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.

How Are You Doing?

Grace under pressureMany in this season of uncertainty and change are feeling the pressure of stress and disappointment. The stress of the unknown and uncertainty and the disappointment of ruined plans and dashed hopes. You may even think God’s plans for you have been stymied, and that is hugely disappointing. I know, I have been there, more times than I care to admit.

But God is not so easily thwarted and he only sees opportunity where we see dead ends—we need to learn to do the same.

If God has called you, gifted and equipped you for a specific mission, ministry, career or given you a passion to affect change somewhere, to make a difference in the world, in people’s lives—whatever it is that you feel God was leading you into to be a light and an instrument of change—that has not changed!

Sovereign

God is still sovereign.

Do you really think a Governor or a county health director can stop God’s plans? Do you really think God is not bigger than a virus that only picks on the old and compromised?

Do you really believe that God is sent into a panic and mere survival mode by a hyperventilating news media or confused by ‘he said, she said, it’s your fault, nuh-ah it’s your fault’ bickering and power hungry politicians?

Do you think God is stopped short of finishing what he has started by a lack of funds because of lost jobs and the fact that his offering plates aren’t getting passed because the big houses of worship are closed? —NO!

He is in fact seeing what we are all made of in all of this and using this time to refine his church. We are all in the pressure cooker right now and our preparedness for his service is being expedited like has not happened in a long time.

crown of life

Those who persevere will be rewarded, they will receive all that God had and has planned for them.

Those who were only in it for what they could get will be cast aside like yesterday’s chicken bones.

The Call

God is not done with you, God is not discouraged, and God cannot be stopped.

gifts from above

That calling, that equipping, those talents and experiences and the wisdom to know how to use those all together, or at least were beginning to have an inkling of, as the Lord was leading you step by step—those things were from God. That was, and is, the Holy Spirit leading you, encouraging you, giving you a vision.

“Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of heavenly lights.” You didn’t conjure up and develop those gifts on your own or for no good reason.

You did not acquire that “fire in your heart and shut up in your bones” (Jer 20:9) just to have your plan and purpose stymied by  a sickness induced political and social shift.

Schools may be shut down, travel made nearly impossible and social interactions limited, but God is not.

Businesses may shut down and many most likely for good as they fail after months of no revenue meaning lost jobs and opportunities, but God is not worried.

Weddings and funerals, birthday parties and graduations cancelled, funerals banned and still, the uncertainty of whether or not we are even safe yet from this virus as many of the so called experts and those in power are all screaming we’re all going to die if we dare get on with life! while others are calling it all one big conspiracy designed to strip us of our freedom and our identity— hangs over all of our heads, but God is not worried.

We don’t know what all the agendas are behind all the hype and seemingly over the top power grabs and irrational controls, and what is truly necessary and what is just human foolishness swayed by demonic deceptions and intrigue, but God is not worried.

We don’t know a lot of things in this season as a nation and as citizens of a world that has gotten very small in our lifetimes.

What we do know— is that our choices are severely limited right now as are our options and opportunities. This is truly causing a deep societal anxiety that has us all under a great amount of pressure, that cannot be overstated or ignored, it’s very real.

It seems that all our hopes and dreams, our plans and schemes are all in jeopardy of crashing down, as are the plans that God had for us.

But are they? Are God’s plans for you thwarted? Is your life and purpose forfeited because God was caught off guard by this upheaval? Are your opportunities to serve, follow, growto fulfill the dreams and chase the plan he has for you wherever it may lead— are they all gone?

No, they most certainly are not. The one who gave you those gifts to use, develop and to make a difference, to advance the Kingdom of Heaven and to storm the gates of hell, setting the captives free and bringing sight to the blind and healing to the broken hearted, He does not change like shifting shadows.

And  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth,” God’s word does not change, it does not perish, it is never wrong and it is what he used to place that fire in you, to cast the vision in your heart, and it will not return back to him empty and unfulfilled.

And the pressure you are feeling and experiencing today may very well what God is using as the catalyst for your tomorrow, to perfect you and move you into your destiny.Jeremiah 20.9How are you doing?

Not Created for Nothing

We have Jesus, the light of the world, the one who commands the darkness to flee. He is with us and in us. We are totally immersed in his light. We just need to keep our eyes and our hearts open to it, to walk in it.

light of the world

Jesus is the light of God come to deliver us from darkness.

Darkness is merely the absence of light. Even in the natural world, darkness cannot dispel light, the light has to be removed. But light can dispel darkness. You can’t walk into the light and turn on darkness, but you can walk into the dark and turn on the light.

Light is something, darkness is nothing. Interesting—by that token the prince of darkness is the prince of nothing.

In fact, if you do a quick word search of the New Testament for the word darkness and transpose all the references to it with the word nothingness it actually means virtually the same thing and communicates the futility and emptiness of shunning the light.

