Pulled From Darkness

I know, let’s write him a letter telling him how disappointed we are, and all the things he did wrong. That’ll help.

If you have read the gospels you know who Peter is; the headstrong fishermen who followed Jesus faithfully and wholeheartedly for the three years of his ministry, and whom was counted among the first to recognize just who Jesus of Nazareth was; You are the Christ, the Son of God.

But Peter was also somewhat rash and compulsive, often finding himself in over his head, quite literally. Like when he decided to walk out on the water to Jesus in the storm. He was doing quite well until he realized just how crazy and frightening what he was doing really was, and then he sunk like a rock. But Jesus reached down and pulled him up.

This would not be the last time Jesus reached down to pull Peter up from certain doom. On the night of Jesus’s arrest Peter would find himself again sinking into a pool of despair as he realized that the courtyard he had followed his Lord into was full of people who wanted to destroy those who followed the Lord they were now openly mocking and beating.

Peter became overwhelmed by the waves of fear brought on by the storm of hatred he found himself surrounded by and when he found himself denying his Lord to save his own skin he knew he was doomed to drown. He ran out into the night to be consumed by the darkness as his own heart and a rooster mocked him. He ran straight into an outer darkness that the rising sun over the hill of Golgotha would only intensify.

But just a few days later Jesus would reach down once again and pull Peter back into the land of the living, into the light. His heart would be rescued by his Lord on the shores of the same lake that had nearly swallowed him on that dark and stormy night so many months ago.

Peter would devote the rest of his life to serving and following his Lord wholeheartedly, fearlessly and sacrificially. Sharing the hope and the life that he now knew and had eternally secured. He knew the living hope, his name was Jesus and his Spirit lived within. He desired nothing more in life than for everyone to know this also, to know his Jesus.

Called men and women ever since have had the same desire, to have all people know the Lord who pulled them out of darkness—I know, I am one. It’s the heaviest burden that can ever be borne, but one that is not carried in one’s own strength, and that is why we do it.

The Loneliest Job

Trust me on this, for all their business and interactions with others, most pastors are the loneliest people in the world. Everyone assumes that everyone loves them and that they have nothing to do but hang out with people. When they are “hanging out”, they are always still on duty, still ministering, being quizzed and challenged and expected to have all the right answers to make your day better.

But few understand or even care about the burdens the pastor carries—alone, expect for maybe his or her amazing spouse, whom the pastor tries not to overburden lest they be destroyed by the weight. They also often carry an unbearable burden—but for the grace of God— all their own. Being married to a pastor means you carry a burden for them, and for all they love.

I’m not saying this for my sake, this is the life I have chosen to follow the Lord into, and I knew going in that that was what was required. I wasn’t ready for all the heartache of having so many feel I let them down, (see my last blog) but there is nothing else I would rather do. I was created to do exactly what I am doing and I thank God every day that he entrusted me to do it.

I am saying this for your sake and for the sake of all the leaders out there who are feeling like failures left alone to sink in the dark waters of despair wondering where Jesus is and why they are no longer walking on the water with him. If you are in the boat don’t just say “tsk tsk, poor Peter, I guess he didn’t have what it takes” Pray for him,! Lord, reach down and help Peter, he is just trying to reach you!

Better yet, get out there with him. There were at least 11 people on that boat. What were they doing? ‘That Peter, there he goes leaving us here in this storm tossed boat, I guess he didn’t care about us after all.’ “I know, let’s write him a letter telling him how disappointed we are, and all the things he did wrong. That’ll help.

Don’t do that. . . never do that.

You are a disciple of Jesus Christ, the pastor is your brother, or sister, stand with them, pray for them and love them.

And if you are that “Peter”— Jesus has your back, he always has your back.

I Will Let You Down

“…people can come to put too much of their hope in you. That’s a pitfall of ministry and of a life devoted to Jesus in general.

For years, prophets and God fearing people tried to piece together the means of our redemption, how would we ever be restored to a relationship with the creator who we spurned so long ago?

