Perfect Love

Well, today is Palm Sunday, the anniversary of the day adoring crowds lined the main street into Jerusalem and waved Palm branches in celebration and welcome of their coming King. Ironic that if we did that today we would be arrested, but I digress.. .

The streets and the city were packed with people come for the Passover feast in the Holy City and to offer their sacrifices at the Temple of their God, like a St Paddy’s day parade in Butte MT, only with less beer.

The Israelites were ecstatic because they believed that, finally, here comes the long promised and much anticipated Messiah, the anointed king who would restore Israel to glory and power as God’s chosen people, the one who would overcome their enemies once and for all—at that point the enemy was Rome.

We find John’s eye witness account of this day in his gospel, chapter 12

The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:

“Hosanna!
‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’
The King of Israel!”

14 Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written:

on the foal of a donkey

Their king had come, and they would now overcome all those who persecuted them so. The Romans were oppressing them, their own priests and the Pharisees were taking advantage of them, relishing their power and getting wealthy off of them. Their puppet king Herod was abusing them, the tax collectors cheated them, as did the merchants in the temple courts.

The devil himself was abusing them, everywhere Jesus went he was driving out demons from people who were driven to do horrible things to themselves and others. Jesus delivered people from their demons, their illnesses, and even forgave their sins; giving them renewed hope, loving them when others scorned them. He even raised the dead—surely this is our King, this is our time for glory!

But Jesus had not come to overcome Rome. He came to overcome a much more fearsome and dangerous enemy, death. Death and the fear of death. Jesus came to perfect love. And he did.

Because he was perfect love. Only a perfect love could have, or would have, done what Jesus did—for us. Jesus does not only ask us to keep our eyes on him as we walk the high iron of life, he takes the pain out of the fall if we should miss a step.

In the 1st letter of the Apostle John he writes a lot about perfect love:

12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love19 We love Him because He first loved us.

1 John 4:12—20

 

Perfect Love

“Love perfected—perfect love” We find perfect love four times in that section of scripture. What is perfect Love? Well, the short answer is Jesus.

Only a perfect love would have left the Father’s side in heaven, become one of us and taught us what love was even at the peril of his own life.

Only a perfect love would have ridden into Jerusalem on that humble little donkey that day knowing full well that he was a wanted man and would soon be facing a Roman cross.

Only a perfect love would have suffered and died as he did at the hands of those he loved, and begged forgiveness for those who nailed him to that cross.

Only a perfect love could have lived a life in this messed up world full of pain death and sorrow, temptations and seductions, greed and injustice, without ever having sinned.

Only a perfect love could have suffered the injustice of being falsely accused, beaten brutally for no good reason after being betrayed and abandoned by his closest friends, mocked and scorned as he suffered a horrific death on a crude wooden cross made from a tree he created.

Only a perfect love could have done all of that without ever having sinned, and knowing that he didn’t have to do it, that at any time he could have called down twelve legions of angles to take him away from the pain.

But that would have been a failure, that would have been selfish, that would have revealed a crippling fear that just did not exist in is heart, because perfect love casts out fear. And not only was Jesus perfect love, he knew he was perfectly loved by his Father and he chose to trust Him—no matter the pain.

And because of all that, perfect love raised him from the dead— perfect love overcame death. God is love, and in him there is no fear. And now that love abides in us, God abides in us.

Because he has given us of his Spirit.

How often do we forget that?

abide in him

Remember what it means to abide? It means to live in, reside in, to remain somewhere. We get to live in God, to live in his love. And his love, his very Spirit, lives in us. We who have confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, have no need to fear, for love has overcome.

It is a love that we can trust infinitely.

Our King has come, and he rules in our hearts–if we choose perfect love.

And by the way, have faith, He has overcome our enemies.overcome praying mother

Don’t Look Down

Lord! I’m afraid to take another step! Come and get me, my knees are wobbling and I’m getting vertigo!”

love overcomes crown

1 John 4:18— a verse that will no doubt be familiar to many of you, at least in part—says:

 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.

Fear does indeed involve torment, fear is torment. Often fear is what causes whatever it is you’re afraid of to come to pass. It becomes what we are focused on and it throws us off balance. Whatever you convince yourself is going to happen is often what happens. That’s why we need to learn to change our focus, to let perfect love become our guide, our focal point, leaving no room for fear.

Spoiler alert—that perfect love is Jesus.

The High Iron

As those of you who know me know, I work construction and have all my adult life in various forms. Whether moving dirt, welding, pounding nails or pouring concrete, I have always worked with my hands, and even though now I largely oversee that work as a project superintendent, I still like to get dirty and work with my tools when I can.