Just a few examples:

dark nothingness

So, darkness is nothing, and nothingness is a state we surely do not want to be in. We were not created for nothing.

Illuminating

So, what is light? Light, or visible light is defined as “electromagnetic radiation within the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that can be perceived by the human eye.” Wikipedia 

 Clears it right up huh? Without turning this into a physics class, light is a thing we really cannot see. . ., or can we? Do we actually see light or do we just see the result of its presence as it is reflected off other objects or is contrasted to darkness? Do we see a light beam or we just see the dust or whatever other particles may be present as light passes through?

Honestly, I don’t know the answers to that question and I never thought about it before, light is just light, unless you’re an Albert Einstein type and it’s all relative somehow to how time is measured and perceived. I’m not even going to go there here. They say mathematics is the language of the universe. If that’s the case then the universe has nothing to say to me because I speak fluent gibberish by contrast.

I am a conceptual and philosophical kind of thinker and what I understand about light is that without it you cannot see anything, no forms, no colors, no textures—nothing. All you can see then, when the lights go out, is what is in your imagination, in your mind’s eye. Even then, you are likely picturing things that you originally had revealed to your eyeballs by light.

What if you had never seen anything; say you were born totally blind, or in utter darkness, would you even have pictures in your mind? What would your dreams be like? It’s a scary thought. Figure that one out with math you junior Einsteins.

Thank you Lord for creating light. Light is illumination, without which it’s a much different world, a much altered existence inside and out, an empty world of nothingness.

So, if God is light, if Jesus is the light, then he is illuminating, allowing us to see, altering our existence both inside and out, if we allow him—and even if we don’t. Because the alternative is darkness and without the light we would not know that darkness even existed and that is certainly an altered, and unnatural, existence. You cannot perceive the lack of something if you never knew it existed in the first place.

You would never know what evil was if you never experienced good. You would never know sadness was bad if you didn’t know that there was such a thing as joy. We would not be appalled by hatred and violence if we had never experienced or witnessed love and mercy.

fellowship with light

  I think maybe light, at least as it’s referred to here,  is God’s love radiating through the space between us and him in a way that we can see.  We are drawn to light, we crave light, we need light. Unless you want to hide or have something to hide, but that is a miserable state to be in and one that never ends well.

Darkness is nothing, but it can be almost feel like a physical thing. If you have ever been any place else where you are not just in total darkness, but far removed from any light source, the darkness can almost be felt. I remember going to Lewis and Clark Caverns, near Three Forks, Montana where of course they did the turn out the lights thing, and I was glad it was short lived. When they do it you are afraid to move because you become disoriented to the point where you feel like you are losing your equilibrium.

Lost

The tour guide told us a story that stuck with me. Apparently way back in the 19th century when they were first exploring the caverns and they were little known, a camp cook for a nearby cattle ranch decided to go exploring on his own one day. Somehow or other as he was wandering around in there his lantern went out leaving him in total darkness and disoriented.

Luckily for him there were people who went looking for him in the caverns and they found him. Apparently he was so disoriented after a few days in total darkness that when they came across him he was laying down, but he thought he was standing, and was surprised to learn that he wasn’t. Can you imagine darkness so intense that you can’t even tell up from down any more?

If only there was a verse like that. . .?

Darkness felt Egypt

A darkness that can be “felt”, an oppressiveness that can make one loath to even get up and move around. ‘I think I’ll just sit here and wait for the lights to come back on—wait, am I sitting!’

But that’s not where we are. We are not those who have to dwell in nor hide in the dark. We are not subject to, nor victims of the dark nor do we fear the dark. In fact, as I have told you before, the dark fears us, because we have the light living within us and He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4.4)

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I do not fear the darkness, the darkness fears me!

The world and the one who thinks he rules this world would have us living in fear, thinking the darkness can overcome our hearts and leave us defenseless. Remember what darkness is—it is the absence of light—it is nothing.

Why would we fear nothing? Not when we have everything.

I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. John 12:6

God is Light woman walking

Jesus came to restore that which was lost, the light of God’s love on this earth. Jesus came to illuminate the truth, to illuminate God’s word, so that we could see the truth of who God really is. And to show us the way.

We were not created for nothing, we created to walk in the light, to enjoy and bask in the light. Pray for the light to fill your heart today. Jesus is that light.

Disappointed?

prayer

I heard a story years ago about a man who lost his job and was ashamed to tell his wife. So instead, every day he would get up, his wife would fix him breakfast, he would put on his suit and tie, kiss her goodbye and go to the park and feed the pigeons until 5:00, then head home and have dinner with his wife. He did this for a few months until his savings were all used up and he finally had to admit that he had lost his job and didn’t know what to do.

