And now, here we are, on the doorstep of another year—wondering, praying and hoping that the new year is better then the old, forgetting that we can only live one day at a time anyway and that every one of those days is a gift from our creator until the day when we step into eternity, where a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day. Where we will be reunited with those who have gone before us, as has been the way of man since the beginning— pandemic or no pandemic.
So, since we insist on looking at individual years as somehowbeing a cohesive and cosmically manipulative unit—what do suppose the new one holds for us? I can just about guarantee you it will have plenty of both—mountaintops and valleys. The real question is; what are you going to do in those valleys?
We have all echoed the cry of the frightened father as he helplessly watches his son being tormented by evil—“Lord, I don’t know how you can fix this but I want to believe that you can! Have mercy!”
We all believe. But when the valleys seem darkest, it’s hard sometimes to feel like you have enough faith to get out. And that’s when we can count of the faithfulness of our God.
I have prayed that prayer many times for myself—”Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief!” and the valleys are suddenly not so dark.
But you know, there are no true valleys for those who believe because Jesus is with us no matter the elevation or the obstacles in the path. Some places are just more challenging than others. Each day is what you make it. And if you pay attention, sometimes the valleys are the places where the real learning happens, where you truly see God at work.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the valleys, the low swampy parts of the valleys it would seem, and I have to be honest—2020 was not a valley for me, compared to some. And because I spent the year or two previously, fighting my way through some pretty dark valleys, seeing the enemy wreak havoc and attack my family and my church—if you think you know me—I can guarantee you, you do not know even a half of it. 2020 was a victory dance in comparison.
But the lessons I learned and the bonds that were forged in those fires are priceless, indestructible—and eternal.
49 “For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.” Mark 9
And I am stronger and more appreciative of every day the sun rises and I am still walking with my Lord no matter what happens, because my God has proven himself faithful and present time and again. And that’s all I really need—Jesus.
Anything and everything else good in my life is just a bonus that I am immensely grateful for. Even the scars and aches are just reminders of battles I’ve survived.
“It was not long before we heard sirens coming from what seemed every direction, . . . we were now the idiots who tried to blow up Billings. “
Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? 18 Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? Mark 8
Can you imagine standing toe to toe with Jesus and having him ask you this? The indignation of this question is quite obvious in the context. So this was no rhetorical or contrived discussion question.
“Welcome to the Capernaum chapter of the Clueless Fishermen for Jesus support group. Let’s break the ice by going around the circle and explaining in two or three sentences why you are still confused about this carpenter/teacher/prophet from Nazareth.Who wants to go first?”
No, This is a question from Jesus that no doubt made his followers a little uncomfortable. It’s like—‘Do I need to call Captain Obvious to explain things to you?Can you not hear? Can you not see? Have you forgotten everything?’
Do we understand? Because it’s easy to miss the obvious truth that Jesus is the Christ and that in him we have nothing to fear and nothing to loose, if we are totally surrendered to and trusting of him.
We have to keep fanning the flames of truth and understanding to really bring the knowledge of who Christ is, and what that means for us, from the head into the heart, into our very spirits. We have to letthe Holy Spiritmove freely through us and in us and that is a huge challenge because the enemy will do everything he can to block that wind of the Spirit so that those flames will die out leaving us with nothing but head knowledge and a weakness that leaves us susceptible to the yeast of the Pharisees—a yeast of selfish ambition and religious attitudes of judgment and haughtiness.
‘Look at me. I’m somebody and you are nobody, and I am worthy of more.‘ That attitude, along with the weaknesses of the flesh that we may give in to, can block the Spirit and leave us smoldering.
Why do we not understand? Because we are not putting it all together. This is what the Lord told me, because I asked, and the Lord gives wisdom to those who ask:
“The understanding is in the heart, the wisdom is in the word, and the conjunction is in the Spirit.”
Worldly wisdom comes from the head and what we can put in it. Godly wisdom is seated in the heart, it is a wisdom that comes from God’s word and is brought to life by his Holy Spirit.
The word is the fire that is in the heart and the wind that fans the flames is the Holy Spirit fanning it all to life for wisdom, power and understanding. All of that leads to the faith we need to get us through this life with and for Jesus, blessed, fruitful and advancing the Kingdom of our God.
Back in the 80’s when I worked for an outfit that did pipeline and refinery work we got contracted to do the demolition of one of those big oil storage tanks at the Conoco refinery in Billings. The tank was located in a lot just behind the refinery actually, just off the Interstate in what they called the “tank farm.” If you are going through Billings you have surely seen those tanks right near the river just before you get to the Lockwood exit.
Our job was to go in there with cutting torches and cut this huge tank into sheets of metal small enough to fit on a flatbed truck to haul away for scrap metal.
So where do you start demoing a giant steel tank?On the roof of course. So, using a crane with a “man cage” swinging from it they hoisted me up to the top and deposited me with my cutting torch in hand. The Oxy/Acetylene bottles were still on the ground and I had many feet of hose run out to it. I started cutting away, the plan being to cut pie shaped pieces of the lid loose and let them fall down inside. That’s another story all in itself, it’s a wonder I survived my earlier construction years looking back at some of the things we used to do. But anyway, so far, so good.
Now, this tank had been sitting empty for many years and there was a large hole cut in the side big enough to drive a small skid steer through and to let things air out real well. But there was this weird thick black dry residue of something all over the floor. It looked to me like ground up tires, three inches thick or so. It was actually some kind of residue from the crude oil that had been stored in the tank at one time.
We soon discovered that it was somewhat flammable, no problem. As I was cutting on top, occasionally a small fire would flare up on the floor and someone would just go in and pat it out with a shovel.
Then the boss, the owner of the outfit, ol’ Wayne, at least he seemed old to me at the time, decided that it would be much more efficient to put the oxy/acetylene bottles up on the lid, and then we would have enough hose to get two guys cutting.
