Worth It?

Such are the dreams of the bi—vocational small town pastor.

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For all it’s challenges, I love pastoring a small church. We had such a wonderful and sweet Christmas eve service just gathering together with old friends, and new; seeing the kids have such a wonderful time as they acted out the nativity story, learning the real meaning of Christmas in the process while reminding and blessing the rest of us at the same time. All this on the heels of Sunday morning and having the kids, all ages together to make up a small chorus, to sing a few Christmas songs.

Props were handmade or came from the Goodwill store and special effects consisted of an illuminated star ornament hanging off the light fixture above the stage, and a halogen work light hidden under a chair to illuminate the angels.

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But I can guarantee that everyone left  leave here last Sunday and Christmas eve with a heart full of joy and memories that a professional high budget mega church presentation could never replicate.

I know I was blessed. I’m still replaying the events of those two services over in my mind, it was just so rewarding in so many ways.

But you know, it’s a lot of work, and that’s what I was thinking about between Sunday afternoon and Christmas eve service. Pastoring a church while working full time besides, is a lot of work and takes a lot of discipline and commitment–and then you throw in an extra service?

Now I don’t do this alone, many are involved in making this church work, and we all have responsibilities and challenges, and that’s the point.

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Blow it off?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just say, the heck with it, I’m going to just pursue my own fortune, spend my time and money on myself, my own pleasure and just worry about me, me, me. Like all those other people. I don’t want to write another sermon, I just wrote one last week! (and every week before that) I don’t want to spend another Saturday alone at the church, I have a lot of better things I could be doing, camping, fishing, hunting, fixing up or even building myself a house.

Or I could just go home after putting in my time at work and just sleep in front of the TV with a beer or two while looking forward to a vacation in Vegas. ‘Been saving up all year, it’s going to be a blast!’ Or maybe something more noble like a trip to the Holy Land or my ancestral Scandinavian home lands.

I could at least try to get a job in a big church so I wouldn’t have to work two jobs and then I could travel to exotic places now and then and call it missions or at least earned sabbaticals.

Such are the dreams of the bi—vocational small town pastor.

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And just saying all that out loud makes me cringe because down in my heart I know—No, I wouldn’t rather do any of that. Because in the end, none of that matters. What matters is that I am serving my Lord, the bridegroom, in the manner and place he wants me to serve him. If it means standing in a dark place with my flickering lantern ready to be put to good use at a moment’s notice, so be it.

What matters is that you, are being fed, you are getting oil for your lamps. What matters is that those kids, my kids, your kids, are hearing about Jesus, that they know they are loved and that they are important to me, to you and to their heavenly Father.

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(One of my grand daughters, and a grandson in the background expressing his opinion of the music)

What matters is that I am ready for Jesus to come back at any moment and that I am not going to waste any time. I will keep doing what I can to prepare myself and others in the meantime.

And the joy I feel when I see the smiles of those kids, the treasures I have amassed in my heart at seeing those the Lord puts in my path have a little better day, a little more spark in their eyes and spring in their step and maybe a song of praise on their lips because we simply showed up here and did what the Lord called and gifted us to do, I wouldn’t miss any of that for all the gold in the world.

The world can have their gold, Gold won’t burn in a lamp or light the way to anything. It only weighs you down and adds to your burden. Only love will keep those lights on, those lamps burning. And I have a never ending source of that love, his name is Jesus.

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The NIV study bible suggests that those virgins were “perhaps bridesmaids charged with preparing the bride for the groom.” If that is the case, the church is the bride and I will do all I can to be a wise virgin so that the bride of Christ will be ready for her groom.

We need a lot more wise virgins I can tell you that. Because there are a lot of messed up brides out there who won’t even know who their groom is when he does show up. Because here’s the little secret about the oil—it has to come from the groom.

And once he is on the way, he’s not carrying his supply any more to give to those who ask, the time for preparation is over, the hour has come, it’s His wedding day.

Oil in the scriptures is often a representation for the Holy Spirit and perhaps that is what the oil in this story is. How do we get the Holy Spirit? How do we keep in tune with the Spirit?- live for the Spirit and not the flesh. We have to keep going to Jesus, and to the Father through Jesus. Spending time with him in prayer, in his word, in worship, meditating on his word, seeking wisdom, believing for miracles and intervention, trusting him for our needs while working with the hands and the gifts he gave us.

By seeking his Kingdom first and foremost and trusting that all else will be added unto us as we need, not as we desire.

