Justice, and a Cowdog?

Hank the Cowdog by John R Erickson, Image by Gerald L Holmes

Justice is an unalterable law of God’s universe

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. James 5:4-6

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.

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.

Really? Rahab the Harlot?

“…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.

Rahab

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 able to 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.

Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, 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.

Spies

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 Jericho largely unnoticed 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.

How Are You Doing?

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

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

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

Sovereign

God is still sovereign.

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

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

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

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

crown of life

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

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

The Call

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

gifts from above

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuck in Galilee

From the Vatican to Red Lodge MT, from Grandma’s backyard to the White house lawn, this Easter is resoundingly quiet, and reflective. A huge and unsettling departure from what we are used to. We are all stuck in Galilee.

strike the shepherd hammer

“The flock will be scattered” When Jesus said this he knew he was fulfilling what the prophet Zechariah had said, he knew the horror that he was about to be struck with and the terror this would strike in the hearts of his flock. But even so, he was giving them hope, if they would just listen—After I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.

Galilee, why Galilee? Have you ever wondered about that statement?

What was in Galilee? The homes of the disciples.

That was where Jesus met them, that is where Peter was reinstated, forgiven and given another chance after his dismal night of betrayal at the trial of Jesus.

Their own homes

We are in Galilee right now, listening, seeking, being reassured and assured by the risen Lord that he does have a plan for us. He is giving us a chance to repent, be reinstated, recommissioned and then he is going to tell us to come back together to be anointed afresh because we have work to do.

Work to do with boldness and in power because when we gather again it will be those who did not fall away, whose faith was proven to be real because it stood the trials of the storm that has befallen all of us no matter what station of life, faith or lack of faith, we are all in the same boat wondering if the next wave is going to roll right over us and suck us to the bottom of the sea.

But those who recognized that they are not in that boat alone, who did not depend solely on church programs, smooth talking, smiling preachers and professional performers to lead them in a sing along where you can’t even hear yourself sing—they will be the ones who come back to that big room in Jerusalem, gather with the faithful who listened to the Lord in their days of exile, who see, hear and taste the glory of the Lord in Spirit and in truth.

It will be a glorious day church, and it will be a new day for God is doing a new thing and all that was first will be last and all that was last will now be first.

And those who have toiled in obscurity, those whose righteous souls have been vexed by the state of things as they were, all those who have loved and longed for truth and recoiled at the ear tickling ‘you are all wonderful and nothing bad will ever befall you’ name it and claim it preaching that promises earthly wealth while ignoring the poverty of the soul, they will be the ones rejoicing as we bring in the sheaves.

Those who have been listening have been told over and over the last couple of years  that there is a great harvest coming. Well get ready because here it comes! But harvests don’t bring in themselves.

We need to be here–gathering to be fed, we need to be ready, and we need to be out there being the church.

We need to be Jesus to a scared and anxious world. People are seeking answers right now, people are reevaluating what is important—’who and what do I trust, what if I die tomorrow, who is the God I will meet on the other side and am I ready to stand before him?’

You, church, have the answers, we know the truth, that Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life, is risen and we can be as well. We do not fear and we do not bow to anyone but our God.

take heart

Many are going to show up in church as soon as the doors are open again because they have found truth, they have found answers, they have found hope on-line by watching those who have been preaching truth in a way that all of a sudden hundreds and thousands of people who have never been to a house of worship are able to hear.

A new church

I’m gonna be brutally honest with you here, I have been preaching here to a near empty building for the last several months as the church has been drifting away, finding excuses to not be here, finding other places where they have more to offer in the way of programs or events, taking offense in me or in others, and I was starting to wonder how much longer my church would be viable.

But I kept clinging to the promises and standing on the word. And now, suddenly we have hundreds— literally hundreds—of people watching our humble little church services on Facebook over the course of the week as it sits there beckoning people, and I believe it is the Holy Spirit beckoning people, come, click on this and listen to truth. Listen to hope, be renewed and reborn by the word of God.

And when the storm passes, and it may take some time, Lord I hope not, but it may be a storm that lasts longer than any of us hope or dare believe because there may have to be some real pain before many are ready to turn their hearts to the only one who can get them through the storms.

But when God’s purpose is accomplished in this, when the enemy, who is playing this for all it’s worth and thinks he is defeating us by striking us and scattering the flock, all away from the shepherds and back to their own fearful corners of the world, people are going to come back to church, many for the first time, seeking the love and the peace that they felt in their hearts when they stumbled upon those faithful servants who still speak truth in Jesus name.

