Remember when life was not nearly so complicated, or scary? When you could almost hear the voice of God in the wind, in the rustling leaves, or in the music of a creek? Remember when church was simple, when it was being together- when it was Jesus? Do you remember first love, when you met Jesus? I do.
To the church of Ephesus write. . . you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Rev 2:3-4
We sorely need to get back to the simple joys of being believers together in, and with, Jesus. We need to remember when. . .
Remember when Church was a place where you gathered to connect with friends and neighbors, not a place from which to look down on them?
Remember when you looked forward to church functions as a welcome break in the day to day grind rather than another dreaded thing to do?
Remember when learning to love your neighbor meant helping them build their barn rather than taking a class on how to trick them into coming to church?
Remember when you learned how to be a good parent by spending time with grandparents rather than by watching a video series?
Remember when fishing was a spiritual experience that you didn’t have to make excuses for because you may have missed church one day?
Remember when Jesus could talk to you without a preacher in a suit that cost as much as your pickup, telling you what God wants you to do?
Remember when the first verse of the 23rd psalm; “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.” was enough to get you through anything?
Remember when… it was just you and Jesus?—He didn’t go anywhere.
Go find a tire swing, touch the face of God and watch him smile.
What does the darkness that Jesus experienced at the end of his days on earth have to do with me? Everything!
A couple of weeks ago I was blessed to get to take a day off work to attend a spiritual healing seminar put on by a group called Elijah House.
Basically there were several sessions of teaching, each followed by a time of quiet prayer—just you and the Lord. One of the sessions had to do with overcoming shame; shame that may have been inflicted on you by the rejection or condemnation of someone in your life that caused you to question your worth, or your worthiness to loved.
Which of course greatly affects how you relate and respond to the world around you. Being despised and rejected can have great psychological effects that last way beyond the initial hurt.
We were instructed to ask the Lord to reveal to us words or an event in our lives that may have caused us shame. Something that we may not even remember as being anything that really impacted us.
As I was praying I kept having this memory of Hockey Practice in Minnesota when I was 7 or 8 years old. It wasn’t a repressed memory, it was something that I remembered very clearly and often, and have dealt with it. And, as far as I know, gotten over it.
We were doing reps back and forth on the ice under the lights and the falling Northern Minnesota snow, and near the end of practice I see my stepfather standing by the coach, come to pick me up I suppose, which was weird because I usually walked home. I skate over to him just in time to hear him respond to a question or comment from the coach with—“Oh, he’s not my boy, that’s Sandy’s boy. Just wait till my boy gets old enough to be out here, he’s gonna be a real athlete.”
As I have told you before, I was never the best hockey player, and I had plenty of reminders, like this one. But what was hurtful about the experience was that my stepfather felt the need—this wasn’t the only time I would hear this—to always make it known that I was Sandy’s boy, not his. Like that would have been embarrassing to him to have me as a son.
Fine, whatever. I got over that long ago and I always knew my real father, and my mother loved me and were proud of me. So, although it didn’t do a lot for my self-esteem in the moment, it wasn’t really life altering.
My real Father never despised or rejected me. And my mother always made me feel special by telling me that I could do whatever I set my mind to, and I believed her. Hockey was just not one of those—I just wasn’t that into it. Small wonder with the great encouragement from my step dad.
Anyway, something was just not clicking in this prayer time. It wasn’t the negative aspect or the rejection that seemed to be the focus of this memory that the Holy Spirit seemed to have planted firmly in my mind—it was those words that kept echoing over and over in my head—”that’s Sandy’s boy.”
Soon the session was over and it was break time. I checked my phone and saw that I had a message—I listened to it and immediately ducked into a storage closet and called back the person who had called. It was an outpatient nurse who worked with my mother. My mother was in the hospital, again, and was having a real hard time and the nurse was really hoping someone from the family could come be with her.
She had already called my brother and sister and they were unable to leave their jobs right then. My mother had just had a similar thing happen a month earlier where she was in the hospital with what they thought was a stroke. That earlier incident had been accompanied by terrible hallucinations and great confusion that had left her traumatized and terrified of hospitals. So this had me very worried.
As I was listening to the nurse I heard those words again—“That’s Sandy’s boy.” But now it was also accompanied by the pressing thought—Sandy needs her boy.
So I immediately excused myself from the conference and headed into Billings. I found my mother in a room off the emergency room, very agitated, scared and confused. Turns out she had a brain bleed caused by high blood pressure and it was causing all sorts of issues.