Flabbergasted that he had not shared his pain and struggles with her earlier she asked? Why didn’t you tell me sooner? He replied; “I was afraid that you would be disappointed in me.”

I have heard these words several times in the last couple of years from people I love. People who have been going through hell but were afraid to tell me because they thought I would stop loving them. The pain that caused me, that somehow my love could be perceived as conditional, is far more grievous than any fleeting disappointment I might have felt and that hesitation to be honest prevented me from being able to help in any way with the pain and grief that was being inflicted and experienced in the loneliness of a heart that is afraid to be forthright.

In each of those cases I said the same thing: Nothing you can do will make me stop loving you. I want to sit on the park bench with you and figure out together how we can move forward and away from the pain.

That’s all our God is asking of us, that we trust his love for us enough to come to him no matter how much of a failure we feel.

So how do we come see the Lord? How do we approach him? Quiet your heart, focus and listen—he’s waiting for you.

For thus says the high and lofty one
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the humble,
and to revive the heart of the contrite. Is 57:15

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Stand Firm

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Whether you sit in a pew or read my heart on line, I love you all. . .

 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. 21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. Rev 3:20—21

I’ve gotta be honest with you, it’s been really tough to focus on writing sermons and blogs lately. There have been so many family and ministry bombshell crisis all around me lately and pressures at work aside from my ministry that it’s been hard to not just despair and try to drag everyone into the pit of gloom that threatens me. But for the grace of God and the call and anointing I have to preach the good news to the people Jesus entrusts me to instruct, I know I would be somewhat useless.

So many people I love going through such challenges as it seems the enemy is coming at us from so many directions while at the same time great victories are being won for the kingdom of God. And that is in part what keeps me showing going, the strong need strengthened— a place to be fed and encouraged—and the weary need rest, a safe place to rediscover the power of grace. And, God’s greatest victory’s often come in the challenges we face. When Jesus shows up in the midst of the storm is when he is most evident and when we truly listen.

And I need to remember that it is not about me, it is about the children of God, those he died for, and he has entrusted me— he has entrusted all of us—with a message of hope, hope in a God who can do and change anything no matter how badly we mess it up—and yes, it is indeed we who mess it up. We can blame the enemy, we can blame God, but there is always a choice freely made somewhere by us, or those we love, who tipped the first domino to our disaster. We choose which voice to listen to, the voice that leads to destruction, or the voice that leads to life.

I choose to keep listening to the voice that beckons, “Open the door, I will come in and eat with you, and you with me.” In the vernacular of Jesus day that was an invitation to an intimate heart to heart conversation. Just the two of us. Accepting that invitation is the primary thing that keeps me going, that keeps the enemy from stealing my joy, my purpose, my very sanity.

I don’t need much to push me over the edge if I am operating in my own strength, doing what I want and taking the credit for whatever I accomplish while wearing the twisted crown that I keep wrestling away from the Lord.

But, if I am leaning on him, constantly depending on him, just looking to him, he is there and he is my rock. I will stand, I will keep preaching the good news and I will always be there, crying with those who hurt, rejoicing with those who rejoice, rowing when others can’t and sharing a meal belowdecks with Jesus when I’m too tired to row. I am going to that dinner party and I am taking you all with me.

Called

But you know, that’s what a pastor does, and this is nothing new. There have always been challenges and there always will be, until the day the Lord returns.

Because I love you, all of you, whenever any of you hurt, I hurt. But as one who is anointed and called to love and shepherd a flock for Jesus, he is my rock and I will not, we will not, be moved.

The Lord is doing a good work, whether in our Red Lodge, or extended via the internet, church family, he has been and he will continue to. Whether you sit in a pew or read my heart on line, I love you all. With the struggles there are many victories to celebrate as well and I get also to rejoice with you in those. We cannot be distracted and we must not fail to keep looking to the Lord for our joy and our strength, to accept the invitation to keep following him into the tomorrow he has planned for each and every one of us and for this body of believers as we continue to storm the gates of hell and add to the family till we have to knock out the walls to make room for those who accept the invitation to share in the feast of grace we get to so freely eat of.

Making sure we are accepting that invitation to spend time with Jesus that so often seems unimportant, insignificant, or something for another day.

Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Rev 2:10

It sounds like the most ridiculous and least productive thing to do in our struggles, to stop, listen for the still small voice inviting us to stop and share a meal, but it is the only thing that will get us through, and it is all the Lord asks of us; that we accept his offer of peace.

The alternative is chaos, in us and around us.

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But if I keep my heart full, and keep accepting, looking forward to and heeding the Lord’s invitation to keep following him, to sit and eat with him on occasion, the joy in the journey makes the fleeting and frustratingly hollow pleasures of the flesh less appealing and renders the attacks that threaten destruction powerless and moot.

