One Word–Divorce

Hard lessons learned

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

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

What happened? One worddivorce.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dysfunctions

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

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

It is the hard heart that always leads to destruction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Mountain part 2

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

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

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

Yellowstone Park Dan Swaningson

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

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

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

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

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

On The Mountain

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

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

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

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

Life

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

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

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

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

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

Fanning the Flame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thots

Do you understand?

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

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

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

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

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Tradition or Truth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The word become flesh

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

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

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

Summer Vacation

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wait was worth it.

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas Family!

The Ghost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark 6

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

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

He’s got you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Old Barn

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

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

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.

Fury

People accuse Spirit filled believers and “Evangelicals” of being out of their minds. But it is really the devil who is out of his mind-with fury.

People were used in earnest by the enemy of our souls to try to stop Jesus in his mission to bring people to his Father. His family thought him mad, the religious elite thought him demon possessed, and the government thought him a threat to power. Why would we think our mission, to bring people to the Father, would be any easier?

Correction: Mark 3::21-22

Just like any power hungry world leader, inclined towards evil, the enemy of our souls is never satisfied with what he holds, he always wants more— more territory, more death, more captivity, more fear, addictions, sickness, fear, more control—he wants it all.

He can only do that by stopping us, and by proxy, stopping Jesus. Something he has been trying to do with varying degrees of success since the days Jesus walked the earth and took away his right to keep us enslaved in fear of death and judgement.

 He is now out of his mind with fury and is determined to deceive all of us into believing that God’s ways are foolishness and madnessthat the lies he spreads are superior to our archaic ways and beliefs.

By changing the language— the meaning and acceptance of words— and vilifying those who believe in right and wrong, good and evil, he turns wrong into right, truth into lies, murder into choice, perversions into preferences, lusts into needs, violence into peaceful protests, scripture into hate speech and on and on.

But no matter how he schemes and blusters, God’s word remains and continues to change lives and keep God’s kingdom present in his dominion, and Satan’s fate sealed. But he keeps trying. Just like the last great European battle of World War 2, the Battle of the Bulge, an all but defeated enemy, Germany, threw everything they had into one last gasp effort in a battle that destroyed thousands on both sides but ended in the Allies destroying Hitler’s ability to wage war entirely.

It was a doomed effort but in the midst of it, the soldiers hunkered down in their frozen fox holes in the middle of the Ardennes  Forest, only knew that they were in a fight for their lives moment by moment, but they never gave up because they knew they could not loose. They were the U.S. Army and their cause was righteous.

I think that’s where we are, in the midst of perhaps the last great push by the enemy to destroy the church, to push us back and keep us from storming his gates.

The battles are ramping up and becoming more extreme in their vehemence and absurdity. Hitler mustered up children and senior citizens to fight to the death in that last battle knowing that they could not win. But he was determined to inflict as much damage as possible. He even ordered his generals to destroy their own cities if they retreated just to spite his enemies.

The generals refused to do it, it was indeed an absurd order, and fight; and they knew it.

Too bad the leaders of the enemies army in our own battles don’t see the absurdity of destroying your own cities. I talked to my Dad yesterday again about the destruction of many of our favorite old places in downtown Minneapolis. Between the shutdowns, looting and burning, the city is never going to be the same. It just makes me sad, Minneapolis was a wonderful and uniquely Minnesotan place, my birthplace, a place of generations of family history and treasured memories for.

And that is happening all over the country. But we know who is behind it. Our enemy is not flesh and blood. We know who he is, and he and his minions know who we are as well. We are the army of God, sons and daughters of that same God.

The enemy, Satan, is showing his hand in all of this like never before because the more furious and desperate he becomes, the more obvious it is just how truly evil and hateful he is, as his thin veneer of justice and moral superiority is wearing through and the ugliness revealed. And it should disturb and motivate us to shine even brighter even as the darkness does its utmost to overwhelm us.

Having the enemy expose himself should encourage believers to pray more earnestly and specifically, and even be excited, because for all the seeming power and influence the enemy seems to have—we know we can have so much more to counter. Greater is he who is in us than he who is in the worldright? Now we get to prove it.

But it’s hard I know. No one wants to be seen as mad, out of their mind or just plain ignorant. And that’s the brush we can get painted with. That’s a strategy the enemy uses to bind us so he can plunder our worlds.