I spent the day with her comforting, reassuring, and praying for her. And, long story short, she is on the mend, and between my siblings and I, over the next week we kept her in a place of love and reassurance knowing that she would be okay.
God showed up—once again—to be there when I needed him most.
In what could have been a very dark and lonely hour—those words, and the fact that I knew without a doubt that they came from the Lord in just that moment, gave me assurance that I was not alone, that I was being comforted and remembered in what could have been a very distressful time.
And, just as importantly, that He was remembering my mother and had set up this day just so that we could be there together—Sandy and her boy. Knowing that God was in control, that he remembered both of us, made that dark valley a lot less frightening.
Because Jesus was rejected, we never will be, and he proves it over and over again.
I tell you that story, as inadequate as words are to explain what was truly a deeply spiritual and emotional encounter and experience, to try to illustrate to you the incredible and almost unfathomable significance and veracity of the love of God for us, and the treasure we have available to us because of Jesus’ willingness to experience being rejected and despised.
The Holy Spirit, working well in advance and through multiple levels of players and circumstances set me up to take off a day from work—my first this year, to be at a conference where I would be in a room full of people who were contending and believing for the Holy Spirit to move among us unhindered by the doubts or distractions of those who don’t believe or aren’t comfortable with the personal encounters with the person of the Holy Spirit.
So I was in a room saturated with his presence and given opportunity and encouragement to listen for a word. The word he gave me was relevant to what we had been learning and did encourage me, but more importantly—he set me up spiritually for the raw experience of seeing my mother in a near death state of delirium and physical peril.
And then he stayed with me, throughout the day. He made known clearly, powerfully and sweetly through all of this, that I was not alone—that I was not despised nor rejected by my God—no matter what—I was never, and would never, be alone.
But more than that—through this experience he was caring for my mother. He didn’t just set the stage for me to be able to handle the challenge of the day and weeks to come, he was also setting things up for my mother, whom he also loves and will never despise, reject or leave alone.
He made sure she would not be going through this dark valley alone—that I would be there and able to assure and remind her that her Lord was there as well. And I’ll tell you what—that made the difference between a nightmare experience for her and just a hurdle to get over. I know because the nightmare and the darkness was hovering all over and just itching to take control—it has before.
But not today bubba. Because my God was despised and rejected, me and mine are not. My mother is on the mend in a great rehab facility and me and my siblings were brought together in this in a way we have not been in many years.
An anguished and lonely prayer in a garden, a kiss of betrayal, a curse and a denial from a best friend, a crooked trial amid horrendous accusations by the very priests who claim to serve the Father who sent him, and a death sentence for the blasphemies that the Son of God is incapable of committing—pain, anguish, betrayal, abuse and slander—it all led to a whispered word to a descendant of barbarians a half a world and two millennia away—“That’s Sandy’s boy.”
But you know what that really means? What it meant to me? That is not just Sandy’s boy, the Heavenly Father says in that “That is my boy, and his mother is my daughter, and there is now therefore no more shame, no more fear and when he walks through the valley of the shadow he shall fear no evil, for I am with him.
And what more could we possibly need, want or desire?
Oh yeah, this:
I Am— The one who was and is and is to come, is coming back for you and me.
“I refused to condemn and stop loving and welcoming anyone.”
I’m going to lay it right out there— two or three years ago we had over 40 people here pretty consistently in our small rural church, and there were times when we were looking for extra chairs to put out. Today 20 seems like a lot.
What happened? One word—divorce.
I hate to admit that because it doesn’t seem to speak well of a ministry. But we cannot hide from the truth and pretending that it was something else does not fix it nor heal it. There are no dark corners here to hide things in.
We had a handful of divorces and a broken engagement or two all within a two year span. In a small tight knit church family, that is devastating and has immediate and long lasting ripple effects on everyone.
And honestly, all things considered, especially that they involved the worship team and my own family, I don’t think many churches could have survived the devastation, period. But God is good and he led us through as best as possible and we are now rebuilding wiser and stronger and I hope more in tuned to, and certainly more dependent on, the Holy Spirit and his presence here than ever.
But the casualty rate was high. I don’t blame anyone but the enemy—and he is a clever and wily one. He just started peeling people off– How?
For starters, in a divorce—everyone takes sides and soon one side has to leave because they cannot be in the presence of the other side.
Then some people feel condemned and judged—so they leave.
