Church is Not…

Jesus was asked the question one day; By what authority are you telling us how we should do things here in the house of the Lord?’ Boy, if that doesn’t rank as the stupidest and most ironic questions of all time, then it is certainly high on the list. ‘Who am I to demand that things be done God’s way in God’s house? Well, I’m God—any more questions?’

The stories in Mark 11 can be difficult, it’s like–Wow Jesus seems a bit harsh in his responses to a couple of different situations here—is he having a bad day or what?

No, Jesus is just done. He knows his time is short and he had no more patience for seeing his Father’s resources and gifts wasted, squandered and used for personal enrichment at the expense of those who need fed.

From a distance the temple of Jesus’ day looked spectacular. It was by far the grandest and most magnificent thing most of these people had ever seen. ‘Surely God dwells and moves in this place and I am excited about getting what my weary soul needs once I’m in there.’

Then they walk in and find themselves surrounded by a market place atmosphere being overseen by high and mighty looking men in very expensive clothing and bling that cost more than many of them made in a year, or maybe a lifetime. Yet the smell of manure hangs heavy in the air.

They are told their sacrifices are not sufficient—but for a price, they can exchange them for an acceptable animal, and they can exchange their heathen currency for a holy shekel—for a small fee of course—so that they can pay their entrance fee. . . er temple tax, and of course, still tithe and give alms.

Then, you can stand shoulder to shoulder with the crowd and watch the spectacle of the sacrifices being made by the professional priests up on the big platform—but then, ‘please move along, there are others waiting to come in.’

They then find themselves back out in the street, hungry both in body and in soul, feeling empty and taken advantage of. So they use what little money they have left to buy lunch and head home telling themselves that they are better off because they did their religious duty and went to the temple.

‘Well, maybe next time I’ll feel like I had an encounter with God. I had better start saving up now.’

People were going to the temple hungry and going away hungrier—and that made Jesus furious. He could see exactly what was going on, he could see into the hearts of greed that had made the temple a business, and he could see the sorrow and despair in the hearts of those who came to be blessed and forgiven but found only outstretched hands, not in blessing but in taking.

They were not being challenged to draw near to God, they were being manipulated, shamed and marketed—all wrapped in a polished veneer of religion to make them think this was all necessary to keep them from being damned—it was truly evil.

So yeah, a little violent overthrow of some tables was in order to try and set things right. But the arrogance of the priests, Scribes and Pharisees would not let them see that Jesus was trying to spare them the true destruction that their hard hearts would bring on. When the Romans would destroy their temple and the very ground it was rooted on.

Then they, like the fig tree, would be cut off from the source of life.

Sobering

To me there is a very sobering lesson in all of that for us as the church and for me as a follower of Christ. Are we being fruitful? Am I being fruitful?

We have talked about this often lately because it is literally happening at breakneck speed all around us—churches and ministries drying up from the roots. Dying overnight. It has been happening for several years actually. Church attendance in America is dramatically down and churches have been closing left and right.

And now the process has been sped up as all that many ministries depended on—the financing their huge buildings, staff, programs depend on—has been severely cut. Because people have either not been allowed to go to these programs and huge buildings, or because they realized that they were not truly being fed, only entertained, so they decided to stay home—and, to keep their money.

Or they’re happy to just watch church online—it’s just so much easier, and I don’t have to pretend to be okay.

Thank God for the means to bring the message to those who cannot be in house, but I’m sorry—that is not church.

Church is not—

Church is not just a sermon, online or otherwise. Churc is a gathering together of the saints- a coming together to learn, worship, encourage and exhort, pray and visit, laugh and cry, hug and touch—things we all need as human beings—as the church of Jesus Christ. Church is not a place or an event, we are the church—wherever we are together is church.

Church is us coming together to have God sit enthroned on our praises, to have Jesus move among us when two or more gather, to feel the presence of God as we invite his Spirit to move among us for healing and correction.

Church is a place where you gather to be taught the word of God by a pastor who loves you and knows you, who invests in you so that you can bear fruit to share, who challenges you to be a better person, a true disciple of Jesus Christ, not just a ticket holder to heaven.

It’s a place where we bring our voices together and lift our songs and our hands straight to the throne of God and feels his pleasure in our sacrifice and open our hearts to hear his voice.

Church is where we gather to share and give of what we have been entrusted with, knowing that it will be invested back into the Kingdom where God would reveal needs to alleviate, and opportunities to sow and equip the workers of the harvest.

When a place that calls itself a church stops doing that, any and all of that, Jesus takes issue and starts cleaning house. As a pastor in this consumer oriented society where the church at large has embraced a marketing mindset not unlike the cooperate world, that is very frightening.

I have been involved in church leadership and ministry for a few decades now and I know all the reasons for everything shiny and professional, all the bling and the pop, the technology and the marketing—and it all seems very reasonable and necessary to take advantage of every means possible to share the gospel.

But it too often turns into a beast that has to spend more energy and resources to feed itself then it does others.

Then you wake up one day and find that the people who are being drawn to your grand design are walking away empty never to return.

‘I thought; Surely God dwells and moves in this place and I was excited about getting what my weary soul needed once I was in there.’

Instead they found salesman with outstretched hands promising the means to a more pleasing sacrifice to the God who wants to bless you—if you’ll only commit to the program and keep paying the temple tax. Then Jesus comes in and turns over the money tables and drives out the merchants, rebukes the priests, and speaks in parables the mysteries of the kingdom for those who have ears to hear.