But don’t get discouraged. If people thought Jesus was out of his mind, why would we expect to be treated any differently? Don’t let the enemy stop you from being who the Father created and called you to be and whom Jesus freed you to be. God wants to use you to bless, heal and deliver others from the lies of hopelessness and worthlessness.

We cannot let the world determine our worth and our usefulness—especially to the kingdom of God. We cannot let anyone deter us from speaking the truth as God reveals it to us. We cannot let anyone deter us from doing the good we were created and called to do and we cannot stand by and watch others suffer if we can help them. Whether it’s prayer for healing, a word of encouragement or correction, a prayer for deliverance or even just a much needed hug.

God calls the foolish, so if others call you the fool, shame and slander you to shut you up or stop you, consider that a confirmation of your call and an affirmation of your effectiveness.

You are not in this fight alone, we might be seen as an army of fools, but we we are fools for Christ, and together we are unbeatable!

Tumult

We are allowing the enemy of our souls to control the narrative.

Our country and our churches are a mess. And there’s no one to blame but ourselves for the state we are in.

It’s human nature to try to control every aspect of our lives, even the God part. We want to be in control of our destinies, our fortunes, our health, our walk with the Lord and our church services. We want to control the narrative. Guess what? We aren’t. And we are certainly not letting or inviting God to do it. So, by default, just as happened in the garden of Eden, we are allowing the enemy to control the narrative.

And his narrative always leads directly away from God and directly into destruction, And the road to destruction is always lined with shiny things and beautiful promises—even as those walking along it are angrily screaming at everyone to join them; ‘Come on, what’s wrong with you? Are you an ignorant hater? That narrow difficult path is for losers and rednecks.’

 We live in tense and tumultuous times. Which is ironic really because we live in the wealthiest nation on earth in what is likely the most prosperous period mankind has ever known. But, with that comes a stress all its own also, because apparently we all have too much time to worry about why our neighbors don’t all agree with our way of thinking, and why some people have more stuff than we do.

Life just gets more and more complicated and grounded less and less in reality. On the one hand there are people who run themselves ragged, trying to keep up with all that life offers and throws at us, either fending it off or fighting to get more of it, who have little or no time to fight for what they need or believe. They are too busy working.

And then there are those who seemingly have nothing but time because everything is handed to them and they have way too much time to fret over why you still have something they don’t have. And they have nothing better to do then scheme, shame or beat you into submission to their obviously superior ways. ‘Hey, if you weren’t trying to carry all that stuff down that narrow path we would have a lot more fun over here on this easy road—hand it over!

Looters

Never mind, we’ll just take it.

That has literally been happening this year with little or no opposition from those in charge whom we pay to look out for us. And if everything being talked about gets implemented it’s only just beginning. It won’t just be the thugs looting, it will be the authorities. Looting seems to be the order of the day.

The culture war has been brewing for a while, as has the class envy divisiveness that the voices of discontent keep propagating, and has now devolved into a sanctified racism against those who must be racist simply because of their color or political leanings.

Photo by Life Matters on Pexels.com

You throw a little pandemic into the mix, a botched presidential election between two ideologies that seem to have no common ground whatsoever and are so far apart that no matter who wins or loses, one half of the country is going to despair nearly to death, and refuse to accept the outcome– social media platforms that none of us can seem to avoid where we can spend every minute of every day arguing, provoking and being provoked by countless people, many of whom we have never met—and you mix it all up with a concerted and outright war on the truth of God’s word and his people—which isn’t hard because they have been progressively marginalized for decades now—and what do you get?

A nation without hope. A nation without a moral compass. A nation tearing itself apart at the seams and ignorant of everything that once made it the most blessed place on earth and a light and beacon of hope to the world. A nation whose God is no longer the Lord.

The Answer

So what’s the remedy? Winning an election isn’t the answer, just the fact that we can get into the state we’re potentially in, where we stand to lose everything that we have traditionally fought for and held dear as Americans and God fearing people, because of a single election, is evidence that something is very, very wrong.

