outrun God and he revealed himself to me in such a way that I could not deny.

Like Paul, I thought I knew God, but the Jesus I thought I knew was only a shadow of who he really was because I always kept him at arm’s length. But when I could no longer stand even myself, when I was tired of the never ending high that never seemed to satisfy and the constant search for a real connection with someone who could ease the loneliness in my heart, I cried out to Jesus and he came to me.

I didn’t see a blinding light but I felt his presence all around me as my soul was bathed in a light that chases away all that had strangled and deceived me for so long. And I knew I never wanted to be that person I had been ever again.

I was, and am, a new creation in Christ Jesus, a chosen vessel to bear his name. And I do not take that calling lightly. I chose to say yes when the Lord asked me to trust him and follow him that night in my own living room. He met me where I was.

And I have lived to the best of my ability since in such a way as to always be cognizant and ready of his leading as he calls me to share what I have been so abundantly given and what I choose as his vessel to carry.

Gone is the heart full of fear, loneliness, pain, addictions, anger, lust, hopelessness and depression. I choose to keep filling my heart with his Holy Spirit, and the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control that he gives to those who are willing to say yes when he calls, when he offers.

Stop kicking against the goads.

What do you want me to do? It’s a question I still ask a lot, and the answer is almost always—just trust me.

It’s a question all who love the Lord ask. Stop looking to others for the answer, stop thinking you have to know the big picture. Stop thinking that you cannot know the answer, and just trust.

Paul would spend the rest of his life discovering the answer. Some things he knew well in advance, amd some things he only knew just as he was doing it. But it was always the Holy Spirit who led. Because Paul knew and believed that he would.

Paul would say yes Lord.

The answer Saul got to his question of the Lord, what would you have me do? The first honest and heartfelt question Paul would ever ask of Jesus?

“Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Acts 9:6

Go into town and wait till I give you the next step.

That’s what being a chosen vessel is all about, being willing and ready to take that one step.

Labels

Only God knows your heart, the real you.

We all know of the blessed Apostle Paul, But how about the murderous and feared Pharisee Saul?

“Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. . . . 

And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. Acts 9: 13, 26

Paul had had a serious change of heart, but Ananias and later, the church in Jerusalem, were loath to trust this hot shot Pharisee. They thought they knew Saul. They knew what kind of a man he was, the hatred and evil he harbored. He had been certified dangerous and  labeled accordingly. And no one was too keen on welcoming him in to their confidence, let alone their presence.  

But Jesus had other ideas. He was changing the game, altering the narrative, and he knew exactly who was needed to accomplish this so that all might hear the gospel despite the seeming hopelessness of the cause.

He had used Saul’s bitterness to scatter the church, to begin the spreading of the word, and now he is going to wrestle him back from the enemy and use him to ultimately plant the gospel so deeply into the consciousness of the nations that it would never be removed—exactly the opposite of what Saul had in mind as his life was devoted to this point to eradicating all traces of the memory of this convicted blasphemer, Jesus of Nazareth, from the face of the earth.

But Saul had something in him God could use, something the rest of the church only saw as a bad thing. He had a zealousness for the things of God, a zealousness that had blinded him to truth, but one that the God he yearned for could turn in the right direction, once he let go of his bitterness.

And he had a vast knowledge of the Law and the prophets that God would use to help others see how Jesus had fulfilled the law and the prophets, and to set them free from the condemnation of the very law they used as a club to destroy those that God wanted to save.

No one else saw any of this, they only saw a religious fanatic who refused to listen to anything that might challenge his perfect and complete understanding of God’s word. He knew it all and you had better not question nor challenge him.  

Unless of course, you are the Son of God himself. The Lord had waylaid on the waylaid Saul as he was set out to destroy his church, appearing to him in blinding glory.

Acts 9

And he (Saul) said, “Who are You, Lord?”

Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”

Immediately, Saul shows that he had the right stuff inside. He didn’t argue like Moses at the burning bush, or try to convince Jesus that he had made a mistake in choosing him like Peter in the boat, he just asked for direction. “Lord, what do You want me to do?”

