Mushrooms, Beer and -Jesus?

“…there are few feelings of emptiness and disconnection from all things good, and all people  living, like there is when you are coming down from a drug induced high. Especially when you just want it to be over.”

A few years after graduating from Job Corp back in the 80’s my best buddy Bob and I, whom I had met in Job Corp, decided we were going to go visit another friend from Job Corp whom we hadn’t seen since he graduated and returned home to Aberdeen SD. So on a Friday evening after we got off work we jumped into the ’72 Pontiac Bonneville I had recently bought from another buddy. It didn’t have plates on it yet but oh well, we were driving at night and decided to take the chance.

So we grabbed a cold pack or two of Rainier Beer—and a bag of mushrooms we had just scored, not the kind you put on a salad—and took off, party time. We were jacked, the plan was to just party our brains out for the weekend on a whirlwind trip to Aberdeen and back. It was fun, a lot of fun—for an hour or so.

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We were cruising along Interstate 94 with Mollie Hatchet blaring on the 8 track stereo as the psychedelic mushrooms were starting to kick in and the beer was tasting better and better when all of a sudden the car just stopped running, about the same time I noticed the sweet smell of antifreeze permeating the car.

Bob and I looked at each other in disbelief as I turned off the music and coasted over to the shoulder. I popped the hood and peered through the steam at the massive 455. Pontiac engine—not much to see in the dark. The radiator cap was hotter than all get out and I knew better then to try to open that. As we were sitting there with the flashers on waiting for the engine to cool a car pulled up behind and asked if we needed help.

This was long before the days of cell phones when people still stopped for motorists in despair.

I had already tried to restart the car and it wouldn’t turn over so he offered to give us a jump. Still nothing (I later discovered that a radiator hose had burst and was too busy partying to realize that the car was overheating to the point where the engine seized up) The good Samaritan was anxious to get going so I asked if he would give me a ride to a phone.

I looked up and saw that we were sitting right next to a sign that said “Custer 10 miles”. I reluctantly left my car and my buddy behind as my new friend gave me a ride to Custer to look for a pay phone so I could call back to Billings for help. Well, Custer is one of those towns where they roll up the streets after dark—nothing was open, so we headed to the next exit, the Little Big Horn river exit, where there was a bar. At this point my new friend’s charity and patience was plum out so he told me he was going to drop me off here and leave. “Good luck, bye!”

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I thanked him for the ride and watched as he drove away leaving me in front of a strange bar in the middle of nowhere Montana. I walked in and several dusty cowboy hats with weathered faces under them looked my way. I mustered up my courage and asked the bartender if they had a phone I could use. I’m sure my pupils were as big as saucers about then but I did my best to be redneck. He pointed to the corner near the door I had come in and, wasting no words, said “Phone’s broke.” I turned and saw a pay phone hanging on the wall with a note taped to it that said “Out of order.”

I thought; “There has got to be a phone behind the bar!” But he wasn’t offering and between the drug induced paranoia I was feeling and all the love in the room for this long haired 20 year old kid in a cowboy hat, I wasn’t about to question him. Knowing I was now up the proverbial creek without a paddle I turned on my heel and vanished out the door.

Now what? I am totally abandoned, alone and stoned in the middle of Montana in the middle of the night. 50 miles from home, 12 miles from my worthless car and the only person in the world who even knows I’m out here somewhere, and he is stranded as well.

Well, I’ll start walking, surely someone will pick me up. Across the interstate and down the ramp back to the east bound lane I went. I started walking, sticking my thumb out whenever a car zoomed by. Turns out no one is too keen to pick up a young man walking down the Interstate alone late at night. It was kind of cold out but I had on my favorite old Levi jacket and I was wearing my Tony Lama’s—not exactly the best boots for a long hike.

And hike I did, mile after mile, counting the mile markers knowing that I had to pass twelve of them to get back to my car. To this day when I see a mile marker on the highway I often think about how far apart they are when you are having to walk from one to another.

Somewhere in that hike I came across a rest stop and went in hoping to find a phone—seriously? No phone! I thought about approaching someone and asking for a ride but my courage alluded me again. The extreme shyness that I had not yet conquered coupled with the knowledge that I was still high on the mushrooms and probably pretty scary looking stopped me from approaching anyone.

