Fanning the Flame

“It was not long before we heard sirens coming from what seemed every direction, . . . we were now the idiots who tried to blow up Billings. “

Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? 18 Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? Mark 8

Can you imagine standing toe to toe with Jesus and having him ask you this? The indignation of this question is quite obvious in the context. So this was no rhetorical or contrived discussion question.

Welcome to the Capernaum chapter of the Clueless Fishermen for Jesus support group. Let’s break the ice by going around the circle and explaining in two or three sentences why you are still confused about this carpenter/teacher/prophet from Nazareth. Who wants to go first?”

No, This is a question from Jesus that no doubt made his followers a little uncomfortable. It’s like—‘Do I need to call Captain Obvious to explain things to you? Can you not hear? Can you not see? Have you forgotten everything?’

Do we understand? Because it’s easy to miss the obvious truth that Jesus is the Christ and that in him we have nothing to fear and nothing to loose, if we are totally surrendered to and trusting of him.

We have to keep fanning the flames of truth and understanding to really bring the knowledge of who Christ is, and what that means for us, from the head into the heart, into our very spirits. We have to let the Holy Spirit move freely through us and in us and that is a huge challenge because the enemy will do everything he can to block that wind of the Spirit so that those flames will die out leaving us with nothing but head knowledge and a weakness that leaves us susceptible to the yeast of the Pharisees—a yeast of selfish ambition and religious attitudes of judgment and haughtiness.

Look at me. I’m somebody and you are nobody, and I am worthy of more.‘  That attitude, along with the weaknesses of the flesh that we may give in to, can block the Spirit and leave us smoldering.

Why do we not understand? Because we are not putting it all together. This is what the Lord told me, because I asked, and the Lord gives wisdom to those who ask:

“The understanding is in the heart, the wisdom is in the word, and the conjunction is in the Spirit.”

Worldly wisdom comes from the head and what we can put in it. Godly wisdom is seated in the heart, it is a wisdom that comes from God’s word and is brought to life by his Holy Spirit.  

The word is the fire that is in the heart and the wind that fans the flames is the Holy Spirit fanning it all to life for wisdom, power and understanding. All of that leads to the faith we need to get us through this life with and for Jesus, blessed, fruitful and advancing the Kingdom of our God.

Fire!

Back in the 80’s when I worked for an outfit that did pipeline and refinery work we got contracted to do the demolition of one of those big oil storage tanks at the Conoco refinery in Billings. The tank was located in a lot just behind the refinery actually, just off the Interstate in what they called the “tank farm.” If you are going through Billings you have surely seen those tanks right near the river just before you get to the Lockwood exit.

Our job was to go in there with cutting torches and cut this huge tank into sheets of metal small enough to fit on a flatbed truck to haul away for scrap metal.

So where do you start demoing a giant steel tank? On the roof of course. So, using a crane with a “man cage” swinging from it they hoisted me up to the top and deposited me with my cutting torch in hand. The Oxy/Acetylene bottles were still on the ground and I had many feet of hose run out to it. I started cutting away, the plan being to cut pie shaped pieces of the lid loose and let them fall down inside. That’s another story all in itself, it’s a wonder I survived my earlier construction years looking back at some of the things we used to do. But anyway, so far, so good.

Now, this tank had been sitting empty for many years and there was a large hole cut in the side big enough to drive a small skid steer through and to let things air out real well. But there was this weird thick black dry residue of something all over the floor. It looked to me like ground up tires, three inches thick or so. It was actually some kind of residue from the crude oil that had been stored in the tank at one time.

We soon discovered that it was somewhat flammable, no problem. As I was cutting on top, occasionally a small fire would flare up on the floor and someone would just go in and pat it out with a shovel.

Then the boss, the owner of the outfit, ol’ Wayne, at least he seemed old to me at the time, decided that it would be much more efficient to put the oxy/acetylene bottles up on the lid, and then we would have enough hose to get two guys cutting.

So they loaded up the bottles into the man cage and hoisted them up to the lid. Everyone’s attention was on the bottles and the people going up to the top—and no one was watching the inside of the tank where a little bit of smoldering residue had got enough wind to burst into flames.

We now had a big enough hole in the roof that the wind blowing through the opening in the side could really get to fanning the flames and soon there was quite a plume of smoke billowing out of the top. I shouted “Hey, there’s a fire down below!”

The flames were now way too big to pat out with a shovel. The boss quickly swung us and the bottles down off the top and soon everyone was running around like chickens with their heads cut off. I was standing there with Wayne waiting for him to tell me what to do and he looked at me and said; “I don’t know what to do!”