True Church

And those who stick around to hear, will be asked to share—and they will. Because they cannot hold in the fire. God cannot be stopped and his plan cannot be thwarted—and the enemy fears that. The true church will survive—and prevail.

“Because the people have spoken these words,
    I will make my words in your mouth a fire
    and these people the wood it consumes. Jeremiah 5:14

Who gave you the authority!? God did. Any more stupid questions?

No one can stand up to or prevail against the word of God and the wisdom given to those who love God and his word.

Don’t give up, don’t give in, this is just getting good. . .

We Just Aren’t Getting It–Yet

Or —‘What the Hell is Going on Here!’

We are all a part of a much larger plan and are being prepared for the full implementation of it.

As the followers of Jesus headed to capital city with him, they had visions of grandeur that turned into horror.

They say a baby’s world ends where their vision does. If they cannot see it, it does not exist. So when Momma leaves the baby’s sight she has left him all alone in the world. But when their world is about to end because there is this sudden pain of hunger or an uncomfortable squishy feeling in the diaper causing a wail that in their minds can be heard by all of creation—all 10 feet or so of it—Momma suddenly comes back into the world and fixes it.

‘Momma—don’t you leave me again, when I wake up you had better be here. I have big plans of a bottle, a burb and a song.’ As far as they know that is all there is and all there ever will be. Sometimes that daddy person pops his face into the world and makes goofy noises—but then he just vanishes also.

A baby cannot fathom that there is a whole grand world out there full of many babies just like them and that the people who pop in and out of their world have a life and an existence apart from them, and that they are all part of a bigger plan, of which they will be more and more a part of.

Their scope and perception is very limited—as is ours. We have a hard time imagining anything beyond our own corners of the world, let alone Heaven and the spiritual realm, the true nature of eternity and the grand scope of the billions of human souls just like ours who all have a stake in how eternity plays out.

We cannot fathom how it is all affected by what happens here in the realm of time and space where the most important thing is how we feel at the moment. We think we get it, and we try really hard to look past our noses—but we are really clueless.

When our expectations of what is going to happen, what must happen, do not happen—we lose all hope; “The world will never be the same, there is no way this can work out. ‘Lord how can you just leave me here hanging like this? This person must be president, this person must be stopped, this policy must be secured, this wrong must be righted, I have to be allowed to do this and that, go here and there, I must be seated at the right hand of power— I must have my bottle filled and my diaper changed today or my world will come to an end!’

No little Johnny—just be patient, don’t sell the farm just yet—there’s a much bigger picture, a much larger battle, a much grander plan being implemented and today is just a tiny part of it.

Just because you’re uncomfortable today does not mean you have been abandoned. Just because you sister dumped the strained peas on your head and seems to have gotten away with it because daddy was off in the kitchen for a moment, doesn’t mean you are forever doomed to have a sticky head and a mocking sibling.

Okay, that got a little strange and I’m not sure where to take it from there, but I hope you get the point. We do not see the big picture, we do not know how today will affect tomorrow and we certainly do not know what tomorrow holds and just exactly what our Father in Heaven had planned for us as we squabble over the strained peas.

But I do know this—we are all a part of a much larger plan and are being prepared for the full implementation of it.

Today we may feel like helpless children—I think that is God teaching us that we must be like helpless children, we must be humble, urgently seeking our Father; ‘Please! Come back into my world and fix this—I can’t!’ Exactly—you cannot fix it. Only God can.

You just need to learn to trust, to be patient, to look for and be ready for, the day when you are used to win the final victory.

Today you are the servant of all, taking the scorn, the mocking and the beatings so that tomorrow you can be great, so that you can be used of God and see his glory revealed, washing away all the darkness and vileness that has mocked us and oppressed— not just us, but our God as well.

Today we are being taught these lessons, being taught how to trust and persevere so that we will still be here when His day comes. In the meantime it will get messy, and it is. Nothing really worth having comes without a price and a fight.

Hard Lessons

The twelve were learning this on this journey to Jerusalem.

The disciples expected Jesus to just waltz in and claim the throne. They weren’t understanding the fights required to get to where they were truly headed, the patience, determination and faith it would require. Nothing good comes easy. Not when evil insists on having it’s day.

The 12 fully expected to see everything work out according to the scenario they had imagined and conjectured, maybe even by the end of the week—’We know what’s going on, we know the scriptures, we have been following and being taught by the Messiah himself day and night for three years! I mean, it just has too, because the only other outcome is our end. We are not welcome in Jerusalem, the seat of power, not if we are with Jesus and are known as his followers.’

So this must be it! This is our day! Here we go!

They were sadly and profoundly mistaken. Instead of the glory they expected and promised one another, by the end of the week the  scorn and violence they feared had fully overtaken them, murdered their King, turned them into refugees and outlaws hiding for fear of their lives—silenced.

Glory revealed

But what happened three days later? The very thing they were promised—Jesus rose again and he was seated on the throne. But that throne and that kingdom was not earthly, the throne was at the right hand of the Father and the kingdom was the universe, and, our hearts.

The days of scorn, mocking, abuse and violence ended in the revealing of the Son of God in all his Glory. And suddenly—they, who had been scorned and mocked as ignorant fisherman and uneducated nobodies from obscure fishing villages up north, would be looked to as the ultimate authorities on all things concerning the Messiah.