We now see the big picture, we know how the story ends, we have the box cover. But, it still seems our lives are one big attempt at trying to put together a puzzle complicated by the fact that someone keeps coming along and rearranging or undoing what we thought we had done. Some days it’s like; Please, whoever, stop messing with my puzzle, you’re not helping!

Years ago when our girls were little we were visiting my Dad and family in Minnesota and on one of our outings my Dad took us to see a cabin on a lake that belonged to his sister and her family. No one was there at the time but he knew where the key was hidden so we went in just to check it out.

In the middle of the main room a table was set up with one of those big 500 piece jig saw puzzles on it that was about half way put together. As us adults were getting the quick tour we didn’t realize that the girls had found their own entertainment and when I turn my attention  back to them I hear, “Look Daddy, we’re doing a puzzle!”

Well, much to my horror, they were not doing a puzzle, they were undoing a puzzle. Pretty much all the previously assembled puzzle had been disassembled. “AAAH! Girls, that’s not our puzzle to play with!”

We left shortly thereafter leaving me to only imagine what my cousins must have thought when they came back to the cabin to find all their previous work undone. Starting over. Hopefully it was not that big of a deal.

But in real life, when all we have accomplished, dreamed of and planned for gets undone, it seems like a big deal doesn’t it?

Our response is everything in those times. Because that is really what this life is, isn’t it? One big puzzle that we hope to get assembled into a beautiful picture before we run out of time, or the next unknown visitor comes along and “helps” us.

Look, we’re doing a puzzle! No your destroying everything!

But are they?

 What are they really messing with? If it’s this life, your plans, your schemes and dreams, your security, life and health—all of that is temporal and is not where your hope is supposed to lie. Remember what we learned from James, and Jesus recently? That to plan and think we have it all figured out, that our future is secure, eat, drink and be merry, we are arrogant fools and our very souls may be required of us before we even get to indulge in our hoard.?

Many of us have had the pieces of our lives rearranged or even stolen, probably more so lately than ever. But what is truly important, what really matters? How much of our lives do we waste worrying about things we cannot control?

These are the days in which we truly discover where our hope lies. We discover if it is living, if it is based on truth and planted in and by the Holy Spirit and faith, or if it was based on other things and other people.

Flawed Hope

We can grieve, if need be, but we must remember that in all of our trials, our lives, our souls, are secure in the hands of Jesus. We are kept, preserved, protected, secure, by the power of God. He is our living and perfect hope. All other hope is flawed and tenuous at best, including hoping in others.

One of the things that makes loving people for Jesus, the way Jesus loved, unconditionally and sacrificially, heartbreaking at times, is that people can come to put too much of their hope in you. That’s a pitfall of ministry and of a life devoted to Jesus in general.

It frustrates me more and more as the years go by and I build relationships with more and more people, and as my family grows, that I cannot be there for everyone as much as they nor I would like. I know there are people who are upset because they don’t feel that I pursue or keep up with them the way they would like.

Feelings get hurt and resentments build and it hurts, it hurts them and it hurts me. It hurts me because I have never stopped loving and caring for anyone whom I have ever invested in, and there have been many over the years; whether it’s blood family, married family, spiritual family, the many kids and grandkids, nieces and nephews I have spiritually adopted over the years, friends and fellow warriors from a multitude of ministries and churches—I love and cherish all of them and look forward to one day having forever to spend with all of them.

But today I just flat cannot. I may have eternal life, but today I am still on the clock.

I work 9 or more hours a day in construction, five days a week, I then go home and spend my entire evening working on my sermon for Sunday. I spend all day Saturday at the church finalizing my sermon, doing the bulletin and PowerPoint, these blogs and Facebook blurbs, taking care of whatever church business and building and yard maintenance needs done.

I go home and go over my sermon some more and then I spend most of Sunday getting ready for church, preaching, visiting with and praying for people, and then I go home, if I’m lucky, and take a short nap before I take care of whatever needs done at home.

In the few spare minutes I have around all of that I try to maintain a relationship with my wife, my daughters and my many grandchildren who are all the joy of my life. I also have a mother and father and various siblings that I seldom get to spend time with, and I feel guilty about all of that.