By this time there was a line of cars stopped on the highway watching this huge column of thick black smoke billowing out of the top of a tank; at the refinery!—this does not look good. We were a long ways from the nearest phone but the smoke signals we were sending up could be seen for miles. Just imagine a giant burn barrel full of tires; that’s what we had going there.

(A more recent fire) A STORAGE TANK at the ConocoPhillips refinery, above, lies crumpled Friday morning after a fire on Thursday in Billings.

I looked at Wayne and said “We have to stop that wind from blowing in that hole in the side—it’s just fanning the flames and making it look really bad.We grabbed a large tarp from one of our trucks and Wayne and I stood there and held it up against the hole as best we could to block the wind.

It helped but it did not stop the flames, the smoke was still horrendous. It was not long before we heard sirens coming from what seemed every direction. Soon a big yellow fire truck came rolling up and fireman all decked out in their coats and respirators came running at us shouting “What’s going on?”

We were standing the with our arms up over our heads holding the tarp against the tank, futilely trying to cut off the air, our faces black with soot—and Wayne didn’t say a word. I don’t know what he was thinking but he looked like a deer in the headlights. So I quickly explained the situation. About this time hoses were being strung out so we dropped our tarp and got out of the way as they ran headlong into the tank and started spraying foam everywhere.

Photo by Tobias Rehbein on Pexels.com
Here I am– to save the day!

Before it was over we had five different fire crews show up. The City of Billings, Lockwood, the refinery fire crews from Conoco and the nearby Exxon crew and a truck from the now defunct O’Donnell’s Fire service clear out in Shepherd.

I was just shaking my head. I kept thinking, “It’s just a little fire inside of a tank all by itself over here, it’s mostly just smoke!” But apparently everyone thought that the whole city was in danger. The fire was out long before all the trucks stopped rolling in.

Of course we made the evening news and we were now the idiots who tried to blow up Billings. But we went back to work the next day and made sure we kept someone on fire watch. Life goes on.

Thots

Do you understand?

Understanding is the small flicker of flame that starts as a little smolder in a rich and abundant bed of fuel planted in our hearts by God’s word, that has to have the wind of the Spirit to really get it roaring. The Devil will try everything he can to put out that fire. But all he has is a tarp made of lies to try and block the wind. Don’t let him do it.

To understand you have to put it all together, if you understand that Jesus is the Christ, that he is with you, that you have nothing to fear, that he can use what you have to do incredible things from a heart of compassion for people, and do not let the greed of the heart, the lies of the world and the pride that is always prodded by the enemy choke you off, then the Holy Spirit will fan the embers of faith in your heart into a roaring fire that God can use to overcome any obstacle to his purposes that he puts on your heart to achieve.

Not for greed, not for glory, not for fame or self-satisfaction, but for Jesus.

The understanding is in the heart, the wisdom is in the word, and the conjunction is in the Spirit.

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Tumult

We are allowing the enemy of our souls to control the narrative.

Our country and our churches are a mess. And there’s no one to blame but ourselves for the state we are in.

It’s human nature to try to control every aspect of our lives, even the God part. We want to be in control of our destinies, our fortunes, our health, our walk with the Lord and our church services. We want to control the narrative. Guess what? We aren’t. And we are certainly not letting or inviting God to do it. So, by default, just as happened in the garden of Eden, we are allowing the enemy to control the narrative.

And his narrative always leads directly away from God and directly into destruction, And the road to destruction is always lined with shiny things and beautiful promises—even as those walking along it are angrily screaming at everyone to join them; ‘Come on, what’s wrong with you? Are you an ignorant hater? That narrow difficult path is for losers and rednecks.’

 We live in tense and tumultuous times. Which is ironic really because we live in the wealthiest nation on earth in what is likely the most prosperous period mankind has ever known. But, with that comes a stress all its own also, because apparently we all have too much time to worry about why our neighbors don’t all agree with our way of thinking, and why some people have more stuff than we do.

Life just gets more and more complicated and grounded less and less in reality. On the one hand there are people who run themselves ragged, trying to keep up with all that life offers and throws at us, either fending it off or fighting to get more of it, who have little or no time to fight for what they need or believe. They are too busy working.

And then there are those who seemingly have nothing but time because everything is handed to them and they have way too much time to fret over why you still have something they don’t have. And they have nothing better to do then scheme, shame or beat you into submission to their obviously superior ways. ‘Hey, if you weren’t trying to carry all that stuff down that narrow path we would have a lot more fun over here on this easy road—hand it over!

Looters

Never mind, we’ll just take it.