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So dejectedly and resolutely I headed back down the highway. If you figure a person can walk 3 or 4 miles an hour I had a very long walk that night and it seemed like it took forever. After a couple of hours I was even hoping a Highway patrolman would stop and even though at least one drove by, none did. I was getting cold, my feet hurt and I was exhausted when I sat down on a guard rail post and started to pray—”Lord, no one will help me, I don’t know if I can make it, please give me strength!”

I was totally tapped out but as I got up and continued my walk I suddenly saw in my mind’s eye Jesus walking beside me. I know I didn’t physically see him but I know he was there and I can still see him in my memory just as though he was. I didn’t deserve his help, I had gotten my own stupid self into this mess but you know what? I knew at that point that he still loved me, that he cared and that he was there and suddenly the mile markers did not seem so far apart. And as I counted off number twelve I looked up and saw my car across the road.

A dead car never looked so good. I climbed in as Bob, who had been sleeping in the back seat asked what had happened. I told him I got abandoned on the Big horn and that I would tell him the rest of the story tomorrow. I then laid down and passed out on the front seat.

In the morning I flagged down another ride, much easier in the daylight when you are standing next to a stalled car, and got a ride to the gas station in Custer, called a buddy who came and towed us back to Billings.

So much for that road trip.

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That seems like another lifetime ago and I have long since given up the partying in favor of a real relationship with Jesus,  but I remember that feeling of Jesus’s presence like it was yesterday and it was a catalyst to me finally being willing a couple of years later to fully surrender myself to him because I knew that if I did, I would have that presence, my Jesus standing with me, more than just when I was desperate–and I do.

 

Why didn’t he just stop a car and get me a ride? Because then I would have just attributed it to luck, but even more importantly, I would not have had that hours long experience of having my Lord walk beside me through what had started as a very dark, cold lonely night of despair. And really, there are few feelings of emptiness and disconnection from all things good and all people like there is when you are coming down from a drug induced high, especially when you just want it to be over.

There was no reason Jesus should have paid me any never mind at all that night, but he did. He walked by me and got me through it safe and sound. And because of that, I know that no matter what, no matter how badly I screw up in this life, no matter how put upon, abandoned, lost or alone I might feel or be, I am never alone, and I can always count on Jesus to stand with me.

I have been through several long dark nights of near total despair since then, dark nights of the heart as the world seems to turn against me, but through them all, my Jesus stands with me.

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I am never alone and there is always hope.

What does it mean to have Jesus stand with us? It means to have strength, it means to have peace, it means to have hope.

The mornings are always brightest after the darkest nights.

Yetrday's troubles

Poop Pants

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You know what? You can walk through the valley of the shadow of death all day long, all night long, and you shall have nothing to fear. In fact, while you’re there why don’t you stomp out some darkness and free those who have fallen along the wayside or got deceived into reveling in the darkness and are now afraid to step out into the light.

If they are afraid of the light it is only because they have not seen the true light. You have that light, you be that light. The only thing that dispels darkness is light. It’s as simple as that. Jesus didn’t suffer and die just so we could cower in fear and hope that the devil doesn’t notice us.

If the devil is not noticing you than you are not fulfilling your ministry and you are not a threat to him. You do not have to fear the darkness because the darkness fears you.

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And until the church wakes up and fully realizes and grabs a hold of that fact, the enemy will continue to enslave way too many of God’s beloved children. They have been lured away from the truth, left powerless and hapless, confused and vulnerable—easy pickings.

Too much of the church has turned away from the truth. If you still don’t know what the truth is, read your bible. Plain and simple.

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I was told by a pastor once in my early days of preaching not to use so much scripture in my sermon. His thought I suppose was that it would bore or confuse people.

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Well, I didn’t listen so if you’re bored or confused I’m sorry, there are plenty of other Christian blogs where you can get more pop psychology, feel good fluff and entertaining stories. But make sure you are wearing your poop pants. Because you are going to be in it, because in my humble opinion, it’s all BS.

What, you don’t know what poop pants are?

On the ranch when our girls were young they had poop pants. I’m not sure how that phrase got started, it was just a lot easier then saying, “Take off your good clothes and put on your old jeans before you go out to play in the pasture or the barn because you don’t want to get manure on your good clothes”—Hence, “put on your poop pants before you go out.”