The fact that God had to use a bombastic, rude, playboy billionaire turned reality TV star to wake this country and the church up to what we were losing and how we had been too cowardly to fight for it, is evidence that something is very, very wrong.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Pexels.com

Which probably means that somewhere, we went very, very wrong. Perhaps, God has left the building, crowded out by idols of power, greed, perversions and humanism. Or perhaps he was crowded out by self-righteous blindness that can’t see the work of the hand of God and the opportunity we were given because the vessel was not polished and certified wholesome like a Bush or a Romney.

Our country was and is a mess. And in the case of now or never God uses the willing, he uses those who answer, when the rest lie down and roll over because the fight is ‘not becoming of a person of my stature, and I just want to get along—don’t you?’

I’m glad Jesus didn’t worry about impressing the righteous.

And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mark 2

He just did what needed to be done for those who needed it the most, and who were willing to receive the gift being offered.

Our iniquity is great and our sins are many. Yes, God sometimes does leave the building, his patience is longsuffering and his mercies great, but there is always a time when he just has no room left, when even the Holy of Holies is no longer habitable.

The vision of Ezekiel in Ezekiel 8—10  where he sees the wheel, way up in the middle of the air, might make a fun Sunday school song, but that wheel was God’s Holy Vehicle for his Spirit to depart from the desecrated Temple, and from Israel.

 He was leaving a temple that had become a house of idols to all sorts of vile and detestable demonic gods and a land whose leaders and priests were far from him.

“Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the room of his idols? For they say, ‘The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land.’ ” Ez 8:12

Then He said to me, “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great, and the land is full of bloodshed, and the city full of perversity; for they say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see!’ Ez 9:9

18 Then the glory of the Lord departed from the threshold of the temple Ezekiel 10:18

Ezekiel 10:18

Do you see the main problem here? They decided God was gone long before he was, and that’s what pushed him out. They say— “The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see!’

We are not there yet. God has not forsaken us, we have forsaken him, and God does indeed see. See’s and weeps. ‘Turn back to me!

God has not left the building, but collectively we just act like he has—the country as a whole. It’s not too late, we who still trust in him and ache for the soul of this nation and the church need to stand up and be heard by the Lord and the world. Those God has called need to preach the word with authority, teach unapologetically, now is the time to stand up and be heard.

We have the greatest story ever told to share with a desperate world. We have the good news of Jesus Christ, the pure, simple gospel of love and forgiveness, redemption and hope. We have the power and authority by virtue of his Holy Spirit to set the captives free, to speak life to death, healing to sickness, light to darkness, infallible truth to lies and deceits.

It won’t be easy or pleasant, because the enemy is alive and well and has gained great control over much of this world including our society. But we have something he does not, truth and love embodied and dwelling in our hearts, the Holy Spirit. And if we just show up and keep speaking, acting and doing whatever it is that Spirit of love asks you to do, people are drawn to Jesus—they just are.

44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. John 6

You just open your mouth, refuse to be silenced, and let God do the teaching through you. Then watch the Father draw people to Jesus. You’ll be amazed. Just be ready to welcome all comers and keep Jesus front and center.

Invite the Lord to control the narrative. And then allow him to narrate through you.

Chrome

Jesus is Lord.

This is what you need to know, nothing else matters, all else is rubbish and just confusion if you do not know and believe in the Christ as presented and proclaimed in the gospel accounts, you are powerless, all show and no go. But in him, we are mighty!

Jesus was pretty controversial in his day–as he still is.

“What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” 28 And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee. Mark 1:27,28

This was no new Doctrine, this was the word of God incarnate. And his fame now knows no bounds, so long as his story continues to be told. In this troubled day, that message must be loud and clear.

And all the unclean spirits say —bummer dude!

Chrome

And there are a lot of unclean spirits in our lives and in our world that need dealt with, aren’t there? That’s why we need to Gospel, why the simple gospel of Jesus Christ must always be front and center in his church and the core of our witness to the world.

All else is just chrome and paint, it’s what’s under the hood that gets us to the finish line. People are popping the hoods to many churches, and of their own lives, and finding there was nothing under the hood but an old dusty Chilton’s Manuel that says place engine here. Or they see an engine that is just collecting spider webs and mouse nests because it hasn’t run in years.

I bought my first car when I was 16. A 1960 Chevy Belair. A big blue beautiful piece of molded Detroit steel all highlighted with chrome, real chrome, not the phony stuff that flakes off the plastic grills of todays cars. It had a 350 engine under the hood that the guy I bought it from had just put in it.