That has literally been happening this year with little or no opposition from those in charge whom we pay to look out for us. And if everything being talked about gets implemented it’s only just beginning. It won’t just be the thugs looting, it will be the authorities. Looting seems to be the order of the day.

The culture war has been brewing for a while, as has the class envy divisiveness that the voices of discontent keep propagating, and has now devolved into a sanctified racism against those who must be racist simply because of their color or political leanings.

Photo by Life Matters on Pexels.com

You throw a little pandemic into the mix, a botched presidential election between two ideologies that seem to have no common ground whatsoever and are so far apart that no matter who wins or loses, one half of the country is going to despair nearly to death, and refuse to accept the outcome– social media platforms that none of us can seem to avoid where we can spend every minute of every day arguing, provoking and being provoked by countless people, many of whom we have never met—and you mix it all up with a concerted and outright war on the truth of God’s word and his people—which isn’t hard because they have been progressively marginalized for decades now—and what do you get?

A nation without hope. A nation without a moral compass. A nation tearing itself apart at the seams and ignorant of everything that once made it the most blessed place on earth and a light and beacon of hope to the world. A nation whose God is no longer the Lord.

The Answer

So what’s the remedy? Winning an election isn’t the answer, just the fact that we can get into the state we’re potentially in, where we stand to lose everything that we have traditionally fought for and held dear as Americans and God fearing people, because of a single election, is evidence that something is very, very wrong.

The fact that God had to use a bombastic, rude, playboy billionaire turned reality TV star to wake this country and the church up to what we were losing and how we had been too cowardly to fight for it, is evidence that something is very, very wrong.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Pexels.com

Which probably means that somewhere, we went very, very wrong. Perhaps, God has left the building, crowded out by idols of power, greed, perversions and humanism. Or perhaps he was crowded out by self-righteous blindness that can’t see the work of the hand of God and the opportunity we were given because the vessel was not polished and certified wholesome like a Bush or a Romney.

Our country was and is a mess. And in the case of now or never God uses the willing, he uses those who answer, when the rest lie down and roll over because the fight is ‘not becoming of a person of my stature, and I just want to get along—don’t you?’

I’m glad Jesus didn’t worry about impressing the righteous.

And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mark 2

He just did what needed to be done for those who needed it the most, and who were willing to receive the gift being offered.

Our iniquity is great and our sins are many. Yes, God sometimes does leave the building, his patience is longsuffering and his mercies great, but there is always a time when he just has no room left, when even the Holy of Holies is no longer habitable.

The vision of Ezekiel in Ezekiel 8—10  where he sees the wheel, way up in the middle of the air, might make a fun Sunday school song, but that wheel was God’s Holy Vehicle for his Spirit to depart from the desecrated Temple, and from Israel.

 He was leaving a temple that had become a house of idols to all sorts of vile and detestable demonic gods and a land whose leaders and priests were far from him.

“Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the room of his idols? For they say, ‘The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land.’ ” Ez 8:12

Then He said to me, “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great, and the land is full of bloodshed, and the city full of perversity; for they say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see!’ Ez 9:9

18 Then the glory of the Lord departed from the threshold of the temple Ezekiel 10:18

Ezekiel 10:18

Do you see the main problem here? They decided God was gone long before he was, and that’s what pushed him out. They say— “The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see!’

We are not there yet. God has not forsaken us, we have forsaken him, and God does indeed see. See’s and weeps. ‘Turn back to me!

God has not left the building, but collectively we just act like he has—the country as a whole. It’s not too late, we who still trust in him and ache for the soul of this nation and the church need to stand up and be heard by the Lord and the world. Those God has called need to preach the word with authority, teach unapologetically, now is the time to stand up and be heard.

We have the greatest story ever told to share with a desperate world. We have the good news of Jesus Christ, the pure, simple gospel of love and forgiveness, redemption and hope. We have the power and authority by virtue of his Holy Spirit to set the captives free, to speak life to death, healing to sickness, light to darkness, infallible truth to lies and deceits.

It won’t be easy or pleasant, because the enemy is alive and well and has gained great control over much of this world including our society. But we have something he does not, truth and love embodied and dwelling in our hearts, the Holy Spirit. And if we just show up and keep speaking, acting and doing whatever it is that Spirit of love asks you to do, people are drawn to Jesus—they just are.

44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. John 6

You just open your mouth, refuse to be silenced, and let God do the teaching through you. Then watch the Father draw people to Jesus. You’ll be amazed. Just be ready to welcome all comers and keep Jesus front and center.

Invite the Lord to control the narrative. And then allow him to narrate through you.