That has become kind of a joke at our house since those days because of the little friend of my daughter Jessie who came over to play one day— we’ll call her Sylvia. She live in the fancy suburb down the road from us, and she came over in some nice clothes to spend the day with the girls and play.

The girls decided that they wanted to play outside so Donna told the girls, “Find Sylvia some poop pants she can wear before you go out so she doesn’t ruin her clothes.”

As the girls were heading off to their rooms to find an extra pair of play pants they noticed that Sylvia was crying. What’s the matter Sylvia? She then blurted out through quivering lips; “I don’t want to wear poop pants!”

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It was then everyone realized that she thought poop pants were pants that came already pooped on. I can only imagine what she imagined she was going to be forced to wear.

Truth

There is a time and a place to wear poop pants. When you are out in the world where it gets pretty deep and you need knee high boots just to keep wading through it. But you have too because that is where the people are who need what you have to offer, the truth. No BS, no stinking cow pies or prairie muffins,  just pure Jesus is Lord and he loves you too much to leave you wallowing in this filth truth. The world has enough empty feel good words. They need truth.

And church is the last place you should have to worry about if you are getting feel good noise and if you should be wearing your poop pants. Sure they may dress it up and make it look fun and appealing—Well we have to teach this or people will stop coming, we have to give them what their itching ears want to hear—well maybe their ears are itching because they have gotten parasites from the cow pies you are flinging at them.

A lot of people just honestly don’t recognize a cow pie when they see it. It has to be pointed out.

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Back when I was in Job Crops we were doing a construction project in the mountains north of Butte. One day we were all standing around on a grassy hillside and a couple of guys started playing Frisbee with some dried and hardened cow pies. They were just having a good ole time flinging these at each other and watching them crumble on themselves on impact. Finally  I realized that they probably had no idea what they were playing with—they were from New York City.

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“Hey, do you guys know what that is?” “No. it’s just something that grows here isn’t it?” No, those are cow pies—look of bewilderment— Cow pies are dried up cow poop.

Their reaction?-— priceless.

 

You want people you love to get out of the manure? Show them  a better way, tell them the truth, and they may see just what it is that they have been playing with.

That has to start with you, check and see what you are standing in.

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Soul Satisfaction

Is there a hole in your soul?

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I hate to keep using my own life as an example of living with a hole in your soul but it’s all I really have, that is my testimony—my story is Jesus’ story. Until I was willing to let go of my own destiny, to let go of my rebellious, ‘you can’t tell me what to do, I am free to do as I choose and these are the things that give me satisfaction’, attitude I was never truly satisfied, I had no soul satisfaction.

Quite the contrary, the more I pursued the partying, the emptier I became as the feelings of camaraderie and euphoria of the first time highs continued to be just beyond my grasp.

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When I was finally willing to trust the Lord to be my peace, to be my contentment without the drugs or drink that had just ensnared me I found out what real contentment—soul contentment was.

But it’s easy to forget that isn’t it? Throughout my life other things start to creep in promising contentment. We start getting anxious for other things worrying that we may never achieve them or be able to hang on to them if we do.

I have told many a worried young person who desperately wants to be married that God will most likely not fulfill that desire until you learn to be content with just Him. That also makes for a much healthier marriage because if you are depending on someone else to bring you contentment you will be disappointed, no one can live up to that, only God can do that.

A couple of years after giving my life fully over to the Lord and experiencing real freedom I was starting to worry that I would never get married. At 26 I had never even had a serious girlfriend; Thank the Lord for that, it no doubt saved me a lot of grief! But I was starting to think there was something wrong with me, that I was doomed to perpetual bachelorhood.

For one, I was way too shy to even really know how to pursue a relationship that may end in marriage, and there just didn’t seem to be any likely candidates crossing my path, there probably was but I was clueless as to how to pursue them. I was terminally shy and I was very intent on not getting into any relationship that God did not ordain for me or would likely not end in marriage. Dating for fun is one of the stupidest things you can ever do, especially if it’s done in the world’s model of dating, (unless of course you enjoy heartache and lifelong complications.)

Oh Lord, the world would be such a better place if everyone just lived by your standards and pursued godliness instead of just presuming on grace while letting the flesh run roughshod over their hearts. I used to be embarrassed to no end that at 26 I was a still a virgin, but the more I experience life and ministry and see the messes caused by giving away your most sacred gift willy nilly, the more grateful I am to the Lord that I was too awkward, shy and respectful of women to give in to demands of the flesh and the invitations of others.