They were the experts and the final word in the quickly expanding church of Jesus Christ that would soon eclipse the precious traditions and religion that the Pharisees and Priests clung to, leaving the experts who scorned them looking like fools. And they were. Fools who completely missed what God was doing because of their arrogance. Because they were sure that they were first. But in the Kingdom, the first will be last.

The follower of Jesus who thought they had missed out on and blown their chance for glory days because it didn’t happen in their time and in their way, were given their positions of authority in the Kingdom just when they least expected it, after they thought all was lost. Because they had drank from the cup and shared in the baptism of Jesus.

But today, heading toward Jerusalem, they are still in the humbling and learning stages and things are about to get real.

Before they could be washed in the blood and baptized with fire they had to see the blood shed and fight the fires of hell’s fury. They may have been born and raised at the knees of the rabbi’s who taught them the prophets and the law, they may have been hearing talk of the Kingdom to come straight from Jesus for three years now, but they were still a long way from glory, at least as far as the price to be paid.

They still were not prepared nor seemed to understand the suffering that must happen first.

See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34 they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”

They had to pay their dues so to speak, learn their lessons, get kicked around by the best for a bit, mocked, scorned, bruised and tried—it would be nothing compared to what their Lord would suffer of course, but nonetheless it all seemed pretty hopeless and final; ‘This is as big as our world gets and we just lost it allwe just watched our last chance die.’

Little did they realize.

One Word–Divorce

Hard lessons learned

I refused to condemn and stop loving and welcoming anyone.”

I’m going to lay it right out there— two or three years ago we had over 40 people here pretty consistently in our small rural church, and there were times when we were looking for extra chairs to put out. Today 20 seems like a lot.

What happened? One worddivorce.

I hate to admit that because it doesn’t seem to speak well of a ministry. But we cannot hide from the truth and pretending that it was something else does not fix it nor heal it. There are no dark corners here to hide things in.

We had a handful of divorces and a broken engagement or two all within a two year span. In a small tight knit church family, that is devastating and has immediate and long lasting ripple effects on everyone.

And honestly, all things considered, especially that they involved the worship team and my own family, I don’t think many churches could have survived the devastation, period. But God is good and he led us through as best as possible and we are now rebuilding wiser and stronger and I hope more in tuned to, and certainly more dependent on, the Holy Spirit and his presence here than ever.

But the casualty rate was high. I don’t blame anyone but the enemy—and he is a clever and wily one. He just started peeling people off– How?

For starters, in a divorce—everyone takes sides and soon one side has to leave because they cannot be in the presence of the other side.

Then some people feel condemned and judged—so they leave.

Others feel the tension and the pressure—and they leave.

There is a fear that it is contagious and fear for their own marriages—so they leave.

Others do not like the way the pastor handled it—so they leave.

Some of the most challenging ministry and spiritual battles I have ever fought happened in the midst of all that.

If I did everything everyone thought I should do, everything that the flesh demanded I do—the carnage would have been horrendous and our building would be a Hair salon or a Yoga studio right now.

And the flock would all be somewhere else telling everyone what a judgmental bible and head thumper I was.

As a result some people were upset because I refused to condemn and stop loving and welcoming anyone. (You would not believe the backlash that created.) That is a battle that still continues, the dysfunctions caused by divorces are long lasting and far reaching.

Dysfunctions

But I refuse to play those games. If you have read either of my first two books you know why, I’m just done with accommodating other’s issues—done.

I have spent my entire life either being a victim of, or trying to minister to, other victims of those games. And what truly makes me angry is that it’s usually the children who suffer most. So whenever I find myself standing at dysfunction junction again deciding which track to follow—I will go down the road of the heart that functions fully in love.

It is the hard heart that always leads to destruction.

And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. Mark 10:5

God only allowed Moses to write a provision for divorce into the law because of man’s stubborn and self-seeking nature. But the heartache is then only exacerbated by the heart hardening that follows and demands that everyone else follow suit.

That doesn’t mean I condone or turn a blind eye to sin and bad choices, it just means that I love, as Jesus loves, unconditionally.

I will not be an enabler of your dysfunctions.  But neither will I stop trying to love you back into wholeness. And that, my friends, is a very fine and hard line to walk—apart from the Holy Spirit.

And if the trials of the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that nothing is more important than being completely sold out and 100% obedient to God no matter what or who is coming against you.

We must continually recognize that our enemy is not flesh and blood and that we are all susceptible to making mistakes and just outright foolish choices. And all I can do as a pastor is to keep loving you and inviting you to follow Jesus—for real, not just with lip service. This blog will always encourage and challenge you in that.

Love

The Lord gave me a real simple mandate in the heat of these battles, and he reminded me of it repeatedly as I struggled with—’what do I do?I feel like I need to rail on the virtues of marriage, to call people out, to bang some heads together—how do I make everyone happy, how do I appear in charge and make sure everyone knows just how I—I mean God—expects them to behave? “Lord, what am I to do here? How do I make these people see?”

You know what he said to me? “I have called you to love people. You let me take care of the rest—Just love people.”

 I cannot tell you how freeing that was to my weary and tortured soul. ‘Yes Lord, I can do that. Just love people.’ If that makes those who believe I need to come down on some, and vindicate others, angry to the point of leaving—then so be it.

The angry people needed to leave, or just get over them bad selves. Because, honestly— It was the tension and the whispering and the rumors between the various camps that did the worst damage—more so than the actual divorces.