And you, church, those who have been feasting at the troughs that the shepherds of the Lord’s flocks—shepherds that the enemy has been striking over and over and over again, yet have refused to fall—you who have been feeding at the troughs that they have toiled to keep full for you— you will need to be here to show them that the love and the joy that they felt is real, and that one of the greatest joys of being a part of the family of God is being a part of the family of God.

Little children, love.love in deed

The Lord is indeed doing a new thing, but he can only give us the opportunities, we must still do our part.

How long will this pandemic hysteria last? Probably until we have learned what we are supposed to learn, and or, until enough of the church contends through fasting and prayer, repentance and humility, for the healing of our land, of our hearts, our hands and our bodies.

When he see’s that we commit to seeking first the Kingdom of our God over our own, that we live for the fruits of the Spirit not the works of the flesh, that we are willing take up our cross daily rather than looking for ways to shirk it, that we answer the call instead of putting God on hold. If we can do that, this world would be a different place tomorrow. A place of health, blessings, and joy.

When the disciples finally burst forth from their homes they changed the world with those words—He is risen. It was a game changer for the entire world.

But that was that generation, God is now calling on us, getting our attention, it’s time to get serious about following Jesus again, taking up his command to go and make disciples of all the world. “Disciples”—not pew sitters or simple converts who never mature but always demand to be fed more milk.

God is going to do it, it’s time, perhaps the last time. Whether we are part of it is our choice.

If God does it in spite of us, it will be so that he can raise up a new army who will take him seriously and who will heed his command to take the good news that he is risen to the world while the old guard seeks out entertainment centers called churches. They will return to pat you on the head and tell you you’re wonderful preachers and then wonder why the next round of tribulation woes has not spared any of them a lick.

Happy Easter! Yeah, I’m a radical, but so is the Lord I follow.

But don’t miss the point; The disciples were all scattered for fear, when they came back together they were much different people with a much different outlook. That should stir your soul.

Game Changer

Everything is always different after a true Resurrection.

Now more than ever, you need to release your inner barbarian for Jesus!book cover

Good Friday

It is finished Jesus

The crucifixion of the Christ was an act of love so outrageous and unprecedented that Satan himself was duped into facilitating it, ignorant to the fact that he was sealing his own destruction. The ancient serpent, that oh so experienced and practiced purveyor of hate and deceit from of old, could not comprehend an act of love so unselfish and sacrificial that it would completely obliterate his claim to all of us whom the Father loved.

Satan thought he was destroying the Son of God, destroying love itself, on the cross. He was too foolish to see that he could never defeat the author of life—the Word of God, the light of the world—by destroying his flesh. the flesh of the sinless Son of God, the physical manifestation of God himself, come for all the world to see and know.

He was the perfect sacrifice that would end all sacrifices and nullify the curse by which Satan, and all whom he would deceive with the spirit of the antichrist, had previously sought to condemn and destroy all of God’s children.

abide in him

And now, all of that is done, in the words of Jesus—It is finished. And now we can abide in love and look forward to the day when we too will see him face to face, unashamed and loved. And we will one day see the new Jerusalem as it comes down from heaven. Coming down to the recreated earth, for all who loved his appearing, to dwell in forever.

Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. Rev 21:2,3

John did indeed get to see that glorious city and describe to us what his eyes beheld, what we get to look forward to.

But first John had to learn how to abide in love.

And we know that John did learn all this because he writes to tell us, his dear little children, years later after experiencing a life of fellowship with his Lord despite all the hardship and pain he has had to endure, as he fights a different kind of battle then what the younger Son of Thunder had anticipated; he was fighting darkness with light, death with life, hatred with love.

John was fighting for the souls of those whom the enemy would like to keep in darkness while John looks forward to the day when he will see his Lord again and feel his embrace, the physical embrace of the love in which he has abided, a perfect love that casts out all fear.

Spirit bears witness doveWe find ourselves today in a time of impending darkness and fear. Fear of what tomorrow might bring, fear of pestilence and death, fear of what our neighbors will think if we dare break away from the social mandates we suddenly find ourselves bound by even as they seem to change daily.