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But I desperately wanted to get married, I wanted to have a family, to be the dad and to yes, end my life of celibacy. But I knew I couldn’t just make it happen, there are no guarantees in this life so I had to reconcile to the fact that I might be perpetually single, and that was that.

I had to come to the place where I knew I would be okay, that I would be content if I never got married. I had Jesus, I had a mission to share him with the world, I had eternal life and the Holy Spirit residing in me and I was never truly alone. Life is good.

And then the Lord told me to court and marry my friend Donna. My eyes were opened to the one I was supposed to love and, long story short. Less than a year later we were married. It was a pursuit— which is what courting is—because even though God had told me that I was supposed to marry her, God hadn’t bothered to tell her that she was supposed to marry me.

But the point is, when I had come to the place where I decided I did not need to married to be happy, as long as I had Jesus, then he blessed me with a wife. And I am forever grateful and appreciative of, and for her, because of that.

That same principle has been repeated over and over again in my life. My first house—after striving and conniving to try to buy a house with no credit and no money I had to confess to the Lord my frustration and repent, telling him I would be happy living in a tent as long as I had him. The Lord then did a miracle and a couple weeks later (Literally) I was signing the papers for my first house.

Pastor?

For years I fought and fretted, trying to figure out how to fulfill my call of being a pastor when I could not take the time nor the money to go away to school, long before everything became available on line. And no one seemed to be willing to facilitate my desire to climb the church ladder into a pastoral position.

And then one day, at least a decade after I had decided I would never be a pastor in this lifetime, and that I was okay with that, more than okay with that actually—who in their right mind would want to be a pastor? —the Lord opened the Yellowstone Valley Bible institute which was accredited with the very Bible college I had been trying to figure out how to get to years earlier, in my own backyard, or at least in my home church.

He then told me to sign up. But Lord, I am content just being a Sunday school teacher, making hay, raising cattle and kids, and…—’no, you need to go to school.’ Okay Lord. —But if I’m going to start a church, which I knew was where he was taking me, it had better be in a big town so I can have enough people to pay me a good salary and make it all worth the effort.

Boy did I have a lot to learn.

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‘Red Lodge? That’s not a big town!’ But you know what? By the time the Lord got me here, I had had more than my fill of church attitudes that took a business approach to ministry—‘How can we get more customers— I mean tithing members? How can we improve the product—I mean make the gospel more appealing?

How about you just let God be God, preach the word, the whole word, and allow the Holy Spirit to draw—or repulse—sinners and saints? Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from having fully grasped how to get away from this church marketing and growth strategy mindset but I have learned to stop stressing about it also—something that I think makes my fellow pastors worry that I have lost the vision.

No, I have just stopped listening to the lies of the enemy that keeps dangling that golden ring out there for all to chase right into his trap.

1 Tim 6:8 -And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. . . . 

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I know I am where I am supposed to be, smack in the middle of His plan for me. And in that I have soul satisfaction, and that is priceless!

 

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Find your freedom in Jesus!

Contentment

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What is contentment? It’s a freedom from fear, from anxiety, from restlessness, it is a soul satisfaction.

The Apostle Paul, who gave up his position of great honor and potential wealth as a Pharisee, to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth as an itinerant evangelist living in constant danger and often not knowing where his next meal will come from, or if the next beating or stoning he suffers will be his last, reminds Pastor Timothy to not get caught up in the greed that the world lives for. The world clamors for money, comfort, fancy clothing and rich foods and on and on. He cannot be that way.

But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, 1 Tim 5

Godliness and greed cannot co-habitate, Jesus said: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Mat 6:24

Everyone wants something, dreams of something, that if they just had enough money—or credit—to acquire it, ‘then I will be content.’ There’s a country song out that says—”money can’t buy everything . . .but it can buy me a boat.”

“…money can’t buy everything. Well maybe so. But it can buy me a boat. To float. Down on the water. With a beer. I hear the Powerball lotto is sitting on a hundred million. Well that’ll buy me a brand new rod and reel. And it could buy me a boat it could buy me a truck to pull it. It could buy me a yeti 110 iced down with some silver bullets.”