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It’s living for the groom, not for ourselves. Keeping our jars full at all times.

Broken

“That cup in its state of scarred repair is more beautiful than it ever was.”– So are you!

A year or two ago our daughter Cally was over for our annual Christmas morning potato pancake breakfast. A tradition that started somewhat by accident as I enjoyed making breakfast for my girls when they were little and as I perfected the elusive perfect potato pancake. Enjoying a cup of coffee and the company of family gathered, she somehow chipped her coffee cup, the one with a real cool Currier and Ives type Christmas scene on it, that she was using. I heard the clink but didn’t see the damage and I said half-jokingly, “Oh don’t break that, that’s Mom’s favorite cup, she picked that up at the Christmas stroll.” A few minutes later, amidst the chaos of many little ones playing and adults visiting, she’s frantically searching the house for super glue—she wanted to fix the cup.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It wasn’t until later when she was explaining to her mom in tears that she had broken her cup that I realized the tragedy I had exacerbated. She felt horrible about it. And then I felt horrible because I had just made things worse with my off handed remark.

My wife, Donna, of course told her not to worry about it, she loved Cally more than any cup. Donna later fixed the broken cup.

Can you tell it was once broken? Yes, but it is more valuable now than it ever was because of the incredible love and emotion that was poured back and forth over that cup, because of the accident and the heartache it caused.

That cup now says to Donna, “My daughter loves me so much that she was broken over having chipped what she knew was something that I valued.” And that glued together cup also now says, “My mother loves me so much that she was more upset over my heartbreak than she was about her once beautiful but now broken cup.”

That cup in its state of scarred repair is more beautiful than it ever was.

Jesus tells several parables in his last days, many of them aimed at the religious hypocrisy of the Priests and Pharisees of his day. And the end of one such story he warns:

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Sounds dire, unless you know a little more about the nature of our God and the symbolism of his word built  in the scripture over time.

The way I see this, this business about falling on the stone and being broken? Being broken can be a good thing. And if you are going to be broken, the rock is the place to do it because the rock is where you can be rebuilt, it is after all a cornerstone, the chief corner stone.

The commentaries and study Bible notes will tell you that the reference here to falling on the stone and being broken means you’re done. That’s just not consistent with scripture. Being broken is always a prerequisite to being repaired, fixed—born again. God loves the broken. In fact, it is the only sacrifice he requires.

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I think the more profound and certainly more encouraging message here, the secondary and more consequential meaning of this prophetic word first uttered by Isaiah and then claimed by Jesus, is that if you fall on the stone, purposely throw yourself on the stone, broken—broken down, brokenhearted, a broken soul who has realized just how empty, sinful, hopeless and lost you really are apart from the chief cornerstone, you will be rebuilt.

Repentance—repentance is the first step to becoming a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

Powder?

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Now, rejecting the rock, Jesus, out of hand and in the end having to be crushed by it, is certainly a bad thing–something that’s ground to powder ceases to exist. But something that is broken can be fixed. God loves a broken spirit, God loves a broken heart, because it is usually a heart that is open for him to repair, to rebuild, to remake—better, more resilient and more committed to remaining strong and whole than ever before.

I believe that for you! Yours is now a heart that now knows that if it falls, it can get up and go on, that if it breaks it can be restored and it is now in a solid place where it can be rebuilt to withstand the storms. The rock is a place to build, it is not a place of destruction.

The Holy Spirit told me as I was starting to work on the larger part of this message for my church Sunday–and it didn’t make any sense to me at first in light of what the parable says:

“The rock is here and it is a place to stand, a place to be strong and a place to grow.”

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To us a Son is given, the rock has come. Claim your healing, claim your peace.

Barbarians in the kingdom

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Preacher Dan

Have a most blessed and merry Christmas everyone!

The Best Present

“It was a reminder of simpler days when we never had much but we always had love.”

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I love the Christmas season. Perhaps because I have rich memories of Christmas from when I was a child and of when our kids were young. The traditions that bring you together and the anticipation of that glorious day when you get to give the ones you love those special presents you have put so much thought into, or shopped so diligently to find.

You know, and it’s really not the money you spend, it’s more the love behind it. I remember one Christmas when our girls were little we didn’t have much money and the little we had to spend we spent on the girls. But I was determined that I had to get Donna something. So I went to K-Mart a day or two before Christmas and right there near the front entrance was the cutest little mouse figurine. I picked it up expecting it to be porcelain and expensive but it was actually a wax candle and it was only $1.00.