One of the things I don’t like is being way up in the air—unless I know I have something solid underneath of me or know that I have a safety harness on, which today is required by OSHA. When I started in this business safety was pretty lax and I was asked to do some pretty crazy dangerous stuff looking back—I think I kept my guardian angel on his toes, and even slipped thru his grasp a time or two, but I have survived—largely intact. (keyword being largely)

Still, you are not going to catch me walking any beams, harness or not, more than a couple of stories off the ground. I have jokingly said that one of the reasons I work in Montana is because we don’t have too many high rises.

My grandfather, on the other hand, was an iron worker who worked in big cities like Dallas and Minneapolis. He liked to walk the high iron, as they call it. I remember talking to him many years ago as he was recounting his work on a 60 story sky scraper in Minneapolis and he said he liked working up top because the foreman were afraid to go up there and everyone left you alone.

 

He told me something that has stuck with me throughout my whole construction career and although you are never going to catch me on an I beam 60 stories off the ground, it has come in handy many times as I have walked on top of a concrete foundation wall or the top of a framed wall, or even when stepping from stone to stone as I’m crossing a mountain creek for instance, and that is; “When you are walking the high iron, don’t look at your feet.”

shutterstock_252139381

You have to have faith in your feet. You have to trust that your feet are going to go where your eyes go.

Think about it, when you are walking anywhere else you are not looking at your feet, your eyes are ten or twenty feet in front of you mapping out your path, and your feet just follow.

When you stare straight down at your feet you get nervous, you lose your balance, because your world just became very small and out of proportion, and the next thing you know you are tipping over. Not to mention if you are looking down at your feet you are focused on the dangers below them instead of where you are going.

But if you have faith in your feet and just keep walking to where you need to go next, you’ll get there just as surely as if you were strolling down the sidewalk on a sunny day.

eyes on Jesus

How are we doing? Are you keeping your eyes ahead, mindful of  where you are going, or are you worrying about whether or not you are going to lose control and fall to your death?

Walking the walls, hopping the stones, or walking the high iron, it’s all about what’s going on in your head, it’s having faith in your ability to keep putting one foot in front of the other and staying upright.

You do it anywhere else! Why would you suddenly just tip over because you are over a dangerous spot?

The same is true in life, we have to have faith in our ability to keep moving forward.

We trust Jesus to be with us and get us through our days when things are going well, when we are just strolling along, going where we have been a hundred times without any overriding fear of falling. But when things get challenging, when we look down and realize that we are walking in places we haven’t been before, when it seems that we could easily fall to our death if we make one wrong move; and we panic—”Lord! I’m afraid to take another step! Come and get me, my knees are wobbling and I’m getting vertigo!”

And he says, Child! Look up, keep your eyes on me and just keep walking, don’t look down and don’t look at your feet. I will lead you to where you need to go, but you must trust me, you must have faith in the feet I have given you for this day. I love you too much to let you fall for fear of moving—let my love overcome.

calm the storm

The Brink of . . . What?

The shepherd does not just feed the flock, he also protects them.”

In this day of great uncertainty as we seem to be teetering on the brink of either the full blown start of the great tribulation or a great awakening, (I believe we the church will be the deciding factor) it seems more urgent than ever that we are hearing the voice of God clearly and taking our cues from Him. As I wrote to you the other day, we must be careful to discern truth from lies, we must test the spirits. (1 John 4:1)

Spirit bears witness dove

But, how do I know truth from lies? How do I let the Spirit bear witness to me? 

It’s the very same way that you know you are saved! That you are born again! You just know, you can feel it, it’s a faith and a knowledge that comes from somewhere deep inside and it just becomes your reality. Because the Holy Spirit bore witness to your spirit.

That’s as deep down—I feel it in my gut, I feel it with every fiber of my being— good of a confirmation of truth as you are going to ever find.

You just know that you know. That’s the way you determine false prophets from real. Truth from lies, power from wishy washy.Hear God's words

Too put it bluntly, you feel it in your gut. God is love, his truth always stirs the soul and releases that feeling of– ‘yes, I want that, I need to hear that’– love put into words, a love that drives out all fear and leaves no room for doubt and anguish.

You need to learn to hear the Lord by pressing into Him regularly, I can only give you an example.

I Need To Hear You Lord!

Three weeks ago I was struggling mightily, as I’m sure many pastors across the nation were, trying to decide what to do about church in the face of national panic.

A week earlier I had never imagined that I would be in the situation, where I would be feeling the incredible pressure I was feeling to close the doors of the church, because Uncle Sam was suggesting it, and because public pressure was demanding it.