But just as the enemy of our souls thought he was gaining a victory over those loved of the Father as His only Son hung dying on that cross, but only sealed the ultimate victory of love over hate, so we today are going to see God bring victory from this dark day in America. The sun will come up tomorrow, and the Son is still victorious even when we do not understand the pain of the day.

In the meantime, keep loving your neighbor, without breathing on them, and get ready for great things to come for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.

God is LoveBe blessed my brothers and sisters, you are loved.

The End Is Always Near

What can I do, what can I do to secure me, me, me! I just need more ammo, that’s the ticket.’

Give to those in need

If Jesus were to preach the sermon on the mount today it might include something like this. ‘If you have a closet full of toilet paper and your neighbor comes to you begging for a square to spare, give him a package or two.’

‘If the government compels you to pay your sick employee’s wages, pay his rent also.’

‘If your single parent neighbor comes to you as you are holed up in your house for fear, begging for you to take care of her three children for a while so she  can take her sick baby to the doctor, do not turn them away and do not withhold anything else they might need.’

It’s not about you, it’s about seeking first the Kingdom of God and letting God worry about your well-being. It’s about God being glorified as others see him in us.

light shine bible

As the Apostle John would say Little children, love.

 

“But the end is near!”  The end is always near. Survival at the expense of your soul is not survival.

I am old enough to have lived through several end of the world scenarios by now. As a child in the 60’s we were all about to get nuked by the commies at any moment. The cold war and the Cuban missile crisis kept that very real. In the 70’s there was an ice age coming. Then the hole in the Ozone was going to allow the sun to scorch us all into melanoma ridden wretches.

Acid rain was going to kill off all living things. Killer Bees were going to invade North America and kill us all off by 1980.

Jesus was prophesied to return and the tribulation to begin on specific dates too numerous to recount now. Not too many years ago there were billboards in Billings giving us the date. That day came and went.

In 2012 we were supposed to all die because the Mayan Calendar ran out. Coincidentally this was about the time they discovered that Yellowstone Park is one big super volcano that can kill most of us in a single eruption. At least we’re close enough to not suffer long.

And much scarier diseases were going to kill us all off nearly every other year. Aids, Anthrax attacks, Bubonic plague, swine flu, West Nile Fever, Mad Cow Disease, Monkey Pox, Zika Virus to name a few.

Viruses are never anything to take lightly and there were real people who suffered, but my point is, we cannot succumb to fear and live like tomorrow is totally in our own hands to secure. —’What can I do, what can I do to secure me, me, me! I just need more ammo, that’s the ticket.’

I didn’t mention my favorite world ending virus, the one that was going to shut down the worlds banking systems, the entire power grid, make cars stop running and our toasters attack us, knocking us all back into the stone age—that was the Y2k bug.

That was the computer virus that was going to be spontaneously generated by all the internal calendars of all the worlds computers suddenly believing it is the year 1900 because all of a sudden at the turn of the year 2000 the date reads 00 according to their digital coding which had been programmed with two digit date memories to save valuable memory space.

Like somehow the computer chip cared what century it existed in and knew that in 1900 there were no computers.

But people panicked. They stocked up on—you guessed it—toilet paper. Everyone bought kerosene heaters and generators. They stocked up on food and water, suddenly everyone was a prepper.

Some people even sold everything they owned and moved to the mountains to live like a bunch of Jeremiah Johnson’s while the rest of the world looted and plundered one another after the lights went out and all the bank vaults flew open at the stroke of midnight.

toilet paper Apocalypse

And of course, many people stocked up on guns and ammo. We have to protect our hoard you know!

“Are you truly going to kill someone over a cracker?”

I’ll never forget hearing those words from our pastor at the brink of the year 2000. As Y2k was fast approaching and people were getting more frantic.

17 But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? 1 John 3

Pastor Stan reminded us who we were and what we are called to do, much as we are being reminded today through the words of John, and he asked that pointed question.

My old pastor basically said—words that are as relevant today as they were twenty years ago—All of you who are stocking up, emptying the store shelves of food and ammunition as fast as they can stock them. Are you truly planning to shoot a hungry neighbor because he is trying to get some of your food? Do you truly want to stand before the Lord one day and explain to him why you killed a man to save your crackers?

That hit me right between the eyes and I never forgot it. Yes we have to right to defend our families and you know this barbarian certainly will, but we do not have the right to not share with a person in need when we have the means to help—even yes, if it is the last of what we have.

love your enemies

 

“But, it’s not my fault they didn’t prepare, that they didn’t stock up!” Well you know what? Not everyone can afford to stock up. Many people live check to check, most people live check to check, and are happy if they can afford to buy groceries for the week ahead, let alone weeks down the road.