So they loaded up the bottles into the man cage and hoisted them up to the lid. Everyone’s attention was on the bottles and the people going up to the top—and no one was watching the inside of the tank where a little bit of smoldering residue had got enough wind to burst into flames.
We now had a big enough hole in the roof that the wind blowing through the opening in the side could really get to fanning the flames and soon there was quite a plume of smoke billowing out of the top. I shouted“Hey, there’s a fire down below!”
The flames were now way too big to pat out with a shovel. The boss quickly swung us and the bottles down off the top and soon everyone was running around like chickens with their heads cut off. I was standing there with Wayne waiting for him to tell me what to do and he looked at me and said; “I don’t know what to do!”
By this time there was a line of cars stopped on the highway watching this huge column of thick black smoke billowing out of the top of a tank; at the refinery!—this does not look good. We were a long ways from the nearest phone but the smoke signals we were sending up could be seen for miles. Just imagine a giant burn barrel full of tires; that’s what we had going there.
I looked at Wayne and said “We have to stop that wind from blowing in that hole in the side—it’s just fanning the flames and making it look really bad.” We grabbed a large tarp from one of our trucks and Wayne and I stood there and held it up against the hole as best we could to block the wind.
It helped but it did not stop the flames, the smoke was still horrendous. It was not long before we heard sirens coming from what seemed every direction. Soon a big yellow fire truck came rolling up and fireman all decked out in their coats and respirators came running at us shouting “What’s going on?”
We were standing the with our arms up over our heads holding the tarp against the tank, futilely trying to cut off the air, our faces black with soot—and Wayne didn’t say a word. I don’t know what he was thinking but he looked like a deer in the headlights. So I quickly explained the situation. About this time hoses were being strung out so we dropped our tarp and got out of the way as they ran headlong into the tank and started spraying foam everywhere.
Before it was over we had five different fire crews show up. The City of Billings, Lockwood, the refinery fire crews from Conoco and the nearby Exxon crew and a truck from the now defunct O’Donnell’s Fire service clear out in Shepherd.
I was just shaking my head. I kept thinking, “It’s just a little fire inside of a tank all by itself over here, it’s mostly just smoke!”But apparently everyone thought that the whole city was in danger. The fire was out long before all the trucks stopped rolling in.
Of course we made the evening news and we were now the idiots who tried to blow up Billings. But we went back to work the next day and made sure we kept someone on fire watch. Life goes on.
Do you understand?
Understanding is the small flicker of flame that starts as a little smolder in a rich and abundant bed of fuel planted in our hearts by God’s word, that has to have the wind of the Spirit to really get it roaring. The Devil will try everything he can to put out that fire. But all he has is a tarp made of lies to try and block the wind. Don’t let him do it.
To understand you have to put it all together, if you understand that Jesus is the Christ, that he is with you, that you have nothing to fear, that he can use what you have to do incredible things from a heart of compassion for people, and do not let the greed of the heart, the lies of the world and the pride that is always prodded by the enemy choke you off, then the Holy Spirit will fan the embers of faith in your heart into a roaring fire that God can use to overcome any obstacle to his purposes that he puts on your heart to achieve.
Not for greed, not for glory, not for fame or self-satisfaction, but for Jesus.
The understanding is in the heart, the wisdom is in the word, and the conjunction is in the Spirit.
13 making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” Mark 7
You ever hear something so much that you stop hearing it? Do something so many times that you forgot you just did it? Or don’t remember why you even do it that way? In the Kingdom of God that’s called empty religion. In Jesus’ dealing with the religious of his day, he called it your tradition.
That little word your being the telling and convicting word there. Not because tradition is bad, but because it had replaced, truth–even replaced God.
“Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him,Why do your disciples eat with unwashed hands? Why don’t you respect the tradition of the elders?” Mark 7:5
In Mark 7 we see Jesus getting frustrated yet again at the blindness of those who were supposed to know better; with the teachers and scholars of the day who had taken the word of God, the law and the promises, the warnings and the blessings and managed to totally remove God from them. They added to and twisted them to serve their own purposes. They made the words more important than the people they were meant to serve, and the God they were meant to point to.
The Scribes and Pharisees had turned the word of God into something to be worshipped, rather than a means through which to worship. The law was turned into something to serve rather than something serving us. It no longer pointed to a righteous and loving God, it only served, in the hands of the Pharisees and those they deceived, to subjugate and condemn people.
Jesus came saying, ‘No, the word of God sets people free and restores and rebuilds people—that was the intent and that’s why I came—to show, provide, and be the way, the truth and the life that you failed to grasp and attain through the written and spoken word.
The word is not of no effect —because I Am the Word.’
And that’s what all of this–Church, blogging, worship, living for Jesus– is about. That is why we celebrate Christmas, and every Sunday, and every other day that we draw breath, knowing that one day we will draw breath in a new heaven and a new earth from a resurrected and perfect body.
But back to Jesus and the religious know-it-alls.
The word become flesh
Jesus accused the religious scholars of making the word of God of no effect—but we know that the word of God never goes forth but that it accomplishes that for which it was spoken. It never returns void, it is never of no effect—if it is spoken in the Spirit of which it was given—Love. God is love and all he does and says is motivated and grounded in his inexpressible and unstoppable love for his children—for us.
The word of God was and is of effect, because the word is Jesus, and he is among us. He is Emmanuel.
The promise was fulfilled. The thing mankind and all of creation had waited for, groaned for, believed for. The wait was over, even if some failed to see.
Have you ever really looked forward to something? Like Christmas; the year 2020 to be over… How about the best summer vacation ever?
When I was ten years old my mom and my step dad moved us from Cloquet Minnesota to Albuquerque NM. Imagine the culture shock -unfortunatelymy dad still lived in Minnesota. But my sister and I were going to spend a month with him in the summer— a whole month!