I mean, let’s get real here, that is “’All hail the Antichrist’, we are in the midst of the tribulation” kind of stuff. But here we are, and there I am, “Lord, what do I do?”

On the one hand it made sense, but then, the wiles of the enemy always do on the surface, and on the other hand it seemed to fly in the face of everything I believed as a bible preaching, red blooded American—’you cannot stop me, nor should I let you stop me, from gathering to worship my God the way I see fit!

It cannot just be that easy to shut the doors to every church in America overnight.

We the people

The barbarian in me was screaming no—I will not do it! And the co dependent I must please everyone and subject myself to the authorities gentle shepherd of the flock in me wanted to just say, ‘okay, whatever you think is best.’

Am I really putting people’s lives in danger? Do I give the enemy this victory and tell my flock they cannot gather to be fed and worship for a while? Which is more dangerous? And all of you have all the arguments on both sides running through your heads right now and some of you are screaming at me, this is real! People are dying!

And others are saying, where’s your faith? How could you just shut down church? This was my struggle, I could think of nothing else from that Sunday afternoon when everything seemed to hit the fan with this pestilence in this nation all at once, and Thursday Evening when I knew I had to make a decision to let you know.

Seriously, 2020 was supposed to be the good year after years of struggles and challenges—our year of rebuilding. But, God is still threshing, the refining continues, it’s just real hard to tell hell fire from refining fire sometimes.

So I sat down at my desk and prayed. “Lord, what do I do?” I started praying in the Spirit asking the Lord to speak to me as to what I should do.

Many things ran through my mind, conflicting thoughts that I suspected were just me. But there was a message starting to take shape through the noise. Now, my desk is covered with, among other things, pictures of my grandchildren and I am always glancing at them, as they are all around my computer screen.

So as I sat there ready to begin drafting an email for my little flock and as a word from the Lord was desperately trying to rise to the surface of my troubled mind, I glanced at the picture of my granddaughter “Doodles” as we call her, and I suddenly hear clearly, “Protect me”

Raelynn

 

Suddenly all other noise stopped and the phrase, The shepherd does not just feed the flock, he also protects them.” Was in my thoughts. As soon as those words formed in my mind I was suddenly overcome with an intense feeling of Love, love for me from my Lord, and love from me for those the Lord has entrusted me to pastor—love for you.

There is no good way to describe it, the intensity of love that can only come from God brought me to tears and I knew in that moment, because I knew it was the Holy Spirit bearing witness to my spirit, as to what I was to do.

I needed to make an announcement that the church would be closed to the public for the next two week to protect the flock the Lord had entrusted me to pastor.

 

God is love

You might be saying, well sure, you love your grandkids so you just felt that. No, in that moment I was seeing the church through the eyes of Jesus.

I was seeing you, the children of god whom the Father loves more than we can ever fathom.God is Love

I knew this word was from God because of the love that overwhelmed my soul as it was spoken, because God is love.

I needed to protect my flock, my church family, from this virus in this way for now and I needed to protect the church, this way—for now.

Listen carefully church, we cannot let the enemy use this to turn the world against us. When Rome burned Nero blamed the Christians and they were fed to the lions in the Colosseum as the crowds cheered. If Rome is burning again here, we cannot give the spirit of the Antichrist cause to point fingers at us. He may anyway, but for now— we need to keep that fiery dart out of his quiver.

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.

We will get through this the way God tells us to get through anything, one day at a time, trusting, listening and following.

Greater is he in you dove

He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world

If you are feeling doubt and anguish right now, you are listening to the wrong voices.

Test the Spirits

Funny how scriptures take on a new sense of relevance and urgency when the world as you know it is being challenged—don’t they?

False Prophets

The Apostle John tells us to test the spirits. Pay attention church!

We all want desperately to hear from God right now, to be encouraged, to be let in on what He’s doing and to know that he is indeed still in control and hasn’t forgotten about us. This can lead to a lot of deception and bad information as everyone wants to hear from God and many want to speak for God, or at least appear to be speaking for God.

In short, that can lead to a lot of false prophets. False prophets are generally motivated by one of two things; the desire to be heard and get attention, or the more sinister desire to deceive and thwart God’s true plans.

If you read carefully the 4th chapter of 1 John  you’ll see that those who, speak fake news in the name of God to use a term from the current vernacular— are being used by the devil to mislead and distract from what God really wants us to know. “Speak oh great and mighty Wizard of Oz… hey wait, who is that behind the curtain?”