And now that those with money have bought everything, when they do get their next check, there is nothing to buy.

Blessed are the poor

And even then, most of those people would share what little they have. I have seen it over and over again, the people who have the least are often the most generous. I suppose because they know what it’s like to be without and they do not want others to feel that pain.

Blessed are you poor,
For yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
For you shall be filled.”  Luke 6

If you are blessed, bless others, whether they love you or not. If we do that God will take care of our tomorrow and we will always be blessed. Our hearts will have no reason to condemn us and we can sleep well at night knowing that we are loving as we are loved and that God will hear our prayers.

21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. 22 And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. 23 And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, 1 John 3

I would rather have an empty stomach and have to use something other than Quilted Northern to wipe my behind than have a heart that condemns me. And if we are keeping his commandment, which is what? —believe in Jesus and love one another, all we have to do is ask and we will receive from him. We get what we truly need from God.

In this day, while it is still called today; remember who you are and rest assured that God has a purpose in all this, that it cannot be thwarted and that love is always the underlying motive in all his dealings with his people. Let your hearts rest assured.

Hearts conmdemn us hands

God is greater than our hearts, to me that says; don’t trust your feelings. Trust the promises of God, trust his love.

We are going to be okay.

Not Created for Nothing

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

light of the world

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

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

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

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

Just a few examples:

dark nothingness

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

Illuminating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fellowship with light

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

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

Lost

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

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

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

Darkness felt Egypt

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

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

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

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

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

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

God is Light woman walking

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

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

Broken

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

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

person holding a mug infront of a lighted christmas tree
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

fall on the stone.jpg

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.

broken and mended .jpg

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

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

Powder?

believe and recieve Jesus

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.”

a son is given

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

Barbarians in the kingdom

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Preacher Dan

Have a most blessed and merry Christmas everyone!

Alive in Him

alive in him

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ… Ephesians 2

Isn’t it good to be alive? Seriously, life is a precious gift. The ability to appreciate the beauty around us, to enjoy the smells, sounds  and sights of this amazing world we were placed in. The tastes of good food whether it’s the everyday bacon, eggs and coffee or whatever it is you have for breakfast—Wheatiesor the unique taste of the first burger of the season cooked on the BBQ after a long winter, or a special birthday cake fixed just for you.

I love the smell of new spring growth, the freshness of the rain, and the smell of fresh cut grass, the sound of a creek flowing over a rocky stream bed and on and on—it’s good to be alive and to have the ability to enjoy and appreciate the wonders of even the simplest things in life—all of them are a gift from God.

The gift

Life is a gift, a gift that comes with gifts. If we don’t enjoy this gift of life it’s no one’s fault but our own. No matter what is going on in your life, the pressures of family or work, the bills that need to be paid, the ailments that come and go, we can all step outside in the morning, lift our eyes to heaven, feel the sun on our face or see the wonders of the stars and say ‘thank you Lord, it is indeed good

It is good

—your creation is very good. Help me to be alive in it today, thank you for giving me life, help me live it today as a gift from you.’

Strange song

I love it in the spring when the song birds come back from the southern haunts. I never consider it to be spring until I hear the song of a meadow lark. I have been blessed to live where their songs fill the air about the time winter is making it’s last desperate attempts to hang on just a little longer, but to no avail, as the sun climbs a little higher into the Big Sky every day.

When we first moved to Carbon County near Red Lodge MT we thought there was something strange about the meadowlarks here. They sounded great but their song is a little different then the Meadowlarks we had been hearing for so long on Blue Creek just 30 miles away. It really bothered our daughter Danielle, she wanted to go out and teach them the right melody. I don’t know if it’s a learned thing that differs from region to region or what it is. The song is still beautiful but they just end on a different note and drop a warble on the end, like they forgot the last verse.

Nevertheless I have truly come to appreciate the song of the Meadowlarks that come stay with us each summer. There is one that likes to perch on top of the phone pole in our backyard and sing his heart out. It always amazes me that such a tiny bird can make such a big sound. You can be driving down the road at highway speeds with your window cracked open and hear the song of a meadow lark like you are standing right next to it.