So if I don’t have a lot of quality time to spend with you, or pursuing a relationship or mentoring you, I’m sorry, I truly am, but that is my reality and I cannot change it unless I either quit my job and starve, or quit the church, and God has not released me to do that.

Now, I am not telling you this to make you feel sorry for me or brag about my busyness for Jesus, my point is, and this is the same for anyone; I will let you down. And if you are left feeling hopeless and alone, unloved and bitter, because I or anyone in ministry—anyone in your life— has disappointed you and not lived up to your expectations, than your hope is in the wrong place. Any hope that you derive from any human being is going to be flawed. Period.

Your joy and peace cannot be tied to whether or not I had time to visit with you or pray for you. Whether I called you when you were having a bad day or invited you to coffee. Whether I chased you to the ends of the earth when you decided to stop showing up.

I can only be in one place at a time and I can only spend quality time with one person at a time and there are people whom I have to prioritize that will get my time, and there are people who will try to hoard my time and prayers, making it even more difficult to share my time.

Everyone’s time is limited. But you know who does have all the time in the world for you? The Holy Spirit. He is your Living Hope.

And the Holy Spirit doesn’t get exhausted, he is the source, we are just vessels. And frankly I, and no doubt every pastor out there who preaches in the power of the Holy Spirit, is exhausted after pouring out his everything as he preaches the word of God, because this imperfect vessel of flesh is mostly empty by noon on Sunday. I know I am, because I have given you everything I’ve received. And I need the rest of the day to rest and recharge so I can start again on Monday.

Fortunately it’s not all up to me, that’s not the way Jesus established his church.

That’s why I have always encouraged people to hang around after church and visit with one another, pray for one another, because you have just been filled through the worship, the word and the Spirit. You are being equipped for the work of the ministry. Take care of one another—every day of the week— love one another, but remember, your hope must ultimately, and primarily, be in Jesus. That’s what all this is about.

I will let you down. Pastor fill in the blank will let you down, your best friend will let you down, your family will let you down. Your job, your banker, you car, your waitress, everything and everyone will let you down—if, and only if, you are putting the onus for your joy and sense of well being on them in a disproportionate way.

How do you like me now?

your faith and hope are in God. 1 Peter 1:21

Your faith and hope must come from God and God alone.

The living hope can only be the Holy Spirit, and only the Holy Spirit, can be your living hope.

Justice, and a Cowdog?

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

Justice is an unalterable law of God’s universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their day is coming.

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

Hank the Cowdog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The precious fruit is coming with the latter rains.

Really? Rahab the Harlot?

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

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

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

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

Rahab

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

Really? Rahab the harlot?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Train up a Child

Well, here we are, Mother’s day all of a sudden. And mom’s everywhere are suddenly finding themselves spending more time with their children the they ever would have imagined was possible, or required, just a few short months ago as they are all suddenly not just mom, but teacher as well.  I know this is all very stressful, as parenting in general is, but please, cherish this time and make the most of it, without beating yourselves up! -You are doing great!

School House

Been a weird year hasn’t it? It seems like one day we were planning our Easter celebration when the world suddenly hit pause. And now just in time for Mother’s Day its hit play again, sort of, it’s more like a tentative slow motion play, and we are just hoping we can make it to the end of the movie without hitting pause again. Like a kid under the covers watching a movie on their tablet, hoping to see how it ends before their parents discover they aren’t asleep.

Of course life didn’t really stop and we did have Easter, Jesus is still alive and we still all celebrated that— it just wasn’t anything like what we were used to. And many things were different these past two months so it seems weird to be here at Mother’s day all of a sudden, more grateful then ever to be together, (at least we are here in Montana) and more thankful than ever for family, while praying that the Lord keeps us safe and healthy.

But then, isn’t that what a mother has always done?—Worried and even obsessed about the health and safety of her kids and grandkids, of all she loves?

So, welcome fearful and anxious world—striving to keep everyone you know and love safe and healthy—to the world of mom’s everywhere for all time.

A mother is the definition of love and nurturing, often to the point of driving themselves to distraction, and driving those they love into an eye rolling,Yes mom, I know. I’ll put on my coat and call you when I get there, I won’t pick up any strangers and I’ll wash my hands and behind my ears, state of—okay I’ll humor you, just let me go already!