Spirit of the Antichrist

What I have discovered is that many who think they are prophets, or put themselves forth to be, are not. And many who are, do not know it. God can only use the willing, and he does, but the humble are usually the ones God prefers to use. That humility can prevent them from speaking any more than they feel absolutely compelled and certain of. That’s why I always put a lot of stock in those of few words when they believe they have a word from the Lord.

And there are those few who speak boldly and often for the Lord, yet they do speak truth, but only because He has taught them that fear of speaking out is not an excuse, and humility cannot be a cover for disobedience. They have learned that to not speak God’s truth is, as Jeremiah learned, is like trying to contain a burning fire within the heart and shut up within the bones, that one grows weary from trying to hold it in, and in the end they cannot.

The fire within

If God has truly pegged you to speak for him you have that desire in your heart and it will not give your head any peace until you obey. Trust me, I know. Those who answer the call must not be afraid to play with fire.

The Faithful

I believe we are in a season where God will be culling the herd. That those who have been speaking only what they believe itching ears want to hear for the sake of filling seats and coffers will suddenly find themselves irrelevant, while the called who have been laboring in obscurity and wondering why they seemly travail to no avail, they will be the ones God uses to bring in the harvest.

Those who have been speaking truth, preaching the word of God, standing firm against the winds of perversity and cultural pressure to compromise, those who have been listening to the Spirit of God, they will not have to play catch up, and they will not have to fear being blown away with the chaff as the Lord continues his threshing.

Those who have been faithfully planting seeds of truth and praying for the rain of the Spirit to fall will see the fruits of their labor being brought in to the master’s granaries. Those who have been storing their treasures in heaven will be the ones who see the return on those treasures tomorrow even while many are watching the enemy steal away their treasures.

What is your calling?

God calls to all of us, and those who turn their eyes to him are given gifts that suit the plan he has for them and calls them to do things in ways and places that no one but you can. Too many false prophets and wishy washy preachers have risen to prominence because the called are sitting on their hands and because the faithful are not practicing discernment—they are not testing the spirits.

Discern

There are many gifts and callings and many ways to preach the gospel with words and actions. But our title verse here Test the Spirits, is talking specifically about those who deign to speak on the Lord’s behalf.

(If you are totally lost here you need to find a preacher who is not afraid to teach on the Baptism  of the Holy Spirit, because you are living in the love but not the power)

Like anything we do or don’t do for Jesus, obedience is key. If God tells you to speak, speak, if he does not reveal to you a message to deliver, than don’t. But, ultimately, the truth and the source of the message, that has to be determined by the hearer.

That’s what John is  largely about in this section of scripture (1 John 4:1-11) discerning truth from useless fluff or outright lies.

Trust me I would rather preach fluff, fluff is fun and doesn’t offend anyone, it doesn’t get you in trouble, at least not with man. But, then again, as I have told you before, I am just a barbarian with a bible and barbarians just don’t do fluff.

I tell you truth

The Holy Spirit will give you the ability to discern between spirits and between what’s just feel good stuff and what is if the Lord. But you have to choose to want to know the difference. You have to choose who you are going to listen to, and what you hear.

The onus of truth is on the hearer. People either hear what they want to hear, or they hear what they need to hear, the choice is up to them. And in the case of determining whether a teacher, preacher or  prophet, often all one in the same, is speaking truth, that responsibility falls back on the hearer.

My mother used to ask us kids on occasion if it was clear we weren’t paying attention to her; “Are your ears painted on?” In other words; ‘I can see you seem to have ears there, but they don’t seem to be functioning properly, because surely you are not just choosing to ignore what I say.’

When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Luke 8:8

Servants the prophetsStay awake church, choose you this day whom you shall serve.

The End Is Always Near

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

Give to those in need

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

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

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

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

light shine bible

As the Apostle John would say Little children, love.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

toilet paper Apocalypse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

love your enemies

 

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

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

Blessed are the poor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hearts conmdemn us hands

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

We are going to be okay.

What Manner of Love?

‘And the chickens all pecked to death the one who didn’t look like them and the rooster crowed his approval.’

death to life

Do you ever feel like you have never gotten out of middle school? Like, why do people still belittle and mock one another, why do they disparage me? I hate this, and I hate how it makes me feel, I just want to be left alone, I just want the world to grow up!

If you are truly in Christ, you are different; bottom line.

The world hates everything that is not just like it, that does not think like it, look like it and behave like it because the world is darkness right now, controlled by the devil as he scrambles relentlessly to stop all who have the light in them from shining and dispelling the dark he depends on to keep as many deceived and lost people in the dark as he can until it is too late for him, and for  those he kept away from the light.

Darkness permeates our culture masqueraded as social justice.