Jesus’ love is unconditional—and so is mine. And anything and anyone that gets in the way of that love being known by his beloved will be dealt with in no uncertain terms.

If you have suffered the violence’s that that divorce does to your heart and soul, or picked up the pieces of the damage done, you know what this means and why God hates divorce. He hates it because of the violence it does to the hearts of those he loves. If you are that bruised soul–HE DOES NOT hate you, he hates what has happened to you, and he only wants to heal and restore you–just trust him. You are loved child.

In the Valley–Buried Alive

Rise to a new day

Sometimes the greatest changes happen on the heels of the worst nightmares.

Goodbye 2020 Glad to have survived you. . .

I’m not sure how this story relates exactly to all of what this last year was about, but I believe the Lord put this on my heart to share with you for this day. Some of you have already heard the story of how I was buried and nearly killed years ago. I was working at the Conoco refinery in Billings, once again, actually this story happened a few years before the one I shared last week. Again, it’s a wonder I survived all the stuff we used to do, but anyway.

It was November 4th, 1980, I was 19 years old and working in the valley, in a twelve foot deep hole in the middle of the valley, moving a gas pipeline on the edge of the refinery so that another could run under it. The hole was not shored or sloped as per OSHA regulations and I was too inexperienced to know, care or protest.

Towards the end of the day I was working on one side of the pipe, doing the messy job of wrapping the pipe welds after having primed them with a black mastic, the other guys were on the other side of the pipe wrapping up welding leads and picking up tools, when suddenly the very high and steep bank right behind me let loose and hit me from behind like a runaway freight train.

In fact that was my first thought as my face and chest was slammed against the black sticky pipe leaving me completely buried and unable to move a muscle. We were close to the railroad tracks so I thought “A train has fallen into the hole.”

As I realized that my mouth was packed with dirt and everything was black, I knew I had been buried alive. A true nightmare scenario. I had my whole life ahead of me and now it was over. I was not sure that even if they did get me out before I died from lack of air that I even wanted to live because I was sure I was paralyzed.

The weight of the soil on top of me had me pinned so completely that I could not even tell if I had the use of my arms and legs anymore. I could not even expand my lungs to breath or shout. This was as bad and as frightening as it could possibly get. But in those brief moments between life and eternity, where time slowed down to a crawl— I had an encroaching sense of peace.

I knew my Lord, and I knew my Father was with me, and I had no doubt that when I fell asleep in that dark hopeless valley I would wake up in his arms. And I did go to sleep there in that unexpected grave. But when I woke up I was not in the arms of my father, I was being shaken by my boss who was yelling at me to breath.

They had dug me out in time to stop my premature departure, I don’t know how, but I’m glad they did.

A new start

And, this is the reason I think I was supposed to share this today; the next day we had a new president. As I was being buried in that hopeless hole an election was taking place— back in the day when elections took one day and there were no computers to muddy things up— and the next day Ronald Reagan was President elect.

Soon the economy turned around, the fuel crisis was over, the Iranian hostage crisis ended on inauguration day and the days of the Iron curtain and the cold war were rapidly coming to a close. And I bought a house and got married.

The point?

Things can change in a moment, even if the moments you are in seem like the last.

So as we pop our heads up out of what many consider the pit of doom that 2020 was, let’s be hopeful that tomorrow will be a new and better day—more than just hopeful, let’s contend for, believe for and facilitate that being the case.

You are not just a hapless victim, you are a champion for the Kingdom, and God has spared you the death in the valley for a time such as this.   

Pilots Index Peaks Dan Swaningson

The timetable belongs to God, and he will yield to no other.

On the Mountain part 2

And now, here we are, on the doorstep of another year—wondering, praying and hoping that the new year is better then the old, forgetting that we can only live one day at a time anyway and that every one of those days is a gift from our creator until the day when we step into eternity, where a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day. Where we will be reunited with those who have gone before us, as has been the way of man since the beginning— pandemic or no pandemic.

So, since we insist on looking at individual years as somehow being a cohesive and cosmically manipulative unit—what do suppose the new one holds for us? I can just about guarantee you it will have plenty of both—mountaintops and valleys. The real question is; what are you going to do in those valleys?

We have all echoed the cry of the frightened father as he helplessly watches his son being tormented by evil—“Lord, I don’t know how you can fix this but I want to believe that you can! Have mercy!”

Yellowstone Park Dan Swaningson

We all believe. But when the valleys seem darkest, it’s hard sometimes to feel like you have enough faith to get out. And that’s when we can count of the faithfulness of our God.

I have prayed that prayer many times for myself—”Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief!” and the valleys are suddenly not so dark.

But you know, there are no true valleys for those who believe because Jesus is with us no matter the elevation or the obstacles in the path. Some places are just more challenging than others. Each day is what you make it. And if you pay attention, sometimes the valleys are the places where the real learning happens, where you truly see God at work.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the valleys, the low swampy parts of the valleys it would seem, and I have to be honest—2020 was not a valley for me, compared to some. And because I spent the year or two previously, fighting my way through some pretty dark valleys, seeing the enemy wreak havoc and attack my family and my church—if you think you know me—I can guarantee you, you do not know even a half of it. 2020 was a victory dance in comparison.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But the lessons I learned and the bonds that were forged in those fires are priceless, indestructible—and eternal.