But where would we be without our mothers to worry about us? Actually if we really listened to our mothers we wouldn’t have need for all this CDC, WHO, governmental expert advice on how to live our lives during a virus outbreak.

I mean really, what has mom always said? “Wash your hands before you eat. Wash your hands when you are done in the bathroom. Don’t put that in your mouth, that’s dirty. Don’t lick that, you don’t know where it’s been. Don’t use the table, I haven’t cleaned it yet. Wash off the top of that pop can before you drink that.”

“Get your fingers out of your nose, don’t wipe your nose on your sleeve—that’s gross, get a Kleenex.  Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Stop rubbing your eyes. No you can’t go there, you’re sick, or no you can’t go there, they’re sick. Can’t you wait till you get home to use the bathroom?”

I’m sure you could add several more to this list but you get the idea.

Moms have been on a concerted war against germs for as long as we’ve known there was such a thing. So, on this mother’s day, we give mom’s everywhere permission to proclaim one big collective “I told you so!” And we all roll our eyes and say; ‘Fine, love you mom, I’ll be careful, I promise.’

Which brings us back to our title verse, one all mothers, and fathers for that matter, cling to in the fervent hope that it is a promise they can count on. Because the only thing a God fearing mother fears more than sickness for their child, is that their souls are not safe in the hands of the Lord —that they are not taking care of their own souls

train up a child

The Promise

I’ve had many a mother over my many years of ministry, earnestly seeking assurance from me that this promise is one they can count on, always tinged with the fear that they did not bring up their child in the way that they should go. No mother is ever confident that they are really a good mother and that they are not doing more harm than good.

Mothers, just the fact that you have that fear means you are a good mother and that you do care about the souls of your children and the Lord will honor and bless your efforts to raise them up to be healthy, whole and equipped with the foundation and the knowledge to choose on their own, as we all must do, to follow the Lord in a real relationship with Jesus.

If you have planted the word in their hearts as little ones, that will be there forever. And if they have you praying for them, the Lord will chase them to the ends of the earth, and until they breathe their last breath, before he lets one of his precious lambs, one who is dear to you and him, stray beyond rescue.

And if they have your unfailing love as an example, and God’s unfailing word quickened by his Spirit of power and your prayers, that will prove ultimately to be irresistible.

So take heart. You are the mother God chose for your child.

 

Where Are You Walking?

If you are not walking in love, It’s time to turn around!1 John Walking in darkness

Too many believers go along claiming and even believing they are walking in the light, being perfected in God’s grace and power when they are actually clinging to the shadows on the edges of the light; lurking in the shadows of hatred that, if not dealt with, can lure us back into total darkness where we lose all sight of the light.

Abiding in Jesus means walking in the light of his love, and living out that love. Refusing to keep his word, hating our brothers, means we are not in the light, we are walking in the dark, and we are blind—lost and, worse than lost, unaware that we are lost. It’s easy to forget the way and get turned around thinking we are on the right path and missing the voice trying to tell us otherwise.

Turned Around

       Last fall I went hunting with my daughter Jessie on her and her husband’s ranch. We have been hunting together for years and we both love the hunt and the time we get to spend together. During our hunt we got ambitious and climbed up on top of this huge bluff that dominates the whole area and where there are ample places for deer to hide out.Me 'n Jessie(Jessie and I on a more successful hunt–the next day)

It was very cold and windy that day, and snowing sideways— perfect hunting weather. Any day you get to be out hunting is a perfect day right? At least that’s the way my family looks at it. After hiking for a mile or so we came across some fresh tracks—as hard as it was snowing we knew they were very fresh—and followed them up and away from the rim of the bluff we had been working along and we did actually catch up to them, but all we saw was does. (This was a Muley bucks only district)

Jessie had been telling me that she thought we might be straying into the neighbors land but it was hard to tell because of all the open range and falling down fences making boundaries unclear. So after determining that there were no big bucks with these girls I said, “We should work our way back towards the truck.” By this time, between the snow storm and my old knees giving me fits, my truck seat and my thermos of coffee were calling my name.

