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.

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.

I Will Let You Down

“…people can come to put too much of their hope in you. That’s a pitfall of ministry and of a life devoted to Jesus in general.

For years, prophets and God fearing people tried to piece together the means of our redemption, how would we ever be restored to a relationship with the creator who we spurned so long ago?

We now see the big picture, we know how the story ends, we have the box cover. But, it still seems our lives are one big attempt at trying to put together a puzzle complicated by the fact that someone keeps coming along and rearranging or undoing what we thought we had done. Some days it’s like; Please, whoever, stop messing with my puzzle, you’re not helping!

Years ago when our girls were little we were visiting my Dad and family in Minnesota and on one of our outings my Dad took us to see a cabin on a lake that belonged to his sister and her family. No one was there at the time but he knew where the key was hidden so we went in just to check it out.

In the middle of the main room a table was set up with one of those big 500 piece jig saw puzzles on it that was about half way put together. As us adults were getting the quick tour we didn’t realize that the girls had found their own entertainment and when I turn my attention  back to them I hear, “Look Daddy, we’re doing a puzzle!”

Well, much to my horror, they were not doing a puzzle, they were undoing a puzzle. Pretty much all the previously assembled puzzle had been disassembled. “AAAH! Girls, that’s not our puzzle to play with!”

We left shortly thereafter leaving me to only imagine what my cousins must have thought when they came back to the cabin to find all their previous work undone. Starting over. Hopefully it was not that big of a deal.

But in real life, when all we have accomplished, dreamed of and planned for gets undone, it seems like a big deal doesn’t it?

Our response is everything in those times. Because that is really what this life is, isn’t it? One big puzzle that we hope to get assembled into a beautiful picture before we run out of time, or the next unknown visitor comes along and “helps” us.

Look, we’re doing a puzzle! No your destroying everything!

But are they?

 What are they really messing with? If it’s this life, your plans, your schemes and dreams, your security, life and health—all of that is temporal and is not where your hope is supposed to lie. Remember what we learned from James, and Jesus recently? That to plan and think we have it all figured out, that our future is secure, eat, drink and be merry, we are arrogant fools and our very souls may be required of us before we even get to indulge in our hoard.?

Many of us have had the pieces of our lives rearranged or even stolen, probably more so lately than ever. But what is truly important, what really matters? How much of our lives do we waste worrying about things we cannot control?

These are the days in which we truly discover where our hope lies. We discover if it is living, if it is based on truth and planted in and by the Holy Spirit and faith, or if it was based on other things and other people.

Flawed Hope

We can grieve, if need be, but we must remember that in all of our trials, our lives, our souls, are secure in the hands of Jesus. We are kept, preserved, protected, secure, by the power of God. He is our living and perfect hope. All other hope is flawed and tenuous at best, including hoping in others.

One of the things that makes loving people for Jesus, the way Jesus loved, unconditionally and sacrificially, heartbreaking at times, is that people can come to put too much of their hope in you. That’s a pitfall of ministry and of a life devoted to Jesus in general.

It frustrates me more and more as the years go by and I build relationships with more and more people, and as my family grows, that I cannot be there for everyone as much as they nor I would like. I know there are people who are upset because they don’t feel that I pursue or keep up with them the way they would like.

Feelings get hurt and resentments build and it hurts, it hurts them and it hurts me. It hurts me because I have never stopped loving and caring for anyone whom I have ever invested in, and there have been many over the years; whether it’s blood family, married family, spiritual family, the many kids and grandkids, nieces and nephews I have spiritually adopted over the years, friends and fellow warriors from a multitude of ministries and churches—I love and cherish all of them and look forward to one day having forever to spend with all of them.

But today I just flat cannot. I may have eternal life, but today I am still on the clock.

I work 9 or more hours a day in construction, five days a week, I then go home and spend my entire evening working on my sermon for Sunday. I spend all day Saturday at the church finalizing my sermon, doing the bulletin and PowerPoint, these blogs and Facebook blurbs, taking care of whatever church business and building and yard maintenance needs done.

I go home and go over my sermon some more and then I spend most of Sunday getting ready for church, preaching, visiting with and praying for people, and then I go home, if I’m lucky, and take a short nap before I take care of whatever needs done at home.

In the few spare minutes I have around all of that I try to maintain a relationship with my wife, my daughters and my many grandchildren who are all the joy of my life. I also have a mother and father and various siblings that I seldom get to spend time with, and I feel guilty about all of that.

So if I don’t have a lot of quality time to spend with you, or pursuing a relationship or mentoring you, I’m sorry, I truly am, but that is my reality and I cannot change it unless I either quit my job and starve, or quit the church, and God has not released me to do that.