Others feel the tension and the pressure—and they leave.
There is a fear that it is contagious and fear for their own marriages—so they leave.
Others do not like the way the pastor handled it—so they leave.
Some of the most challenging ministry and spiritual battles I have ever fought happened in the midst of all that.
If I did everything everyone thought I should do, everything that the flesh demanded I do—the carnage would have been horrendous and our building would be a Hair salon or a Yoga studio right now.
And the flock would all be somewhere else telling everyone what a judgmental bible and head thumper I was.
As a result some people were upset because I refused to condemn and stop loving and welcoming anyone. (You would not believe the backlash that created.) That is a battle that still continues, the dysfunctions caused by divorces are long lasting and far reaching.
But I refuse to play those games. If you have read either of my first two books you know why, I’m just done with accommodating other’s issues—done.
I have spent my entire life either being a victim of, or trying to minister to, other victims of those games. And what truly makes me angry is that it’s usually the children who suffer most. So whenever I find myself standing at dysfunction junction again deciding which track to follow—I will go down the road of the heart that functions fully in love.
It is the hard heart that always leads to destruction.
5 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. Mark 10:5
God only allowed Moses to write a provision for divorce into the law because of man’s stubborn and self-seeking nature. But the heartache is then only exacerbated by the heart hardening that follows and demands that everyone else follow suit.
That doesn’t mean I condone or turn a blind eye to sin and bad choices, it just means that I love, as Jesus loves, unconditionally.
I will not be an enabler of your dysfunctions. But neither will I stop trying to love you back into wholeness. And that, my friends, is a very fine and hard line to walk—apart from the Holy Spirit.
And if the trials of the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that nothing is more important than being completely sold out and 100% obedient to God no matter what or who is coming against you.
We must continually recognize that our enemy is not flesh and blood and that we are all susceptible to making mistakes and just outright foolish choices. And all I can do as a pastor is to keep loving you and inviting you to follow Jesus—for real, not just with lip service. This blog will always encourage and challenge you in that.
The Lord gave me a real simple mandate in the heat of these battles, and he reminded me of it repeatedly as I struggled with—’what do I do?‘ I feel like I need to rail on the virtues of marriage, to call people out, to bang some heads together—how do I make everyone happy, how do I appear in charge and make sure everyone knows just how I—I mean God—expects them to behave? “Lord, what am I to do here? How do I make these people see?”
You know what he said to me? “I have called you to love people. You let me take care of the rest—Just love people.”
I cannot tell you how freeing that was to my weary and tortured soul. ‘Yes Lord, I can do that. Just love people.’ If that makes those who believe I need to come down on some, and vindicate others, angry to the point of leaving—then so be it.
The angry people needed to leave, or just get over them bad selves. Because, honestly— It was the tension and the whispering and the rumors between the various camps that did the worst damage—more so than the actual divorces.
Jesus’ love is unconditional—and so is mine. And anything and anyone that gets in the way of that love being known by his beloved will be dealt with in no uncertain terms.
If you have suffered the violence’s that that divorce does to your heart and soul, or picked up the pieces of the damage done, you know what this means and why God hates divorce. He hates it because of the violence it does to the hearts of those he loves. If you are that bruised soul–HE DOES NOT hate you, he hates what has happened to you, and he only wants to heal and restore you–just trust him. You are loved child.
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.
“…people can come to put too much of their hope in you.That’s a pitfall of ministry and of a life devoted to Jesus in general.“
For years, prophets and God fearing people tried to piece together the means of our redemption, how would we ever be restored to a relationship with the creator who we spurned so long ago?
We now see the big picture, we know how the story ends, we have the box cover. But, it still seems our lives are one big attempt at trying to put together a puzzle complicated by the fact that someone keeps coming along and rearranging or undoing what we thought we had done. Some days it’s like; Please, whoever, stop messing with my puzzle, you’re not helping!
Years ago when our girls were little we were visiting my Dad and family in Minnesota and on one of our outings my Dad took us to see a cabin on a lake that belonged to his sister and her family. No one was there at the time but he knew where the key was hidden so we went in just to check it out.
In the middle of the main room a table was set up with one of those big 500 piece jig saw puzzles on it that was about half way put together. As us adults were getting the quick tour we didn’t realize that the girls had found their own entertainment and when I turn my attention back to them I hear, “Look Daddy, we’re doing a puzzle!”