So I started hoofing it back towards what I thought was the edge of the bluff we had walked to get us there. After walking a ways across the open field on top of the bluff Jessie said to me; “I’m really not comfortable being this far into what I think is the neighbor’s property, I think we should go back.”

I looked at her kind of puzzled and said. “What do you mean go back, isn’t the truck just over the edge of the hill over there?”

She said “No, we are on the opposite side of the bluff, don’t you hear the wolves?” I then heard the wolves carried on the wind from the wolf sanctuary down below, which I knew was on the total opposite side from where we had parked. The yipping and howling told me that she was right. I was dumbfounded, how did I get so turned around? I said, “Why didn’t you tell me?” She said “I did a couple of times but you just kept going so I figured you just were determined to keep hunting over here.”

I did hear her but I assumed I was taking us back the right way. I heard her but I wasn’t really listening and she wasn’t being very assertive—she has spent much of her hunting career following Dad around, not leading him. She was the quite voice behind me saying, this is the way, walk in it. (Is 30:21) But I wasn’t perceiving what she was saying.

Finally I did. I couldn’t believe it. I was tired, thirsty and sore and had just walked about a half mile in the wrong direction. We turned around and walked, straight into the wind and snow back, the way we had just walked and finally came out where we were supposed to be and got back to the truck.

After consulting Google Earth it turns out that bluff wasn’t shaped anything like what I had pictured in my mind, I didn’t know the big picture, so where I was going was nowhere near where I thought I was going. That’s what the Apostle John is talking about here:

walk in the light Jesus

          Thots

You might think you know where you are going—you are going there with gusto and following your instinct—but if you are not listening to the word, not listening to the still small voice of the Spirit and paying attention and just going where the wind blows you, you are going to end up lost in the dark. The sun will set and time will run out on you. And that’s not a good place to be—Outer darkness.

Or you end up in trouble for trespassing, something the law in Montana takes seriously, not to mention ranchers. Gives new meaning to the prayer— Forgive us our trespasses. . .

Anyway, that’s what hatred does. Gets us into trouble and can ultimately destroy us.

And, this is just an observation or a conclusion that dawned on me, it seems that biblically, pretty much any human interaction with other people that is not based is love, is hatred.

That may be taking it a little too far but the very least we can safely say is that hatred is the polar opposite of love and thus should be the very last thing we want to harbor in our hearts as it goes against everything God is and asks of us.

Hatred

Hatred can take on many forms. One of the most destructive is the hatred of unforgiveness—”You wronged me and now you owe me. I will never be okay with you and I will secretly—or openly—take pleasure in any misfortune that comes your way.”

The hatred of unforgiveness is the deepest and foulest poison the human soul can fathom. It is a darkness that leaves the heart empty and open to hatred, bitterness and spite, leaving little room for love and joy. No love can bear fruit in a bitter heart nor can it have fellowship with a God who has loved us in spite of our sins, things we did not deserve to be forgiven for, yet were, because he sent his Son who was willing to lay down his life, suffer the agony of the cross for us.

Jesus, by his own admission, could have commanded 12 legions of angels to come down and destroy those who betrayed, beat, tortured and shamed him for no crime other than loving people for the Father, for keeping the word, for being the word.

But he did not, he left judgement day for its appointed time (we must do the same) and carried out his mission of sacrificial love, love perfected, and begged his Father forgive those who ignorantly murdered the author of life.

forgive them Jesus

 

But what about those who do know what they do? Surely we can hate them!

That is the hatred of righteous indignation—”You know better, you messed up, or are messing up, and I cannot treat you with love or respect until you change your ways and come crawling to me and prove that you are now as righteous  as me.”

He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. 10 He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 1 John 2

They are exactly the ones whom John is telling us here we cannot hate—our brothers. The word brother here means fellow believers. Those whom we deem should know better. ‘You call yourself a Christian! You had better straighten up before you expect me to stop reminding you how sinful you are!’