Right answer. Jesus had chosen the right man, despite the labels that had been slapped on him by others.

Labels

The world is very good at attaching labels to everyone. It seems to be a favorite tactic of the enemy these days especially as he uses politicians and the media to put everyone into neat little groups that are labeled in such a way as to be  unable to intermix or abide by those who wear another label. We are all set against one another based on political leanings, religion, income, color, sex, health—you name it, class warfare is at a fever pitch.

At least that’s what they want us to believe. I don’t see it in the real world as much as we would be led to believe by the media and policy makers, but it’s there and getting worse.

Sadly, it’s just basic human nature being played against us on a grand scale—and we fall for it. But when you take God out of the picture, that’s all that is left, basic human nature. We seem to have this need to categorize everything and everyone and don’t you dare leave your pigeonhole.

It starts early. As kids we are labeled by others with labels we might be wearing for our entire lives either in the minds of others or in our own minds. Some we can never overcome and some we grow weary of trying to live up to. But those labels are often far from accurate.

The heart and soul of a person is virtually indiscernible without spending a lot of time and energy to discover it. And few people in our lives do that, and we often don’t even know ourselves that well. Some vessels are stopped up tighter than others.

You just never know do you, what might be inside that vessel, the labels on the outside or the condition of the container can be very deceptive. What do you see when you look into the mirror? Do you see the labels slapped on you by others? The dirt and scratches you acquired on the journey? Or do you see what Jesus sees?  

We are really clueless it seems. Preconceptions cloud our vision also.

We all have a notion or an image in our minds of the kind of person God would call to represent him before many varied and powerful people, those he would entrust with great wisdom and insight to share in such a way that people receive it. And we all have a notion of who might not be qualified.

Many would even put themselves in that category of—Who me? A chosen vessel to bear his name before Gentiles, kings and Israelites? I seriously doubt it. Well, guess what, You do not get to decide if you are called or not, you only get to decide if you will answer the call. Only the Lord knows what your label truly reads, and not even you will know what that label says until the day you stand before him.

But in the meantime he will help you overcome the false labels the world, and yourself, have slapped on yourself.

To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” ’

Rev 2:17

Regardless of what the world may call you, the Father calls you child.

Power Servants

The healings were so complete and really, uneventful, that it was hard to even remember that anything had been wrong—it was like we had just traded realities, a bad one for a good one.”

The early church had a lesson to learn not long into their new found faith– true power is released by the Holy Spirit, in those willing to serve. They had to stop complaining and start doing.

It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; . . .   And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Acts 6: 2-3, 6

Thinking about this passage of scripture and the concept of true servants who make a real impact that reaches far beyond the work they put their hands to. I kept thinking about our old friend Ron Unfortunately Ron passed away a months ago but his legacy lives on.

Donna and I first met Ron at Faith Chapel in Billings many years ago. He would later come on board there as a staff pastor but back then he was just a fellow believer who loved Jesus and gathering with the saints. He was an electrician for Montana Power and also turned out to be neighbor on Blue Creek, at least by rural standards, he was still several miles away.

Ron’s wife Becky did the flowers for our wedding. and their kids were in our Sunday school classes. Ron and Becky would go on to be a part of our lives for many years, off and on, even until just before he went home to Jesus as they were ministering to married couples from their home near Absorakee where they had retired to, supposedly, and we were blessed to have been one of those couples.

But Ron had won his way onto our hearts long before that. As many of you have heard before, our house burned down three weeks after we were married but we were blessed enough to be able to rebuild right away.

It was a challenge and time and money was tight but with the help of some good friends and church family we were able to get it done. It’s hard to ask for help and it’s hard to find time to help, but with Ron, I did not have to ask and he somehow seemed to find time—it was what he did. He was a true servant.

Several Saturday’s that summer as we were framing the house, Ron would pull up with his two boys, put on their tool belts and go to work. I have a vivid picture in my mind, and a couple of old photographs, of Ron helping us set roof tresses, standing on top of the wall doing the Karate Kid crane pose. No particular reason other than he was just a goof ball making a hard job fun.