Chrome

Jesus is Lord.

This is what you need to know, nothing else matters, all else is rubbish and just confusion if you do not know and believe in the Christ as presented and proclaimed in the gospel accounts, you are powerless, all show and no go. But in him, we are mighty!

Jesus was pretty controversial in his day–as he still is.

“What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” 28 And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee. Mark 1:27,28

This was no new Doctrine, this was the word of God incarnate. And his fame now knows no bounds, so long as his story continues to be told. In this troubled day, that message must be loud and clear.

And all the unclean spirits say —bummer dude!

Chrome

And there are a lot of unclean spirits in our lives and in our world that need dealt with, aren’t there? That’s why we need to Gospel, why the simple gospel of Jesus Christ must always be front and center in his church and the core of our witness to the world.

All else is just chrome and paint, it’s what’s under the hood that gets us to the finish line. People are popping the hoods to many churches, and of their own lives, and finding there was nothing under the hood but an old dusty Chilton’s Manuel that says place engine here. Or they see an engine that is just collecting spider webs and mouse nests because it hasn’t run in years.

I bought my first car when I was 16. A 1960 Chevy Belair. A big blue beautiful piece of molded Detroit steel all highlighted with chrome, real chrome, not the phony stuff that flakes off the plastic grills of todays cars. It had a 350 engine under the hood that the guy I bought it from had just put in it.

I think I paid about $100 bucks for it. In 1978 when minimum wage was $2.30 an hour, that was a lot of money. It was a great car. I towed it home and put it the field behind my folks house where it sat until I hauled it to the junk yard a year or two later.

You see, the engine was not hooked up, it had just been dropped in there and bolted down. I knew nothing about what it took to install a new engine in a car. I washed it, polished the chrome, bought a bunch of wire to maybe start wiring it—but I never heard it run. When I bought it the guy I bought it from promised me he would help me get it going, but he moved out of town after only spending an hour or so under the hood with me.

I ended up buying a beat up ’68 Delmont 88 with a 455 that ran like a top, and finally had to get rid of the shiny Chevy because the landlord was complaining. I basically got scrap metal prices for it because I didn’t even have a title—$30—which was what it had cost me to rent the tow bar to get it there.

No doubt somewhere in some classic car show my Belair lives on because I can’t imagine that this savvy junk yard dealer just crushed it. I kind of hope someone got it, it deserved a reset. But back then, it was just an old car cluttering up the neighborhood.

Dare I go there?

How many churches are just cluttering up the neighborhoods, all chrome on the outside but no life inside where it matters. They’re not going anywhere. I used to sit in that old car and dream of driving it. It actually had electric seats and windows and if I charged the battery they would work, for a little while. But it never roared to life—it was dead. All show and no go.

No road trips for me.

Reset

Last week we talked about the reset God is doing with his church. In the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, is the reset story. The reset button between the Old and New Covenant, between fables and faith, between truth and pop psychology, between chrome and actual internal combustion.

In this season of reset for the church as all the chaff and trappings of religiosity are being stripped away, as the business of religion is going bust, glitzy halls of production stand empty, and all the crowd demanded programs cancelled, what is left standing is the word of God, the truth of the gospel message and the power behind it to heal, restore, and change lives forever.

That’s what we find in the Gospels. The beginning of wisdom, the final victory, the only thing that truly matters and will never fail. Jesus Christ as Lord. —The words of life, the words of truth.

If we want to be mighty for God, a mighty warrior, mighty in the Kingdom— putting the enemy to flight, wrongs to right, and bringing healing to the flesh and the soul, we must accept what Jesus offers and live as he lived; Spirit filled, prayerful–guided, emboldened and protected by the living word.

In the first chapter of Mark, which I will be teaching through for the nest several weeks, Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit and immediately he follows the Spirit’s leading and go to fast and pray in the wilderness for forty days. He does battle with the enemy in those wilderness days and withstands him with the word, as we know from the other gospels.

Mark doesn’t record that, perhaps because he knows the temptations and the battle would continue until the final victory when Jesus walked out if the tomb three years later. His mission accomplished, his road trip completed.

He got there because he was Spirit filled, prayed up and he had the word hidden in his heart. He was indeed mighty. In this wilderness test he prevailed and  because of his faithfulness he was protected from the wild beasts and cared for by angels.

If you’ve ever spent any amount of time, especially alone, in the wilderness around here (Montana) you know how vulnerable you are to wild beasts. Bears, mountain lions, wolves, moose, badgers, snakes, Big foots, the Little people—don’t laugh, we’ve all heard stories or had experiences, there’s some weird stuff out there in our wilderness.