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Worthless

The mind is often our worst enemy

-It’s about midnigDepressionht on a Saturday and I am sitting in the living room of our duplex in Billings MT. My stepfather—a 6’8” truck driver, former bull rider and cowboy—comes home drunk, nothing unusual there. For some reason my mother is not there, I think she was out looking for him— again. He walks in and stops at my chair, towering over me he commences to berate me; “Look at you, just sitting there watching TV, you’re worthless and lazy, you have always been worthless and lazy and you’ll never amount to anything.”

I was barely 16, going to school, working part time cleaning a clothing store in the evenings and often working on a ranch during the weekends but that didn’t matter— I was worthless and lazy—and for some reason, in my heart I believed it. Perhaps because I had heard exactly the same thing for five years from my former stepfather.

A couple of years later after leaving home and school to go into Job Corps where I would learn the construction trades I would get a visit from another Father. Around midnight as I was lying in bed on a Saturday night in a dorm room surrounded by other snoring guys about my age, far from home and family —I was having a melt-down. I don’t even know why, extreme cabin feve
r in the midst of one of the worst winters on record, fear of the future and my own ability to face it? Looking back with a little more understanding and wisdom I know now that I was most likely in the grips of depression, an ailment that runs strong in my family.

But this time the Father who showed up had a different tone. I couldn’t see him, he wasn’t towering over me with whiskey on his breath, he was just a presence of love and peace so strong that I could feel it. I was having a close encounter with the Lord himself who revealed to me in the anxiousness of a dark winter night in the mountains outside of Anaconda—his love for me. Suddenly my childhood long, unending longing for a loving fulltime father, to be a real part of my life was gone, and I realized that I did have a Father who loved me and was proud of me.

It finally started to sink in that what my real Dad and my mother had been telling me was true, that I was a good person, and though it would take many more years for that to really sink in and bring me to a place of real healing— on this night in Anaconda, far from all of my family, the anxiousness that was consuming me as I was sinking into the death grip of depression and codependency was gone as my heavenly Father whispered to my heart that he was there for me, and would always be.

I heard him because I had cried out in desperation and opened my heart to hear. I had received Jesus years earlier but now I had accepted my adoption into the family of God, and though it would be a few years before I started hanging around with the Lord’s family in a church, at least now I knew who my true father was and that he loved me and was there for me in my darkest hours, not to berate me but to comfort me, to let me know that I was someone worth loving.

This realization is peace—this is happiness.

16Who will rise up for me against the wicked?
Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?

17 Unless the Lord had given me help,
I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.
18 When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
19 When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought me joy. Ps 94

Though this psalm starts with a need for deliverance from enemies, the focus of the psalm soon shifts to a song of thanksgiving for deliverance from inner demons so to speak. The writer (David) felt himself slipping into darkness, even the darkness of death— perhaps literally—as he feared the arrow of an enemy could find him at any moment as he was living as a refugee from the King and then as a King with many enemies who would like to see him gone— or the death like silence of a heart that has given in to total despair.

I believe David felt himself slipping into a despair from which death may even have been seen as a relief, a desperate and undesirable relief especially in light of the fact that the Hebrew notion of the grave before the doors of heaven were opened by Jesus, was a place below the earth, hades, where the dead waited for the resurrection, totally cut off from the living.

A heart that feared it was on a slippery slope of no return to the silence of death was an anxious heart indeed while at the same time an anxious heart that longed for the silence of death was a heart that was already in a kind of living death, either way, it is a bad place to be— it is a place with no love.

An anxious heart, a heart of despair, a heart that either fears or longs for death is a heart that has no love. David is plainly thanking the Lord here for delivering him from a heart issue. His heart was hurting, his heart was empty, his heart was about to give in and give up. It was perhaps a despair that was brought on by the relentless persecution of his enemies, but the real enemy soon became his own mind.

Then he receives consolation, and what is that consolation? The love of the Lord.

I believe the heart, the soul, the mind and the spirit are intricately
woven together in such complexity that only God can unravel and bring health and it is only by his word and by his Holy Spirit that we can even begin to understand it, and only through him that the damage that this fallen world and the sinfulness of the human heart has inflicted on it.

Love is the answer

We need love, we were created to be loved, and to give love. A heart that does not perceive itself as having love will not last for long, at least not in any kind of sustainable form. The ultimate deceit and victory of the enemy of our souls is convincing us that we are unloved— that we are unlovable—and that even God does not love us. He delights in isolating the human heart from any and all love but ultimately the love of God because then he has succeeded in not just destroying our lives, but also our eternal souls.

But rest assured, you Father loves you and he has a plan for you—A plan to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future. —Jeremiah 29:11

Look to him, he is waiting, he understands— he really does.