Fast forward several years, we now have three girls and have lived in our beautiful new home for several years. Ron is now a staff pastor, who gives great council and even does a little teaching, though he is still pretty comfortable with a hammer in his hand. And I am taking night classes at a Bible Institute, preparing to answer the call myself, to become a pastor.  

And I realize that Donna and I are under attack. I have answered the call, after a season of wrestling with the Holy Spirit, and the enemy does not like that. He is not touching me, but he is going after our girls, or so it sure seemed.

Our oldest daughter Cally about 12 at the  time was going through her second, weeks long bout with Mononucleosis in just a year or so and was feeling lousy and dragged out.

Jessie, our middle daughter, had whacked her head on the playground equipment at school  and had to have stables to close up the gash; this on the heels of having to have staples in her knee to close up the gash from a sledding mishap— and scariest of all, Danielle, barely five at the time, had contracted some rare and strange blood disease that caused her to break out in horrible hives and made her joints hurt so bad she began crawling around the house because it hurt too much to walk. 

The baffled doctors had no clue what to do about it.

At the time I was just learning about, and fully realizing, the incredible power of the Kingdom of God that was available for those who understood that it was there, the great faith and power that could overcome and alter the physical realm we live in for good.

So after service one Sunday morning, Donna and I went and collected our kids from their Sunday school classes, sore, tired, itchy and stapled, and brought them back to the sanctuary and found Pastor Ron whom we knew would be hanging around loving on and praying for people.

Donna and I were standing on the verse that said if any of you are sick go to the elders and have them pray for you.

We recognized Ron as an elder, not by age, but by God’s calling and place in our hearts.  So we explained what was going on and had him pray for and anoint the three girls.

The next day, we got a call from the lab at the hospital saying that the test results from the blood they had drawn from Cally the previous week had surprisingly come back negative for Mono. Cally had already been feeling as good as new and had her energy back. God had not only healed her, but he had healed the blood they had drawn the week before!

At the same time Danielle was bounding around the house like she had never been ill a day in her life leaving the doctors baffled as to why they no longer had to worry about their first and only case of this rare incurable disease.  And Jessie’s wounds healed up and she managed to avoid having to be stapled back together anymore after that.

The healings were so complete and really, uneventful, that it was hard to even remember that anything had been wrongit was like we had just traded realities, a bad one for a good one. 

But Donna and I remember, we remember well the goodness of God and the servant of the Lord whose faith and anointing God used to channel his healing power to our girls

We all need Stephens in our lives, and should strive to be more like those servants.

Don’t think it does not still happen. God still loves his children and his Spirit is still powerful. And he uses his humble servants to prove it.

That servant, Ron, never sought or claimed any credit or glory for himself. He never bickered or complained about his lot or his church, and he died with a tool belt on, of heart failure, in his “retirement” doing volunteer maintenance work at Camp on the Boulder, a Christian kids camp.

 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. 
. . . And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel. Acts 6
: 10,15

A servant full of faith and power, one that God can use to release the kingdom power and healing on this earth, is one who is not contentious, who is not looking for offense or whining about wrongs to right, is not swayed by the voices of criticism or accusation, but is one who is just using the gifts they have been entrusted with and not letting anything get in the way. And their joy cannot be stolen.

Their heart language is love.

Move in the gifts I’ve given you but strive for all of them. Power is power and must not be held back. HS

A Mother’s Heart, and Gold

After Peter and John healed a lame man in the Temple gate one day they took the opportunity to preach the gospel to the gathering crowd.

Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…” Acts 3

How often do we moan and complain about how weary we are, how helpless and downtrodden we feel. ‘Lord, why don’t I feel the joy of my salvation like I used to? Why do I feel like I have nothing left to give?

Well, is there repentance involved in your walk with the Lord? Or are you just presuming on grace, always presuming and never turning away from the things we need grace for?

The simple truth is, you are not going to be feeling a lot of refreshing in the Lord’s presence if you are always wallowing in the sin he died to rescue you from.