When I first found out I was so excited to go I could hardly stand it. Not only were we going to get to see our dad, we were going to get to fly on a big Jet for the first time. He promised us all kinds of fun, camping and fishing, and the best part of all— we were actually going to take a trip to Niagara Falls! On the way there we were going to stay for a couple days in Detroit where one of my aunt and uncles lived and we would all go together from there. What an adventure. It was more than I could fathom.
As the school year ended and the time got closer and closer for us to go, I began to worry that I would mess it up, maybe get grounded for doing something stupid and not be allowed to go.
But my biggest fear was that I would die before I got to go see my Dad, or that some tragic accident or sickness would prevent us from getting to do all those amazing things together. I was living with irrational fear, but hey, I was only a kid, that’s what they do. We’re supposed to know better now—right?
Anyway, the night before we left, we had the plane tickets and we were still alive and well. I don’t think my sister and I slept a wink, we were just too anxious, it was actually going to happen! And it did. We flew to Minnesota, got airsick and lost our luggage—but hey, we had a great time anyway.
The wait was worth it.
Now, this is a small thing compared to waiting for the Savior to come. But it’s the sense of anticipation, the longing to see your father who seems so far away, the never ending night, clinging to the promise that it was indeed going to happen and fearing that somehow you were going to mess it up, even be hindered by death-—that is what the world, all the world who had put their hope in the One true God, the Father— experienced and lived with for thousands of years.
If we truly love God and believe the promises we are living for the day when we would get to go see the father. But God didn’t just send a plane ticket and wait, he actually came in the flesh so that we could see him, hear him, look into his eyes and know that we were loved. And then he laid down his life to pay for the ticket that would bring us home. The word became flesh.
Jesus didn’t need religion, and he still doesn’t. He didn’t need to perform the rituals that symbolized purity and the forgiveness of grace- he was the embodiment of purity, he wasforgiveness and grace, he was the very word of God. And in fulfillment of that word, he makes us pure and whole as well. He opened the way to the Father—making Him approachable, just like he was as that baby lying in a manger so long ago, on a night that changed everything.
That’s a promise straight from God’s word, and God always keeps his promises.
“If we expect to be overcome and subject to the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of this present age, we will, our authority will go unused, null and void, because we refuse to recognize and wield it.“
The sixth chapter of the Gospel of Mark is rich with stories about various groups of people and their reactions and expectations of Jesus. In fact, their expectations largely determine their experiences with him.
Through all of this the ones who would become known as the Apostles see, hear and even do incredible things. From being empowered to cast out demons and heal, to being used to feed over five thousand hungry people with almost nothing. In fact, it is immediately after that miraculous feeding that they go from a God experience euphoria to a woe is me I’m going to die night of terror.
Once again the twelve, as Mark likes to call them, find themselves in a boat at night, in a wind storm, rowing their butts off trying to stay perpendicular to the waves and not get driven out any farther to sea or into the unseen hazards of the shoreline, their short trip down the coast has become an all-night ordeal—what else could possibly go wrong?Oh look, a ghost walking across the water right towards us! And they are scared out of their wits.
47 Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land.48 Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. 49 And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; 50 for they all saw Him and were troubled. Mark 6
Really? You just fed thousands of people with the equivalent of a couple of happy meals. Right after you had returned from a couple weeks missions trip where you just went from town to town and personally cast demons out of people like it was just another day at the office, and now you are afraid of a ghost on the sea?
And you don’t even recognize your own Lord and realize that it could be him walking on the water—like it is the last thing you would expect? —Come’on man!
The twelve still had a lot to learn, yet Jesus would continue to invest in, and entrust them with more and more as time went on, and they would change the world–forever.
Isn’t it nice to know that you don’t have to have perfect faith to be used by the Lord to do amazing things for Jesus? It just takes a little faith in the one who has faith in us to accomplish what he sets before us to do. We need to learn to expect God to continue working in and through us. Because he is.
Conversely, if we expect to have the enemy run roughshod over us, he will.
If that really had been a ghost, a demon spirit coming for the apostles in the dark of night, as they were all trembling with fear, they might have all jumped overboard to escape him. Rather than commanding he leave, they were screaming like little girls. “ they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out”
If we expect to be overcome and subject to the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of this present age, we will, our authority will go unused, null and void, because we refuse to recognize and wield it.
But if you expect to be listened to by the powers of darkness when you speak, if you expect the Holy Spirit to have your back and give you an infallible blanket of protection as you do battle with the enemy, if you expect the authority of God to be at your disposal as you pray against sickness and oppression—it will be yours.
It is your birthright as sons and daughters of God, once robbed from us by virtue of sin and disobedience, doubt and pride, handed down by our ancestor Adam, but now restored and made available for the taking by the new Adam—Jesus Christ.
Do not wallow in defeat. Do not wallow in pity and sorrow, do not expect your lot to be defeat and misery—expect God to hear you, to accomplish his purpose for and through you. And expect the enemy to flee at the sound of your voice never even showing his face because he does fear you.
We might have been a little hard on the boys; screaming like girls and all. . .
It might be too easy for us to look back and wonder; ‘Why were the disciples afraid of the ghosts anyways? They had just cast out demons left and right, and now they are fearful of one?’
But we are all afraid of certain things or situations, aren’t we?
I think we’ve all been in that wind-blown boat in the darkest hours of the night with nothing but an oar and a prayer to hold on to.
The disciples, most of whom were seafarers as a requirement of their fishing trade, were no doubt apprised of the prevailing superstition that a seeing a water spirit in the dark of night at sea was a sure portent of imminent death.
It didn’t matter how much time you spent at sea, the thought of drowning as you descended into the black depths of the unknown was terrifying, perhaps more so to those who have had more time to ponder it as those who spend their nights fishing from wooden boats would have. And tales of terrors in the seas would be a common theme haunting seaman of all ages.
