Justice, and a Cowdog?

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

Justice is an unalterable law of God’s universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their day is coming.

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

Hank the Cowdog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The precious fruit is coming with the latter rains.

Really? Rahab the Harlot?

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

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

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

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

Rahab

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

Really? Rahab the harlot?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentecost Challenge

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

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

lay aside wickedness

James 1:21

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

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

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

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

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

1 Cor 6 Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

Pentacost Dove

Triggers

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

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

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

tempted drink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

put off the old nature

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

Blessed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barbarian woman wolf

Free your inner warrior today; Read  Barbarians in the Kingdom

book cover

 

How Are You Doing?

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

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

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

Sovereign

God is still sovereign.

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

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

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

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

crown of life

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

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

The Call

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

gifts from above

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trials and Tests

“I’m not good at the patience thing when I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Test of Faith

We don’t always think about faith and patience being intertwined but they really are. What is faith if it’s not waiting for something that we have not yet achieved or possessed? And what gets us through hard times?—trials, if it’s not patience; patiently waiting for the manifestation of that which we hope for, believing that it is coming.

The Long Trial

Ten years ago I was going through quite a trial. Two years earlier we had bought twenty acres and financed the purchase of a beautiful modular home, built a garage, new fences, we were set up pretty well there. I had a good job in Construction with a company I had been with for many years, plus another job as the children’s pastor at a church in Billings that brought in a few more bucks—and then the bottom fell out of the economy.

Construction took a major hit and to top it off we got a new field manager who seemed to have a set of favorites (drinking buddies) who got the few good projects we had, and I was not one of them. I ended up getting laid off for months at a time over the next two years and with a brand new and substantial mortgage payment due every month the finances were looking grimmer and grimmer.

I was really feeling the pressure as the bills came due every month and we would have no idea where the money was coming from. Long story short, God took care of us and we never missed a payment but I knew I had to do something. We had barely recovered from years of financial hardship caused by a major back injury—and here we are again—’I need a steady income! I have to take care of my family!’

I started my church in Red Lodge in the middle of all that also by the way, because the Lord was asking me to—‘sell my house and move to Carbon County? Right after the housing market has crashed and the big mortgage companies gone bust?’

Now there was a trial—I can’t say I was counting it all joy—but I had to remain faithful. Nervously, impatiently faithful, but faithful nonetheless, and here we are.

But, I was determined to fix my own lot in the midst of this; ‘I have to be working, I can’t sit home and keep waiting and hoping for this months’ miracle to get our bills paid and unemployment benefits are not enough.’

 So I started looking for another job, no one was willing to pay me a full time salary to preach, and I had been called to start a church from scratch in Red Lodge anyway and I only know how to do two things, preach and build things.Preacher Dan

So I started looking for another job. Turned out there was not a lot of commercial builders looking for a Job Superintendent with a bad back in the middle of a recession.

I went to see an old friend who had a construction company in town, someone I had actually worked with years earlier when he was a foreman with the company I was with,  but he had built up a pretty good company of his own since then. He was more than happy to talk to me, he’s a fellow believer also, but he said he just didn’t have enough work to put on another foreman at that point.

“Dan, I would love to have you and I might have more work soon, but I gotta tell you, knowing what I know about the outfit you’re with, I would just be patient for now and stick it out there. You are a good superintendent, the estimators like you, and there are some changes coming that will greatly improve your lot.” “Some of the older supers are going to retire soon and you will find yourself at the top.”

 

When I told my wife Donna what he said, she looked greatly relieved and said, he’s right. She didn’t like the idea of me jumping ship in the midst of a storm, and honestly, neither did I but I’m not good at the patience thing when I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But my old friend was right, soon the construction market in Eastern Montana picked up, largely thanks to the Bakken oil field money, Our house sold and we didn’t loose any money on it and the field manager who couldn’t seem to keep me working was let go and eventually the old guard of the top foreman, did retire.

I was blessed with great favor translating into raises and more importantly, steady work. And last year, when the bottom suddenly fell out from under the company I worked for for nearly three decades, that favor and blessing all rolled over into an even better job doing the same thing with most of the same people and for better money still, with a company that truly appreciates me.

IMG_2954

And the church we started in Red Lodge has been changing lives and healing hearts throughout. And that is an ongoing and blessed story of trails and victories.

Bottom line in the whole scenario—I just had to be patient, and have faith. God had never stopped working on my behalf.

joy

So now, when the trials come—and there have been many since then in various shapes and forms—I do not worry and fret anymore. I count it all joy. Not the giddy, ‘devil may care, but I don’t’, kind of joy, but the ‘I know this is going to be alright and that God is going to use this to accomplish something good, something I cannot see  or even imagine right now kind of joy.

So rejoice in the trials of the day.  In this trial—you are being perfected.