Well, much to my horror, they were not doing a puzzle, they were undoing a puzzle. Pretty much all the previously assembled puzzle had been disassembled. “AAAH! Girls, that’s not our puzzle to play with!”
We left shortly thereafter leaving me to only imagine what my cousins must have thought when they came back to the cabin to find all their previous work undone. Starting over. Hopefully it was not that big of a deal.
But in real life, when all we have accomplished, dreamed of and planned for gets undone, it seems like a big deal doesn’t it?
Our response is everything in those times. Because that is really what this life is, isn’t it? One big puzzle that we hope to get assembled into a beautiful picture before we run out of time, or the next unknown visitor comes along and “helps” us.
Look, we’re doing a puzzle! No your destroying everything!
But are they?
What are they really messing with? If it’s this life, your plans, your schemes and dreams, your security, life and health—all of that is temporal and is not where your hope is supposed to lie. Remember what we learned from James, and Jesus recently? That to plan and think we have it all figured out, that our future is secure, eat, drink and be merry, we are arrogant fools and our very souls may be required of us before we even get to indulge in our hoard.?
Many of us have had the pieces of our lives rearranged or even stolen, probably more so lately than ever. But what is truly important, what really matters? How much of our lives do we waste worrying about things we cannot control?
These are the days in which we truly discover where our hope lies. We discover if it is living, if it is based on truth and planted in and by the Holy Spirit and faith, or if it was based on other things and other people.
We can grieve, if need be, but we must remember that in all of our trials, our lives, our souls, are secure in the hands of Jesus. We are kept, preserved, protected, secure, by the power of God. He is our living and perfect hope. All other hope is flawed and tenuous at best, including hoping in others.
One of the things that makes loving people for Jesus, the way Jesus loved, unconditionally and sacrificially, heartbreaking at times, is that people can come to put too much of their hope in you. That’s a pitfall of ministry and of a life devoted to Jesus in general.
It frustrates me more and more as the years go by and I build relationships with more and more people, and as my family grows, that I cannot be there for everyone as much as they nor I would like. I know there are people who are upset because they don’t feel that I pursue or keep up with them the way they would like.
Feelings get hurt and resentments build and it hurts, it hurts them and it hurts me. It hurts me because I have never stopped loving and caring for anyone whom I have ever invested in, and there have been many over the years; whether it’s blood family, married family, spiritual family, the many kids and grandkids, nieces and nephews I have spiritually adopted over the years, friends and fellow warriors from a multitude of ministries and churches—I love and cherish all of them and look forward to one day having forever to spend with all of them.
But today I just flat cannot. I may have eternal life, but today I am still on the clock.
I work 9 or more hours a day in construction, five days a week, I then go home and spend my entire evening working on my sermon for Sunday. I spend all day Saturday at the church finalizing my sermon, doing the bulletin and PowerPoint, these blogs and Facebook blurbs, taking care of whatever church business and building and yard maintenance needs done.
I go home and go over my sermon some more and then I spend most of Sunday getting ready for church, preaching, visiting with and praying for people, and then I go home, if I’m lucky, and take a short nap before I take care of whatever needs done at home.
In the few spare minutes I have around all of that I try to maintain a relationship with my wife, my daughters and my many grandchildren who are all the joy of my life. I also have a mother and father and various siblings that I seldom get to spend time with, and I feel guilty about all of that.
So if I don’t have a lot of quality time to spend with you, or pursuing a relationship or mentoring you, I’m sorry, I truly am, but that is my reality and I cannot change it unless I either quit my job and starve, or quit the church, and God has not released me to do that.
Now, I am not telling you this to make you feel sorry for me or brag about my busyness for Jesus, my point is, and this is the same for anyone; I will let you down. And if you are left feeling hopeless and alone, unloved and bitter, because I or anyone in ministry—anyone in your life— has disappointed you and not lived up to your expectations, than your hope is in the wrong place. Any hope that you derive from any human being is going to be flawed. Period.
Your joy and peace cannot be tied to whether or not I had time to visit with you or pray for you. Whether I called you when you were having a bad day or invited you to coffee. Whether I chased you to the ends of the earth when you decided to stop showing up.
I can only be in one place at a time and I can only spend quality time with one person at a time and there are people whom I have to prioritize that will get my time, and there are people who will try to hoard my time and prayers, making it even more difficult to share my time.
Everyone’s time is limited. But you know who does have all the time in the world for you? The Holy Spirit. He is your Living Hope.