Perfect for my budget. I felt kind of bad only spending a dollar on my wife for Christmas but I literally only had about $2.00 in my pocket. Times were lean but life was good. I gave Donna that mouse on Christmas morning and she loved it. It sat on the window sill in the kitchen for years so she could see it as she washed dishes until it finally got totally bleached out by the sun. It was a reminder of simpler days when we never had much but we always had love.

Of course as a child it’s the receiving that’s so exciting, the anticipation. I remember it well, the magic of Christmas as a child as it seems the whole world is celebrating one great event together as it does at no other time.

And the presents! Just what is in those beautifully wrapped presents under the tree? Did I get what I asked for? Maybe something so wonderful I never even thought to ask? Oh the anticipation is almost too much to bear—I have to know the secret to what’s under the tree! But you know you have to wait, Christmas is coming, all the signs are there, the lights and the decorations, the special shows on TV, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, the Johnny Cash Christmas special, the Little Drummer Boy.

There’s driving around town seeing all the lit up houses and the lights on main street, the Santa Clause who shows up at your door just after dinner on Christmas eve who looks strangely like a friend of your parents, scares your baby sister half to death, and leaves with a cold Grain Belt beer in his hand.

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Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

And then it’s bedtime and your parents tell you that tomorrow is Christmas morning so you had better get to sleep. But you lie awake for what seems like hours, too excited to sleep. Tomorrow is the day I get to find out the secret to what’s under the tree, to see what shows up in the stockings hung on the mantel with care. And then it’s time, the break of dawn, family gathered—finally, come on mom, we’ve been waiting forever!

I can remember almost everything I got when I was a kid. The 60’ and 70’s was the golden age of toys. Hot wheels and matchbox cars. Apollo moon mission astronaut action figures, GI Joes, Johnny West and his horse, Tonka toy trucks made of real steel, Rock ‘em Sock ’em Robots, Gumby, real Slinkys, not the plastic things they sell now, cap guns Etch a Sketches, Little Golden books and Scooby-Do lunch boxes, and the best toy of all, the Daisy BB Gun! Christmas’s were great!

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As you get older, sadly, you lose some of that excitement, the Christmas spirit can be replaced by the stress of having to be the one to make that Christmas magical for the kids. But remember, it’s not so much the stuff they get, it’s what you make of the holiday for them. The joy and the love that is felt and shared, whether it’s a one dollar mouse or a Tonka Toy Bull Dozer big enough to dig a swimming pool in the back yard, don’t lose the joy, don’t lose the wonder.

Remember whom we celebrate.

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If you have been born again you remember well the joy of discovering the secret of our salvation, of having the greatest gift of all revealed to us—that Jesus came to this earth from heaven as a baby, to grow up teaching us the mysteries of heaven and then opening the door for us to walk in by giving his life for us, and all we have to do is believe and receive.

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God sent us the long ago and oft promised gift, we didn’t know exactly what it would be or how it would help us, but when it was revealed on the day we heard the gospel and it finally clicked, it was better than we could ever have imagined.

I am loved! I am forgiven! And I am part of a family–a family that get’s to celebrate everyday the life that he gives us and the life to come.

I remember well when I first realized what the answer was, the answer to my question; Is there really a God? Can I know him if there is? What’s this cross and resurrection business about anyway.

As I sat there as a teenager and read through the gospels something just clicked in my mind and spoke to my heart; ‘God is real, Jesus died for you and you are loved and going to heaven.’

It would be several more years before I fully opened the gift and embraced the Lordship of Jesus by heeding his Spirit and letting him free me of the self-destructive nature of the flesh, but that was another glorious day I will never forget, one full of joy and excitement; Look what I got! It’s the greatest gift ever! Even better than Rock’em Sock’em Robots!

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But then the stresses of life start creeping in and we start to lose that enthusiasm, the magic is gone and it just becomes one foot in front of the other. Don’t lose the wonder, don’t lose the excitement, you still have the gift and the gifts and it can be new every morning if you just keep looking to him, to the one who reveals the secret things to your heart.

You have so much more to learn, he has so much more to give—and for you to give others.

Your place is assured, keep looking to tomorrow and don’t let the cares of this world steal your joy, you belong to a higher kingdom. Keep shining.

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You have life, you have Jesus. And that’s the best present of all!

 

Secret Things

Who am I, why am I, who put me here and where is he?”