Now, I am not telling you this to make you feel sorry for me or brag about my busyness for Jesus, my point is, and this is the same for anyone; I will let you down. And if you are left feeling hopeless and alone, unloved and bitter, because I or anyone in ministry—anyone in your life— has disappointed you and not lived up to your expectations, than your hope is in the wrong place. Any hope that you derive from any human being is going to be flawed. Period.

Your joy and peace cannot be tied to whether or not I had time to visit with you or pray for you. Whether I called you when you were having a bad day or invited you to coffee. Whether I chased you to the ends of the earth when you decided to stop showing up.

I can only be in one place at a time and I can only spend quality time with one person at a time and there are people whom I have to prioritize that will get my time, and there are people who will try to hoard my time and prayers, making it even more difficult to share my time.

Everyone’s time is limited. But you know who does have all the time in the world for you? The Holy Spirit. He is your Living Hope.

And the Holy Spirit doesn’t get exhausted, he is the source, we are just vessels. And frankly I, and no doubt every pastor out there who preaches in the power of the Holy Spirit, is exhausted after pouring out his everything as he preaches the word of God, because this imperfect vessel of flesh is mostly empty by noon on Sunday. I know I am, because I have given you everything I’ve received. And I need the rest of the day to rest and recharge so I can start again on Monday.

Fortunately it’s not all up to me, that’s not the way Jesus established his church.

That’s why I have always encouraged people to hang around after church and visit with one another, pray for one another, because you have just been filled through the worship, the word and the Spirit. You are being equipped for the work of the ministry. Take care of one another—every day of the week— love one another, but remember, your hope must ultimately, and primarily, be in Jesus. That’s what all this is about.

I will let you down. Pastor fill in the blank will let you down, your best friend will let you down, your family will let you down. Your job, your banker, you car, your waitress, everything and everyone will let you down—if, and only if, you are putting the onus for your joy and sense of well being on them in a disproportionate way.

How do you like me now?

your faith and hope are in God. 1 Peter 1:21

Your faith and hope must come from God and God alone.

The living hope can only be the Holy Spirit, and only the Holy Spirit, can be your living hope.

Where Are You Walking?

If you are not walking in love, It’s time to turn around!1 John Walking in darkness

Too many believers go along claiming and even believing they are walking in the light, being perfected in God’s grace and power when they are actually clinging to the shadows on the edges of the light; lurking in the shadows of hatred that, if not dealt with, can lure us back into total darkness where we lose all sight of the light.

Abiding in Jesus means walking in the light of his love, and living out that love. Refusing to keep his word, hating our brothers, means we are not in the light, we are walking in the dark, and we are blind—lost and, worse than lost, unaware that we are lost. It’s easy to forget the way and get turned around thinking we are on the right path and missing the voice trying to tell us otherwise.

Turned Around

       Last fall I went hunting with my daughter Jessie on her and her husband’s ranch. We have been hunting together for years and we both love the hunt and the time we get to spend together. During our hunt we got ambitious and climbed up on top of this huge bluff that dominates the whole area and where there are ample places for deer to hide out.Me 'n Jessie(Jessie and I on a more successful hunt–the next day)

It was very cold and windy that day, and snowing sideways— perfect hunting weather. Any day you get to be out hunting is a perfect day right? At least that’s the way my family looks at it. After hiking for a mile or so we came across some fresh tracks—as hard as it was snowing we knew they were very fresh—and followed them up and away from the rim of the bluff we had been working along and we did actually catch up to them, but all we saw was does. (This was a Muley bucks only district)

Jessie had been telling me that she thought we might be straying into the neighbors land but it was hard to tell because of all the open range and falling down fences making boundaries unclear. So after determining that there were no big bucks with these girls I said, “We should work our way back towards the truck.” By this time, between the snow storm and my old knees giving me fits, my truck seat and my thermos of coffee were calling my name.

So I started hoofing it back towards what I thought was the edge of the bluff we had walked to get us there. After walking a ways across the open field on top of the bluff Jessie said to me; “I’m really not comfortable being this far into what I think is the neighbor’s property, I think we should go back.”

I looked at her kind of puzzled and said. “What do you mean go back, isn’t the truck just over the edge of the hill over there?”

She said “No, we are on the opposite side of the bluff, don’t you hear the wolves?” I then heard the wolves carried on the wind from the wolf sanctuary down below, which I knew was on the total opposite side from where we had parked. The yipping and howling told me that she was right. I was dumbfounded, how did I get so turned around? I said, “Why didn’t you tell me?” She said “I did a couple of times but you just kept going so I figured you just were determined to keep hunting over here.”