I think I paid about $100 bucks for it. In 1978 when minimum wage was $2.30 an hour, that was a lot of money. It was a great car. I towed it home and put it the field behind my folks house where it sat until I hauled it to the junk yard a year or two later.

You see, the engine was not hooked up, it had just been dropped in there and bolted down. I knew nothing about what it took to install a new engine in a car. I washed it, polished the chrome, bought a bunch of wire to maybe start wiring it—but I never heard it run. When I bought it the guy I bought it from promised me he would help me get it going, but he moved out of town after only spending an hour or so under the hood with me.

I ended up buying a beat up ’68 Delmont 88 with a 455 that ran like a top, and finally had to get rid of the shiny Chevy because the landlord was complaining. I basically got scrap metal prices for it because I didn’t even have a title—$30—which was what it had cost me to rent the tow bar to get it there.

No doubt somewhere in some classic car show my Belair lives on because I can’t imagine that this savvy junk yard dealer just crushed it. I kind of hope someone got it, it deserved a reset. But back then, it was just an old car cluttering up the neighborhood.

Dare I go there?

How many churches are just cluttering up the neighborhoods, all chrome on the outside but no life inside where it matters. They’re not going anywhere. I used to sit in that old car and dream of driving it. It actually had electric seats and windows and if I charged the battery they would work, for a little while. But it never roared to life—it was dead. All show and no go.

No road trips for me.

Reset

Last week we talked about the reset God is doing with his church. In the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, is the reset story. The reset button between the Old and New Covenant, between fables and faith, between truth and pop psychology, between chrome and actual internal combustion.

In this season of reset for the church as all the chaff and trappings of religiosity are being stripped away, as the business of religion is going bust, glitzy halls of production stand empty, and all the crowd demanded programs cancelled, what is left standing is the word of God, the truth of the gospel message and the power behind it to heal, restore, and change lives forever.

That’s what we find in the Gospels. The beginning of wisdom, the final victory, the only thing that truly matters and will never fail. Jesus Christ as Lord. —The words of life, the words of truth.

If we want to be mighty for God, a mighty warrior, mighty in the Kingdom— putting the enemy to flight, wrongs to right, and bringing healing to the flesh and the soul, we must accept what Jesus offers and live as he lived; Spirit filled, prayerful–guided, emboldened and protected by the living word.

In the first chapter of Mark, which I will be teaching through for the nest several weeks, Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit and immediately he follows the Spirit’s leading and go to fast and pray in the wilderness for forty days. He does battle with the enemy in those wilderness days and withstands him with the word, as we know from the other gospels.

Mark doesn’t record that, perhaps because he knows the temptations and the battle would continue until the final victory when Jesus walked out if the tomb three years later. His mission accomplished, his road trip completed.

He got there because he was Spirit filled, prayed up and he had the word hidden in his heart. He was indeed mighty. In this wilderness test he prevailed and  because of his faithfulness he was protected from the wild beasts and cared for by angels.

If you’ve ever spent any amount of time, especially alone, in the wilderness around here (Montana) you know how vulnerable you are to wild beasts. Bears, mountain lions, wolves, moose, badgers, snakes, Big foots, the Little people—don’t laugh, we’ve all heard stories or had experiences, there’s some weird stuff out there in our wilderness.

There’s even wild beasts that threaten us in our towns anymore, and the smallest one of all that has everyone hiding—viruses. We all need and must contend for protection, being mighty is of little avail if we live in fear and can be taken out by any mindless or malevolent beasts out there.

The point is, God protects those who are faithful and trust in him. We too can be mighty. There is no greater witness of God’s power and love than his willingness to heal. The healed will follow and serve him, knowing that there is indeed power under the hood, it’s not just promises and show.

The mighty pray for the sick and contend and believe for healing, they don’t shun them and hide from them or just mourn their demise

They bring their message to the streets, they drive their Chevies to the dry levies proclaiming that they know where to find the water that never runs out. They proclaim the message of the gospel.

Jesus’s message was simple, hear the good news I am bringing, believe it and turn away from your sin and follow me.

The immobile chrome is heading to the junk yard, get that 455 rocket tuned up! https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&p=455+rocket+song+kathy+mattea#id=1&vid=a4557249fc2bdd6bf59fd474db01b952&action=click