Well, for starters, who are you to judge the heart of another believer? And who made you the Holy Spirit?Spirit Come cross

The Helper is the Holy Spirit and according to Jesus it is his job, and his job alone, to convict others of sin. It is your job to walk in the light, to not give your brother or sister cause to sin, to rebel or run away from God and his word.

Because it is only by coming to the light, allowing God’s word to search their hearts, that they will come to reject any sinful behavior and have love perfected in them as well.

Seeing your light go dark, hidden behind your scorn, whenever they are around you will certainly not encourage them to come into the light. Jesus loved people into the kingdom. And the only time you see him angry is when he saw others judging those he was trying to love into his Kingdom—the Priests and Pharisees who deemed others dirty and sinful.

Little children . . . love!little children love 1 John

I love all of you. Have a blessed week!

Perfected in Love

The Apostle John, in his letters, challenges us to love, even to perfect love. Now there’s a challenge to be sure!  Have anyone of you perfected love? If you answered yes, I would like to talk to your spouse, or family.

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I am called as the pastor of my church to love people. I will always preach the word, the uncomfortable parts and the ones that may offend some people, but I will always do so in love, and I will always welcome and love everyone who comes seeking truth.

Speak the truth in love and if you cannot come across that way then don’t speak at all. Loving one another is our overarching command, the one that all others point to.

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Love is hard

None of this is easy, loving our rivals is hard, loving people who mistreat us is hard. Loving people whom we believe need to be taught a lesson, who have disappointed us, is hard. Loving people whom no one else loves is hard.

If love was easy we wouldn’t need almost 800 Old testament laws and hundreds of pages of stories to teach us how to love. We wouldn’t have needed Jesus to come and live it out for us, die for us, and then send his Spirit to illuminate it for us. We wouldn’t need the Baptism of the Holy Spirit to empower us to love—not if it was easy or natural for us.

It’s hard because our sinful fallen nature is selfish, jealous, competitive, indignant and petty. But God is love and those who love him and desire to love have to look to Jesus for that love, for the desire and the ability to truly love. If we truly love and walk with Jesus and in his ways we find that we have no choice but to love and to do otherwise runs counter to the new creation that you are in him and will leave you empty, casting you back into the darkness.hates his brother

You just loved me

There was a young woman who was part of our fellowship for a while here. She showed up at some of our first services with her very young son, no husband, no questions, we just loved her.

She disappeared for a while and reappeared with a guy who had a young daughter, no questions, we just loved them.

They disappeared for a while and her and her son reappeared, alone again. There were a few questions, no condemnations, we just loved her. Week after week, year after year, hit and miss sometimes, but we just kept loving her and her son.

I didn’t think we were doing anything extraordinary really, she was pretty easy to love and we love, or try to love, everyone who comes through these doors. Yes we are all human and none of us has yet perfected love and occasionally someone, including me, does something to offend or hurt—but we try, I try, I try to love like Jesus loves, unconditionally and unselfishly.

One day I asked this young lady if she would serve in a particular place in the church; a place of responsibility and trust. As she considered what I had asked her she became visibly shaken and finally blurted out through her tears words that cut straight to my heart, “I can’t do that. . . I am not a good person!”

The reason this cut to my heart is because I was heartbroken for her that she saw herself this way. But I also sensed that this was the Holy Spirit blasting open a whole in her heart for the light to shine in. So I asked her why she didn’t believe she was a good person. She confessed to me some sin areas in her life, and I didn’t gasp and say ‘man, you’re right, you are a rotten sinner!’ No, I assured her that Jesus loved her, the Father loved her and that I loved her, and if she wanted me to, I would pray for her.

I did, right then and there. I prayed that the Lord would give her the strength to overcome the things that she was struggling with, things that the Holy Spirit, not me, not anyone in this church, was convicting her of, and then I told her my offer still stands.forgiven light ocean

But I was going to leave it up to her—it was between her and the Lordto let me know when she was ready to serve. I told her I knew it would not be long because I knew that she could do this.

I was right. A few months later she told me she was ready, she had overcome. Love—the love of God and the love of her brothers and sisters in the Lord—was bearing fruit in her.