Turn from the lust of the flesh and the distractions that bind and blind, and turn to the one who can set you free, look to Jesus and expect something, expect a miracle.

And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.” So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give to you.” Acts 3:5-6

Jesus can give you whatever you need to overcome whatever it is that keeps you from him, but you need to trust him enough to turn to him in honesty, and to look into his eyes and say “Help me Lord, I’m tired of fighting this alone and I need a touch from you. Silver and gold I do not need, times of refreshing in your presence is what my soul desires.”

Living in a world of plenty we easily forget that, as a church, as people, as parents. We lose focus on what is truly valuable when we focus too much on what the world considers treasure.

A story is told of Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century priest, friar and philosopher, calling on Pope Innocent II one day as the Pope happened to be counting out a large sum of money. “You see Thomas,” said the Pope, “the church can no longer say ‘silver and gold have I none.’” “True Holy Father,” replied Thomas, “neither can she now say, ‘Rise and walk.’”

Was the church richer when it had nothing to offer but Jesus and nothing to gain but forever?

Are our families richer when we have nothing to offer our kids but our hearts, our time, and our outstretched arms?

Mothers, I hate to say it, but you’re the worst. You love your kids and you want to give them everything. You want to be the world’s greatest mom and you judge yourself in that regard by looking at what you perceive other ‘perfect’ moms giving their kids—or maybe by the standard of your own mom who seemed to have it all together and made your childhood special.

Here’s a secret, your  mom had the same struggles, was not perfect, and neither are all those other moms whose kids you deem to be so lucky and well adjusted.

You are the perfect mom for your kids. They would not want any other mother than you, and they see in you things that they love and admire that you are blind to.

But most importantly, more than all the things you could buy them, more than all the programs you could get them to, more then all the crafty things you could invent for them or perfect lessons you could teach them—they just want you.

They want your time and attention, they want you—loud, messy, disorganized and broke—they don’t care. They just want what you have to offer them, the best things they could possibly receive from a mother, the same things you get from your Father in Heaven— unconditional love, mercy, grace, wisdom, correction, stories, tenderness, strength, a smile to wipe away the gloom, or a tear to share a hurt and a kiss to fix the boo-boo.

When they reach out to you in expectation, they don’t want money or stuff, they just want your hand reaching back to them, because like Peter on that day at the Beautiful gate, your hand is far from empty.

Happy Mother’s Day all!

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.

One Word–Divorce

Hard lessons learned

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

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

What happened? One worddivorce.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dysfunctions

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

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

It is the hard heart that always leads to destruction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tradition or Truth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The word become flesh

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

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

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

Summer Vacation

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wait was worth it.

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas Family!

The Ghost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark 6

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

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

He’s got you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Old Barn

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

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

Sow What you Want to Reap

Notice the emphasis on hearing here. We must hear the word, receive the good seed, before we can plant it. The eagerness and seriousness with which we hear and accept the word will determine whether we are entrusted with more, which will give us seed to sow, which will lead to harvest.

26 And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, 27 and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. 28 For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4

I have always found this to be a fascinating and challenging little parable. Perhaps because I love to be in control. I’m the barbarian—if it moves and is not supposed to—kill it. If it does not move and it is supposed to—poke it until it does.

I’m the builder and the fixer—if I need it I’ll build it, if it’s broke I’ll fix it.

I’m the daddy and the pastor—if you’re broke I’ll fix you.

That’s my default M.O.

So, what do you mean just scatter the seeds and go to sleep not knowing how it grows? I want to know, I want to help, I want to do. . . I need to be in control!

And therein lies the problem. I have had to learn how to let go, and that’s what this means. Jesus is essentially saying– Use what I have entrusted you with to plant some seeds that I can bless and use to produce more fruit, so that I can get more seeds and entrust more people to sow. It’s really a simple concept, and a whole lot less stressful.

If you have planted good seeds, you have to let them grow. Only God can do that.