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We all love to learn about things that have been kept secret right? Whether it’s the secrets of the universe we live in, the secrets of the government, the secrets of our neighbors or, more frighteningly, our kids—let me see that phone!

We hate having things kept from us and the more information we are entrusted with, the more valuable or important we feel.

We are a curious lot, insatiably curious; ‘Just what is on the dark side of the moon?’ ‘What is in a black hole?’ ‘What is dark matter?’ ‘Is there life out there?’ ‘What’s over the horizon?’ The questions are endless and our thirst for knowledge constantly leads to more and bigger questions. God created us with a capacity to dream up, explore and comprehend incredible mysteries.

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We are never satisfied; Just what is hiding in Area 51? Did Lee Harvey Oswald really act alone? Where in the world is Jimmy Hoffa’s body? What happened to Hillary’s Emails? Did Noah really forget to load up the unicorns? If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

We may never know.

I mean, how can we? Just how many peppers make up a peck and just where do pickled peppers grow anyway? I do know this— two pecks make a kenning and four pecks make a bushel—and if you give me two bits I’ll stop…

Peter Piper—Now there’s a useless parable. I’m glad Jesus wasn’t just into telling nursery rhymes, tongue twisters and conspiracy theories.

Parables and mysteries

His Parables answered questions, revealed mysteries, that had been kept a secret from the very foundation of the world.

Here’s a head scratcher—If there is no one to ponder a mystery, is it a mystery? If there is no one to desire to know something that is being kept secret, if there is no one to keep a secret from, then are there really any secrets?

So, by that logic, there were no secrets to reveal about any mystery until there was a sentient being with enough self-awareness to ask the question, to seek an answer. And the greatest mystery of all, the most ancient secret, the first heart cry question— “Who!?” And it came from mankind. Who am I, why am I, who put me here and where is he?” It’s the question that reverberates in the heart of every man and woman who has drawn breath ever since.

And then, eons later, comes the answer, the answer with the answers. He is the embodiment of the answer to who we are, why we are and who put us here—Here I am—even before Abraham was, I Am. And he is also the one who illustrates the answers, reveals the mysteries of the Kingdom he brought, with his stories and with his life.

We are beings created by and in the image of God. We are created for good works, to love and be loved by God, and he is now here among us by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit. And we are now citizens of the Kingdom of our God, the King of heaven.

 

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Jesus is the answer to the most important questions ever asked, the eternal questions, and he reveals to us that He is the answer, in part through his parables. Descriptions of the kingdom within and the kingdom to come.

The Kingdom of heaven is like. . .

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Matthew 13

We get to know the secrets that people have longed to look upon since the fall of mankind back in the garden. When the Kingdom was lost to us and the restoration promised. That was a very long time to wait, but now we know the secret things of God.

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I Am

We now have the answers to all the mysterious promises made by God down through the ages. And they are even greater than Moses, who wrote these mysterious words from Deuteronomy could ever have dreamed. Because his I Am that I Am burning bush, rumbling mountain, all powerful and awesomely frightening God is now our personal Lord and Savior. The great I Am became a Son of Man and now we can say I am—His.

 

 

How Can This Be?

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“For with God nothing will be impossible.” Luke 1:37

I don’t know about you but for me this has been quite a year. A year full of challenges, victories and heartaches, blessings and losses. It’s been a year full of promises, but at the same time a year that has challenged my faith and made me ask at times; ‘Did I really hear the Lord?’ And if I did; can I keep believing for the promises.

When everything and everyone says things are one way, and God says ‘No, this is the way it’s going to be’, can I find a joy in the as of yet unseen?

Honestly, I think I have reached a new level of faith in recent months, I had to, because to not would have meant my end. I am not strong enough to live by sightbecause what I see only discourages me often times—I have to live by faith. That is a lesson we all must keep learning and it is what those who took part in the events leading up to the birth of Christ had to learn. We indeed serve a God who specializes in doing the impossible—if we just let him, if we’ll just say yes.

Many years ago  two women, from different generations and towns, but who shared an uncommon faith believed, said yes, and the world was forever changed;

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Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”

38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1

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A wooden manger and three wooden crosses

The Bible is full of amazing stories, stories of the impossible happening—miracles. Often the people in the stories have a hard time believing what they hear from the Lord. But not these two women—Mary believed, I want to be like Mary. (This is Mary, Mary believes, be like Mary.) Elizabeth believed as well. Two common women who didn’t care what people said or did, they knew their God had spoken and they rejoiced in the hope they had.

