Stay on Task

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This nasty cold subzero weather we have been enduring lately has me praying often for ranchers who are calving. I used to calve in February and remember well the struggles of keeping calves alive and well when these cold fronts hit. You just did what you had to do, no matter the cost in sleep, comfort or resources. The life of every calf is precious, not just for money but because you love your animals—the money could never be enough to motivate all that you endure for these critters.

If you visit or talk to any rancher who is calving in weather like this, if they had time to talk, you would find that they have or have had brand new wet calves in the cabs of their pickup trucks, in their kitchens, even in their bathtubs, sometimes all at once and at all hours of the night and day. While the ranchers themselves are emanating the pungent aroma of old and new afterbirth, manure and sour milk as they guzzle coffee and try to thaw out their feet in time to go catch the next calf.

I have an old black and white photo hanging in my church office, counting my years as a children’s pastor it has been in my office for almost 20 years now. I found in at the big museum in Cody WY years ago and instantly fell in love with it because it so captures that spirit of doing whatever it takes to care for your animals, staying on task no matter the cost.

Charles Belden circa 1920-1930

It’s a picture of a Cowboy taken in the 1920’s near Meeteetse Wyoming. The cowboy is on a horse in a blizzard, bundled up as best he can against the cold, and he has a new Herford calve draped across his lap as his horse struggles up a hill against the wind driven snow. It hangs in my office as a reminder to me that ministry is not always easy nor fun. That reaching the lost and caring for the flock is seldom convenient nor is it a part time, yeah, I think I’ll stay in tonight, everyone will be just fine without me kind of assignment.

What does that have to do with end times? Everything. But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. 

No matter what you hear, no matter the forecast, the rumors or the challenges—you need to keep trusting in me and the strength that I will give you to complete your task of reaching the lost.

If you read through all of this chapter 13 of Mark and catch the heart of what and why Jesus is telling the disciples of the storms to come, it is so that they are not caught off guard, that they know he expects them to keep seeking the lost, to stay on task and no give up no matter the struggles and difficulty of the times and places they find themselves. And that goes for all of us who follow Jesus and are called according to his purpose.

Every life, every soul, is precious and worth facing the storms for.

Are you ready to face the storms? How have you been holding up in the storms? These are important questions and are exactly why Jesus warns us of them, so that we do not get discouraged and thinks it’s all over, that this is our end. It is not, remember, there is no past tense for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Mark 13 is an entire chapter devoted to Jesus’ warnings of the tribulations to come.

The big scary end times, death and destruction, persecution and tribulation, desecration and desolation, Jesus is coming and the angels are going to gather the elect from the four corners of the world chapter.

“For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be. 20 And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.Mark 13:19-20

It’s scary both to read and to try and teach on because Jesus gives us just enough detail to let us know scary big events are coming, but not enough detail to know exactly when and how they are going to happen. And Mark, as per his usual style, just records the facts and leaves the commentary and analysis to the many generations of preachers and scholars to come.

It’s not scary to me personally, I actually love that Jesus gives us these words of warning and encouragement, detail wrapped in mystery. An eternity altering mystery whose clues will not entirely be understood until they all fall into place as they happen and we who knew the clues say, “yes, yes, yes,—that’s it, that’s what it all meant, the prophecies were true and God is in control!”

But as a pastor it’s scary to teach on because so many have such strong opinions as to what it all means and will argue it as though their salvation depends on it.

That’s just wrong. Your salvation does not hinge on how you interpret end times prophecies—on when you think you will be whisked away, from bliss to bliss or from tribulation to bliss. Nor does it depend on where you think we are in the timeline of God’s plan for the last days. Your salvation depends on one thing, or one person rather, and that is Jesus Christ and whether you have accepted him as Lord and Savior—period.

Jesus is not concerned with how good we are at solving prophetic riddles, he is concerned with how seriously we take the need to stay on task no matter the chaos and challenges around us—Chaos and challenges we were promised and warned would come.

But he also promises to ride the storms with us, giving us the strength and the passion to complete our mission. Don’t give up cowboy, the big roundup is still to come.

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.

The Pure Milk

Instinct

One of the things I miss most about not ranching anymore is the adventure of calving. It can be one of the most challenging and stressful times in a ranch operation but also the most rewarding because, that is after all, the whole reason that you do what you do as a rancher—to bring those calves into the world to either sell in the fall, or use to build the herd that your whole operation and much of your life is centered around.

But each calve that hits the ground on your ranch is more than just a paycheck, it is a miracle—another life, vibrant, warm and curious, looking at the new world with big dark eyes, and within minutes struggling to stand up and get on with the business of life.