There’s even wild beasts that threaten us in our towns anymore, and the smallest one of all that has everyone hiding—viruses. We all need and must contend for protection, being mighty is of little avail if we live in fear and can be taken out by any mindless or malevolent beasts out there.

The point is, God protects those who are faithful and trust in him. We too can be mighty. There is no greater witness of God’s power and love than his willingness to heal. The healed will follow and serve him, knowing that there is indeed power under the hood, it’s not just promises and show.

The mighty pray for the sick and contend and believe for healing, they don’t shun them and hide from them or just mourn their demise

They bring their message to the streets, they drive their Chevies to the dry levies proclaiming that they know where to find the water that never runs out. They proclaim the message of the gospel.

Jesus’s message was simple, hear the good news I am bringing, believe it and turn away from your sin and follow me.

The immobile chrome is heading to the junk yard, get that 455 rocket tuned up! https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&p=455+rocket+song+kathy+mattea#id=1&vid=a4557249fc2bdd6bf59fd474db01b952&action=click

Reset

Today, Sunday, October 25th, marks the tenth anniversary of Hope Chapel Red Lodge. The humble little church my wife Donna and I planted in the little town of Red Lodge MT in 2010.

Hope Chapel Red Lodge’s old rugged cross

It was meant to be a day of celebration with our church family, a day of reflection and prayer for the season ahead. Instead, for the first time in those ten years, we had no church service, no one at the church, not even a livestream Covid shutdown type message. Pastoring in a mountain town in Montana snow storms are more the norm than not it seems, and I have never not had services, nor been unable to make it myself because of weather. But this weekend we just flat could not make it and I did not want to encourage anyone else to be out on the treacherous roads as we had an unseasonably nasty snow storm, a series of storms actually, blast their way across our state this week. And as I write this it is only 7 degrees Fahrenheit outside my door-in October!.

I just spent two days driving back from Coeur d’Alene ID where my wife and I were blessed to have been able to attend the Foursquare Church North Western District conference. It would normally only take seven hours to drive back, but driving through numerous mountain passes in a snow storm tends to slow you down a bit–and, we spent the night in Belgrade (MT) as they closed the Interstate ahead of us. So, no church, no celebration, just icy roads and and the company of crawling semi trucks, grateful for every mile that we were still moving past the many who were not, as they slid into the guardrails, barro pits and snow filled mediums.

But we made it home and look forward to gathering with the church next week. Best laid plans. . .

But isn’t that the way it’s been lately? “Lord just help me keep moving forward, mile by mile, step by step, inch by inch. Keep me out of the ditch and don’t let this be my end!”

I just spent a few days in the company of 250 other church leaders, most of them pastors, (masked and socially distanced, kinda) and they all seemed to be in the same state of Lord, just get me through this and to the other side! Many, like myself, are feeling a little shell shocked and even, dare I say it, hopeless. It seems that every snowy mountain pass we get through just leads to another, and another, and another. For me, and many others, this started long before the Covid gift from the wise men in the east showed up.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

The enemy has been running rough shod over the church, over my people, for a few years now. I have seen way too many marriages end, families torn apart and pastors crushed. Yes, there have been victories and yes, God is still on the throne. And I know that much of what has happened, including this year with it’s race riots, shutdowns, deaths and sicknesses, persecutions and general mayhem and panic, is not caused by God, but is being used by him nonetheless, to prune and refine his church.

The church that is still standing, if and when this time of trial is over, will be the true church of Jesus Christ. And they will be the ones used to bring in the great harvest that is coming and has already begun.

Across the board, and around the world, churches have been forced to decide what’s truly important, what being the church really means, and face the reality that much of what and whom they counted on were not real, were not true and were not truly of God. Many of those we thought we had discipled have turned against us and all the trappings of religion and all the programs people demanded have been stripped away.

And what’s left? Exactly what should be left. The resurrected Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross to save us from the many sins we are all guilty of. The Holy Spirit who has been poured out on those who believed in that Christ to give us life, healing and the power to be his witnesses in all the world. The word of God, unchanging, eternal and absolute. And the peace and joy that comes only from a relationship with that Savior who died for us, found in this word, and made alive in our hearts by his Holy Spirit. So that we can come boldly into the throne room and be loved and blessed by our Father God.

And what is church? The gathering of two or more to celebrate, honor and worship that God who loves us so, to learn and be encouraged by his word and to be blessed and healed by the presence of his Spirit. PERIOD!