And the Holy Spirit doesn’t get exhausted, he is the source, we are just vessels. And frankly I, and no doubt every pastor out there who preaches in the power of the Holy Spirit, is exhausted after pouring out his everything as he preaches the word of God, because this imperfect vessel of flesh is mostly empty by noon on Sunday. I know I am, because I have given you everything I’ve received. And I need the rest of the day to rest and recharge so I can start again on Monday.
Fortunately it’s not all up to me, that’s not the way Jesus established his church.
That’s why I have always encouraged people to hang around after church and visit with one another, pray for one another, because you have just been filled through the worship, the word and the Spirit. You are being equipped for the work of the ministry. Take care of one another—every day of the week— love one another, but remember, your hope must ultimately, and primarily, be in Jesus. That’s what all this is about.
I will let you down. Pastor fill in the blank will let you down, your best friend will let you down, your family will let you down. Your job, your banker, you car, your waitress, everything and everyone will let you down—if, and only if, you are putting the onus for your joy and sense of well being on them in a disproportionate way.
How do you like me now?
…your faith and hope are in God. 1 Peter 1:21
Your faith and hope must come from God and God alone.
The living hope can only be the Holy Spirit, and only the Holy Spirit, can be your living hope.
We serve a God of Justice. Lately we have been tracking along here in this blog with the biblical book of James. He is a no punches pulled kind of preacher and towards the end of his letter he lays in to the “rich”.
Not a lot of happy aren’t you all wonderful preaching in the book of James. But if you dig into his mind a bit and follow his train it truly is encouraging. Because it’s about truth and justice. Something we all inherently yearn for.
James’s words of rebuke and condemnation for the oppressive wealthy are given, not so much as a warning to the rich, as they are not his primary hearers, but as an encouragement to those who are oppressed. This is meant as an assurance that the Lord see’s the plight of the poor and oppressed in his church, and is their vindicator. He is reminding us that final judgement and vindication belongs to the Lord of Hosts and to him alone.
It should be comforting to all who love justice, who have been mistreated and hurt by being treated unjustly or aggrieved at the mistreatment of others, to know that there is ultimately justice. In that is our peace.
Our God is a God of justice, that is where our sense of fairness and justice comes from and why it bothers us so to see it miscarried.
We all do our share of stupid things and we must extend the grace that we receive. The God who knows everything, does not hold it all against us. Our sins are not ignored but they are forgiven because of Jesus.
Justice must be served and that is an unalterable law of the universe God created that cannot be ignored, but it can be delayed and even satisfied by a proxy.
And we as Christians know that that proxy was Jesus. Justice was satisfied—it was served on Jesus. The one who took the punishment for our sins.
But what about all those who seem to get away with so much, lying cheating, stealing and the really heinous things like sexual assaults and murder, or the rich and powerful whose actions and greed hurt thousands and even millions of people?
Their day is coming.
the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.James5:4-6
Hank the Cowdog
Our God loves us too much to turn a blind eye to those who hurt us and he does not forget or disregard those hurts or those who inflict them.
7 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. James 5
My daughter Jessie used to love reading Hank the Cow Dog books when she was a kid. A champion for rural justice.
One day when she was in second or third grade I suppose, all the kids got to go to school dressed up for Halloween. Jessie decided to go as Hank the Cow Dog. So my wife, Donna, rigged up some sort of costume with ears, a tail and painted whiskers on the face. It was pretty cute.
When I got home from work that night Jessie was not in a happy mood, which was pretty unusual for her, and Donna told me that she had had a really tough day because some kids made fun of her for going to school as a dog.
This broke my heart and made me furious all at once. I wanted to go find those kids and tell them, “You little punks, you just wait fifteen years or so and I’m going to find you and kick your butts!”
Of course I didn’t, nor have I, but I never forgot that slight against my little girl. You can’t love someone that much and not feel their pain, maybe even more than they do. Which, I think in this case may have been so.
A couple of years ago we were in some shop somewhere with Jessie, who is all grown up of course, and in the back we find a rack full of old books. I hear Jessie exclaim “Hank the Cowdog! Look, they have Hank the Cowdog books!” Instantly all the hurt and anger I felt that Halloween day so many years ago came back and I hesitantly asked Jessie; “You still like Hank the Cow Dog?”
“Of course I do, why wouldn’t I?” “I guess I thought all the trauma you experienced when you went to school dressed as Hank spoiled it for you.” She looks at me funny and says, What? I don’t remember that?