49 “For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.” Mark 9

And I am stronger and more appreciative of every day the sun rises and I am still walking with my Lord no matter what happens, because my God has proven himself faithful and present time and again. And that’s all I really need—Jesus.

Anything and everything else good in my life is just a bonus that I am immensely grateful for. Even the scars and aches are just reminders of battles I’ve survived.

Tradition or Truth?

13 making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” Mark 7

You ever hear something so much that you stop hearing it? Do something so many times that you forgot you just did it? Or don’t remember why you even do it that way? In the Kingdom of God that’s called empty religion. In Jesus’ dealing with the religious of his day, he called it your tradition.

That little word your being the telling and convicting word there. Not because tradition is bad, but because it had replaced, truth–even replaced God.

“Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, Why do your disciples eat with unwashed hands? Why don’t you respect the tradition of the elders?” Mark 7:5

In Mark 7 we see Jesus getting frustrated yet again at the blindness of those who were supposed to know better; with the teachers and scholars of the day who had taken the word of God, the law and the promises, the warnings and the blessings and managed to totally remove God from them. They added to and twisted them to serve their own purposes. They made the words more important than the people they were meant to serve, and the God they were meant to point to.

The Scribes and Pharisees had turned the word of God into something to be worshipped, rather than a means through which to worship. The law was turned into something to serve rather than something serving us. It no longer pointed to a righteous and loving God, it only served, in the hands of the Pharisees and those they deceived, to subjugate and condemn people.

Jesus came saying, ‘No, the word of God sets people free and restores and rebuilds people—that was the intent and that’s why I came—to show, provide, and be the way, the truth and the life that you failed to grasp and attain through the written and spoken word.

The word is not of no effect —because I Am the Word.’

And that’s what all of this–Church, blogging, worship, living for Jesus– is about. That is why we celebrate Christmas, and every Sunday, and every other day that we draw breath, knowing that one day we will draw breath in a new heaven and a new earth from a resurrected and perfect body.

But back to Jesus and the religious know-it-alls.

The word become flesh

Jesus accused the religious scholars of making the word of God of no effect—but we know that the word of God never goes forth but that it accomplishes that for which it was spoken. It never returns void, it is never of no effect—if it is spoken in the Spirit of which it was given—Love. God is love and all he does and says is motivated and grounded in his inexpressible and unstoppable love for his children—for us.

The word of God was and is of effect, because the word is Jesus, and he is among us. He is Emmanuel.

The promise was fulfilled.  The thing mankind and all of creation had waited for, groaned for, believed for. The wait was over, even if some failed to see.

Summer Vacation

Have you ever really looked forward to something?  Like Christmas; the year 2020 to be over… How about the best summer vacation ever? 

When I was ten years old my mom and my step dad moved us from Cloquet Minnesota to Albuquerque NM. Imagine the culture shock -unfortunately my dad still lived in Minnesota.  But my sister and I were going to spend a month with him in the summer—  a whole month!

When I first found out I was so excited to go I could hardly stand it.  Not only were we going to get to see our dad, we were going to get to fly on a big Jet for the first time. He promised us all kinds of fun, camping and fishing, and the best part of all— we were actually going to take a trip to Niagara Falls!  On the way there we were going to stay for a couple days in Detroit where one of my aunt and uncles lived and we would all go together from there.  What an adventure.  It was more than I could fathom. 

As the school year ended and the time got closer and closer for us to go, I began to worry that I would mess it up, maybe get grounded for doing something stupid and not be allowed to go.

But my biggest fear was that I would die before I got to go see my Dad, or that some tragic accident or sickness would prevent us from getting to do all those amazing things together. I was living with irrational fear, but hey, I was only a kid, that’s what they do. We’re supposed to know better now—right?

 Anyway, the night before we left, we had the plane tickets and we were still alive and well. I don’t think my sister and I slept a wink, we were just too anxious, it was actually going to happen! And it did. We flew to Minnesota, got airsick and lost our luggage—but hey, we had a great time anyway.

The wait was worth it.

Now, this is a small thing compared to waiting for the Savior to come. But it’s the sense of anticipation, the longing to see your father who seems so far away, the never ending night, clinging to the promise that it was indeed going to happen and fearing that somehow you were going to mess it up, even be hindered by death-—that is what the world, all the world who had put their hope in the One true God, the Father— experienced and lived with for thousands of years.

If we truly love God and believe the promises we are living for the day when we would get to go see the father. But God didn’t just send a plane ticket and wait, he actually came in the flesh so that we could see him, hear him, look into his eyes and know that we were loved. And then he laid down his life to pay for the ticket that would bring us home.  The word became flesh.

Jesus didn’t need religion, and he still doesn’t.  He didn’t need to perform the rituals that symbolized purity and the forgiveness of grace- he was the embodiment of purity, he was forgiveness and grace, he was the very word of God. And in fulfillment of that word, he makes us pure and whole as well. He opened the way to the Father—making Him approachable, just like he was as that baby lying in  a manger so long ago, on a night that changed everything.

That’s a promise straight from God’s word, and God always keeps his promises.

Merry Christmas Family!

The Ghost

If we expect to be overcome and subject to the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of this present age, we will, our authority will go unused, null and void, because we refuse to recognize and wield it.

The sixth chapter of the Gospel of Mark is rich with stories about various groups of people and their reactions and expectations of Jesus. In fact, their expectations largely determine their experiences with him.