‘Conform, submit, cancel this person, shadow ban that person, panic now because we said so, hate that person, protest, boycott, stay away from these people and those places, it’s just too risky and it’s all so and so’s fault. Don’t you agree?How dare you have another opinion—hater, denier!’

And the chickens all pecked to death the one who didn’t look like them and the rooster crowed his approval—And things were good in the coop until another Peacock dared to show up.

I’ll let you sort that one out.

What manner of Love

So what

The world hates us? So what? The world has no idea who we are, they have no idea what manner of love we have lavished on us, the joy of knowing the love of a Father that cannot be destroyed by anything this world can throw at us, they cannot even imagine what we know we get to look forward to when this weak flesh perishes and our spirits are set free to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The world cannot fathom the marvel and excitement we have of looking forward to discovering what manner of being, perfect in every way, as we get to rejoin our regenerated, resurrected, flesh on that glorious resurrection day when the trumpet sounds and it is revealed fully what we shall be.

What we shall be

The world hates us because it hated Jesus, the Son of God, because it refused to give up the artificial joy that comes from living in rebellion, seeking to quench the unquenchable thirst of the flesh with the temporary thrill of hurting those they think are a threat to their pursuit of guilt free debauchery.

Nothing has changed. People still prefer to live in what they think is freedom, that is until they get a taste of true freedom, as we who have turned over our hearts to Jesus, have. People prefer to live to love themselves, ‘me, me, meI want more, I deserve more, you owe me more’until they experience a bit of real love, a love that saturates and satisfies the soul.

The only way they will ever draw near enough to Jesus to get a taste of the manner of love that is available, is if we, the children of God keep it on display, for them and for one another, no matter what manner of evil they inflict on us or accuse us of. We cannot stop loving or we become like Cainthe son of Adam and Eve who killed his brother—the world is Cain, Cain is of the Devil, don’t be like Cain, deceived and ignorant, full of hate. We are of the Father, full of all wisdom and love—love that never fails.

Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3

Do not let anyone deceive you into thinking you are anything less than perfectly loved, into thinking you have anything to prove to them or your Lord.  This fear of failure and this perception that you do not, nor cannot, measure up is a lie from the devil and leads to sin.

Leave the sin to those who are his, don’t get sucked into it. Their most destructive sin is in tearing others down to build themselves up. And they cause you to sin by making you think you have to do the same, by making you loathe the person you are, the person God created. They make you sin by convincing you that you cannot accomplish anything worthy for the Kingdom of God and that you are not worthy.

They steal your fruit, the fruit that you are supposed to be bearing and sharing for all the world to see, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. And they leave you with that which they are full of Lust, uncleanness, lewdness,  idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, angry outbursts, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness—party, party, party, (from Galatians 5) —the works of the flesh which run contrary to the spirit and leave you feeling rode hard and put up wet.

You were made for more, you are somebody, you are a child of God! And he sent his Son to destroy the works of the devilJesus came to destroy the works of the devil—in you!

The enemy cannot steal your salvation, he cannot steal your joy, he cannot steal you away from the Father—your status as a favored child of God—unless you let him.

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God! (1 John 3:1) The manner of love is such that it cannot be stolen away, shattered or even diminished.Pure in Christ

Jesus won the victory, tricked the devil into killing him, making him the blood sacrifice that became the price for our redemption. We are pure.

So–

Don’t hate me because I’m Beautiful

The Apostle John asks us the question in his letter: “Why did Cain murder his brother?”

Cain and Able

 

Cain hated his brother thru no fault of Abel’s, Cain hated his brother because he was righteous. Wow

If the world has a problem with you, hates you as both Jesus and then John warned us it would, it is likely not because of any deficiency on your part. It is most likely because you exude a joy and a confidence, —the light of Jesus shines forth from you, even when you don’t think so—making you beautiful.

The world is threatened by that.

The Holy Spirit within you gives you gifts and enhances your God given talents, blessing that which you put your hand to, and the world is threatened by that.

They are threatened because it exposes the falseness and futility of their selfish and frustrating attempts to stand out, to be somebody. Your light makes their darkness seem especially dark and they desire to destroy you, to drag you into darkness with them so they can rule over you and be your better.

In short, the world hates you because you are beautiful.

But don’t let them change you. Because whether they are ready to admit it or not, they want to know if what you have, if who you are  is real, because no one is truly happy living in the dark.

Fearfully Made sheild maiden

1 Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 1 John 3:1

Keep this in mind; if it seems others hate you, it is born of fear, fear of the unknown  and you are an unknown to them.

The world does not know us, but our Father does, and he calls us child.

What can be better than that?

book cover

Set the beautiful barbarian in you free!