I don’t personally know any meadowlarks, I mean, I’ve never sat down and visited with one, they’re pretty shy and not much for sharing and honestly, I don’t know if the bird that appears on our phone pole is the same one every year, or from day to day for that matter. They all look the same to me. Yet, there is one who does know those birds. In fact, he knows all the birds, and cares about them.

The one who created them, the only one who could have created such amazing creatures—I mean, feathers, flying, migrating, singing, surviving, even flourishing through the worst of natures wrath and challenges—that someone who always has his eye on the tiniest sparrow is, of course, God.

Meadow lark

Jesus would use this fact to teach us how valuable we are to God and to encourage us to not be afraid of anything this world would throw at us.

“And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!

“Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 12:4

Fear no other

Fear God and no other.

The only one a human being created in the image of God should fear is the creator. Yet we, who recognize just how valuable we are to Him, who are unable to be destroyed because our life is now in Christ, have nothing to fear from God nor the enemy.

That’s the point of all that Jesus came to do and teach, and is what Paul is telling us in Ephesians. We are alive, we cannot be destroyed, and we have nothing to fear for we are loved and always will be. Even at deaths’ door when this flesh is used up or destroyed, we are just opening the door to Jesus Christ and our eternity with him, seated in the heavenly places.

As I was praying about this message, and why I delved into the sparrow thing, is because of what the Lord gave me for you to share this week as relates to what we are studying in Ephesians this week.

“My eye is on the sparrow, my hand is on your heart. I am the air you breath and the song you sing.” HS

As we just read from the words of Jesus, not a single sparrow goes unnoticed by God nor is forgotten, yet we are so much more valuable to him and our hearts are in his hands. Our heart is our life, the seat of our emotions, the temple of the Holy Spirit—in scripture heart is synonymous with the soul—the real us within the tent of flesh that we live in.

So if his hand is on our hearts, then our life is His and in His control and care—we just have to learn to trust that.

If we look to God for the song in our hearts, it will be there as surely as the air we breathe.

Barbarians in the Kingdom

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Blown It?

Have I lost my salvation?

Depression

You ever feel like you’ve blown it so bad with Jesus that surely He must be done forgiving you and you might as well just give up and give in? “I might as well eat drink and be merry because surely I’ve lost my reward and will be lucky if I even make it into heaven. ‘Lord, how can you love a sinner like me?’” Time marches on, the years go by and it seems like the struggle never ends, the temptations keep coming and the flesh keeps falling for the same old tricks and the heart still struggles to hold on to hope.

It doesn’t always happen, some days we feel pretty good about ourselves and feel we might be winning the battle, our anchor is holding fast, but then we stumble again “Oh Lord, how can you love a wretch like me?” And then we read something like Hebrews chapter 6 and we really get worried.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. Heb 6

Encouraging isn’t it?—um, not really… I’d be willing to bet that as you read this it caused you a little sense of panic; “Have I lost my salvation, is this me, is this my wife, my husband, my child?”

But we have to look at it in light of what he said just before this and in the previous chapter–five–that we shouldn’t have to keep laying the foundations again and again, those foundational principles that we are saved by repentance and faith, turning away from sin and to Jesus. We shouldn’t have to keep hounding on the basics of the faith, the resurrection of the dead, the importance of baptism, the power in the laying on of hands and the finality of God’s coming judgement—things which were even basic principles in the Jewish faith before the once for all sacrifice of the Son of God.

He’s saying that it doesn’t do any good to keep hounding people who already know all these things, who have experienced them and understood them, yet have rejected and turned away from them—from God—to hear them again because it will no longer do them any good. They have fallen away and no longer care; they can’t be resaved, when they have rejected what they had. The anchor rope has been cut and left on the bottom with the anchor.

The grace on which our hope is based is a gift. And a gift returned to Jesus because we didn’t like it is a gift no longer ours and may never be offered again. That may all sound a bit unnerving but that’s what it says here. But stay with me here, he’s not talking about misled or foolish believers who make some bad choices, he’s talking about being truly apostate, renouncing faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Those who have received the gift of grace, been reborn by God’s Holy Spirit and even experienced the miraculous transformative power of that Spirit and moved in the Kingdom’s power, only to one day say ‘God is not real, his word no longer satisfies my soul’, They are rejecting the truth and forfeiting the grace they were so freely given.