At one point she told Donna (my wife) and I how grateful she was for this church family. She said, “Time and again I showed up here still reeling from the night before, barely able to look myself in the mirror and you guys just kept loving me and welcoming me like I was somebody special.” And that was why she kept coming back. —That’s what love does.

She told us this as she was getting ready to move to another state, as she had married a godly man and was going to start a new life– heartbroken to be leaving–but thrilled to be walking in God’s plan.

She was perfected— by love.

walk in the light Jesus

 

Know that you know him

Do you know him? Do you know Jesus? If you are walking in love you do.

He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. 1 John 2

So, let’s wrap this up by answering the question we asked at the start; How do you perfect love?

This seems like a complicated statement requiring deep thought and study but it is really quite simple and rather neatly sums up what the gospel is all about. God gave mankind his word, the commandments and the law, the prophets and the psalms, the wisdom writings and the stories, to show us how to love and live—to live in perfect love, no sin, no selfishness, no rebellion. But we could not do it—bottom line—should have been the end of the story.

But the Father didn’t want our story to end there. So he sent Jesus, the only one who was able to do it—to perfectly keep God’s word, to become the perfect sacrifice so that we, who could not keep God’s word and thus perfect love, could be recipients of his perfect love. Now we have a new word by which to live, by which to be perfected, the only way by which we may be perfected and perfect love, and that is to believe and receive the Word of God  come in the flesh; Jesus.

And the proof of that? The evidence of our saving knowledge of the Word of God, of Jesus Christ the Son of God?

That we have love for one another

little children love 1 John

I am love, I am life, I am here. -H.S.

 

 Barbarians in the Kingdom

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I am a Sinner

sinners 1 John 1

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…” This verse reminds me of a time an  Evangelist spoke in or church. Near the end of one of his sessions he asked me under his breath; “Pastor, are there any sinners here?” I was taken aback by that question for a second and then I realized what he meant. He was asking me if there was anyone here who didn’t know Jesus so he knew whether or not he should give an invitation for people to receive Jesus.

So, since I knew everyone who was here there at the time and that they all knew the Lord I answered no.

But I wanted to say yes, we are all sinners and I am the chief of them! To borrow a phrase from the apostle Paul:

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.  1 Tim 1:15

We are all sinners and to say otherwise is to make God a liar to quote John. So don’t think to highly of yourselves. . . . Now hold the phone, we are all sinners but we are now sinners saved by grace and there is one who thinks highly enough of us that he was willing to lay down his life so that we who confess our sin can be forgiven.forgiven light ocean

Pretty hard to confess a sin if you refuse to acknowledge that you are a sinner in the first place, right? It’s not rocket science. We’ll get back to that sinner status later, let’s look at the light thing that John is diving into here. That’s what distinguishes us from the sinners who don’t know Jesus—they are walking in the darkness to their destruction but we are walking in the light right into the arms of the Father—where we will be found sinless and pure, washed by the blood of the lamb.

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:5-7

One of the ways we come into the light where we can see what needs to be seen is to talk— talk to the Lord, and talk to one another. I have seen is over and over again and experienced it over and over again and no doubt you have too. That when you are struggling with something, trying to overcome something or trying to understand something, just talking about it, hearing yourself say it out loud, gets you to a place where it makes sense.

Talking out a fear can make it seem less scary. Putting words together to try and explain to someone what you are struggling with or confused about can bring order and even comfort to your troubled mind as you have to take it from the realm of irrational emotion— unspoken feelings and vague notions— and bring it into the linear realm of order and understanding.

You are bringing it into the light. And if the act of bringing it alone doesn’t resolve it, you now have the opportunity to have a brother or sister speak light into the subject as well.

That’s the fellowship John is talking about here, with our Lord, and with one another. Just make sure the one you are exposing hidden things to is indeed walking in the light or your darkness may just become even more intense. Bad advice, rebellious notions, shame or condemnation—they are all weapons of the enemy, the Prince of darkness, and will only deepen your darkness. Leaving you full of nothing, at least nothing good.

So, let’s get back to the we are all sinners thing.

