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.

witness Jesus woman

Spirit bears witness

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

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

And John confirms that in his letter.

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

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

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

Monkey

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

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

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

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

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

evil sway

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

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

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

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

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

And let the Spirit be your witness.

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.

Do You See Them? (Still The Voices)

“. . .she told me that the only reason she came that first Sunday was because I was the first man who had ever talked to her like she was a real person.”

Forgiven much meme

Last week we talked about Jesus crossing the sea of Galilee in search of a lost lamb, leaving the proverbial 99 to find the one.

Sometimes the Lord would have us go to great lengths, travel great distances, to share Jesus with the lost and hurting. And that’s good, we are commanded to go into all the world to share the good news, that is the great commission. But we are also commanded to love our neighbors as well. Often times we miss what is right in front of us. We can fail to see the person right next to us that desperately needs Jesus, needs rescued, just as much as the fellow from Gadarene that we named Xander.

My wife Donna is good at seeing those people, the lost lambs, and because of that they are drawn to her. She was working with one such young lady at McDonald’s in Billings. Donna had befriended this young lady, a single mother struggling to make ends meet, and this young lady began to pour out her heart to Donna. She had found a safe place to be real.

Donna felt compelled to invite her to come camping with us on our big annual family camp out (Family being used pretty loosely and extending to pretty much everyone we knew.) Since the campsite was not too far from Red Lodge where my church is, and everyone knew me either as family or from church past and present, everyone who was camping planned on coming to our church Sunday morning.

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You know you’re in a mountain town church when you walk in and everyone smells like campfire smoke.

So anyway, this single mother and her one year old daughter, did indeed come camping with us. They had never camped before and Donna invited them to stay with us in the camper we had borrowed. I found this a little awkward but I thought she was  pretty brave to go camping with the preacher’s family, especially since she had never even met me.

Donna told me on Saturday afternoon while we were camping that her young friend said that she probably wasn’t going to go to church the next morning with us. I was suddenly very disappointed. I had only met her the day before but I knew Donna had been loving on her for a while and was very concerned about, and had filled me in on, all heartache and betrayal she had already been through in her young life by her parents and her ex-husband.

Later I saw her and her baby girl sitting at the picnic table in our campsite and I did something I hardly ever do, I sat down across the table from her, and tried to coerce her to come to church with us. I’m just not the kind of person who likes to put someone on the spot.

She didn’t know me, and she actually looked kind of terrified when I sat down across from her. But I looked her in the eye and said: “I hear you aren’t sure about coming to church with us tomorrow. I would really like you to. I know this might sound weird but I really think the Lord gave me the sermon just for you. And if you come I’ll give you one of my books; To My Girls” (Yippee— Hey I was desperate.)

I was desperate because I really did believe that the message I was preaching that Sunday was written just for her. I knew in my heart that she was why God had given me the message titled: You are Loved. To my relief and joy, she came. And she came back the next week, with her sister, both of them giving there hearts to the Lord in that first week or two and both attending quite frequently for a few years driving 60 miles all the way from Billings to Red Lodge to do so.

That young lady is still a big part of our life, her little girl calls me “Granpa” and 8 years later she still loves the Lord with all her heart and soul and is healing from a horrific past as she walks with him and seeks to learn how to live in this messed up world as she tries desperately to see the world through the eyes of Jesus rather than the eyes of a distrusting wounded soul who has every right to be angry and rebellious.

But she has allowed the Lord to still the voices that taunt and haunt.

no tuning back

I had been somewhat amazed for quite some time that she even came that first time, let alone again the next week and that she just kept coming. Especially with what seemed like such an awkward invitation from me, the strange preacher she didn’t know. Maybe it was the book, I don’t know, it had deeply touched many. I was sure love was involved, the love of the Lord, the love of our church family.

Then, one day we were visiting about that day, and she told me that the only reason she came that first Sunday was because I was the first man who had ever talked to her like she was a real person.

I knew she had been hurt and betrayed, seriously betrayed, by the men in her life, but his really startled me; no other man had ever treated you with respect!? —That doesn’t say much for the world we live in, does it?

How sad that people can go through life never feeling like people even see them, at least not as a person. I was kind of startled when she told me that, because of all the reasons I might have come up with for her coming to our little church—and returning— the fact that I had talked to her with the respect that I would give to any other person, would never have been one of them.

Donna saw her, then I saw her, that’s what it boils down to. I saw her through what was no doubt the eyes of the Father, a scared little girl struggling in a big scary world to be a mother and provider despite the worst the world could throw at her, a young woman who needed to know she was loved and that she was not alone. A lost lamb who had been betrayed in the worst way by her own father, her mother and then a husband.

GirlHiding

But Jesus saw her and sent someone to let her know.