You can’t force a seed to geminate on demand and you can’t hurry the growth along by driving your tractor around in the field everyday just because you have to be doing something. You will end up destroying the crop.

The greatest and hardest example of that—where we all have or are struggled?  If you’ve spoken truth into your kid’s lives, you have to let them grow—and let them go. If you’ve planted good seeds there will one day be a harvest. But first come thunderstorms and days of scorching heat.

That concept of reaping and sowing, and leaving the growth up to God applies to every aspect of our lives. And the big part in the middle, the part between the sowing and the reaping—the very long and patience demanding grow part—that has to be left to God. There is no way around that.

So it is of utmost importance what you are sowing– what you are scattering.

What are you throwing out there?

There’s an old tongue in cheek superstition amongst construction workers in this Montana land of Big Skies and big winds—Don’t say wind.

It’s a beautiful fall day to frame, lay block, roof, set trusses— whatever and someone—usually the new guy— will pipe up with; “Sure hope the wind doesn’t come up—yesterday was miserable!” And before you know it, the wind is blowing, and everyone blames the guy who used the “W” word.

I don’t know if there’s anything to that, but I always seriously wonder—and so does everyone else.

Words have power, words spoken into the hearts of others and words spoken to the heavens have immense power and far reaching ramifications of which we will never fully know.

As believers, created in the image of God and enlivened and empowered by His Spirit—all we do, say and think, ultimately has some effect on what we can harvest when the season comes. Which brings us to the last part of the equation.

Hear the word, sow the word, trust the one who spoke the word—and then harvest.

Harvest

29 But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4

What will you be harvesting? What are you harvesting?

You can only reap what you sow.

In the real world, no matter how fancy your bread or where you bought it—someone had to plant a seed to get the grain that made the flour that made that bread. That applies to everything we eat. Someone had to put the very thing that could be made into the food we eat into the ground to die, in order to produce more of it, so that we could eat tomorrow.

You can’t grind your seed crop into flour. Even if you have to go hungry today, it may be necessary to ensure tomorrow, for you and many others.

Bottom line—If you want something you need to be willing to give it up.

What does that mean?

If you need healing? Be a healer. Need courage? Be an encourager. Need prayer? Be a prayer warrior. Need mercy? Be merciful. Need money? Give what you have.

You get the point.

How does any of that make sense? It only makes sense in the kingdom of God, but that is where you live—if you dare. It’s called faith.

Jesus has so much in store for you, if you’ll just trust him. If today is to be the day of your blessing, be a blessing.

Nothing that we cling to in this life compares to the riches to come.

Dry Wells and Tempests

Spiritual discernment is critical in this time of darkness when only the sharpest eyes can see the light.

Not a real happy sounding scripture there is it? You’re probably not going to find that embroidered on a pillow at grandma’s house or on a coffee cup in a gift store.

Don’t you love that phrase—“great swelling words of emptiness.” I’ve sat through a few sermons that could have been entitled that. . . and apparently, so has Peter.

Because if you read today’s chapter in preparation for the message, you know Peter is a little riled up and is apparently taking serious issue, as he ought, with what he calls, along with many other unflattering things, false prophets and teachers

Peter is making no bones about the fact that some among the church are teaching the wrong message. Some things never change…

Wells without water may look good, but they are useless, and clouds that promise rain but only bring wind and dust, are worse than useless, they are dangerous.

People are too easily lured away from the Living Water into what turns out to be a dry oasis. When that happens, they quickly perish, and they won’t even know why. They refuse to understand that the beautiful show being put on all around and above them, promising the life giving rains from the heaven, is only virga—all lights, bluster and shadows—but the rain never reaches them.

False teachers always end up leading others back into bondage, it may be a return to the old bondage, or it may be a new one.

You found Jesus, got set free from sin and shame, forgiven and made alive, but you are lured into new selfish ambitions—your walk becomes a lust for personal gain.