Yet, for all their terror and appearances of doom, Jesus was there for them in the end. Even if they were expecting death to come for them, at the same time their hearts were crying out for God’s mercy and help. And it came in the form of Jesus. Once Jesus became apparent, once they heard his voice. they expected things to be okay, and they were.
But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” 51 Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. 52 For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.
Their picture of Jesus, although not yet complete, was getting there. But they had to open their hearts.
We cannot let our hearts get hard. We have to understand that it is not all up to us, we are not alone, we are never alone. Jesus has got us. Believe it, expect it, know it.
He’s got you
Back when we were ranching, on the Heyu Cow Ranch, I came home from work one day to find quite a scene. Ralph, my Father in Law, Charlie, my brother in Law, and my wife, Donna were trying to herd a heifer into the barn so they could help her calve. (A Heifer is a two year old first time calver)
She, the heifer, was at the stage in calving where it was evident that she needed help, (They don’t always) the calve would have to be pulled. The water had broken and the little front hooves were playing peek a boo. The three trying to help were certainly capable and qualified to do so, but there was one problem, this heifer did not know them, at least not well enough to trust them.
They had managed to get her into the barn but she was still frantically trying to avoid them. About this time I walked into the barn from the opposite door, turned the corner coming into view and said, “What’s going on?”No sooner had I said that when the heifer plopped down in the straw and let out a huge cow sigh. (Yes they can.)
From behind her the other three were looking at her amazed and somewhat incredulous and then back at me and Charlie said, We have been trying to get her to let us help her for half an hour and she wasn’t having it. As soon as she heard your voice she just laid down!
She knew me, she knew my voice, and she expected things to be okay because I was there—and they were. I got behind her and with the help of my able crew we pulled a healthy calve as I continued to speak in reassuring tones to my frightened heifer, now a new momma.
You know what the primary difference is between the twelve in that boat, the heifer in the barn, and us? We do not have to wait for the master to show up. He is here, he is always here. We just need to expect to hear his voice of reassurance, and we will. We need to expect his help, and we’ll have it.
We need to expect grace, strength, peace and wholeness—we need to expect love, because we have it— we have Jesus.
“Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”
The only ghost that can touch us is the Holy Ghost.
“…her words and her actions bore witness to a God given, front loaded, heart of faith.“
In the second chapter of James we are given two examples of those who proved that their faith was real by their actions. Abraham and “Rahab the Harlot”.
Unarguably, Abraham’s actions as found in Genesis were a testament to his faith and a fitting seal of a long life of faithfulness and nearly everyone knows who he is still today.
But then, there is Rahab. She is just dropped into the picture out of the blue, a woman with no known history of faithfulness and no long recorded history of interactions with God for us to marvel at. Yet she ends up with a lead role in the story of the making of Israel.
You have to wonder, of all the people in the Hebrew scriptures— Noah, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, King David, Elijah, Ruth, Solomon, Jeremiah, Esther—great heroes, prophets and examples of integrity and tenacity—of all the possible examples, to put on par with Abraham as examples of those justified by faith in action, James uses Rahab the harlot.
Really? Rahab the harlot?
Obviously her last name wasn’t harlot but that was her designation, a title actually. Like Builder Bob or Sam the butcher. James makes it clear in that way just to whom he is referring, there is no mistaking—but still, Rahab the Harlot?
You all know that means she’s a prostitute right? Not exactly a career choice that a woman who wants to become a beacon of light and an example of faith in the Kingdom of God, should draw to—let alone even go and stay with, as the spies that Joshua sent to her hometown of Jericho to check out did. Really guys, you went straight to a prostitutes house to find sanctuary?
I just love the realness and grittiness of the bible. God uses real people to do his greatest works, and he doesn’t gloss over their flaws. It gives me hope.
So, why Rahab? Why would God lead the spies there and why would James use her to make his point?
Easy—She was ableto show them the money. She probably didn’t talk a lot of bible speak or come across as a religious person, she was, after all, a harlot in a pagan city. But when it came down to it, she was able to show the fruits of her faith in the one true God by her actions.
In that regard I think James was quite ingenious in using her as an example of what he is telling us here when he says that we are to show our faith by our works. There was nothing else about her,at least not that we are aware of, that would have merited her a place in the family of God, as a recipient of what was apparently a saving faith totally apart from the law and any religious expression in regard to Yahweh.
There is nothing about her, no moral witnesses, no history of her talking the right talk, saying the right words, praying the right prayers, no self-proclaimed rights to righteousness, seemingly nothing to merit her becoming listed as an ancestor to King David and thus to the Messiah, Jesus himself—she was not even Jewish! Let alone a worshipper of their God.
5 Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, 6 and Jesse begot David the king. Mat 1
But when called upon to fulfill her destiny, to become a key player in the fulfillment of God’s promise to his people that he would deliver them from slavery and give them the land of Canaan, she acted with a courage that would set her apart as someone who truly had a faith in the God whose mighty acts she had only heard about. She had a faith in this unknown God who had apparently been whispering to her heart— that he was indeed real and loved her.
How do I know that? How do I know that God had been whispering to her heart? Because God does it all the time, and he has done it to me. And because her words and her actions bore witness to that God given, front loaded heart of faith.
Do you all know the story? From the book of Joshua?
The children of Israel had been miraculously delivered from slavery in Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, lived in the desert for forty years eating manna from heaven and were now finally ready to enter in and take the promised land under the leadership of Joshua.
But first, they have to get past Jericho. The fortress city that dominates the first region of the country the Lord is giving them as their new homeland, the very land he had promised hundreds of years earlier to Abraham, where he would become a great nation.
So Joshua, as any good military leader would, sends of a couple of spies to do some reconnaissance. The spies make it into the city of Jericholargelyunnoticed but word soon gets around that they are not just ordinary nomads coming to trade goat milk for pottery.