If that gathering has to happen in a building against the wishes of the authorities, than so be it. If it happens in a home, on a beach, in a catacomb, so be it. But it must happen.

The church is going through a forced reset. When all is stripped away, long enough that it cannot easily be brought back, and all that is left is us and Jesus, we will remember what it was all for in the first place–for HIM.

We love him because he first loved us.

I try to live by a simple mantra, I am after all, just a barbarian with a Bible:

Keep it simple stupid…

This is a picture of me 10 years ago, preaching my first sermon at our new church in Red Lodge. I had nothing but a bible, a guitar and a roomful of used chairs in a 900 square foot rented storefront-and a handful of good friends who believed in what we were doing there. Preaching the gospel and worshipping our Lord.

I preached that first message without notes. I simply told the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, dramatically acted out and as boldly as I could. As I told the story I literally built the cross that has adorned our sanctuary ever since. It was made from scrub Cedar logs that had been knocked down by heavy snows on our old ranch. I was making a statement, that Jesus would always be the center of all that we did there, that as Paul had told the Corinthian’s, “I come to you determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

That message is still central to our ministry, and always will be. There have been times when I have succumbed to the pressure to “do more” to please and attract the people. But now I see that the simplicity of the church I felt led to start and maintain is the model that has stood. We have not attracted the masses and gotten noticed by the important people, but we are still standing— focus on the road ahead, and a steady hand has kept us out of the ditches..

So, “Lord, as your church is being “reset” in this season of trial, please give me, and all my brothers and sisters in arms, the strength and grace to stand, and when all is finished, to still stand. And to prepare a people committed to you, to reap and welcome in the harvest of souls that you have prepared even in the chaos.”

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.” -Jesus

Little children, Love.

We will make it home, just keep moving forward, stay focused and keep praying. The sun always rises, spring always comes and our God still reigns.

The Enduring

We are all doing this now, what is wrong with you? How dare you question authority and collective wisdom.”

“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.” Acts 15:28—29

Do this

Those words from the book of Acts represent the final verdict that came out of the Jerusalem council, presided over by James as to what the Gentile believers in the Jewish Messiah should do to remain in good standing. This was the extent of the religious requirements placed on those who had confessed Jesus as Lord and turned away from their demonic false gods.

Simple, concise and easy. But these simple requirements made the former pagans stand out like sore thumbs—because everyone else was doing them and expected everyone to participate. If you refused you were seen as ignorant, judgmental, narrow minded and deemed a threat to society. We are all doing this now, what is wrong with you? How dare you question authority and collective wisdom—we have a consensus!

The same was happening in Jerusalem where the followers of Jesus no longer supported the temple worship and threatened the power and financial base of the priests and Pharisees. Things were getting ugly, you didn’t just buck the system—not the Roman system nor the Jewish religious system—without paying dearly. The church was forced into civil disobedience as they had to choose over and over again whether to listen to God or to man.

So this called for endurance, as they were often beaten, imprisoned or worse.  

Proclaiming “Jesus is Lord and there is no other way to the Father but by him” was not okay. They were constantly swimming against the current, but this just served to make them stronger. When Jesus is all you have, you learn that Jesus is all you need. And then you are fearless and unstoppable. Even your death becomes a witness that cannot be stopped and a testimony that cannot be silenced.

Job

You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord”

—Job’s patient endurance in the face of his misery, robbed of everything he loved by the devil himself, his health, his wealth, his children and his dignity live on as a testimony equal to none. But he refused to give in to the temptation to forsake his God and concede that maybe he was wrong about a loving and merciful God who seemed so far away in his pain. But he didn’t. He was counted among the enduring and was ultimately blessed beyond measure.

James is telling his church; ‘Don’t despair, don’t give in to the shrill voices of the deceived and ignorant who demand that you condone and accept their debauchery and corruption. Don’t succumb to their insistence that right is wrong and good is evil. Don’t sell your soul for the false peace promised to those who fall in line with the ever changing norms of a culture that has no set standard by which to measure good from evil aside from how the mob feels that day.’

Don’t set aside who you are to conform to who they demand you be. Be patient—be patient and endure.

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. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. James 5

Establish your hearts, strengthen them, defend the hill on which you stand and watch and be ready for the coming of the Lord.

The more things change, the more things stay the same. James could have written his yesterday and it would all mean the same thing. God’s word is truly eternal and the enemies’ tricks are always the same.

Societal Pressure

All of this, this pressure on the early church to conform to the norms of a sick culture, should sound very familiar.