 

 

No Hitting, No Spitting…

“Mom she’s touching me! She stuck her tongue out at me.” “Ow! She hit me! Well she spit on me!”

Boffalo abide

My wife Donna and I went to Yellowstone Park last weekend to celebrate our 32nd anniversary.

We love the park, winter or summer, and have been there many times, from our honeymoon on. It’s our backyard after all–just over a few mountains.

Too bad we have to share it with the rest of the world.

But, then again, that’s part of what makes it so unique. I always love seeing people experience it for the first time, we can start to take it for granted so it’s good to see it through the eyes of others sometimes.

Snow Coach resize

We took a snowcoach into Old Faithful and there was a young couple in our coach who had a couple of kids—8 year old twins; a boy and a girl. They were very well behaved but they were still kids and kept their parents on their toes, especially walking around the geyser basins where you have to stay on the boardwalks, out of the boiling water and away from the buffalo.

Of course this reminded Donna and I of the many times we took our girls to the park. Keeping three little girls from getting lost, gored, boiled or eaten was always a challenge, as was keeping them from killing each other after too many hours in the car.

At one point last weekend as Donna was laughing to herself at the antics of our 8 year old companions she said, just loud enough for me to hear; “No hitting, no spitting, no fighting no biting.”  She was quoting the Swaningson family rule that our girls now know well. This rule was actually born on one our trips to the Park when the girls were young, no doubt after the umpteenth squeal of “Mom she’s touching me! She stuck her tongue out at me.” “Ow! She hit me! Well she spit on me!”

If you’ve ever been a road trip with more than one child in the car you know what I mean, right? Finally in exasperation, somewhere between Canyon Village and Yellowstone Lake I declared, in what Donna refers to as my scary dad voice, which always became the final answer— “No hitting no spitting, no fighting no biting!”

It’s that simple. Follow that rule and we’ll all get along and have a great trip, and life for that matter.

I don’t think I had intended it to be a rhyme but it turned out that way and turned out it pretty much covered all the basics and was fun to say, so it eventually turned into a joke, a joke with meaning, because I meant it and more importantly, it was not a suggestion, it was the law. If you are a part of this family, those things will not be tolerated. And what’s left? Respect, kindness, patience, gentleness—love.

It’s quite simple, abide in the rules, abide in Daddy’s word, and you will continue to abide in this family as a happy camper.Geyser basin resize

Now, I would be tempted to say here of this family rule, that it was—Abide by the rules—’No hitting, no spitting, no fighting, no biting.’, And you can continue to abide in this family!”—but that’s not entirely true. Nor is it true of the Family of God. We are not children of God, we are not brothers and sisters, by virtue of having kept all the rules. We are family by blood, and love–the blood of Jesus and the love of the Father.

My girls know now, and they knew then, that they will always be a part of the family, the Swaningson family. ‘This is the family that gave you your name and your genetic makeup. The family abides in you, it’s in your blood, it’s in your DNA and you carry the name.’

‘You cannot make me stop loving you, and you cannot make me stop caring for you, but if you want to be at peace in this family, if you want to be trusted and enjoy the blessings of a real relationship with me, and others in this family, you need to abide by the rule.’

The rules make the family a safe place. A place where we can abide in love.

Keep my commands water fall

Our family rules were condensed into one easy to remember principle. So is the word of God—all the rules handed down from generation to generation, as revealed in great specificity to make sure we had no excuses to do harm to one another, were boiled down and condensed into one easy to remember all encompassing rule, a new command that could only be given by the Word of God become flesh, the only Son of the one true God and that is “love one another as I have loved you.”

Do that and you will be abiding in my word, my word abiding in you and you will have my joy abiding, remaining, in you.

What a promise; just, love.

Here’s what the Holy Spirit told me as I was working on this message:

Abide in me as I abide in you, and your love will never fail. Do not grow weary, just love, keep on loving, never stop loving.

annointing buffalo

When in doubt, love. When in doubt, receive love.

Abide in love. Let the Holy Spirit bear witness to your Spirit that you are loved. That’s what that anointing that John talks about is, (“But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.” 1 john 2:10) it’s the Holy Spirit telling us that he is in us, that Jesus is Lord and that he loves us. It is our salvation and our joy, our hope and our strength. The Holy Spirit is our guarantee.

Real Love Fire Hole River

Which brings us once again to the key verse of my recent blogs, and the core principle behind the Apostle John’s writings, the one thing he desires more than anything for us to do, as those who love and are loved by the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.

1 John 3:18

No hitting no spitting, no fighting, no biting. Wouldn’t the church be a wonderful place if we all abided by this?

little children love 1 John

And if you look deep inside where the Holy Spirit resides, (If you have invited him to do so) you’ll know that it is true that you are loved— Jesus loves me…. And you cannot make him stop loving you.