Through all of this the ones who would become known as the Apostles see, hear and even do incredible things. From being empowered to cast out demons and heal, to being used to feed over five thousand hungry people with almost nothing. In fact, it is immediately after that miraculous feeding that they go from a God experience euphoria to a woe is me I’m going to die night of terror.

Once again the twelve, as Mark likes to call them, find themselves in a boat at night, in a wind storm, rowing their butts off trying to stay perpendicular to the waves and not get driven out any farther to sea or into the unseen hazards of the shoreline, their short trip down the coast has become an all-night ordeal—what else could possibly go wrong? Oh look, a ghost walking across the water right towards us! And they are scared out of their wits.

47 Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. 48 Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. 49 And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; 50 for they all saw Him and were troubled. Mark 6

Really? You just fed thousands of people with the equivalent of a couple of happy meals. Right after you had returned from a couple weeks missions trip where you just went from town to town and personally cast demons out of people like it was just another day at the office, and now you are afraid of a ghost on the sea?

And you don’t even recognize your own Lord and realize that it could be him walking on the water—like it is the last thing you would expect?Come’on man!

The twelve still had a lot to learn, yet Jesus would continue to invest in, and entrust them with more and more as time went on, and they would change the world–forever.

Isn’t it nice to know that you don’t have to have perfect faith to be used by the Lord to do amazing things for Jesus? It just takes a little faith in the one who has faith in us to accomplish what he sets before us to do. We need to learn to expect God to continue working in and through us. Because he is.

Conversely, if we expect to have the enemy run roughshod over us, he will.

If that really had been a ghost, a demon spirit coming for the apostles in the dark of night, as they were all trembling with fear, they might have all jumped overboard to escape him. Rather than commanding he leave, they were screaming like little girls. “ they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out”

 If we expect to be overcome and subject to the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of this present age, we will, our authority will go unused, null and void, because we refuse to recognize and wield it.

But if you expect to be listened to by the powers of darkness when you speak, if you expect the Holy Spirit to have your back and give you an infallible blanket of protection as you do battle with the enemy, if you expect the authority of God to be at your disposal as you pray against sickness and oppression—it will be yours.

It is your birthright as sons and daughters of God, once robbed from us by virtue of sin and disobedience, doubt and pride, handed down by our ancestor Adam, but now restored and made available for the taking by the new Adam—Jesus Christ.

Do not wallow in defeat. Do not wallow in pity and sorrow, do not expect your lot to be defeat and misery—expect God to hear you, to accomplish his purpose for and through you. And expect the enemy to flee at the sound of your voice never even showing his face because he does fear you.

We might have been a little hard on the boys; screaming like girls and all. . .

It might be too easy for us to look back and wonder; ‘Why were the disciples afraid of the ghosts anyways? They had just cast out demons left and right, and now they are fearful of one?’

But we are all afraid of certain things or situations, aren’t we?

I think we’ve all been in that wind-blown boat in the darkest hours of the night with nothing but an oar and a prayer to hold on to.

The disciples, most of whom were seafarers as a requirement of their fishing trade, were no doubt apprised of the prevailing superstition that a seeing a water spirit in the dark of night at sea was a sure portent of imminent death.

It didn’t matter how much time you spent at sea, the thought of drowning as you descended into the black depths of the unknown was terrifying, perhaps more so to those who have had more time to ponder it as those who spend their nights fishing from wooden boats would have. And tales of terrors in the seas would be a common theme haunting seaman of all ages.

Yet, for all their terror and appearances of doom, Jesus was there for them in the end. Even if they were expecting death to come for them, at the same time their hearts were crying out for God’s mercy and help. And it came in the form of Jesus. Once Jesus became apparent, once they heard his voice. they expected things to be okay, and they were.

But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” 51 Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. 52 For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.

Mark 6

Their picture of Jesus, although not yet complete, was getting there. But they had to open their hearts.

We cannot let our hearts get hard. We have to understand that it is not all up to us, we are not alone, we are never alone. Jesus has got us. Believe it, expect it, know it.

He’s got you

Back when we were ranching, on the Heyu Cow Ranch, I came home from work one day to find quite a scene. Ralph, my Father in Law, Charlie, my brother in Law, and my wife, Donna were trying to herd a heifer into the barn so they could help her calve. (A Heifer is a two year old first time calver)

She, the heifer, was at the stage in calving where it was evident that she needed help, (They don’t always) the calve would have to be pulled. The water had broken and the little front hooves were playing peek a boo.  The three trying to help were certainly capable and qualified to do so, but there was one problem, this heifer did not know them, at least not well enough to trust them.

They had managed to get her into the barn but she was still frantically trying to avoid them. About this time I walked into the barn from the opposite door, turned the corner coming into view and said, “What’s going on?” No sooner had I said that when the heifer plopped down in the straw and let out a huge cow sigh. (Yes they can.)

From behind her the other three were looking at her amazed and somewhat incredulous and then back at me and Charlie said, We have been trying to get her to let us help her for half an hour and she wasn’t having it. As soon as she heard your voice she just laid down!

She knew me, she knew my voice, and she expected things to be okay because I was there—and they were. I got behind her and with the help of my able crew we pulled a healthy calve as I continued to speak in reassuring tones to my frightened heifer, now a new momma.