When they turn back to the sin and bondages that Jesus died to free them from, whether it is turning back to the law—trusting in religious works and ceremony instead of Jesus for salvation, or rejecting the word of God out of hand and living just for the flesh as though Jesus was nothing more than a myth used by the foolish to keep people down—they are basically thumbing their noses at Jesus. Just as those who crucified him did.

The Mob

Jesus Cross

The screaming mob who stood before Pilate and shouted “crucify him” were many of the same people who had witnessed his miracles of healing, heard his words of power and authority proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God and offering peace and forgiveness to all who believed. They had heard of and even seen Lazarus who was raised from the dead, heard the shouts of praise from the blind men and the lepers, the crippled and bleeding women who were healed.

They had seen and heard demons flee in terror from those they had tormented, at just a word from Jesus—and then, because they were led astray by the words of a handful of men in fancy robes who claimed to be too smart to be swayed by such foolishness, they demanded his death.

Why would they do that? Perhaps because they wanted something now that that they weren’t getting. They wanted their Messiah to give them free bread everyday just like Moses had called down for their ancestors or like Caesar was doing in Rome. They wanted their deliverer to charge in on a white stallion leading an army like David and Solomon did in the glory days of old, their swords dripping with the blood of their enemies.

They wanted all their wishes and desires pandered to and they wanted vengeance on their enemies—and they wanted all this today. But it wasn’t happening so they were now an angry mob, and once that mentality takes hold, it’s no longer anchored in hope, it’s anchored in hate.

They hated the Romans, they hated the Samaritans, they hated their puppet king and the corrupt priests. But all Jesus wanted to talk about was love and faith, forgiveness and mercy—heart issues and selflessness—’we don’t need that, we need action, displays of power that will put the fear into the Romans and restore the greatness of Israel, and we need it now. ‘So off with his head!’, the Queen of Hearts is back on the throne, and Jesus is no longer relevant to us.’

That’s what the writer here is talking about when he says it’s impossible for those who once knew, saw and tasted that God is good, who experienced real forgiveness and felt the power of grace, who throw it all away, who renounce their faith and chase after the things of the flesh once again, to be restored to life. They have thrown away their grace, traded life for death, love for hate, mercy for judgement. Just as surely as those who stood on the hill at the foot of the cross and mocked him—the Nazarene who bled there.

They are committing the worst of sins in their mocking and jeers, that are blaspheming, cursing God himself.  Jesus put it this way;

against me

Still a citizen

So the writer of Hebrews here is not talking about just making mistakes and doing on occasion what we know we shouldn’t oughta do—he’s talking about purposely disregarding Christ and no longer caring or being grateful for his grace. Like the young woman from Alabama who basically renounced her U.S. citizenship to join Isis in Syria who now wants to come back to America. That renounce America and swear allegiance to her enemy thing is not working out so well for her—turns out the enemy’s promises of glory and purpose are not all they’re cracked up to be and now she will have a tough row to hoe proving that she truly warrants another chance to come home to the land she openly mocked and scorned.

In the case of one “fallen away” they just do not want to come home.

Better things

better things

The writer of Hebrews, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as all of scripture is, is convinced that we are not those who have denied our faith and jumped headlong into the pit of doom. Just the fact that one would take the time to read these words is proof enough that the heart is still seeking the Lord, still open to his Spirit and receptive to his grace.

I used to have men ask me back when I was doing bible studies at the jail, men who acknowledged that they have made bad choices—done horrible things and stumbled and fallen in their walk with the Lord— they would ask me, desperate and forlorn, “Have I lost my salvation, can God still forgive me?” And I would always tell them the same thing, the same answer I would give to many others since then, “Just the fact that you are asking me that question, that you are worried about it, means that you haven’t.”

An apostate, someone who has denied Jesus as Lord, blasphemed the Holy Spirit whom it is that bears witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, does not care any longer what God thinks, they are not worried about losing their salvation or being forgiven because they no longer acknowledge that they are accountable to him. A heart that has rejected Jesus Christ as Lord is a hard heart with no room for remorse.

anchored meme

If one reads on in Hebrews 6 you’ll discover that God has given us his word, His solemn oath, that our souls are anchored in him, anchored by hope and that hope is found in his word, trusting his word, believing his word, our hope is his word, in his word we find Jesus, his only Son, creator, redeemer, the word of God, God himself, incarnate.

And hope never disappoints us. —Romans 5:4

So no, you have not blown it.

Be blessed my friends;  Dan–the barbarian Pastor

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