Heal this Land

We have to trust and seek the Lord to heal us of this pandemic, and give him the glory for the healing that has begun.Heal the Land

I believe the healing has already begun. We did not experience near the horrors that were predicted or expected, and we cannot take all the credit for that.

In reality, hiding from this virus will only prolong it. Left to it’s own devices, this virus, as all do, will spread to as many people as it can reach so long as there is still one person in the world who has it. It will not go away until all who have survived it outnumber those who have not had it and break the chain of the spread.

I mean, that’s just reality. Historical epidemics bear that out.

And we all know how ineffective the annual flu vaccines have been, I wouldn’t put too much stock in that solution.

But we serve a God who is not bound by our reality, the reality in which we are all subject to the curse and can only wait in fear for our turn to suffer.

Our God has overcome the curse by dying for our sins and he carried our infirmities, through His Son Jesus Christ so we do not have to be subject to the whims of microscopic invaders and destroyers of the living.

And we do not have to fear the death that inevitably comes to all living things, regardless, because for us it is only the beginning of eternity, free once for all from all death and sorrow.

Last weekend an old friend showed up in our just reopened church, Bill, I don’t know how old he is but he’s up there.

After service he insisted on shaking my hand and said, “My daughter tells me that I should be careful because I am one of those who is at risk. I told her getting out and living my life is a winwin. If I don’t get sick, I wasn’t stuck at home alone and enjoyed my last days, and if I do get sick, I am going home to glory where I will no longer be old and frail.”

Amen and praise God for that.By his stripes

Thanks to Jesus Christ we do not fear death. But we do not need to live in fear of this virus either. Even centuries before Jesus died for our sins and healed us by his stripes. God promised his people that if they as a nation would turn to him, they would be healed.

13 When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, 14 if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chron 7:13—14

And notice that in this promise from Chronicles he specifically mentioned pestilence. So there is a promise we can stand on, and thank him for.

God has begun the healing, I believe that during the Easter and Passover season as all of God’s people were holed up in their homes, collectively praying, perhaps like they have never prayed before, that God heard our prayers and stopped that virus in it’s tracks.

And that is what it’s going to take to keep it from regaining steam and wreaking the havoc it was advertised to wreak. No more wreaking wreaker! In Jesus name! As Dora the Explorer might  say; ‘Wreaker stop wreaking!’

We cannot stop praying, seeking the Lord’s face, humbling ourselves. We cannot stop thanking the Lord for our health and well being, for the life and the blessings that we enjoy and for the challenges that teach us valuable lessons and keep us looking to the Lord who is always there to help us through.

Pray that the perverseness and the wickedness that has run rampant in our land for far too long is recognized for what it is and that the light of the world scours it from the land like the sunshine does this virus.

All of us need to pray for forgiveness for our parts in letting this nation get to the wicked state, that much of it is, by our own willingness to compromise, to go along to get along, to allow our morality to be subjective and relative to anything other than the word of God.

And we all need to repent of our own sins, our own failings and seek to be holy just as he is holy. Then, this pestilence will be no more forever and we can began the harvest the Lord has promised in earnest.

uproot them

Because if we don’t, if we continue to turn to other Gods, the kind we bow down to and the kind we lust after, America, at least as we know it, will be no more. And our children’s children will tell stories of a long ago and far away land where people once lived free and were blessed beyond measure with things kings of old could only dream of. Camelot lost, Atlantis sunk, just another legend of a place to fantastic to be believed.

 

Guard your soul

guard your soul

But we are not going to let that happen. We are going to guard our souls, possess our souls. There again is that admonition we keep running into lately to safeguard our souls, our inner being, our hearts, from outside influence and harm.

You cannot train up a child, let alone a nation, in the way they should go if you are not guarding your own soul.

The Lord has been calling us to holiness, I have told you that over and over again these past two or three years. Holiness is a guarding of the soul. It’s turning away from the lusts of the flesh, the pursuit of worldly goods and pleasures at the expense of our relationships with Jesus and in place of answering our call to whatever it is the Lord has called and purposed you for, not to mentioned gifted and equipped you for.

Some have taken that challenge seriously, many have not.

Well, here we are, mission critical as the time is upon us, the time for all who have answered the call, who have prayed and fasted, sought and cried out to God, devoured his word and loved his people, now is the time to pray and seek like never before; “God, what would you have me do now? How can I be a vessel of your love in this time of harvest? Pour out your Spirit, let your glory be known and seen by all, and give me the strength and the courage to be a part of it.”

Help me to train up a nation, forgive and heal this land and help us to build something real, something good, something beautiful and blessed on the foundation that you have laid, in my life, in my home and in my nation.