Or, you are given license to indulge the flesh—“go ahead, party hardy, jump into that strange bed, shake that thing—you got it, flaunt it! Focus on your bank account and spend all your time and money pursuing happiness—you deserve it!”But don’t forget to support the teacher who makes you feel so good about yourself, makes you laugh and cry, but never challenges you or leaves you feeling you had a touch from God that you cannot ignore.’

It’s disturbing to me, this seemingly new trend I see in the American church, to use grace as license to sin. If the only difference between the lifestyles of a believer and a nonbeliever, is that one goes to church—once in a while—and one doesn’t, than something is dreadfully wrong.

Drinking, cussing and fornicating on Saturday night and praising Jesus on Sunday morning, does not make you a liberated Christian saved by grace—Hallelujah— it makes you a believer who is still bound up by the sin that you were supposed to have been freed from and perhaps now even worse because you are deceived into thinking that you are free.

I pray Lord that I have not been guilty of that misguided teaching. I have seen way too many people whom I have ministered to over the years, reveling in satisfying their flesh while giving little thought to what it cost Jesus to give them their freedom. And I just shake my head in sadness and ask, “Am I that inept at teaching God’s ways, or are people truly that weak that they would trade the Living Water for empty wells that even those who have never tasted life know cannot satisfy?”

The devil is a wily one and the flesh is incredibly weak.  You have to be constantly seeking truth, constantly going to the source, drinking from the living waters of God’s word, praying in and for the Holy Spirit of God to keep you strong, to keep you free, to satisfy and protect your soul from deceit and despair.

God wants you to be free, and to be safe—it’s called love.

I have a real hard time pretending everything is fine and just patting my adult daughters on the head when I know that something they are doing is wrong and will end up hurting them. Why would our Father God be any different? Unfortunately, some parents just go along to get along with their kids and they end up either spoiled or in serious trouble.

I never stop loving or accepting them, but I am determined to be a light and to share and show the way. The most important thing is to give them the tools to make wise choices as they are growing up. We are all still growing up in the Lord and he is offering us the tools to make wise choices also.

You have to pray for and practice wisdom and discernment, the ability to know something in your head and in your gut. We all have an innate God given ability to recognize when something is amiss or flat out wrong, what we lack is the wisdom and courage to act on it.

When your righteous soul is vexed—it may be time to stand up, or just run the other way.

and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the wicked (for by what that righteous man saw and heard as he lived among them, he was vexed in his righteous soul day after day with their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 2 Peter 2:7—9 RSV

You get the impression when reading the story of Lot and his family in Genesis that Lot thought he was pretty cool living in the woke city of Sodom, but eventually he started getting pretty disgusted. Yet it took a visit from two angels to convince him to get out of there, to rescue him. But he did listen.

Do you?

Listen to the still small voice of the Spirit within, your own heart will guide you, and the heart of the Lord residing in you will guide you.

Don’t just follow the crowd, just because everyone else is doing it does not make it right. A herd mentality, social pressure and cultural norms derail real discernment quicker than anything else, except for maybe the lust of the flesh.

Before you drink the Kool-Aid, maybe ask yourself, ask the Lord, is this really what I am supposed to be doing? It just feels wrong. . . Yep, it’s wrong.

As believers we have something that Lot did not have-we have the Holy Spirit of the Living God within us-listen to Him!

We need to be very careful in this season of turmoil and uncertainty because prophets are going to be coming out of the woodwork all claiming to have the answers and teachers and preachers are going to be exposed and start falling like flies as their great swelling words are exposed to be empty wells that leave people powerless against the evils that are befalling this generation.

I would never be so presumptuous as to say that I have it all figured out, or to render judgement by standards that I do not wish to be judged by myself. But I have some pretty good ideas as I look at others in light of the scriptures, the fruit that they produce, and what I feel in my own spirit when I hear their words,—all things that we must use to weigh the words of those who would deign to speak on God’s behalf. We are told to test the spirits so the onus is really on the hearer as to whom they chose to listen to.

Look for the fruits of their teachings, the scriptural basis, and use the gift of discernment given you by the Holy Spirit. And keep praying; Open the eyes of my heart Lord, that I may see with your eyes and not be deceived.