If you are trying to live by the basics of right and wrong, to honor God and his word, to abstain from the lewdness, rudeness and crudeness—from the drunkenness and the pervasive everybody must get stoned mindset that is being openly and aggressively promoted, then you will stand out like a sore thumb and you will be targeted and attacked as ignorant, judgmental, narrow minded—and deemed a threat to society.

And this is no longer just on a street level, this mindset is now pervading mayors offices, governors mansions, judge’s chambers and the halls of congress.

So this call to endure and persevere is no longer just an abstract concept that we have to manufacture perceived slights, and feign offense at whispered back biting, to relate to. It is now very real and it is being codified into law and popular culture.

I’m going to say this once, and I’m going to say it plainly. The only firewall we have right now between us and the spirit of the antichrist legally obliterating the church in America— is sitting in the Oval office.

Very few Christians know or care how many arrows our president has taken for the church and frankly, it is shameful that we are not more appreciative and supportive.

Is he perfect? No, he’s a Celtic barbarian from the mean streets of New York and he behaves as his blood and his upbringing dictate. But he is God’s chosen warrior, the one who stepped up, to buy his church time to repent and regroup. And we either have 5 months or four more years to do that. Trust me on that as a pastor who pays very close attention to all of this, and to what the Spirit is saying.

I don’t say this lightly because I know it will offend many people and probably cost me some readers. But, that is what happens when you speak honestly in the name of the Lord.

People who don’t cause offense don’t suffer and need no patience. But that is not us is it? If you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ve learned critical thinking, how to question everything and not to accept everything just because someone else said so. And you’ve learned not to be offended by truth or challenges to your spiritual status quo.

Barbarian

There’s no contented stagnant pools in my church because I’m always stirring the pot with my sword to keep it fresh. I told you, and them, long ago I’m just a barbarian with a bible and God keeps challenging me to keep that straight forward—fight the enemy in front of you—spirit, while living in total obedience to my king.

Barbarian prophetic preachers don’t draw big crowds or get invited to preach in big churches. But then Jesus only had a handful of people left in his group after three years, and they changed the world—forever.

We are the fruit of their sufferings and patient endurance and we are far from done. We will endure.

I referred earlier to the only firewall between us and the true church being outlawed as sitting in the White house.

There is another firewall, a spiritual firewall, that must be built up and reinforced because the Law is only as good as the people who adhere to or enforce it. The president can only buy us time. That time must be used to reclaim this country and this culture for Jesus.

That will take patient endurance yes. It will take boldness and may involve suffering, yes. It may involve civil disobedience as we are forced to choose between obeying God and obeying man, yes.

But none of that will have a lasting or meaningful impact unless we become people of prayer.

God had shut up the heavens when ancient Israel turned its back on him and it did not rain for 3 1/2 years. It took the fervent prayers of just one man, a man who was willing to stand in the gap between blessings and curses, right and wrong, God and idolatry, and pray for blessed rain.

He alone prayed because he alone heard God speak to him, Elijah, it’s time—pray for rain.

Elijah was just a man, one with a nature like ours, who had bad days, lots of bad days, and good days. Imagine if there had been an army of Elijahs? There is, we are they.

We are the people called by his name. We are the enduring.

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

1 Peter 1:23

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Just who is this Jesus? (Crazy Love)

Jesus God Meme

“. . .because we have been to hell and back together. . . and because we have always had one another’s backs . . . we (my wife and I) do not have to fear that we will one day wake up to discover that we are no longer in love and tear each other apart.”

Today begins a journey through the New Testament book of Hebrews. I hope you’ll join me my friends.

Hebrews

The first chapter of Hebrews lays out succinctly and plainly just who Jesus is. This is of utmost importance as this is what makes a Christian a Christian; knowing, believing and accepting who Jesus, not just was, but is. So the writer, gets that point across right out of the chute. And like that 8 second ride that saying brings to mind, you have to pay attention to every twist and turn, buck and snort, because it will be over before you know it and if you weren’t paying attention you’ll wonder what the big deal is and walk away thinking it was all about the clowns.

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. Hebrews 1:1—4

All of that in the opening sentence of this amazing book.

The Only Way

Jesus is salvation, not a component of salvation. Jesus is the way, not one of the ways. He is the creator, not created like an angel. He is exalted because he was exalted. He is a Son of God yet he is God. All that gives his death on the cross it’s power. Without that basis, without knowing and believing who Jesus is, the cross is emptied of power and we are indeed left to earn our salvation by adhering to the Law; by being good enough to get into heaven.