They are part of that very large group of former slaves from Egypt known as the Hebrews who have just crossed the Jordan river and are wreaking havoc on anyone who tries to stop them, and many have. So the spies seek out a place to hide, preferably someone who can give them a little insight as well, and somehow or other, I have to wonder at the thinking that led them there, but they end up in the home of a local prostitute named Rahab.
But, it turns out, little goes unnoticed in this town and word gets back to the King himself that there are enemy spies staying at Rahab’s house on top of the wall. So he sends troops to arrest them. But Rahab gets word that they are on their way so she takes the Israelites up on her roof where she has flax laid out in the sun to cure, and hides them underneath it. When the king’s men show up she tells them that the spies have already left and that if they hurry they might be able to catch them, so off they go.
After a time Rahab has the spies come out from hiding and tells them that she can lower them over the wall from her window, as her house is on the massive wall that surrounds the city, with a rope so that no one will see them leave and that they can then go in a different direction, avoiding those who are pursuing them.
But first she wants a promise. She has helped them at great risk to herself. But she realized that they were on the winning side, because she believed in an unseen God, heard the stories of his power to deliver those who serve him, and she fears him more than she fears the soldiers banging on her door.
She believes that the Israelites will indeed take the city she dwells in and that all their enemies will be destroyed. So she asks them to remember how she helped them and to spare her and her family when they return to take the city.
The spies tell her to tie a scarlet cord in her window as a sign and a reminder to the Israelite army that they are to spare her and all in her house. And indeed that is what happens. When the Israelites return and do their now famous seven day march around the city walls and blow them to smithereens with nothing but a shout and a trumpet blast, Rahab and her family are spared and become a part of the nation of Israel.
Now, thinking about this story, it seems that her part in the big picture conquest of the promised land was pretty small. I mean, Jericho probably would have been taken regardless of the spies eluding capture, but that is not the point.
The point of the story, the point of God’s favor and blessing on Rahab, and the point that James is making, is that it is not the significance or standing in man’s eyes, it is not the outward appearance or having a clean record of holiness and purity—it’s what are you doing today, it’s who are you when the chips are down, how do you respond when your hour comes and God is giving you an opportunity for action, calling you to fulfill your purpose, to make a real difference, to bless and help someone in a real tangible way.
Rahab literally saved the lives of two men and endangered her and her family in the process; two men she had never met before from a strange people she had only heard horror stories about—the Hebrew refugees from Egypt who are mowing down everyone who gets in their way. But, they have this God. . .
And what this God saw in Rahab the Harlot was a heart that wanted to do what was right, that said yes to him when it mattered the most, and when it was probably the hardest to say yes.
God said ‘show me the fruit Rahab’, and she did. And her faith saved her.
A faith lived out is a faith lived in. A faith walked out is a faith that will carry you home.
“The Holy Spirit does does His greatest work when we are gathered together in one accord. If there was ever a time when we needed that, this is it.”
It disturbs me greatly as a pastor and preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ how casual much of the church has gotten in their embrace of questionable behaviors. Or, to put it bluntly, why is sin not taken seriously anymore?
Perhaps the church has gotten so good at loving the sinner that they forgot to hate the sin, and then got sucked into it. Perhaps we have become so focused on grace that we misplaced repentance. Perhaps we became so adept at hearing the word that we confused hearing with doing.
We threw out the baby with the bath water. Embracing the free gift of grace while forgetting why we needed that gift in the first place—because we have all transgressed the law of God from top to bottom—and needed to bathe in the blood of Christ and the waters of baptism.
But then we threw out the law entirely because it makes us uncomfortable. It reminds us of who we were and that at the same time we are not yet anywhere near where we should be in the holiness department by God’s standards.
We can’t repent of something if we don’t know it’s a sin. If there is no penalty for sin, then why worry about it? Well, there is a penalty for sin, and the Son of God suffered it. He suffered a horrendous and unimaginably horrible death that afflicted every nerve in his tortured body with pain, and he endured betrayals and injustices that tortured his psyche in ways we cannot fathom—all of this at the hands of the people he created and loved enough to endure it for.
So yes, your grace is a free gift to you, but it cost the one who purchased it for you dearly.
So when you look in the mirror and see a hearer of the word and not a doer, (James 1:23) resolve to do something about it. You’ll be surprised at the power that comes with that free gift of grace.
Grace is not just forgiveness, grace is power, the power of God in your life to be holy just as he is holy, the strength to overcome and the catalyst for the renewing of your mind that gives you the desire to lay aside all filthiness and to overflow with living water instead of wickedness.
The Holy word that was planted in your heart to the saving of your soul is also your strength and your call to cast aside the sin which so easily entangles (Heb)and walk in the freedom of his grace as doers of the word and not just hearers only.
Today is Pentecost Sunday. GO TO CHURCH. The Holy Spirit does does His greatest work when we are gathered together in one accord. If there was ever a time when we needed that, this is it.
And if your church is not open–find one that is! Yes I said it.
‘The Holy Communion of the saints is essential for the life of the church and for the strengthening of the covenant.’ –HS
“A warrior needs to be taking on the enemy in a battle that means something, not in an arena.”
A couple of weekends ago I was in our small church building trying to get the lights just right so that attendees and the camera could see the folks up front without them being blinded, adjusting monitor; trying to work the bugs out of the sound, both in the house and on the live feed, is a constant ongoing battle, the Power Point programs and the background pictures I use on the screen to enhance the message and the verses in a way that all can see them, thinking about the placement of the worship team and facilitating all of that both for those in house and the camera, the slow internet speeds and on and on.
I was trying to work through all of that when it all just kind of overwhelmed me a bit (I have no tech people) and I threw up my hands and shouted at the back wall–
“Are you not entertained?”