You know what the primary difference is between the twelve in that boat, the heifer in the barn, and us? We do not have to wait for the master to show up. He is here, he is always here. We just need to expect to hear his voice of reassurance, and we will. We need to expect his help, and we’ll have it.

We need to expect grace, strength, peace and wholeness—we need to expect love, because we have it— we have Jesus.

Our Old Barn

“Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”

The only ghost that can touch us is the Holy Ghost.

Sow What you Want to Reap

Notice the emphasis on hearing here. We must hear the word, receive the good seed, before we can plant it. The eagerness and seriousness with which we hear and accept the word will determine whether we are entrusted with more, which will give us seed to sow, which will lead to harvest.

26 And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, 27 and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. 28 For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4

I have always found this to be a fascinating and challenging little parable. Perhaps because I love to be in control. I’m the barbarian—if it moves and is not supposed to—kill it. If it does not move and it is supposed to—poke it until it does.

I’m the builder and the fixer—if I need it I’ll build it, if it’s broke I’ll fix it.

I’m the daddy and the pastor—if you’re broke I’ll fix you.

That’s my default M.O.

So, what do you mean just scatter the seeds and go to sleep not knowing how it grows? I want to know, I want to help, I want to do. . . I need to be in control!

And therein lies the problem. I have had to learn how to let go, and that’s what this means. Jesus is essentially saying– Use what I have entrusted you with to plant some seeds that I can bless and use to produce more fruit, so that I can get more seeds and entrust more people to sow. It’s really a simple concept, and a whole lot less stressful.

If you have planted good seeds, you have to let them grow. Only God can do that.

You can’t force a seed to geminate on demand and you can’t hurry the growth along by driving your tractor around in the field everyday just because you have to be doing something. You will end up destroying the crop.

The greatest and hardest example of that—where we all have or are struggled?  If you’ve spoken truth into your kid’s lives, you have to let them grow—and let them go. If you’ve planted good seeds there will one day be a harvest. But first come thunderstorms and days of scorching heat.

That concept of reaping and sowing, and leaving the growth up to God applies to every aspect of our lives. And the big part in the middle, the part between the sowing and the reaping—the very long and patience demanding grow part—that has to be left to God. There is no way around that.

So it is of utmost importance what you are sowing– what you are scattering.

What are you throwing out there?

There’s an old tongue in cheek superstition amongst construction workers in this Montana land of Big Skies and big winds—Don’t say wind.

It’s a beautiful fall day to frame, lay block, roof, set trusses— whatever and someone—usually the new guy— will pipe up with; “Sure hope the wind doesn’t come up—yesterday was miserable!” And before you know it, the wind is blowing, and everyone blames the guy who used the “W” word.

I don’t know if there’s anything to that, but I always seriously wonder—and so does everyone else.

Words have power, words spoken into the hearts of others and words spoken to the heavens have immense power and far reaching ramifications of which we will never fully know.

As believers, created in the image of God and enlivened and empowered by His Spirit—all we do, say and think, ultimately has some effect on what we can harvest when the season comes. Which brings us to the last part of the equation.

Hear the word, sow the word, trust the one who spoke the word—and then harvest.

Harvest

29 But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4

What will you be harvesting? What are you harvesting?

You can only reap what you sow.

In the real world, no matter how fancy your bread or where you bought it—someone had to plant a seed to get the grain that made the flour that made that bread. That applies to everything we eat. Someone had to put the very thing that could be made into the food we eat into the ground to die, in order to produce more of it, so that we could eat tomorrow.

You can’t grind your seed crop into flour. Even if you have to go hungry today, it may be necessary to ensure tomorrow, for you and many others.

Bottom line—If you want something you need to be willing to give it up.

What does that mean?

If you need healing? Be a healer. Need courage? Be an encourager. Need prayer? Be a prayer warrior. Need mercy? Be merciful. Need money? Give what you have.

You get the point.

How does any of that make sense? It only makes sense in the kingdom of God, but that is where you live—if you dare. It’s called faith.

Jesus has so much in store for you, if you’ll just trust him. If today is to be the day of your blessing, be a blessing.

Nothing that we cling to in this life compares to the riches to come.

Fury

People accuse Spirit filled believers and “Evangelicals” of being out of their minds. But it is really the devil who is out of his mind-with fury.

People were used in earnest by the enemy of our souls to try to stop Jesus in his mission to bring people to his Father. His family thought him mad, the religious elite thought him demon possessed, and the government thought him a threat to power. Why would we think our mission, to bring people to the Father, would be any easier?

Correction: Mark 3::21-22

Just like any power hungry world leader, inclined towards evil, the enemy of our souls is never satisfied with what he holds, he always wants more— more territory, more death, more captivity, more fear, addictions, sickness, fear, more control—he wants it all.

He can only do that by stopping us, and by proxy, stopping Jesus. Something he has been trying to do with varying degrees of success since the days Jesus walked the earth and took away his right to keep us enslaved in fear of death and judgement.

 He is now out of his mind with fury and is determined to deceive all of us into believing that God’s ways are foolishness and madnessthat the lies he spreads are superior to our archaic ways and beliefs.

By changing the language— the meaning and acceptance of words— and vilifying those who believe in right and wrong, good and evil, he turns wrong into right, truth into lies, murder into choice, perversions into preferences, lusts into needs, violence into peaceful protests, scripture into hate speech and on and on.