Lord I believe, help me in my  unbelief !

book cover

Claim your place in Christ!

Perfected in Love

The Apostle John, in his letters, challenges us to love, even to perfect love. Now there’s a challenge to be sure!  Have anyone of you perfected love? If you answered yes, I would like to talk to your spouse, or family.

love perfected mom child

I am called as the pastor of my church to love people. I will always preach the word, the uncomfortable parts and the ones that may offend some people, but I will always do so in love, and I will always welcome and love everyone who comes seeking truth.

Speak the truth in love and if you cannot come across that way then don’t speak at all. Loving one another is our overarching command, the one that all others point to.

love one another dove

Love is hard

None of this is easy, loving our rivals is hard, loving people who mistreat us is hard. Loving people whom we believe need to be taught a lesson, who have disappointed us, is hard. Loving people whom no one else loves is hard.

If love was easy we wouldn’t need almost 800 Old testament laws and hundreds of pages of stories to teach us how to love. We wouldn’t have needed Jesus to come and live it out for us, die for us, and then send his Spirit to illuminate it for us. We wouldn’t need the Baptism of the Holy Spirit to empower us to love—not if it was easy or natural for us.

It’s hard because our sinful fallen nature is selfish, jealous, competitive, indignant and petty. But God is love and those who love him and desire to love have to look to Jesus for that love, for the desire and the ability to truly love. If we truly love and walk with Jesus and in his ways we find that we have no choice but to love and to do otherwise runs counter to the new creation that you are in him and will leave you empty, casting you back into the darkness.hates his brother

You just loved me

There was a young woman who was part of our fellowship for a while here. She showed up at some of our first services with her very young son, no husband, no questions, we just loved her.

She disappeared for a while and reappeared with a guy who had a young daughter, no questions, we just loved them.

They disappeared for a while and her and her son reappeared, alone again. There were a few questions, no condemnations, we just loved her. Week after week, year after year, hit and miss sometimes, but we just kept loving her and her son.

I didn’t think we were doing anything extraordinary really, she was pretty easy to love and we love, or try to love, everyone who comes through these doors. Yes we are all human and none of us has yet perfected love and occasionally someone, including me, does something to offend or hurt—but we try, I try, I try to love like Jesus loves, unconditionally and unselfishly.

One day I asked this young lady if she would serve in a particular place in the church; a place of responsibility and trust. As she considered what I had asked her she became visibly shaken and finally blurted out through her tears words that cut straight to my heart, “I can’t do that. . . I am not a good person!”

The reason this cut to my heart is because I was heartbroken for her that she saw herself this way. But I also sensed that this was the Holy Spirit blasting open a whole in her heart for the light to shine in. So I asked her why she didn’t believe she was a good person. She confessed to me some sin areas in her life, and I didn’t gasp and say ‘man, you’re right, you are a rotten sinner!’ No, I assured her that Jesus loved her, the Father loved her and that I loved her, and if she wanted me to, I would pray for her.

I did, right then and there. I prayed that the Lord would give her the strength to overcome the things that she was struggling with, things that the Holy Spirit, not me, not anyone in this church, was convicting her of, and then I told her my offer still stands.forgiven light ocean

But I was going to leave it up to her—it was between her and the Lordto let me know when she was ready to serve. I told her I knew it would not be long because I knew that she could do this.

I was right. A few months later she told me she was ready, she had overcome. Love—the love of God and the love of her brothers and sisters in the Lord—was bearing fruit in her.

At one point she told Donna (my wife) and I how grateful she was for this church family. She said, “Time and again I showed up here still reeling from the night before, barely able to look myself in the mirror and you guys just kept loving me and welcoming me like I was somebody special.” And that was why she kept coming back. —That’s what love does.

She told us this as she was getting ready to move to another state, as she had married a godly man and was going to start a new life– heartbroken to be leaving–but thrilled to be walking in God’s plan.

She was perfected— by love.

walk in the light Jesus

 

Know that you know him

Do you know him? Do you know Jesus? If you are walking in love you do.

He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. 1 John 2

So, let’s wrap this up by answering the question we asked at the start; How do you perfect love?

This seems like a complicated statement requiring deep thought and study but it is really quite simple and rather neatly sums up what the gospel is all about. God gave mankind his word, the commandments and the law, the prophets and the psalms, the wisdom writings and the stories, to show us how to love and live—to live in perfect love, no sin, no selfishness, no rebellion. But we could not do it—bottom line—should have been the end of the story.