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And everyone says, ‘yeah, sounds good to me’, and you have a country hit on your hands.

“If I just had a boat—and a truck and a rod and reel and a Yeti and a lot of beer”—then I will be content.’

Well, maybe, for a good day or so till you wake up the next morning sunburned and hung over. Then you’ll think of the next thing you’ll want to make you happy—a bigger boat, a house on the lake, four wheelers, snowmobiles, a better job with more vacation time, a prettier wife and a fuller head of hair—pick any obsession or passion in this life—hunting, horses, sports, looks, fashion, fitness, technology, fast cars, classic cars, fame, fortune and power—In fact, “you deserve it all!”—and you can chase it until you have caught every bit of it there is to catch—and it will still never be enough.

What if I just win it? Then I’ll be happy. I can dream can’t I? And buy tickets and hope and pray. . .More often than not people who win the big mega million lotteries say that it ruined their lives.

‘I just want to be somebody, I want power and respect.’ People who reach the pinnacle of power are often the most miserable people you ever meet. And they spend most of their time obsessing over how to get more power and how to destroy anyone who might be a hindrance to that happening.

Just look at the happy bunch of clowns we have in Washington DC right now. Most of them look like their heads are about to explode–they are all so angry and miserable. And, with all the power they have amassed, rather than spending their time trying to do something productive that will help bless us, the people they are supposed to work for, at great cost to us I might add, all they want to do is convince us to hate all the same people that they hate. Misery loves company I guess.american-gothic-pelosi-and-schumer.jpg

It’s never enough, we must have more. How many entertainment superstars who have devoted their lives to reaching the pinnacle of success have committed suicide in the height of their fame either outright or by way of overdose on whatever their drug of choice was as they tried desperately to fill the hole inside that they now saw could not be filled by attaining their dreams.

‘Godliness certainly isn’t the answer—is it? Isn’t godliness giving up everything we use to chase contentment?’ I ain’t doing that!

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. John 10:10

The thief of course is the devil and I think one of his best tricks is to set us up with the grand things we think we wanted and then to take them away from us to watch us squirm and blame God for our troubles. The he has stolen, killed and destroyed. First our dreams, then our faith and ultimately our souls.

‘Oh but God wants to bless us, to give us abundant life, to fulfill our hearts’ desires.” I hate to burst your bubbles people, but God is not talking about money, quite the contrary, he wants us to learn to be content with nothing; nothing but a knowledge of his great love for us and in having a relationship with his Son Jesus Christ. In Christ alone is there fullness of joy.

When Jesus said I want you to have life and have it abundantly he was talking about having Him, being full of Him, being one with Him because He is life. It doesn’t get any more abundant then that.

Abundant Life

He alone has immortality and he alone can give us abundant life. All else is but dust in the end, including your flesh, unless you have received that abundant life in Christ. Jesus Christ who is now glorified and dwelling in an unapproachable light, the glory of God which mortal man cannot look upon, that same Jesus is living in us by his Holy Spirit.

And if we can grasp that, if we can tap into that, into him, and trust him for our everything, let go of our own selfish need to control our own destiny, by pursuing everything the flesh demands of us, everything we are convinced our hearts desire to be content or to secure our own tomorrows, if we can only see the light that is in us, and let it shine, then—we will be content. 

Now godliness with contentment is great gainFor we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 1 Tim 6

When we learn to be content with nothing, then we have everything. And anything else that we are blessed with just becomes that much sweeter and much more appreciated–soul satisfying.

Got you

 

Holiness Embraced, Challenge Taken

“God is speaking to you about something, challenging you about something, calling you towards something…”

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Nine years ago now I planted my church in Red Lodge MT. has it been easy? No, not by a long shot. Has it been worth it? Only God can answer that question but I truly believe it has. For one thing, out of this ministry-you are reading these words and I know God will use them to help accomplish his purpose in you.

I have been in a battle since I have been here for the very land, for the hearts and souls of Carbon County and all who come here seeking encouragement in their own battles. It is not a battle against flesh and blood. It is not a battle to be won by just doing good and being nice to people, it is a battle to be won in the heavenlies as our prayers affect the outcome of the battles we cannot see being waged all around us.