Twins

I decided that since this might be the last Christmas our boys, Rowdy and Randy, are around, I am going to share the classic story that many who have known me for a while have no doubt heard; but a great story that bears repeating nonetheless.

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The boys, as we call them, are our twin geldings. We had all girls in our home as we raised our three daughters so there was the girls and there was the boys, and we all knew who we were referring to, and still do. Rowdy and Randy are 24 years old now, old for horses but not extremely, but considering they are twins that should not have even survived the womb, yes, that is very old.

They are having some health issues in their later years that may force us to put them down as their lameness causes them more pain then is fair to put them through. But then, we thought this day would come several years ago, and the experts thought it would come even long before that, so who knows?

The boys aren’t the only twins in our family anymore, we now have twin grandchildren, now three years old. So, apparently twins run in our family. Something that makes our other daughters real nervous, or maybe it’s just because I like to remind them of that.

Actually, twins amongst us humans isn’t that rare, not like it is in horses. In fact, most vets, and other horse experts, would tell you that it’s nearly impossible. Just like the birth of our boys should have been. I am certainly no horse expert, and 24 years ago I was much less of a horse expert; ‘Yeah, our mare had twins, great, two for the price of one, what’s the big deal?’ I had no idea at the time that it would be so hard for horse people to believe.

So, join me as we take a trip down memory lane to the Heyu-cow Ranch, Montana.

 Rowdy and Randy

One fine April day while I was out and about in the barnyard and I noticed that our Quarter horse mare, Babe, was acting peculiar.  She was nervously going in and out of the barn and neighing softly as if looking for something.  I wasn’t too familiar with foaling horses but I had been around enough cows at calving time to recognize that Babe, who was great with foal, was thinking of having that foal real soon. I put Babe up in a stall in the barn and kept an eye on her.  At bedtime she still had not foaled so I went to bed. We knew that Babe had thrown a few foals before we got her so we weren’t too worried about her.

At 2 am I dragged myself out of bed and went to the barn to check on her.  The first thing I saw as I peered into the stall was a bright eyed little foal lying in the straw and looking around at his brand new world. I then poked my head in to see the other end of the large stall and there stood Babe.  It was then that I noticed something very peculiar; Babe had eight legs!  I stepped into the stall to get a better look and there on the other side of Babe was another foal going after mother’s milk; Babe had twins!

After getting over my astonishment, and comprehending the situation as much as my 2 am, half asleep brain could, I made sure everyone was okay.  Both the foals had already been cleaned up by Babe, I watched them both suck before I left them alone and headed back for my bed.

As I crawled back into bed satisfied that all was well and thinking that nothing too extraordinary had happened, Donna woke up. “What’s happening” she asked.  I told her that Babe had two new baby boys. “Ha, ha, very funny” she said, “what really happened?”  I replied, “She had twins, you know, Pete and Repeat, Thing one and Thing two.”  She exclaimed, “That’s impossible!”

Knowing more about horses than I did, she knew that for a horse to have twins, especially healthy ones, was virtually unheard of. I finally convinced her that I was serious by telling her that I could not possibly be that clever in the wee hours of the morning and that everything really was all right.

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Donna woke the girls up early in the morning to tell them the good news,   Cally, who was four, was only concerned with what color they were, she was hoping for a paint.  Jessie, who was two, was just excited to get to go see the baby horsies.  Shortly after sunrise we all went to the barn to see the new family.  They were beautiful; sorrel brown with a white blaze down the front of their faces just like their momma.  As is typical of new foals, they were all legs, necks and fuzz.

We promptly named them Rowdy and Randy, telling them apart by the white “sock” above Randy’s left rear hoof and the opposite white “sock” above Rowdy’s right rear hoof.  We then called our veterinarian to share the good news and he all but panicked saying, “Twins, what? They’re all right? They can’t possibly be alright, at least one of them has to be a runt!” We couldn’t convince him that he didn’t have to rush the 30 miles, all the way from  Shepherd to Blue Creek, but he insisted on coming out.

After looking them over carefully he finally conceded that they seemed to be alright and gave them each a shot of anti-biotic just to be safe, (or maybe so he could charge us for something to pay for his gas) all the while telling us how unusual and rare this was– “one in ten thousand” and that the chances of foals born as twins both surviving their first year was “one in fifty thousand.” He left us with some horse milk replacer telling us that we would have to help feed the babies because there was no way the mare would be able to feed both these colts.