But the Father didn’t want our story to end there. So he sent Jesus, the only one who was able to do it—to perfectly keep God’s word, to become the perfect sacrifice so that we, who could not keep God’s word and thus perfect love, could be recipients of his perfect love. Now we have a new word by which to live, by which to be perfected, the only way by which we may be perfected and perfect love, and that is to believe and receive the Word of God  come in the flesh; Jesus.

And the proof of that? The evidence of our saving knowledge of the Word of God, of Jesus Christ the Son of God?

That we have love for one another

little children love 1 John

I am love, I am life, I am here. -H.S.

 

 Barbarians in the Kingdom

Barbarians ad copy axe

 

I am a Sinner

sinners 1 John 1

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…” This verse reminds me of a time an  Evangelist spoke in or church. Near the end of one of his sessions he asked me under his breath; “Pastor, are there any sinners here?” I was taken aback by that question for a second and then I realized what he meant. He was asking me if there was anyone here who didn’t know Jesus so he knew whether or not he should give an invitation for people to receive Jesus.

So, since I knew everyone who was here there at the time and that they all knew the Lord I answered no.

But I wanted to say yes, we are all sinners and I am the chief of them! To borrow a phrase from the apostle Paul:

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.  1 Tim 1:15

We are all sinners and to say otherwise is to make God a liar to quote John. So don’t think to highly of yourselves. . . . Now hold the phone, we are all sinners but we are now sinners saved by grace and there is one who thinks highly enough of us that he was willing to lay down his life so that we who confess our sin can be forgiven.forgiven light ocean

Pretty hard to confess a sin if you refuse to acknowledge that you are a sinner in the first place, right? It’s not rocket science. We’ll get back to that sinner status later, let’s look at the light thing that John is diving into here. That’s what distinguishes us from the sinners who don’t know Jesus—they are walking in the darkness to their destruction but we are walking in the light right into the arms of the Father—where we will be found sinless and pure, washed by the blood of the lamb.

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:5-7

One of the ways we come into the light where we can see what needs to be seen is to talk— talk to the Lord, and talk to one another. I have seen is over and over again and experienced it over and over again and no doubt you have too. That when you are struggling with something, trying to overcome something or trying to understand something, just talking about it, hearing yourself say it out loud, gets you to a place where it makes sense.

Talking out a fear can make it seem less scary. Putting words together to try and explain to someone what you are struggling with or confused about can bring order and even comfort to your troubled mind as you have to take it from the realm of irrational emotion— unspoken feelings and vague notions— and bring it into the linear realm of order and understanding.

You are bringing it into the light. And if the act of bringing it alone doesn’t resolve it, you now have the opportunity to have a brother or sister speak light into the subject as well.

That’s the fellowship John is talking about here, with our Lord, and with one another. Just make sure the one you are exposing hidden things to is indeed walking in the light or your darkness may just become even more intense. Bad advice, rebellious notions, shame or condemnation—they are all weapons of the enemy, the Prince of darkness, and will only deepen your darkness. Leaving you full of nothing, at least nothing good.

So, let’s get back to the we are all sinners thing.

 

sinners forgiven Jesus

We are all sinners, sinners saved by grace. If we say we are not, if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1.8)

If I could be sinless I would not need Jesus, I would not have to take up my cross and crucify the flesh daily, I would be prefect. I am not, and either are you. But I am forgiven because I have an advocate with the Father, one the Father himself appointed to me to not just argue my case, but to pay the penalty for my crimes.

Love does that. A love that would die for a crime committed against love itself. All sin is rooted in selfishness and rebellion. ‘I want this, I need this, I deserve this. You cannot tell me what to do, you are not as important as I am, your feelings do not matter—I come first!’

Love says; ‘You come first, you deserve this more than I, your feelings matter;

Love never fails

Jesus is the word, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega. His word never fails, He never fail, and if you remain in Him—you will never fail. 

Jesus is the word of God, He is the light of the world. Stay in the word, stay in the light, and you cannot fail. Darkness cannot overcome you—you will overcome the darkness.

Jesus died for the whole world, he needs you to shine that light of truth so that the world can see that they have an advocate. The world is crying in the despair of living lives of nothingness—we have the something they need.

Little children, love.

little children love 1 John

Not Created for Nothing

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

light of the world

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

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

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

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

Just a few examples:

dark nothingness

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

Illuminating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fellowship with light

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

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

Lost

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

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

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

Darkness felt Egypt

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

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

792164-armor-artwork-blondes-churches-fantasy-art-hero-swords-warriors-women
I do not fear the darkness, the darkness fears me!

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

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

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

God is Light woman walking

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

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