And each and every time a holy warrior acts in obedience to God’s word, to his Holy Spirit’s leading and with a heart devoted to God, another piece of ground is taken away from the enemy. Another seed is planted, another demon is bruised, another angel is strengthened and another heart is closer to being freed and healed.

We are warriors in a battle for the souls of humanity. It’s not about collecting brownie points from God like an obedient school child trying to earn extra credit so the teacher will let them go on the end of the year field trip. It’s not about avoiding judgement and scorn from God who is waiting to whack our knuckles with a ruler like an old time school teacher.

It’s about not giving the enemy a foothold in our hearts to discourage and accuse us and not putting up any barriers to the full power and blessing of our Father God so that we can go forth boldly and storm the gates of hell so that we can reclaim our neighbors and our families, our towns and our country.

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In 1 Timothy 3 we have a list of qualifications for servant leaders in the church. Being the person described in these two paragraphs isn’t about being able to say, “Well, look at me all you lowly sinners! I am somebody, kiss my ring and tremble in my presence for you are but worms compared to me.” It isn’t about being a stick in the mud who is not allowed to ever mess up or to have any fun; ‘squeaky clean and no caffeine, I have no emotions ‘cuase I’m a machine.’ It’s about being above reproach because you are doing your best and being honest about the rest.

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Because as soon as you start to think you are somebody, that you did it on your own and that God and those you serve are lucky to have you, you just fell into the devils trap. And nothing makes a more awful sound then one who was puffed up suddenly having all the air let out by the prick of the devils darts.

A servant of God who is worthy of honor is just that, a servant. A humble, obedient servant, who’s desire is to bless the one he serves and to be someone in whom others can see your King. You do that by being a person in whom they can see a heart of love. When they see that you love from a love that conquers all, a love that when received and believed removes all doubts and anxiety and leaves boldness in its wake, you are irrepressible.

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Holiness is a heart issue, you either want it or you ignore its call. It is not earned it is embraced. When you embrace holiness, nothing can touch your soul—NOTHING and No one, can touch your soul.

And I’ll tell you what, that is worth more than diamonds or gold, fame or fortune. It is far better than the best Scotch whiskey or craft beer. Better than having anything or anyone your foolish heart may lust after and better than having all your dreams and desires fulfilled.

Because all else is empty if you are not in a relationship with Jesus Christ and little will bring you peace if it is not your heart’s desire to be holy, set apart to serve your God and your King.

All of you who are here know what I’m talking about or you wouldn’t be here. God is speaking to you about something, challenging you about something, calling you towards something, but you are holding back, listening to the wrong voices—the voices of discouragement. Well, you know who you need to listen to, the one who resides in your heart.

That is my calling, that is my mission, to get you to embrace yours. There are lives and eternal souls in the balance, It’s not just about you, despite what this culture of me, me, me, says.

Because the world is living a life of discouragement, despairing often times even of life itself. And the only thing that is going to give them any hope that there is more to this life then the struggle, is Jesus Christ. And they have to see in us that we believe that, that we know that, and that he gives us the strength and desire to live a life devoted to him. Not because we have to, but because we want to.

So, to further that goal of being a light to the world as a church family, to root out the glory seekers who want the prestige of position without the sacrifice of obedience, who want homage without accountability, to head up servants without being the head servant, we must pay attention to God’s words.

If you are listening to and heeding his word, striving for holiness and trusting him for grace where you fall short, you will hear Him call you, and when you do—say yes, ‘yes Lord I will follow you wherever you lead—I am done living in fear! I accept the challenge–give me strength!’

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 God bless you warrior!

Find your freedom, release your inner barbarian

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Forgiven Much

“‘love covers a multitude of sins.’ I love that, don’t you? —I can do that.”

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Anyone forgiven much? —Do you love much? That’s a little harder question isn’t it? We all know we are supposed to love, love the Lord our God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves. But where the rubber meets the road, it’s a lot harder to do then to say.

I don’t care what anyone says, we’re all pretty good at loving ourselves, even the woe is me, I’m a pitiful wretch I hate myself, person who claims they need to learn to love themselves is focused on what? Themselves. “Look at me, help me, love me.” We all want to be loved, if we didn’t love ourselves we wouldn’t care if anyone loved us.

