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.

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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!”

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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.

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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.”

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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!”

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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.”

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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.

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You Are . . .

Everyone has a little barbarian in them, a heart that years to be free and uncluttered by anything that hinders us from being all that God created and called us to be.

Fearfully Made sheild maiden

Barbarians do not connect their self-worth to what others think of them. They do not care if everyone does not like them. Barbarians know what is inside of them, what is in their hearts, because they have been taught what is right and wrong, it is written on their hearts and the person laughing at you, calling you stupid and ugly does not, cannot, know what is in your heart—only you can. With the exception of one other Person; Jesus.
‘For it was you who formed my inward parts;
“You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works” Psalm 139:13, 14

You are wonderfully made, embrace it.

Read the rest of the story here

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Prison of Pain

If you are living in unforgiveness you are living in a world the one who wronged you created for you.

In the ministry I have seen it over and over again, people living in a prison of their own making, a prison of pain, tortured by a wounded heart, a heart that could be healed, a prison from which they could escape but for one thing—an unwillingness to forgive the one who hurt them, the one who owes them.

 

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I can never forgive them! Do you know what they have done? Usually, yes, but God doesn’t put any exceptions out there for this principle. His grace, his forgiveness, as illustrated by the story of the unforgiving servant for example, (Mat 18:22-35) is unlimited and unconditional—unless we fail to reciprocate it. That’s not His doing. That’s a heart becoming hardened by unforgiveness to the point where it can no longer even accept it, can no longer receive healing, no longer feel love, no longer heeds the Holy Spirit—and the Spirit is grieved.

grieved

I often struggle with this as a pastor. It’s real hard to tell someone whom you know is bound up, tortured in their very souls by the bitterness of unforgiveness, to forgive. When you know how badly someone was hurt, how wronged, mistreated and abused someone was by someone who still may have no remorse and take no responsibility. It’s hard to let go, and it’s hard to tell someone they need to.

But I do, because I have seen the incredible healing and transformation that takes place in a person when they do finally forgive.

Think about it. That bitterness in only poisoning your own soul. That hatred, the thoughts of revenge, the fantasies of repaying them that replay in your mind over and over, the obsessing over the injustice of it all—no matter how much energy you put into your desire to repay or be repaid, you are not harming that person, you are only perpetuating your own hurt.

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And if they truly are as bad as you imagine, they are probably relishing in the misery of your grudge burdened heart, they are probably flattered in their perverted arrogance that they live in your mind rent free. You are hurting no one but yourself.

You have to let it go. Be free of the prison of your own making. Only you hold the key—that key is forgiveness. If you cannot do it alone, ask the Lord for help. He desires nothing more than to set you free so that you can fully experience the joy of his forgiveness for you.

 

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Jesus was sent to set you free. That’s a flat out promise not hidden in a parable but stated plain and clear.

If you want to be a free and functioning citizen of the Kingdom of God you must forgive as you have been forgiven.

Now, as a note of caution, forgiveness if not the same as trusting. If someone has abused you, hurt you and has not proven to you that they are able or willing to stop, you do not have to allow them a chance to hurt you again. Forgiveness happens in your heart, it doesn’t have to happen to their face. It can, and it can be beneficial, but do not put your self at risk.

If Jesus has set you free by giving you the grace to forgive, then let him restore your sight also that you may see the dangers and avoid them in the future.

There’s a big exciting world out there waiting for you to conquer and explore if you’ll just open up that prison door and step out into it.

Institutionalized

‘But I like it here, I know what to expect and I have good reasons to stay in my little corner of the world where others can care for me and keep trying to teach me things. There’s a word for that, it’s called being institutionalized. There are people who have been in prison for so long that they are afraid to get out. There are those who are afraid to leave school, they have no concept or desire to get out into the real world. They go from preschool to kindergarten to 12 more years of public school to several years of college to then working at or teaching in that college and their whole world is that campus.

I remember when I was in Job Corps, there were guys who were afraid to graduate and go back to the real world. They came there from high school to learn a trade so they could get out and make a living but the thought of being out in the big wide world where you have to buy you own food, pay your own rent, get up and go to bed when you want, have to be responsible for your self—that’s scary!

I would think;Are you kidding me? I can’t wait to get out of here and be free to find my own way, to make a living and make my own choices and decisions.”

I want to live in the real world—it’s a challenge and an adventure, an opportunity waiting to happen, life is what you make of it. Unless you choose to stay confined in one someone else made for you. If you are living in unforgiveness you are living in the world the one who wronged you created for you.