Neither Rowdy nor Randy wanted anything to do with this phony milk from a bottle.  Apparently Babe hadn’t been listening when the vet said she wouldn’t be able to feed them both because they were both getting plenty, often feeding together, one on each side of Babe.

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When they were about a week old we let them out of the barn for the first time.  They cautiously ventured out the door and then took off running, both in different directions. Babe was beside herself, not knowing which one to chase after first. She eventually managed to get them both rounded up and herded them back into the barn where they would stay out of trouble.

Around this time ol’ Bud, the owner of the Morgan Stud who sired the boys, came out to see them. As he stood admiring them in the corral he was as proud as a grandpa over these boys his beloved Morgan- Parade– had sired.  He told us his father and his grandfather had raised Morgans and these three generations of horse breeders had never seen a set of twins.

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Rowdy and Randy grew up the best of friends, always looking out for one another. They are both retired now, but in their day Randy loved to work cows. And Rowdy, who would rather just stay away from the cows, just loved to be ridden, especially by the girls— The boys, twins that “couldn’t be” yet still are.

  Thots

When Rowdy and Randy were born the experienced horse people were truly perplexed at such a thing as a healthy set of twin foals born unassisted in a cow barn to an old mare, crossbred to an even older stud; “That’s not possible”.

This was the same sentiment that was expressed over and over again by the religious “experts” so long ago when they were told that the Messiah had been born in a stable to an unmarried girl from Nazareth.  Yet the lowly shepherds, living in the fields with their flocks the first to hear the news, had no trouble believing. They believed that that the Lord himself had come to earth as a baby boy, and they hastened to worship this heaven sent Savior.

Later it was the common working men and women and even some Roman soldiers, “tax collectors and sinners” as the experts called them, who embraced this carpenter from Nazareth as the Son of God he claimed to be.  The experts in the Law, who should have been the first to recognize and rejoice in the coming of the long awaited Messiah, instead had him crucified and then gloated over their success in stopping this threat to their precious religious traditions.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Another Mary, a woman who had formerly been possessed by demons, Mary  Magdalene, was the first to see this impossible Savior after his resurrection from the dead and quickly shared this information with the commercial fisherman who had devoted their lives to following him.  These hardened fishermen became the first to share the news with the world that this simple man born in a stable and crucified on a Roman cross was indeed the risen Savior.

Jesus laid down his glory, and then his life, so that all men might see and believe that God does indeed love every one of us; don’t let what is “not possible” get in the way! To many people who think they know so much end up missing out on the truth because they simply cannot accept the impossible.

“Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”.

Lord, I believe, help me to live I the joy of my hope, and help me to hear your voice in the year ahead, and give me the courage to say yes.

Nothin yet

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Important?

Christmas can be a huge bundle of dysfunction and mind games —refuse to play.

mind games meme

We all know, at least I hope you do, that Christmas isn’t about gifts, it’s not lights and trees, though those things certainly add to the magic that brings a sense of delight to our hearts and reminds us that we are to live in joy because our King has come. Christmas isn’t about programs and parties, though those can be good excuses to get together with friends and family—which to me is what it’s all about—making it a priority to be with those we care about.

I love Christmas because it cause us to do just that; to take a look around us and say ‘Hey, I want to be with you as we celebrate this season of remembering the event that changed the world. I want to forget that we were having issues a bit ago, that we are too busy for one another otherwise.

Christmas reminds us to take a look at what and who is important to us, causes us to stop and think, to reflect and ponder; ‘Do I want to go to such and such house, if so and so is there? Do I want to spend my time working instead of taking my kids to get trees? Do I want to spend this holiday alone, or drinking with my good time friends while my family wonders where I am?’

‘Do I want to spend it reflecting on lost ones from the past and refuse to find any joy today? Do I want to refuse to invite certain persons to my home because I don’t agree with choices they are making? Do I want to blow off certain of those who really ache to be included?’

Dysfunction Junction

Christmas can be a huge bundle of dysfunction, a one way ticket from Dysfunction Junction to Bitterville. Dysfunction Junction is the place we stand as we decide which track to take, the one that makes us feel vindicated but hurts others, or the one where we just do what is required of us by a loving God without getting caught up in the mind games of others.