Jesus didn’t make any disclaimers when he told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. He didn’t say, “Unless of course you don’t love yourselves.” Selfishness is rooted deep in the human psyche. We might not always like ourselves, but fallen man always puts himself before anyone else and anything you put above all else is what you love the most.

Jesus is asking us to put others before ourselves, and especially to put God before ourselves. That’s true humility, not drawing attention to ourselves with our own woes but being willing to put ourselves out for others, to even humiliate ourselves. That’s what the woman we studied last week, the sinful woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears did, and why Jesus was so moved by her love that he declared her forgiven—she got it.go in peace

 

The last thing she needed to do, and would have wanted to do, was to come into a room full of people who loath her, downright despise her as wicked and dirty, and make a spectacle of herself for the sole purpose of thanking one man for showing her respect, for treating her like she mattered, who loved her for no other reason than that she came to him seeking something beyond herself—seeking redemption.

And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, 38 and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; Luke 7

She went away pure, and at peace, because Jesus declared her so—forgiven much.

preachen'

Preparing my sermon last week and spending much time thinking about the woman who was so overwhelmed by a feeling of love for Jesus that she ended up washing his feet with her tears, I knew I wanted to spend more time on those words that Jesus spoke to Simon the Pharisee and the rest of the room concerning the woman whom they could only see as sinful and shameful;  “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

I have pondered that verse many times over the years and am always astounded at how I have seen it proven true over and over and over again. It’s somewhat of a sad testament to the human condition that those who seem to have fallen so far, gotten so far away from a life that honors God and his ways, are the ones who, if and when they are willing to receive the healing touch from Jesus, are the ones who ultimately become the most passionate about their relationship with him.

You would think it’s the ones who never strayed that would be the most passionate in their love for Christ but I guess it makes sense that the one who has been the most hungry for the longest time is the one who is most grateful for the bread when they find it.

Perhaps it’s that “You never know what you had until you lose it” principle at play. Those who think they are just always in right standing with the Lord, who say in their hearts, “Well I’m certainly doing a lot better than those messed up people over there so I must be worthy.” are the ones who end up bitter and ungrateful because they always believe they are getting the short end of the stick.

“I deserve better than this! Why am I not getting a ring and a fatted calf?” —to use a prodigal son reference. While those who have failed miserably and know they will probably get nothing short of scorn and judgement, are so grateful when they receive loving graces from the Father that they can only rejoice, and they cannot wait to share with others who are still in the same miserable shoes that they were in.

Listen! I am standing at the door

I have often said of myself when people express thanks to me for teaching or preaching the gospel, “I’m just a beggar telling other beggars where I found bread.” It’s a line I stole from an old gospel song I heard years ago and it just sums it up for me. I’m no one special, just someone who was starving for truth and meaning and stumbled upon a treasure trove of both in Christ, in his word and by His Spirit.

I just had to be willing to receive it when it was offered. And there is plenty for everyone. Why so many prefer to go through life starving when they can have the bread of life is beyond me but I am determined that it won’t be for lack of me trying to point the way to the pantry.

Really, that’s what it comes down to, that has been the motivating factor in my walk with Christ ever since he rescued me from my own self-induced famine and filled me to the top with his love and forgiveness.

The night in 1985 that I fell to my knees a trembling convicted mess and arose a man overwhelmed, filled to overflowing with love and joy, is a night I will never forget.

After several years of running from the Lord and life, after years of doing what I knew I should not be doing but unwilling to let go of my own destiny and trust Jesus, only giving the Lord a little bit of my heart, only living by his word when it didn’t interfere with what my flesh wanted. I had finally had enough of the frustration and loneliness that comes from a life separated from God by willful disobedience and dove into God’s word searching for an answer— anything to help me overcome my addictions and anxieties and he infused his word with such a power that I was unable and unwilling to close my heart to its truth any longer.

I was unwilling and unable to close my heart off to his Holy Spirit’s offer of love, joy, peace and patience any longer and I simply said yes, ‘yes Lord. I trust you, yes Lord I am yours, Yes Lord I will follow you wherever you lead.’

I gave him my life and he gave me my life back. “Go in peace, your faith has saved you.”

At that point I knew I was truly forgiven much and I loved much as a result. And I still try to do my best to do so, in his power, and he is always faithful. It doesn’t always make me popular, much of the church doesn’t understand how I can love some people, how I can accept some people, how I can keep an open heart and open arms.