In my mind at that moment I was Russel Crowe playing Maximus, in the movie Gladiator holding up my blood dripping sword after having lobbed the heads off of all of my technological issues and not having any fun whatsoever doing it. In fact I was rather frustrated because it is not what I want to be doing, but it just seems necessary, expected and required.
Like fighting and killing just for show. Fighting and sometimes killing is necessary at times to protect what and who you love and cherish from harm but when it becomes a sport to be cheered it no longer serves a noble purpose.
A warrior needs to be taking on the enemy in a battle that means something, not in an arena.
Maximus was a noble warrior who is forced to fight for show. He had been a respected general leading a Roman legion, fighting against the barbarians in the north for an Emperor he loved, for what he perceived to be a noble cause, when he was betrayed and found himself in the hands of slavers and sold to a purveyor of the gladiator arena.
After having been forced to fight in several different arenas, using his extensive military experience and skill to become a money making crowd pleaser he is becoming more and more disgusted at the whole system so one day he walks into some backwater arena where he is facing six opponents by himself and he becomes a flurry of steel and sinew as all six opponents are quickly dispatched within a matter of seconds.
As the crowd sits in stunned silence at the display of efficient, no nonsense swordsmanship, Maximus turns to them and sarcastically shouts—“Are you not entertained? –are you not entertained!?”
His trainer and owner then derides him after the show for not putting on a show—”if you want to become truly famous, if you want to make it to the Colosseum in Rome, you have to put on a show, that’s what the people want.”
Maximus was right in being frustrated that he had to put on a show when the end goal was to dispatch the enemy. For the most part, those in the arena who were put forward as gladiators were captured enemy soldiers or criminals sentenced to death. A quick and efficient execution would have sufficed but they made it into a sport to appease the citizens who needed some distraction from the shortfalls of the leaders and the misery of their day to day.
And once that system, that show was started, the more they demanded and the more creative they had to be in turning killing into entertainment. And it was all about keeping the people happy and pacified.
How many pastors and evangelists feel the same way; ‘Why can I not just get up here and slay the enemy, stomp the devil and his demons and release those he has deceived and put into bondage with the sharp sword of the word of God and release the power of grace in the hearts of God’s children by the life changing, life giving Holy Spirit?’
Why the song and dance? Why the multimillion dollar gilded stadiums, the Broadway worthy stages and actors, the lighting and effects, sound and video technologies, that would make any high dollar Rock band feel right at home if they were dropped onto the stage? Why the special events and carefully planned activities that would make a cruise ship director proud?
Are you not entertained?!
We are asked to receive the word with meekness. Should it not be sufficient also to deliver the word of God to be implanted in your souls with meekness as well? Meekness means with humility, gentleness, quietness, it certainly doesn’t mean with as loud and as grand a show as you can afford or imagine.
And receiving the word with meekness means not demanding that you be entertained, that your ears be tickled, in the process. The churches feel the pressure to put on a show because the people have come to expect it, and to expect even more. —”Otherwise I’m going golfing—wait, that church on the other side of town, I hear they have an amazingly talented worship team and the drama team, Wow, they are top notch!”
Meanwhile the rest of us are just trying not to lose the remote to the PowerPoint slide show while hoping that no one trips on the mic cord to the phone we are using to try and keep our church service on Facebook, and that those who run Facebook don’t shut us down because we are preaching the whole gospel and not just the ‘aren’t we all wonderful parts.’
‘Jesus is Lord and he loves us so much that he died on the cross because of our sins. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. And the Holy Spirit is also alive and well and wants to indwell, heal and lead you, but you must be obedient to his voice and his word if you want to be used of him to make a difference. And you must be willing to get out of your comfortable little happy bubble and be Jesus to a sick and dying world because he is coming back. And then it will be too late to do all that we had put off.’ —That’s the whole gospel.
We are to be doers and not just hearers.
That’s the unvarnished, life changing, soul saving, devil slaying gospel of Jesus Christ.
What are we going to do with it? How do we become doers?
The Sheep and the Goats
James gives us the answer—get out and change the world, one hurting person at a time, without letting the world change you.
It’s the same thing Jesus told us. Who is it that he recognizes at the judgement seat as he separates the sheep from the goats? Those who remembered and visited him when he was sick and in prison, who clothed and fed him when he was naked and hungry.
He recognizes the doers, not those who were only hearers—and talkers.
And why would you not want to make a difference in this world? If you truly have the heart of Jesus, know the love and hope he offers and know the depths of his love, how can you look at those who hurt and not love them like Jesus does? And if you truly love, you will act.
I don’t blame the church for the state of apathy and spiritual arrogance. I blame the leaders who teach what they think will bring people in instead of what will truly save them from missing out on all that God has for them. For allowing them to wallow in filth.
The Holy word that was planted in your heart to the saving of your soul is also your strength and your call to cast aside “the sin which so easily entangles” (Heb) and walk in the freedom of his grace as doers of the word and not just hearers only.
“I’m not good at the patience thing when I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
We don’t always think about faith and patience being intertwined but they really are. What is faith if it’s not waiting for something that we have not yet achieved or possessed? And what gets us through hard times?—trials, if it’s not patience; patiently waiting for the manifestation of that which we hope for, believing that it is coming.
The Long Trial
Ten years ago I was going through quite a trial. Two years earlier we had bought twenty acres and financed the purchase of a beautiful modular home, built a garage, new fences, we were set up pretty well there. I had a good job in Construction with a company I had been with for many years, plus another job as the children’s pastor at a church in Billings that brought in a few more bucks—and then the bottom fell out of the economy.
Construction took a major hit and to top it off we got a new field manager who seemed to have a set of favorites (drinking buddies) who got the few good projects we had, and I was not one of them. I ended up getting laid off for months at a time over the next two years and with a brand new and substantial mortgage payment due every month the finances were looking grimmer and grimmer.