I for one refuse to play those games. Not just at Christmas but anytime of the year. As I stated in my book, Hope For Families, it only takes one dysfunctional family member, someone who refuses to act in the role they have been given in the family, or refuses to interact with love and respect with the other members of the family, to create a dysfunctional family.

It only takes one, unless the others refuse to play along. Allowing a dysfunctional person to affect how you interact with others in the family, to go along with their anger, their boycotts, compensations, excuses, whatever, only makes you codependent and stressed.

I played too many of those games for too many years and I just don’t anymore. All are welcome in my church, in my home, in my heart, at any time you want or need to be there. And if someone else has an issue with the company I keep then that is their issue—not mine. I am not going to lose a minute of sleep over it.

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And I am in good company, Jesus loved people into wholeness, he never shunned anyone or cared about the feelings of those who thought he should— “Lord, this woman was caught in adultery, she ought to be stoned. This man is a tax collector and a sinner, we can’t eat at his house. Why are you talking to a Samaritan woman, she’s nobody. This man is a Roman Centurion, are you sure you want to heal his daughter?”

“Get these children out of here, the Lord is busy. Tell these people be quiet, it’s unbecoming to be making this ruckus in the temple courts. Lord, by now there is a smell, are you sure you want to go in there? If you knew what kind of woman this is, you would not let her touch you!”

11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Mat 9:11—12

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I could go on but you get the point. All these people telling Jesus the kind of people he should avoid, how he should relate to others. But Jesus didn’t play their games. Jesus loved the people who were hardest to love, and he loved them completely—and you know what? Every one of them became witnesses to who he was, while the perfect and righteous fretted about appearances sake and what was fair or not fair. Jesus ruined their mind games by blowing their minds, he could do this because he knew their minds and he didn’t waste a minute trying to appease those who had no desire to look past their own upturned noses.

Choose wisely

So, Christmas causes us to look at these things in our lives and decide what’s important. We have to choose wisely because we can only travel so many trails before this holiday, before this life, is over.

So how do we know what’s important, on what do we base those decisions, who to interact with and how. What path do we set our feet on and what direction do we set our faces? As believers we should be wanting to make those choices in a way that pleases the Lord and preferably is even guided by him.

So we seek his favor, we try to be worthy, to do the right things, to say the right things, to play by the rules and at least look good. “Lord I want to be blessed, I want to please you, to serve you—How do I do that?”

It a matter of remembering that it’s not about us, it’s about how we treat others—that’s what’s important to the Lord and that is what should be important to us. And that’s not just a New Testament Jesus thing, God has been telling us that from the beginning.

God asked Israel though the last Old Testament prophet Micah;

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
Ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:7—8

What God wants from us, what he deems important for our lives?—is not what our hands are doing but more where our hearts are. That we behave justly, love mercy and walk humbly; three attributes that can affect how we live our lives in virtually every circumstance. Attributes that affect how we treat others, to do justly simply means to act impartially, honorably and to deal fairly with everyone. Mercy is kindness and forgiveness, and to walk humbly is to be lacking  in selfish pride.

If our priorities are colored by those three things we might have a very different set of priorities from most people around us—and that’s okay, because the world for the most part is anything but fair, merciful or humble.

Life is short, pick a trail and stick to it until you get where you are going. But choose wisely because, like I said, there is only time for so many and make sure others are blessed in the process.

How do we do that?

number our days meme

Choose love. We all have many choices to make every day, big decisions and little decisions, this trail, that trail, no trail. Who wants to go with me, who will I allow to go with me?

I have come to a place in my life and in my walk with the Lord that I realize that I am not smart enough, discerning enough or strong enough to judge others as to their worthiness to garner my love or acceptance.

I have discovered that life is a lot less stressful if I don’t have to hold the doors shut to certain people, to deny them grace, mercy or justice. Only the Holy Spirit can and should convict others of sin, I have too many logs in my own eye to do so.

So when I have to decide how to respond to those whom the Lord puts in my path, My heart chooses love. And that’s what pleases the Lord.

Barbarians in the Kingdom

BAR COVER

Joy in His Presence

“I remember a pastor rebuking me one time—’You jump around like a rock star when you play.’”

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Check out this awesome video from the boys of For King and Country –Little Drummer Boy. 

I love the energy of these guys- the sheer joy and passion with which they perform The Little Drummer Boy is a delight to watch. It makes me kind of jealous though— I want to be able to move like that again. When I see something like that it makes me look forward to the resurrection when I’ll have a new body, regenerated without all the aches and pains of decades of hard work and play hindering me anymore. I want to dance with joy for my king.