Simon

I am only doing what Jesus did for me and what I continue to see him doing. I am called to love all, both the unbeliever who doesn’t even know they are a sinner and the believer who is entangled in sin but is unwilling or unable to face the truth of how it’s hurting them, and breaking the Lord’s heart. I know, because I feel his heartbreak, that’s what is there when you get past the anger and offense, neither of which serve any good purpose, a love that is willing to bear pain is a love that is hard to hold.

But it is the kind of love we are given, and called to share.

fervant

If we are doing our best to love much, we will not scorn others, nor will we be scorned, for love covers a multitude of sins. I love that, don’t you? —I can do that.

 

 

Stigma (See Me II)

Simon

“No one wants to believe that their humanity and worthiness is being completely and totally disregarded”

The underlying theme of my blog these last several weeks has been sexual abuse. A topic much of the church is afraid to touch but one that is out there in a big way and sorely needs to be brought into the light. There is no dark so dark as that imposed by the church because that is a darkness with all hope of escape erased. This church is called to be a light and a place of hope. Stigmas have no lasting home in God’s family.

That said, there is an undeserved yet very real stigma that exists in the minds of the victims of sexual abuse. A stigma that is put there, intentionally by the perpetrator— and by those who take the perpetrators side; “You brought this on yourself, you encouraged it— you liked it!” and any number of horrible accusations. And victims are stigmatized unintentionally by everyone else from family to clergy as they just don’t want to deal with it, ‘just get over it, it can’t have been that bad.’

This causes the person to hide. They hide behind a pretense of everything being okay because they do not want people looking at them differently, they don’t want people picturing them in the abuse situation making them feel violated all over again. They don’t want people feeling sorry for them and they don’t want people asking and inferring things, like; “Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you leave? What were you doing there in the first place; were you being a tease? How were you dressed?”

Without going into a lot of detail here there are very real psychological answers to these questions that the victim themselves may not even understand. A person’s instinctual defense mechanisms kick in and can cause what seems like rational thought to shut down. I think the bottom line is, people want to be seen as people, so even in the midst of an attack there is a level of denial.

No one wants to believe that their humanity and worthiness is being completely and totally disregarded by someone, especially if it was someone who just moments ago, was making you feel special.

So people get good at pretending because they soon discover—it’s part of growing up unfortunately— that most people cannot see past a person’s past to who they want to be. They pretend there are no hurts or failings, especially in a church, where everyone is supposed to be okay— all healed, temptation and turmoil free. And so all of us, to some extent and especially victims of abuse, pretend to be someone else to avoid being seen as anything less than a normal, well-adjusted person, who is worthy of love and respect.

Not one of us garnered Jesus’ love because we proved that we were worthy—Not one, and none ever have.

sinful woman

Did Simon the Pharisee? Did the sinful woman? No, “While we were yet sinners, Jesus died for us.” Jesus loved both Simon and the woman and treated them with respect—equally; the man who had devoted his life to studying and living by the law of God to the nth degree and considered himself worthy—and the one who made her living by capitalizing on the carnal lusts of morally weak men in the city.

Yet—the one who thought herself the least worthy was the one who went away with the blessing and of peace and the gift of saving grace.

go in peace

Jesus made sure the Pharisee saw the hypocrisy in his attitude towards this daughter of his Father.  “Simon—do you see this woman?” Luke 7

Jesus saw her and she was forever changed. He sees the scared little girl that has long ago hidden behind the painted eyes and exotic dress of her trade. He sees beyond the mask of lewdness forced through a tincture of stubborn hardness and anger.

He sees the pain and humility—he sees the tenderness that has looked desperately for an outlet, for a heart that would return the love she longed to set free—that cried at night when no one was around and she could no longer ignore it; ‘What have I done to deserve this? Why won’t anyone help me, why can’t anyone see the real me?’

Jesus sees you–and so does this pastor. . .

Forgiven much meme

If you are ever in Red Lodge MT, stop in to Hope Chapel and be loved. Until then, call on Jesus, he not only sees you- he hears you.

Listen! I am standing at the door.jpg

I challenge all of you church leaders our there to get real about this topic. You have no idea until you are willing to see, how many victims are hiding in your own pews waiting to be seen–and that’s all they really want. Trust me…