The Jesus described here in Hebrews in great theological clarity is put forth as many things as Jesus’ true being is many faceted. But all this is somewhat cerebral. It’s one thing to know who Jesus is, it’s another to know him. One without the other can be a ‘lose lose’ for both you and Jesus. If you have a head knowledge of who Jesus is but do not know him, you are lost because, as John also said in his gospel, we have to believe and receive.

 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, John 1:12

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But you can also know Jesus, invite him into your heart and be cleansed of your sins, without really knowing on what your faith is based. If you don’t have the word to back up your faith you can potentially be talked out of it, and perhaps end up lost to Jesus.

Crazy Love

I was thinking about a young woman in our church family the other day, how she just seems to get more and more excited and plugged into Jesus as time goes by, and the thought hit me, “Man, that girl is just crazy in love with Jesus!” And I thought, “You know, that’s really what it takes to get us through this life.” We can know all the scriptures, even grow up in church, look and act like good little Christian boys and girls and never really have a deep down love and appreciation for Jesus, and the enemy can come along and steal our joy, our passion—our lives in him.

It’s like my wife Donna and I. We have been married for nearly thirty one years. We have been through some really hard times, we have not always seen eye to eye and we have tested and stretched one another, but we are crazy in love with one another. We started out our marriage in love, and we have always been in love. There were times when we might not have felt it so much or maybe wondered about the whole thing; but we were, and always have been, committed to our marriage.

And today as we look around near and far and see marriages fall apart, people living selfishly or refusing to do things God’s way and then struggling to understand why they are not happy and blessed we find ourselves looking at one another more and more and saying ‘thank you Jesus for us.’

silhouettes of couple kissing against sunset
Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

I know that we are in a relationship that will endure. I can know that because we know one another, better than we ever have, better than anyone else in the world, because we have been to hell and back together.  And, because we have always had one another’s backs and afford one another complete and total trust and honesty, we do not have to fear that we will one day wake up to discover that we are no longer in love—and tear each other apart.

I can say that because we have a crazy love for one another that is based on and modeled after a crazy love for Jesus who promises he will never leave us nor forsake us, and we made that promise to, and before him, to each other. And we are blessed. You know what that blessing is? Love, love is the blessing, love that cannot die, that cannot be taken away, that is ours to keep and live and breathe and sleep in, for as long as we chose to do so because it is a love that comes from Jesus, a love that is Jesus.

Above all else, Jesus is love. This chapter 1 from Hebrews goes to great lengths to explain to us from several different angles and scriptural proofs that Jesus is God, and what is God? God is love.

So if you are going to know Jesus, if you are going to be in Christ, live in Christ, build a life, build a marriage, build a family, on the rock, on Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Son of Man, ‘who was and is and is to come’, you are going to have a love that cannot be destroyed and that ‘overcomes all things’. And if that is all I have, if that is the sum total of my life when I breath my last—I had love. And because I had love, I had everything. I am in love, I am in Christ—and because I recognize and embrace that, I am and will die a blessed, happy and content man.

Everything else the Lord entrusts me with is just icing on the cake. Everything the world and the enemy throws at me is just a nuisance and a temporary heartache. I know who my Jesus is, I know my Jesus and he knows me.

If you fall madly in love with Jesus, you are in Jesus because Jesus is love. Thus you now know who Jesus is.

Just crazy

That head and heart understanding of who Jesus is has carried me through and beyond challenge after challenge, trial after trial, grief after grief, temptation after temptation, failure after failure—for 34 years now. 34 years this last week in fact. I know I would be a mess otherwise.

I have a mind that is always rebelling against my heart and a flesh that is constantly fighting with my spirit. And I know if I were not crazy in love with the real Jesus, the Jesus who is Lord, Lord of my life, I would just be crazy.

Instead of crazy in love, I would just be crazy and I would have to turn to something else, things that would ensnare me, and I would probably be someone I didn’t like very much. But because I have a God who believes in me, who loves me and always sees the best in me and encourages it, I can love myself. And because of that and my love for him, I desire to be the best that I can be and I have a reason bigger then myself to do so.

grayscale photo of couple holding frame while kissing
Photo by Murilo Folgosi on Pexels.com

That carries over into my marriage also, because I love, and am loved, by a Lord who upholds all things by the word of his power:

“and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”  Heb 1

Because of that I can love others sacrificially and unconditionally as well, just as I am loved.

And just as the trials and challenges that Donna and I have faced together have served to make our love and respect for one another only grow stronger over time, so the many trials and tribulations that I have faced, and face, only serve to make my love for Jesus stronger and my relationship with him ever more precious and appreciated.

You can take away all that I have, but you can never take away my love and knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord and King—my God.

But to the Son He says:

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. Heb 1

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