Apparently if wasn’t nearly as traumatic as I thought it was. Or she forgave and forgot, I’m glad for that, but still—stupid kids . . .
That’s what James is saying here. God loves you and he sees the pain and injustices being inflicted on you, and it may not always seem like it, and you may wish for swift justice and all things to be set right—but be patient, they will.
Your Father who loves you knows all of it, he sees all of it and he will not forget all of it. He hurts when you hurt and cries when you cry and those who cause you pain, if they do not repent, and hopefully they will—which is why God is patient, they will have to answer for what they do to his precious children.
You just keep living your life, investing in heaven and let the Lord worry about the unjust and the oppressors. Life is too short to live it angry and indignant or fearful and anxious.
The precious fruit is coming with the latter rains.
“Mom she’s touching me! She stuck her tongue out at me.” “Ow! She hit me! Well she spit on me!”
My wife Donna and I went to Yellowstone Park last weekend to celebrate our 32nd anniversary.
We love the park, winter or summer, and have been there many times, from our honeymoon on. It’s our backyard after all–just over a few mountains.
Too bad we have to share it with the rest of the world.
But, then again, that’s part of what makes it so unique. I always love seeing people experience it for the first time, we can start to take it for granted so it’s good to see it through the eyes of others sometimes.
We took a snowcoach into Old Faithful and there was a young couple in our coach who had a couple of kids—8 year old twins; a boy and a girl. They were very well behaved but they were still kids and kept their parents on their toes, especially walking around the geyser basins where you have to stay on the boardwalks, out of the boiling water and away from the buffalo.
Of course this reminded Donna and I of the many times we took our girls to the park. Keeping three little girls from getting lost, gored, boiled or eaten was always a challenge, as was keeping them from killing each other after too many hours in the car.
At one point last weekend as Donna was laughing to herself at the antics of our 8 year old companions she said, just loud enough for me to hear; “No hitting, no spitting, no fighting no biting.”She was quotingthe Swaningson family rule that our girls now know well. This rule was actually born on one our trips to the Park when the girls were young, no doubt after the umpteenth squeal of “Mom she’s touching me! She stuck her tongue out at me.” “Ow! She hit me! Well she spit on me!”
If you’ve ever been a road trip with more than one child in the car you know what I mean, right? Finally in exasperation, somewhere between Canyon Village and Yellowstone Lake I declared, in what Donna refers to as my scary dad voice, which always became the final answer— “No hitting no spitting, no fighting no biting!”
It’s that simple. Follow that rule and we’ll all get along and have a great trip, and life for that matter.
I don’t think I had intended it to be a rhyme but it turned out that way and turned out it pretty much covered all the basics and was fun to say, so it eventually turned into a joke, a joke with meaning, because I meant it and more importantly, it was not a suggestion, it was the law. ‘If you are a part of this family, those things will not be tolerated.’ And what’s left? Respect, kindness, patience, gentleness—love.
It’s quite simple, abide in the rules, abide in Daddy’s word, and you will continue to abide in this family as a happy camper.
Now, I would be tempted to say here of this family rule, that it was— “Abide by the rules—’No hitting, no spitting, no fighting, no biting.’, And you can continue to abide in this family!”—but that’s not entirely true. Nor is it true of the Family of God. We are not children of God, we are not brothers and sisters, by virtue of having kept all the rules. We are family by blood, and love–the blood of Jesus and the love of the Father.
My girls know now, and they knew then, that they will always be a part of the family, the Swaningson family. ‘This is the family that gave you your name and your genetic makeup. The family abides in you, it’s in your blood, it’s in your DNA and you carry the name.’
‘You cannot make me stop loving you, and you cannot make me stop caring for you, but if you want to be at peace in this family, if you want to be trusted and enjoy the blessings of a real relationship with me, and others in this family, you need to abide by the rule.’
The rules make the family a safe place. A place where we can abide in love.
Our family rules were condensed into one easy to remember principle. So is the word of God—all the rules handed down from generation to generation, as revealed in great specificity to make sure we had no excuses to do harm to one another, were boiled down and condensed into one easy to remember all encompassing rule, a new command that could only be given by the Word of God become flesh, the only Son of the one true God and that is “love one another as I have loved you.”
Do that and you will be abiding in my word, my word abiding in you and you will have my joy abiding, remaining, in you.
What a promise; just, love.