But no matter how he schemes and blusters, God’s word remains and continues to change lives and keep God’s kingdom present in his dominion, and Satan’s fate sealed. But he keeps trying. Just like the last great European battle of World War 2, the Battle of the Bulge, an all but defeated enemy, Germany, threw everything they had into one last gasp effort in a battle that destroyed thousands on both sides but ended in the Allies destroying Hitler’s ability to wage war entirely.

It was a doomed effort but in the midst of it, the soldiers hunkered down in their frozen fox holes in the middle of the Ardennes  Forest, only knew that they were in a fight for their lives moment by moment, but they never gave up because they knew they could not loose. They were the U.S. Army and their cause was righteous.

I think that’s where we are, in the midst of perhaps the last great push by the enemy to destroy the church, to push us back and keep us from storming his gates.

The battles are ramping up and becoming more extreme in their vehemence and absurdity. Hitler mustered up children and senior citizens to fight to the death in that last battle knowing that they could not win. But he was determined to inflict as much damage as possible. He even ordered his generals to destroy their own cities if they retreated just to spite his enemies.

The generals refused to do it, it was indeed an absurd order, and fight; and they knew it.

Too bad the leaders of the enemies army in our own battles don’t see the absurdity of destroying your own cities. I talked to my Dad yesterday again about the destruction of many of our favorite old places in downtown Minneapolis. Between the shutdowns, looting and burning, the city is never going to be the same. It just makes me sad, Minneapolis was a wonderful and uniquely Minnesotan place, my birthplace, a place of generations of family history and treasured memories for.

And that is happening all over the country. But we know who is behind it. Our enemy is not flesh and blood. We know who he is, and he and his minions know who we are as well. We are the army of God, sons and daughters of that same God.

The enemy, Satan, is showing his hand in all of this like never before because the more furious and desperate he becomes, the more obvious it is just how truly evil and hateful he is, as his thin veneer of justice and moral superiority is wearing through and the ugliness revealed. And it should disturb and motivate us to shine even brighter even as the darkness does its utmost to overwhelm us.

Having the enemy expose himself should encourage believers to pray more earnestly and specifically, and even be excited, because for all the seeming power and influence the enemy seems to have—we know we can have so much more to counter. Greater is he who is in us than he who is in the worldright? Now we get to prove it.

But it’s hard I know. No one wants to be seen as mad, out of their mind or just plain ignorant. And that’s the brush we can get painted with. That’s a strategy the enemy uses to bind us so he can plunder our worlds.

But don’t get discouraged. If people thought Jesus was out of his mind, why would we expect to be treated any differently? Don’t let the enemy stop you from being who the Father created and called you to be and whom Jesus freed you to be. God wants to use you to bless, heal and deliver others from the lies of hopelessness and worthlessness.

We cannot let the world determine our worth and our usefulness—especially to the kingdom of God. We cannot let anyone deter us from speaking the truth as God reveals it to us. We cannot let anyone deter us from doing the good we were created and called to do and we cannot stand by and watch others suffer if we can help them. Whether it’s prayer for healing, a word of encouragement or correction, a prayer for deliverance or even just a much needed hug.

God calls the foolish, so if others call you the fool, shame and slander you to shut you up or stop you, consider that a confirmation of your call and an affirmation of your effectiveness.

You are not in this fight alone, we might be seen as an army of fools, but we we are fools for Christ, and together we are unbeatable!

Warrior’s Reward

Bottom line; We win!

Today’s blog will be short and to the point.

It takes no great insight to see that the world is in a state of chaos and turmoil right now. I’m not just talking political and societal, that is nothing new, although we are suddenly getting smacked in the face with it here in America where we have lived in relative peace and security until now.

I am talking about emotionally, relationally– spiritually. We all seem to be living on edge. As I write this a presidential election is about to take place that will determine the direction of our country, two radically different forms of government and economic philosophies being what is actually on the ballot. The future of the country and the church as we have known it are on the line. (Please vote!)

Even if we as a people should choose the conservative side and preserve what we have, the opposing side promises to riot, burn and loot-and they have proven they are up to the task.

We are still largely living under the thumb of a virus and the fear it’s presence has ginned up. The church and the rights we have enjoyed and taken for granted have been under blatant and outright attack and people, neighbors, families and even believers, can no longer have civil discussions as all who have an opinion that does not match your own are evil and must be destroyed. Thus we all live in fear of being attacked and cancelled from life.

And there seems to be no end or relief in sight. The long dark winter of our discontent is fully upon us and our eventual dissolution as a church and a free nation seems to be inevitable.

Except for, that one thing, that Jesus thing. We have promises, we have assurances, we have a recourse and most importantly-we have a hope.

We have a God who comes in the darkest nights, in the coldest winters, like a warrior come to rescue his children from the enemy just as the enemy thinks he has won. When all seems lost our God proves that he is indeed the Lord of Hosts and the King of Kings and no one and no thing can stand in his way or steal any of his precious lambs from his hand. He had time and again, and he will again.

The Lord goes forth like a soldier,
    like a warrior he stirs up his fury;
he cries out, he shouts aloud,
    he shows himself mighty against his foes. IS 42:13

So, hold your head up, keep looking to your redeemer, keep the battle cry on your lips and keep your sword sharp. Our redeemer lives, and so will we.

You will receive the warriors reward–a place to raise your family and live in peace where their will be no more suffering, no more tears and no more death.

So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.
Mark 10:29-30

Until then–remember you are more than a conqueror and no weapon formed against you will prosper.