And start right here today, in my heart. Help me to guard my soul, the soul that you died to bring back to life, not the living dead life of darkness and emptiness that I knew before I knew you, but the eternal ‘nothing can touch me, no one can steal my joy or my hope’ kind of life that only you can give.

In the name of Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life, Creator Savior and Lord, I pray these things and I thank you for the healing.

Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!Blessed Nation

The Dreaded List

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

No One condemned you

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

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

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

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

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

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

accuser thrown down

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

I have witnesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bust

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

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

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

The List

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

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

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

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

Then came the threats;

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

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

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

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

Thots

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

No Condemnation

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

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

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

Witness Dove Life

We Have a blessed assurance, we have Jesus.

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

1 John 5:9—13

The Altar Call

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

Jesus water believe

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

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

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

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

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

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

Altar Call

I first met Jesus when I was 14.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

witness Jesus woman

Spirit bears witness

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

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

And John confirms that in his letter.

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

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

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

Monkey

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

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

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

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

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

evil sway

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

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

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

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

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

And let the Spirit be your witness.

Don’t Look Down

Lord! I’m afraid to take another step! Come and get me, my knees are wobbling and I’m getting vertigo!”

love overcomes crown

1 John 4:18— a verse that will no doubt be familiar to many of you, at least in part—says:

 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.

Fear does indeed involve torment, fear is torment. Often fear is what causes whatever it is you’re afraid of to come to pass. It becomes what we are focused on and it throws us off balance. Whatever you convince yourself is going to happen is often what happens. That’s why we need to learn to change our focus, to let perfect love become our guide, our focal point, leaving no room for fear.

Spoiler alert—that perfect love is Jesus.

The High Iron

As those of you who know me know, I work construction and have all my adult life in various forms. Whether moving dirt, welding, pounding nails or pouring concrete, I have always worked with my hands, and even though now I largely oversee that work as a project superintendent, I still like to get dirty and work with my tools when I can.

One of the things I don’t like is being way up in the air—unless I know I have something solid underneath of me or know that I have a safety harness on, which today is required by OSHA. When I started in this business safety was pretty lax and I was asked to do some pretty crazy dangerous stuff looking back—I think I kept my guardian angel on his toes, and even slipped thru his grasp a time or two, but I have survived—largely intact. (keyword being largely)

Still, you are not going to catch me walking any beams, harness or not, more than a couple of stories off the ground. I have jokingly said that one of the reasons I work in Montana is because we don’t have too many high rises.

My grandfather, on the other hand, was an iron worker who worked in big cities like Dallas and Minneapolis. He liked to walk the high iron, as they call it. I remember talking to him many years ago as he was recounting his work on a 60 story sky scraper in Minneapolis and he said he liked working up top because the foreman were afraid to go up there and everyone left you alone.

 

He told me something that has stuck with me throughout my whole construction career and although you are never going to catch me on an I beam 60 stories off the ground, it has come in handy many times as I have walked on top of a concrete foundation wall or the top of a framed wall, or even when stepping from stone to stone as I’m crossing a mountain creek for instance, and that is; “When you are walking the high iron, don’t look at your feet.”

shutterstock_252139381

You have to have faith in your feet. You have to trust that your feet are going to go where your eyes go.

Think about it, when you are walking anywhere else you are not looking at your feet, your eyes are ten or twenty feet in front of you mapping out your path, and your feet just follow.

When you stare straight down at your feet you get nervous, you lose your balance, because your world just became very small and out of proportion, and the next thing you know you are tipping over. Not to mention if you are looking down at your feet you are focused on the dangers below them instead of where you are going.

But if you have faith in your feet and just keep walking to where you need to go next, you’ll get there just as surely as if you were strolling down the sidewalk on a sunny day.

eyes on Jesus

How are we doing? Are you keeping your eyes ahead, mindful of  where you are going, or are you worrying about whether or not you are going to lose control and fall to your death?

Walking the walls, hopping the stones, or walking the high iron, it’s all about what’s going on in your head, it’s having faith in your ability to keep putting one foot in front of the other and staying upright.

You do it anywhere else! Why would you suddenly just tip over because you are over a dangerous spot?

The same is true in life, we have to have faith in our ability to keep moving forward.

We trust Jesus to be with us and get us through our days when things are going well, when we are just strolling along, going where we have been a hundred times without any overriding fear of falling. But when things get challenging, when we look down and realize that we are walking in places we haven’t been before, when it seems that we could easily fall to our death if we make one wrong move; and we panic—”Lord! I’m afraid to take another step! Come and get me, my knees are wobbling and I’m getting vertigo!”

And he says, Child! Look up, keep your eyes on me and just keep walking, don’t look down and don’t look at your feet. I will lead you to where you need to go, but you must trust me, you must have faith in the feet I have given you for this day. I love you too much to let you fall for fear of moving—let my love overcome.

calm the storm