We all need that; we all want to be seen;Somebody, anybody—see me for who I really am.” We all share this basic desire, and to some extent I think we all are a little fearful of being truly honest with one another for fear that we will be seen differently, so we either pretend for as long as we can, or we just go full blown; “I no longer care, the hell with y’all!”

At least that’s what we tell ourselves– But inside we are still dying.

The voices are still taunting us; “You are worthless, you deserve nothing but what you got— trust no one and strike first before you get hurt again.” Jesus would tell us otherwise.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?”. . . Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” Luke 7:44. 50

 

Hope meme

 

 

Radically Changed? -Little Mattie

Lithe Mattie

-Radically changed-

You canBaby-Full-Size-Wallpaper’t be born again and not be radically different, not see the world through the eyes of the Savior; experience life, the pain the joy and heartache and the passion, that comes from being a Spirit led, Spiritually alive being, in a dead and dying world. Unless of course you purposely ignore the Spirit.

Being born again isn’t a state of mind, it’s not a phrase to describe a set of beliefs or a particular brand of Christian. It’s not a club that you join or a conditioning to ascribe to through discipline, ritual or liturgy. Being born again is a state of being. It’s a state of being just as surely as being born of the flesh is. It is who you are, but you also have to allow yourself to become who you are as a born again person.

Being born again from death to life is a radical transformation, it is literally an altered state. We don’t learn to be born again any more than a baby learns to alter his or her condition from being in the womb to being out in the world. But unlike the first birth where a baby doesn’t have a choice as to whether it’s born or not; In the case of being born again we do have a choice, we choose whether we will be born again, or not, when we choose whether or not to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and invite him into our hearts and are made alive by his Spirit, the Holy Spirit.

How can you not be different when you are suddenly the living temple of the very Spirit of God himself?

I have seen this transformation happen over and over again, I have had the privilege of inviting many, many, people over the years to accept Jesus as their Savior and I don’t care if it is just quietly raising your hand in acknowledgement in a church service, boldly sprinting to the alter in front of everyone at a big event, bowing your head and saying the sinner’s prayer across the table in a cafe, falling prostrate in repentance and weeping for joy before a campfire in the mountains— if you have opened your heart to Jesus you are a new creation, and you are not the same person you used to be.

When it happens it is always a miracle, another rebirth, another cause for celebration in heaven. I’ve looked in a person’s eyes and seen the lights come on as there is suddenly someone home, the fear and hurt falls away and life begins— real life.

I racked my brains as I taught this lesson to my church trying to think of some story or illustration about what it means to be born again, to be free, to be real, to just be, and it just wasn’t happening. There’s the old usual illustrations of the Butterflies and the Bull frogs being born again, from a caterpillar and a tadpole but really, that doesn’t work, we are not worms or bugs or amphibians so it’s hard to relate.

But I kept thinking about little Mattie, (Names changed) A baby girl a couple in our fellowship is foster parenting. I remember the first time they walked in here with her, the foster mother, Catrina, was all aglow just like a mother showing off her new baby and Scott- the proud father. But this baby had not been born to them. Mattie had been born into a nightmare. At just a few weeks old she shown up in our church with two broken legs, a broken collar bone and sternum, and a cigarette burn on her toe for good measure. All inflicted on her by her birth mother, her flesh and blood mother.

But Mattie was born again into a new family, given another chance, a new life. She was now in the arms of a mother who would never hurt her, who loves her and has brought her to a place of healing, peace and safety.

But there is more to the story; the Lord had told Scott and Catrina that Mattie was coming. The Lord knew that there was a baby girl who would need a chance to be reborn into a new family, weeks before she was even born.  Matt and Catrina had been struggling, they wanted a big family and had a beautiful daughter but had been unable to get pregnant again and they asked me to pray for them. I did and in the midst of the prayer I saw a picture in my mind of a baby girl still in the womb and I heard the name Mattie.

I told them that they were going to have a little girl. I then asked them if they had thought about any names; “No, not really” I hesitated because I didn’t want to influence them but I said, “Well I heard the name Mattie, I think its short for something but I don’t know what.” So when she walked in that day with a baby girl and said; “Guess what her name is”, I said; “No, it can’t be.” … It was, She said: “Her name is Matilda, but they call her Mattie.”
-The little girl they were promised.

So it is, that our God is good— all the time. Is that a great picture of being born again or what? Mattie, who was born into chaos and pain, has a new life a new family, a new hope for a good future. She came to our church that first week bruised and broken, knocked out with pain meds screaming in pain whenever she woke up, it was heartbreaking. But she has been allowed to heal and now her eyes have a light and she smiles when she is awake. Her past just a distant, fading memory.

Someday Mattie will have the choice to make, “Am I the victim, living in defeat and bitterness, using my past as an excuse and a reason to destroy my future, or am I going to live as a victor, one who has been given another chance to live a life of joy and purpose, using the opportunity and love I have been given to move forward into a hopeful and optimistic tomorrow?”

We all have that choice to make.

So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:7,8