The most fond memories to me to me are of the ones who came in the middle of the coldest and darkest nights. Memorable because I had a nice cozy barn where I could get them in if I knew a cow was about to calve. I would herd an imminent mother into a stall where there was warm straw on the ground and enough light that I could keep an eye on them.

No matter the weather or the lateness of the hour it always seemed warm and safe in the barn. There is just no way to describe the feeling of being alone in the quiet of a barn in the night with an animal who trusts no other human in the world besides you.

To either witness and assist, as in the case of a heifer having her first calve, or to find the new born calve of a seasoned cow struggling to it’s feet shortly after being born, it’s always wonderful and amazing to behold.

One of the things that never ceased to amaze me about the whole calving scenario, and to me speaks volumes to the undeniable fact that there has to be a creator, is the fact that every calf within minutes of hitting the ground knows where to find the milk.

Think of it. Here is a calf who has just seen the world for the first time, has no experience in anything whatsoever except being shoved through a tight dark tunnel and dropped unceremoniously onto the cold hard ground in a heap of slime that moments earlier had been it’s whole world, it gets licked off by this giant four legged creature with a familiar sounding moo.

And the next thing you know it is pushing its hind end up on wobbly legs followed by first one, then two front legs, being perfectly placed under the front shoulders to push the calf up the rest of the way. And what is the first thing it does? From there it could go in any direction or no direction at all. It could fall down and decide it’s just too much work to do any more.

But no, it heads straight for the tiny little space just under the belly of the giant creature standing nearby, and latches onto the even tinier little spigot tucked underneath and makes the prefect sucking motion with its never before used mouth to get the pure milk that will give it everything it needs to keep it alive and strong for the next few hours, and will sustain it for the next several months as it grows by several hundred pounds.

You can’t tell me that that little pea brained calf who doesn’t know a barb wire fence from a chokecherry bush, or an ice cold creek from a bed of straw at that point, yet knows exactly where to go for it’s first meal, was not given that knowledge by the God who designed and created her.

How about you? With all your vast knowledge and life experience, do you know where to go for milk? Is that calf smarter, more blessed than you? You know where to go, you just have to guard your heart against thinking that you have had enough or that there are other things that will help you more.

There is not.

The calf, knows right where to go, if it doesn’t—it dies.

And once that calf starts in on that milk, I have seen it happen again and again, you can see the energy start to flow through and into the body of that calf, the life giving colostrum rich milk warming from head to toe, the nutrients and antibodies surging into and through the blood stream and affecting and protecting every cell of it’s being.

You can see the lights coming on in the glazed and dazed eyes as they start to shine with life and the sucking becomes more voracious, the head starting to butt the bag above it, stimulating even more milk to be dropped down into the milk filled bag that will be her sole source of life for a good long time.

And she will come back again and again, each time more aggressive and needing more and more—”Milk, I need, I want, milk! I have tasted and seen that the milk is good and I need nothing more!”

That’s what Peter is telling us here. If you have tasted the pure unadulterated and unaltered milk of the word of God, been given life itself, you should want nothing more than to keep coming back to it for more nourishment, so that you can grow thereby.

The pure milk of the word that has given you life, pulled you from darkness to light, death to life, has to be—and this should not even be a question or something you need to be reminded of—your continuing source for strength, for healing nutrients and immunities.

As long as I have walked with the Lord it has continued to baffle me how a person can receive Jesus, be born anew, forgiven and regenerated, and not absolutely fall in love with the word of God and desire more and more of it.

As long as we walk this earth we are still growing and maturing in the Lord and we must keep going back to the place our hearts just instinctly know it must go, to find what you need to sustain that new life.  If not, perhaps you heard the wrong gospel and never truly tasted that the Lord is gracious. — IF indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious -Peter says.

There are a lot of false or incomplete gospels out there.

What is the gospel? It is as follows:

Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs . . . you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; 24 whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. . . .

36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”. . .

38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” -Acts 2

That’s the gospel, direct from the Holy Spirit through the lips of Peter mere moments after the church was born on the day of Pentecost . The pure gospel.  That is the pure milk of the word of God. That’s the colostrum that gives you life and delivers you from the old world of darkness and ignorance to the world of light and enlightenment. You want to be woke, live in and for the word of God.

All else is rubbish.

And that is the message the world has and is rejecting and why this world is such a mess. And the world, who has not left the womb of ignorance and darkness, is now trying to shame us into turning away from the pure milk of the word.

They are not just rejecting us, they are not just rejecting the word of God, they are rejecting the Lord himself, the precious living cornerstone.

But we who do believe, who do not reject the truth will by no means be put to shame.