I was really feeling the pressure as the bills came due every month and we would have no idea where the money was coming from. Long story short, God took care of us and we never missed a payment but I knew I had to do something. We had barely recovered from years of financial hardship caused by a major back injury—and here we are again—’I need a steady income! I have to take care of my family!’
I started my church in Red Lodge in the middle of all that also by the way, because the Lord was asking me to—‘sell my house and move to Carbon County? Right after the housing market has crashed and the big mortgage companies gone bust?’
Now there was a trial—I can’t say I was counting it all joy—but I had to remain faithful. Nervously, impatiently faithful, but faithful nonetheless, and here we are.
But, I was determined to fix my own lot in the midst of this; ‘I have to be working, I can’t sit home and keep waiting and hoping for this months’ miracle to get our bills paid and unemployment benefits are not enough.’
So I started looking for another job, no one was willing to pay me a full time salary to preach, and I had been called to start a church from scratch in Red Lodge anyway and I only know how to do two things,preachand build things.
So I started looking for another job. Turned out there was not a lot of commercial builders looking for a Job Superintendent with a bad back in the middle of a recession.
I went to see an old friend who had a construction company in town, someone I had actually worked with years earlier when he was a foreman with the company I was with, but he had built up a pretty good company of his own since then. He was more than happy to talk to me, he’s a fellow believer also, but he said he just didn’t have enough work to put on another foreman at that point.
“Dan, I would love to have you and I might have more work soon, but I gotta tell you, knowing what I know about the outfit you’re with, I would just be patient for now and stick it out there. You are a good superintendent, the estimators like you, and there are some changes coming that will greatly improve your lot.” “Some of the older supers are going to retire soonand you will find yourself at the top.”
When I told my wife Donna what he said, she looked greatly relieved and said, he’s right. She didn’t like the idea of me jumping ship in the midst of a storm, and honestly, neither did I but I’m not good at the patience thing when I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
But my old friend was right, soon the construction market in Eastern Montana picked up, largely thanks to the Bakken oil field money, Our house sold and we didn’t loose any money on it and the field manager who couldn’t seem to keep me working was let go and eventually the old guard of the top foreman, did retire.
I was blessed with great favor translating into raises and more importantly, steady work. And last year, when the bottom suddenly fell out from under the company I worked for for nearly three decades, that favor and blessing all rolled over into an even better job doing the same thing with most of the same people and for better money still, with a company that truly appreciates me.
And the church we started in Red Lodge has been changing lives and healing hearts throughout. And that is an ongoing and blessed story of trails and victories.
Bottom line in the whole scenario—I just had to be patient, and have faith. God had never stopped working on my behalf.
So now, when the trials come—and there have been many since then in various shapes and forms—I do not worry and fret anymore. I count it all joy. Not the giddy, ‘devil may care, but I don’t’, kind of joy, but the ‘I know this is going to be alrightand that God is going to use this to accomplish something good, something I cannot see or even imagine right now kind of joy.
So rejoice in the trials of the day. In this trial—you are being perfected.
We have to trust and seek the Lord to heal us of this pandemic, and give him the glory for the healing that has begun.
I believe the healing has already begun. We did not experience near the horrors that were predicted or expected, and we cannot take all the credit for that.
In reality, hiding from this virus will only prolong it. Left to it’s own devices, this virus, as all do, will spread to as many people as it can reach so long as there is still one person in the world who has it. It will not go away until all who have survived it outnumber those who have not had it and break the chain of the spread.
I mean, that’s just reality. Historical epidemics bear that out.
And we all know how ineffective the annual flu vaccines have been, I wouldn’t put too much stock in that solution.
Butwe serve a God who is not bound by our reality, the reality in which we are all subject to the curse and can only wait in fear for our turn to suffer.
Our God has overcome the curse by dying for our sins and he carried our infirmities, through His Son Jesus Christ so we do not have to be subject to the whims of microscopic invaders and destroyers of the living.
And we do not have to fear the death that inevitably comes to all living things, regardless, because for us it is only the beginning of eternity, free once for all from all death and sorrow.
Last weekend an old friend showed up in our just reopened church, Bill, I don’t know how old he is but he’s up there.
After service he insisted on shaking my hand and said, “My daughter tells me that I should be careful because I am one of those who is at risk. I told her getting out and living my life is a win–win. If I don’t get sick, I wasn’t stuck at home alone and enjoyed my last days, and if I do get sick, I am going home to glory where I will no longer be old and frail.”
Amen and praise God for that.
Thanks to Jesus Christ we do not fear death. But we do not need to live in fear of this virus either. Even centuries before Jesus died for our sins and healed us by his stripes. God promised his people that if they as a nation would turn to him, they would be healed.
13 When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, 14 if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chron 7:13—14
And notice that in this promise from Chronicles he specifically mentioned pestilence. So there is a promise we can stand on, and thank him for.
God has begun the healing, I believe that during the Easter and Passover season as all of God’s people were holed up in their homes, collectively praying, perhaps like they have never prayed before, that God heard our prayers and stopped that virus in it’s tracks.
And that is what it’s going to take to keep it from regaining steam and wreaking the havoc it was advertised to wreak. No more wreaking wreaker! In Jesus name! As Dora the Explorer might say; ‘Wreaker stop wreaking!’
We cannot stop praying, seeking the Lord’s face, humbling ourselves. We cannot stop thanking the Lord for our health and well being, for the life and the blessings that we enjoy and for the challenges that teach us valuable lessons and keep us looking to the Lord who is always there to help us through.
Pray that the perverseness and the wickedness that has run rampant in our land for far too long is recognized for what it is and that the light of the world scours it from the land like the sunshine does this virus.
All of us need to pray for forgiveness for our parts in letting this nation get to the wicked state, that much of it is, by our own willingness to compromise, to go along to get along, to allow our morality to be subjective and relative to anything other than the word of God.