Back when I was a little younger (and still had all my fingers) I used to lead worship quite often and I always loved it, playing my guitar and singing for the Lord. And I always had a blast doing it, especially if I got to play with other talented musicians and when the people I was leading were into it—I always made sure they were. The energy of a room really feeds the soul of a musician—and vice versa.

I remember a pastor rebuking me one time—“You jump around like a rock star when you play.” He thought it was unbecoming a worship leader—that it was prideful on my part. I was like, ‘If you can stand still and play with all your heart for Jesus then your heart is not really playing for Jesus.’ My Jesus brings joy to my heart and when I am giving him the gift of worship, using my gifts and talents for him, that is pure joy. That is a direct gift to him.

I didn’t say that to that pastor, I was busy trying to be submissive. I considered and prayed about what he said, and decided not to change a thing. I was playing for Jesus, not a pastor. I just didn’t play at that church anymore.

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I learned how to lead worship by teaching kids how to worship and if you can engage kids in real worship, then you are a worship leader. And if you bore a child during worship, they are not going to even start to pretend that they care about anything you are doing. Adults will pretend, they will at least stand up and move their lips, kids will poke their neighbor and create their own noise that has nothing to do with what stoic song you may be banging out.

In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11

Worship is about coming into the presence of the Lord, a privilege given us by Jesus and one we should not take for granted nor dread. People who dread or fear coming into his presence or who do not believe they are worthy are not going to know how to worship, nor find any joy in it—‘There will be no dancing, no jumping, no drums, no joy. Just play the organ and pass the plate, let’s get this over with, I’ve got football to watch.’

Well Mr. Holierthanthou Worship is not for us, it’s for Jesus, it’s a gift for him. Yet in it, we are always blessed. How can we not be blessed by coming into the presence of the Lord? Which is what we are talking about today; approaching the throne of grace.

Gifts for Jesus

Giving the Lord the gift of our presence, of our time and talents, doing our best for him. I guess that’s why I’ve always loved the Christmas classic The Little Drummer Boy. I always enjoyed teaching it to kids in my children’s ministry years and included it in several kids Christmas programs.  I loved leading the kids in the little drummer boy because it’s a fun song to play on the guitar and I love the message. It just speaks of the approachability of our God. That even this little child with nothing to offer a King—a Son of God, God in the flesh—can come before him and offer what he has and be accepted and welcome.

Now, yes, I know there was no little drummer boy visit recorded in the gospels. But, everything we know about Jesus Christ and his coming tells us that we do indeed have a Lord who is approachable and that all of us, no matter our station in life, can come to our Lord and be welcomed. All were welcomed at the manger and we are all still welcome into his presence today, as long as we are coming with a humble heart and open hands, to give and receive truth.

Hands meme

At Christmas we celebrate an event that changed everything. It changed the way we approach God and if that isn’t life changing, world changing, then nothing is. If people only spent as much time pondering that as they do worrying about climate change, the world would be a very different place. And, frankly, there is a lot more evidence for the former then the latter.

Warming

Jesus coming allowed us to warm up to God the Father in a way people only dreamed of before and we are the continuing evidence of that. Sinners one and all, living in the grace and love of our Savior.

Jesus’ coming as a man, initially as an infant the very same way we all come into this world, made God approachable. Of course we all might have different circumstances surrounding our births, we might be born in a hospital room, at home, or like my youngest granddaughter, Raelyn, in a car doing 90 down the interstate in the middle of the night on their way to the hospital; certainly not the way they had planned it.

Yet, Jesus, the Son of the most high God, who surely could have planned and ensured his birth in any way he deemed fit, chose to be born in the humblest of circumstances. Certainly a big departure from the grandeur of the temple where people had been going to be near their God. He was now coming to be near his children as a child born to those who were little more then children themselves; Mary and Joseph.

That big scary God that we meet in the old Testament that seemed always having to be straightening people out, whom people feared coming anywhere near—let alone see him—lest they die, was born a tiny helpless baby to a teenage mother in a stable with only lowly shepherds as witnesses.

Think about that- if you were God and were coming to earth in the flesh so that you could make yourself known, would you make such a low profile entrance?  Probably not, but our God was not coming to impress, scare or smite the slacker, quite the contrary- he had come to be with those who thought themselves unworthy. He became one of us so that he could die as one of us, for each of us, so that we would never again fear to come into his presence.

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Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb 4:16