 

sinners forgiven Jesus

We are all sinners, sinners saved by grace. If we say we are not, if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1.8)

If I could be sinless I would not need Jesus, I would not have to take up my cross and crucify the flesh daily, I would be prefect. I am not, and either are you. But I am forgiven because I have an advocate with the Father, one the Father himself appointed to me to not just argue my case, but to pay the penalty for my crimes.

Love does that. A love that would die for a crime committed against love itself. All sin is rooted in selfishness and rebellion. ‘I want this, I need this, I deserve this. You cannot tell me what to do, you are not as important as I am, your feelings do not matter—I come first!’

Love says; ‘You come first, you deserve this more than I, your feelings matter;

Love never fails

Jesus is the word, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega. His word never fails, He never fail, and if you remain in Him—you will never fail. 

Jesus is the word of God, He is the light of the world. Stay in the word, stay in the light, and you cannot fail. Darkness cannot overcome you—you will overcome the darkness.

Jesus died for the whole world, he needs you to shine that light of truth so that the world can see that they have an advocate. The world is crying in the despair of living lives of nothingness—we have the something they need.

Little children, love.

little children love 1 John

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.

prisoned

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.

 

Help Me, Please?!

We can all remember a few people in our lives whose advice we treasured

Okay, last week I picked on us “Older guys”, now for you golden girls out there “the older women”– (he says while being careful not to look at anyone in particular, oh wait, you can’t see me-whew!)

older women

Paul has some important advice for the mature gals in the early churches of Crete:

the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. Titus 2:3-5

I love this exhortation here to the older women to teach the younger. One of the things we are sorely lacking in our culture is this generational connection and continuity. Each generation of late seems to despise the older as out of touch and clueless. Nowadays that often comes with a whole list of accused ‘phobics attached, as the younger, supposedly enlightened, generation thinks they have it all figured out.

The older I get the more I realize just how foolish I was when I was younger and how I treasure the wisdom of those who are older then I. I’ll bet, no matter your age, you can all remember a few people in your life whose advice you treasured because in spite of any youthful bluster we all know we are actually clueless and about half scared—even more scared that everyone may see how clueless we are. Life is hard.

I believe it is even harder for a young woman who is expected now to not just be and do everything only a woman can be and do, but to do everything a man can do also, and preferably without a man—’they’re just bumbling idiots who only want to keep you down. ‘Oh, and you had better look good while you’re doing it.’

 Most young women are pretty good at pulling this off, at least in appearances, and this can make some of the older women who should be encouraging them, despise them instead. We are all by nature very competitive and anyone who seems more assured and better put together is a threat to our place in life.

That’s not the way God desires us to behave and see one another. Which is why we need these admonitions in the scriptures. We all need to get over our bad selves and remember what Jesus said the law was actually all about, that we “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

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This is what the law and the prophets were all pointing us to, Jesus says.

So, be the mentor you wish you had.

One the things I have heard here from younger folks in my church, especially the younger women—some of whom have come and gone now—is the desire for older women to mentor them in a real meaningful way. I have tried real hard to encourage this in recent times but it just was not happening and that is why some of those younger women have left—just being honest with you here.

I can’t make it happen, I tried and it backfired. The older women didn’t see themselves as qualified and the younger felt rejected. Thus the enemy used it to discourage everyone, including me, by making it look like my failure.

I’m sorry, I know by today’s standards, I could identify as an older woman and mentor the young women in my church myself, but, you know, I’m just one of those clueless old guys who still believes that God determined my sex when he created me, so that leaves you mature women, in years and in the faith, to be the ones to instruct the younger.

the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that they admonish the young women

How many of you younger women—new mother’s, those trying to navigate the single life, trying to keep up with the bills and the challenges of work and life, trying to live a life pleasing to God—how many would treasure any time spent with you by a woman who has been there and done that and managed to survive?

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If you are an “Older woman” reading this, know that every young heart that read this just just cried out in their hearts–“Help me, hear me!”

I’ll let the Holy Spirit take it from there. That’s what I have learned regarding this issue. If it’s going to happen, it’s got to come from you, so. . . listen to that still small voice and obey.

helper meme

Find your freedom, release your inner barbarian

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