And we all need to repent of our own sins, our own failings and seek to be holy just as he is holy. Then, this pestilence will be no more forever and we can began the harvest the Lord has promised in earnest.
Because if we don’t, if we continue to turn to other Gods, the kind we bow down to and the kind we lust after, America, at least as we know it, will be no more. And our children’s children will tell stories of a long ago and far away land where people once lived free and were blessed beyond measure with things kings of old could only dream of. Camelot lost, Atlantis sunk, just another legend of a place to fantastic to be believed.
Guard your soul
But we are not going to let that happen. We are going to guard our souls, possess our souls. There again is that admonition we keep running into lately to safeguard our souls, our inner being, our hearts, from outside influence and harm.
You cannot train up a child, let alone a nation, in the way they should go if you are not guarding your own soul.
The Lord has been calling us to holiness, I have told you that over and over again these past two or three years. Holiness is a guarding of the soul. It’s turning away from the lusts of the flesh, the pursuit of worldly goods and pleasures at the expense of our relationships with Jesus and in place of answering our call to whatever it is the Lord has called and purposed you for, not to mentioned gifted and equipped you for.
Some have taken that challenge seriously, many have not.
Well, here we are, mission critical as the time is upon us, the time for all who have answered the call, who have prayed and fasted, sought and cried out to God, devoured his word and loved his people, now is the time to pray and seek like never before; “God, what would you have me do now? How can I be a vessel of your love in this time of harvest? Pour out your Spirit, let your glory be known and seen by all, and give me the strength and the courage to be a part of it.”
Help me to train up a nation, forgive and heal this land and help us to build something real, something good, something beautiful and blessed on the foundation that you have laid, in my life, in my home and in my nation.
And start right here today, in my heart. Help me to guard my soul, the soul that you died to bring back to life, not the living dead life of darkness and emptiness that I knew before I knew you, but the eternal ‘nothing can touch me, no one can steal my joy or my hope’ kind of life that only you can give.
In the name of Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life, Creator Savior and Lord, I pray these things and I thank you for the healing.
Well, here we are, Mother’s day all of a sudden. And mom’s everywhere are suddenly finding themselves spending more time with their children the they ever would have imagined was possible, or required, just a few short months ago as they are all suddenly not just mom, but teacher as well. I know this is all very stressful, as parenting in general is, but please, cherish this time and make the most of it, without beating yourselves up! -You are doing great!
Been a weird year hasn’t it? It seems like one day we were planning our Easter celebration when the world suddenly hit pause. And now just in time for Mother’s Day its hit play again, sort of, it’s more like a tentative slow motion play, and we are just hoping we can make it to the end of the movie without hitting pause again. Like a kid under the covers watching a movie on their tablet, hoping to see how it ends before their parents discover they aren’t asleep.
Of course life didn’t really stop and we did have Easter, Jesus is still alive and we still all celebrated that— it just wasn’t anything like what we were used to. And many things were different these past two months so it seems weird to be here at Mother’s day all of a sudden, more grateful then ever to be together, (at least we are here in Montana) and more thankful than ever for family, while praying that the Lord keeps us safe and healthy.
But then, isn’t that what a mother has always done?—Worried and even obsessed about the health and safety of her kids and grandkids, of all she loves?
So, welcome fearful and anxious world—striving to keep everyone you know and love safe and healthy—to the world of mom’s everywhere for all time.
A mother is the definition of love and nurturing, often to the point of driving themselves to distraction, and driving those they love into an eye rolling, ‘Yes mom, I know. I’ll put on my coat and call you when I get there, I won’t pick up any strangers and I’ll wash my hands and behind my ears, state of— ‘okay I’ll humor you, just let me go already!’
But where would we be without our mothers to worry about us? Actually if we really listened to our mothers we wouldn’t have need for all this CDC, WHO, governmental expert advice on how to live our lives during a virus outbreak.
I mean really, what has mom always said? “Wash your hands before you eat. Wash your hands when you are done in the bathroom. Don’t put that in your mouth, that’s dirty. Don’t lick that, you don’t know where it’s been. Don’t use the table, I haven’t cleaned it yet. Wash off the top of that pop can before you drink that.”
“Get your fingers out of your nose, don’t wipe your nose on your sleeve—that’s gross, get a Kleenex. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Stop rubbing your eyes. No you can’t go there, you’re sick, or no you can’t go there, they’re sick. Can’t you wait till you get home to use the bathroom?”
I’m sure you could add several more to this list but you get the idea.
Moms have been on a concerted war against germs for as long as we’ve known there was such a thing. So, on this mother’s day, we give mom’s everywhere permission to proclaim one big collective “I told you so!” —And we all roll our eyes and say; ‘Fine, love you mom, I’ll be careful, I promise.’
Which brings us back to our title verse, one all mothers, and fathers for that matter, cling to in the fervent hope that it is a promise they can count on. Because the only thing a God fearing mother fears more than sickness for their child, is that their souls are not safe in the hands of the Lord —that they are not taking care of their own souls
I’ve had many a mother over my many years of ministry, earnestly seeking assurance from me that this promise is one they can count on, always tinged with the fear that they did not bring up their child in the way that they should go. No mother is ever confident that they are really a good mother and that they are not doing more harm than good.
Mothers, just the fact that you have that fear means you are a good mother and that you do care about the souls of your children and the Lord will honor and bless your efforts to raise them up to be healthy, whole and equipped with the foundation and the knowledge to choose on their own, as we all must do, to follow the Lord in a real relationship with Jesus.
If you have planted the word in their hearts as little ones, that will be there forever. And if they have you praying for them, the Lord will chase them to the ends of the earth, and until they breathe their last breath, before he lets one of his precious lambs, one who is dear to you and him, stray beyond rescue.
And if they have your unfailing love as an example, and God’s unfailing word quickened by his Spirit of power and your prayers, that will prove ultimately to be irresistible.
So take heart. You are the mother God chose for your child.