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Be free. Step out of the prison of pain and into the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a real world, it is the real world, and you need to get out there into it. God has a plan for you and freedom is just a prayer away.

‘”Lord forgive me my sins as I forgive those who sin against me’— and help me to forgive them.”

You are a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven, you can do this.

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Don’t be institutionalized in your unforgiveness and anger, there’s a whole new Kingdom out there to explore.

 

Kanye?

“Seriously, there was no twelve step program, no months of therapy or self-help books or seminars, I was changed in an instant”

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Kanye recently bought a ranch just down the road from us near Cody WY and much to everyone’s surprise held a large outdoor church service. Thousands of people showed up and hundreds got saved.

Go figure…

Everyone’s a little perplexed by this Kanye West thing. I don’t know why?

Since then many have asked me what I think about him. Honestly I wouldn’t know Kanye if he sat down next to me in a coffee shop and started singing his biggest hits, but I’m starting to pay a little attention to him now…

Okay church, here’s my answer:

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Do we believe that? Have we experienced that? Have you been born again? It happens instantaneously—when you suddenly realize just who Jesus is, when you recognize just how sinful you are in light of his holiness as his presence knocks at the door of your heart and tells you, ‘it’s all right, just let me in, we’ll take care of this mess—just allow me to—“Lord I believe, come into my heart, forgive me for running from you for so long, I want you, I need you—I trust you!”

In that instant, whatever the words, perhaps no words, it’s a heart thing, you are changed, you went from being dead to being alive. And you are a new person. —Right?

I know it happened to me. And all my friends and family were a little freaked out by the change—’What are you talking about, what happened to you? Have you slipped of the tracks here?’

I was not the same person I was just the day before. Yeah, I had a lot to learn and a lot of garbage that still needed dealt with, but I wanted to share my new found faith, I wanted to share Jesus with everybody—’How can you not want to know Jesus?’ I thought.

I was somewhat famous for throwing great parties, having and selling the best weed, I was game for about anything and I lived for the party—stoned all my waking hours… at the same time I was miserable because it was never enough and I felt like all my friends only used me to try to fill their own empty souls—until I allowed the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ to renew and regenerate me.

In an instant, I was changed. Seriously, there was no twelve step program, no months of therapy or self-help books or seminars, I was changed in an instant, alone in my living room with a bible and Jesus. It was an outright miracle.

So, what’s the difference between that and what happened to Kanye West? Nothing—except he was not just famous for his exploits amongst a bunch of potheads in Billings, he was famous on a world stage.

Now he wants all the world to know the Jesus he just met, “How can you not want to know him?” It’s the same thing we all ask when we first meet Jesus. Does he have a lot to learn and some garbage to deal with yet? I have no doubt. But man, look at what God has done—do not discount this—the world is looking at him and saying “Wow, maybe I want some of that!”

Either it’s real or it’s not. Either we are born again, renewed, regenerated by the Holy Spirit whom God has poured out on us abundantly—or we are not.

Because if we are just a religious sect that is striving for a ticket to heaven by being good enough, saying doing and believing the right things in the right order—than we need to shut Kanye down and to fear what he is doing. And if that is the case, I want nothing to do with any of this religion stuff.

I’d rather be stoned in the morning and drunk in the afternoon and living to fish in the mountains and “ya’ll just leave this long haired country boy alone.”

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But that’s not who I am anymore. I am not foolish, deceived, serving various lusts and hating to be around people that don’t just want to party or fish with me.

I was created to do good works, I am a child of the living God and he has a plan for me, to prosper me and not to harm me. I prosper in his love and grace and he blesses everything I do for him. I fear no harm for I am his and he is mine, and I am never looking back.

I am a fisher of men and I have a peace in my heart that drugs and drink can only dilute.

Jesus is Lord, His Holy Spirit is within me and my righteousness comes from him and him alone. And if you want to argue with, or add to that, well, trust me, many have tried, talk to the hand because the heart belongs to Jesus.

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I know who I am and I know him whom I serve.

What then shall we do? Whatever Jesus tells us to do.

God is on the move; you think this thing with Kanye is making ripples that the church doesn’t know what to do with? You just wait, it’s just beginning.

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God chooses and uses the willing. Not those we choose and are willing to accept. Bear fruit for the kingdom and use every tool at your disposal. And remember Him who is in you.

That’s all.

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.

Thots

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.

Stand with me meme

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.

I do not fear meme

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