Here’s what the Holy Spirit told me as I was working on this message:
Abide in me as I abide in you, and your love will never fail. Do not grow weary, just love, keep on loving, never stop loving.
When in doubt, love. When in doubt, receive love.
Abide in love. Let the Holy Spirit bear witness to your Spirit that you are loved. That’s what that anointing that John talks about is, (“But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.” 1 john 2:10) it’s the Holy Spirit telling us that he is in us, that Jesus is Lord and that he loves us. It is our salvation and our joy, our hope and our strength. The Holy Spirit is our guarantee.
Which brings us once again to the key verse of my recent blogs, and the core principle behind the Apostle John’s writings, the one thing he desires more than anything for us to do, as those who love and are loved by the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
1 John 3:18
No hitting no spitting, no fighting, no biting. Wouldn’t the church be a wonderful place if we all abided by this?
And if you look deep inside where the Holy Spirit resides, (If you have invited him to do so) you’ll know that it is true that you are loved— Jesus loves me…. And you cannot make him stop loving you.
The Apostle John, in his letters, challenges us to love, even to perfect love. Now there’s a challenge to be sure!Have anyone of you perfected love? If you answered yes, I would like to talk to your spouse, or family.
I am called as the pastor of my church to love people. I will always preach the word, the uncomfortable parts and the ones that may offend some people, but I will always do so in love, and I will always welcome and love everyone who comes seeking truth.
Speak the truth in love and if you cannot come across that way then don’t speak at all. Loving one another is our overarching command, the one that all others point to.
Love is hard
None of this is easy, loving our rivals is hard, loving people who mistreat us is hard. Loving people whom we believe need to be taught a lesson, who have disappointed us, is hard. Loving people whom no one else loves is hard.
If love was easy we wouldn’t need almost 800 Old testament laws and hundreds of pages of stories to teach us how to love. We wouldn’t have needed Jesus to come and live it out for us, die for us, and then send his Spirit to illuminate it for us. We wouldn’t need the Baptism of the Holy Spirit to empower us to love—not if it was easy or natural for us.
It’s hard because our sinful fallen nature is selfish, jealous, competitive, indignant and petty. But God is love and those who love him and desire to love have to look to Jesus for that love, for the desire and the ability to truly love. If we truly love and walk with Jesus and in his ways we find that we have no choice but to love and to do otherwise runs counter to the new creation that you are in him and will leave you empty, casting you back into the darkness.
You just loved me
There was a young woman who was part of our fellowship for a while here. She showed up at some of our first services with her very young son, no husband, no questions, we just loved her.
She disappeared for a while and reappeared with a guy who had a young daughter, no questions, we just loved them.
They disappeared for a while and her and her son reappeared, alone again. There were a few questions, no condemnations, we just loved her. Week after week, year after year, hit and miss sometimes, but we just kept loving her and her son.
I didn’t think we were doing anything extraordinary really, she was pretty easy to love and we love, or try to love, everyone who comes through these doors. Yes we are all human and none of us has yet perfected love and occasionally someone, including me, does something to offend or hurt—but we try, I try, I try to love like Jesus loves, unconditionally and unselfishly.
One day I asked this young lady if she would serve in a particular place in the church; a place of responsibility and trust. As she considered what I had asked her she became visibly shaken and finally blurted out through her tears words that cut straight to my heart, “I can’t do that. . . I am not a good person!”
The reason this cut to my heart is because I was heartbroken for her that she saw herself this way. But I also sensed that this was the Holy Spirit blasting open a whole in her heart for the light to shine in. So I asked her why she didn’t believe she was a good person. She confessed to me some sin areas in her life, and I didn’t gasp and say ‘man, you’re right, you are a rotten sinner!’ No, I assured her that Jesus loved her, the Father loved her and that I loved her, and if she wanted me to, I would pray for her.
I did, right then and there. I prayed that the Lord would give her the strength to overcome the things that she was struggling with, things that the Holy Spirit, not me, not anyone in this church, was convicting her of, and then I told her my offer still stands.
But I was going to leave it up to her—it was between her and the Lord—to let me know when she was ready to serve. I told her I knew it would not be long because I knew that she could do this.
I was right. A few months later she told me she was ready, she had overcome. Love—the love of God and the love of her brothers and sisters in the Lord—was bearing fruit in her.
At one point she told Donna (my wife) and I how grateful she was for this church family. She said, “Time and again I showed up here still reeling from the night before, barely able to look myself in the mirror and you guys just kept loving me and welcoming me like I was somebody special.” And that was why she kept coming back. —That’s what love does.
She told us this as she was getting ready to move to another state, as she had married a godly man and was going to start a new life– heartbroken to be leaving–but thrilled to be walking in God’s plan.
She was perfected— by love.
Know that you know him
Do you know him? Do you know Jesus? If you are walking in love you do.
4 He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. 1 John 2
So, let’s wrap this up by answering the question we asked at the start; How do you perfect love?
This seems like a complicated statement requiring deep thought and study but it is really quite simple and rather neatly sums up what the gospel is all about. God gave mankind his word, the commandments and the law, the prophets and the psalms, the wisdom writings and the stories, to show us how to love and live—to live in perfect love, no sin, no selfishness, no rebellion. But we could not do it—bottom line—should have been the end of the story.
But the Father didn’t want our story to end there. So he sent Jesus, the only one who was able to do it—to perfectly keep God’s word, to become the perfect sacrifice so that we, who could not keep God’s word and thus perfect love, could be recipients of his perfect love. Now we have a new word by which to live, by which to be perfected, the only way by which we may be perfected and perfect love, and that is to believe and receive the Word of God come in the flesh; Jesus.
And the proof of that? The evidence of our saving knowledge of the Word of God, of Jesus Christ the Son of God?
“That 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.”
To us a Son is given, the rock has come. Claim your healing, claim your peace.
We can all remember a few people in our lives whose advice we treasured
Okay, last week I picked on us “Older guys”, now for you golden girls out there “the older women”– (he says while being careful not to look at anyone in particular, oh wait, you can’t see me-whew!)
Paul has some important advice for the mature gals in the early churches of Crete:
3 the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— 4 that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. Titus 2:3-5
I love this exhortation here to the older women to teach the younger. One of the things we are sorely lacking in our culture is this generational connection and continuity. Each generation of late seems to despise the older as out of touch and clueless. Nowadays that often comes with a whole list of accused ‘phobics attached, as the younger, supposedly enlightened, generation thinks they have it all figured out.
The older I get the more I realize just how foolish I was when I was younger and how I treasure the wisdom of those who are older then I. I’ll bet, no matter your age, you can all remember a few people in your life whose advice you treasured because in spite of any youthful bluster we all know we are actually clueless and about half scared—even more scared that everyone may see how clueless we are. Life is hard.
I believe it is even harder for a young woman who is expected now to not just be and do everything only a woman can be and do, but to do everything a man can do also, and preferably without a man—’they’re just bumbling idiots who only want to keep you down. ‘Oh, and you had better look good while you’re doing it.’
Most young women are pretty good at pulling this off, at least in appearances, and this can make some of the older women who should be encouraging them, despise them instead. We are all by nature very competitive and anyone who seems more assured and better put together is a threat to our place in life.
That’s not the way God desires us to behave and see one another. Which is why we need these admonitions in the scriptures. We all need to get over our bad selves and remember what Jesus said the law was actually all about, that we “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
This is what the law and the prophets were all pointing us to, Jesus says.
So,be the mentor you wish you had.
One the things I have heard here from younger folks in my church, especially the younger women—some of whom have come and gone now—is the desire for older women to mentor them in a real meaningful way. I have tried real hard to encourage this in recent times but it just was not happening and that is why some of those younger women have left—just being honest with you here.
I can’t make it happen, I tried and it backfired. The older women didn’t see themselves as qualified and the younger felt rejected. Thus the enemy used it to discourage everyone, including me, by making it look like my failure.
I’m sorry, I know by today’s standards, I could identify as an older woman and mentor the young women in my church myself, but, you know, I’m just one of those clueless old guys who still believes that God determined my sex when he created me, so that leaves you mature women, in years and in the faith, to be the ones to instruct the younger.
the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— 4 that they admonish the young women
How many of you younger women—new mother’s, those trying to navigate the single life, trying to keep up with the bills and the challenges of work and life, trying to live a life pleasing to God—how many would treasure any time spent with you by a woman who has been there and done that and managed to survive?
If you are an “Older woman” reading this, know that every young heart that read this just just cried out in their hearts–“Help me, hear me!”
I’ll let the Holy Spirit take it from there. That’s what I have learned regarding this issue. If it’s going to happen, it’s got to come from you, so. . . listen to that still small voice and obey.