I did hear her but I assumed I was taking us back the right way. I heard her but I wasn’t really listening and she wasn’t being very assertive—she has spent much of her hunting career following Dad around, not leading him. She was the quite voice behind me saying, this is the way, walk in it. (Is 30:21) But I wasn’t perceiving what she was saying.

Finally I did. I couldn’t believe it. I was tired, thirsty and sore and had just walked about a half mile in the wrong direction. We turned around and walked, straight into the wind and snow back, the way we had just walked and finally came out where we were supposed to be and got back to the truck.

After consulting Google Earth it turns out that bluff wasn’t shaped anything like what I had pictured in my mind, I didn’t know the big picture, so where I was going was nowhere near where I thought I was going. That’s what the Apostle John is talking about here:

walk in the light Jesus

          Thots

You might think you know where you are going—you are going there with gusto and following your instinct—but if you are not listening to the word, not listening to the still small voice of the Spirit and paying attention and just going where the wind blows you, you are going to end up lost in the dark. The sun will set and time will run out on you. And that’s not a good place to be—Outer darkness.

Or you end up in trouble for trespassing, something the law in Montana takes seriously, not to mention ranchers. Gives new meaning to the prayer— Forgive us our trespasses. . .

Anyway, that’s what hatred does. Gets us into trouble and can ultimately destroy us.

And, this is just an observation or a conclusion that dawned on me, it seems that biblically, pretty much any human interaction with other people that is not based is love, is hatred.

That may be taking it a little too far but the very least we can safely say is that hatred is the polar opposite of love and thus should be the very last thing we want to harbor in our hearts as it goes against everything God is and asks of us.

Hatred

Hatred can take on many forms. One of the most destructive is the hatred of unforgiveness—”You wronged me and now you owe me. I will never be okay with you and I will secretly—or openly—take pleasure in any misfortune that comes your way.”

The hatred of unforgiveness is the deepest and foulest poison the human soul can fathom. It is a darkness that leaves the heart empty and open to hatred, bitterness and spite, leaving little room for love and joy. No love can bear fruit in a bitter heart nor can it have fellowship with a God who has loved us in spite of our sins, things we did not deserve to be forgiven for, yet were, because he sent his Son who was willing to lay down his life, suffer the agony of the cross for us.

Jesus, by his own admission, could have commanded 12 legions of angels to come down and destroy those who betrayed, beat, tortured and shamed him for no crime other than loving people for the Father, for keeping the word, for being the word.

But he did not, he left judgement day for its appointed time (we must do the same) and carried out his mission of sacrificial love, love perfected, and begged his Father forgive those who ignorantly murdered the author of life.

forgive them Jesus

 

But what about those who do know what they do? Surely we can hate them!

That is the hatred of righteous indignation—”You know better, you messed up, or are messing up, and I cannot treat you with love or respect until you change your ways and come crawling to me and prove that you are now as righteous  as me.”

He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. 10 He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 1 John 2

They are exactly the ones whom John is telling us here we cannot hate—our brothers. The word brother here means fellow believers. Those whom we deem should know better. ‘You call yourself a Christian! You had better straighten up before you expect me to stop reminding you how sinful you are!’

Well, for starters, who are you to judge the heart of another believer? And who made you the Holy Spirit?Spirit Come cross

The Helper is the Holy Spirit and according to Jesus it is his job, and his job alone, to convict others of sin. It is your job to walk in the light, to not give your brother or sister cause to sin, to rebel or run away from God and his word.

Because it is only by coming to the light, allowing God’s word to search their hearts, that they will come to reject any sinful behavior and have love perfected in them as well.

Seeing your light go dark, hidden behind your scorn, whenever they are around you will certainly not encourage them to come into the light. Jesus loved people into the kingdom. And the only time you see him angry is when he saw others judging those he was trying to love into his Kingdom—the Priests and Pharisees who deemed others dirty and sinful.

Little children . . . love!little children love 1 John

I love all of you. Have a blessed week!

Prison of Pain

If you are living in unforgiveness you are living in a world the one who wronged you created for you.

In the ministry I have seen it over and over again, people living in a prison of their own making, a prison of pain, tortured by a wounded heart, a heart that could be healed, a prison from which they could escape but for one thing—an unwillingness to forgive the one who hurt them, the one who owes them.

 

70 x 7.jpg

I can never forgive them! Do you know what they have done? Usually, yes, but God doesn’t put any exceptions out there for this principle. His grace, his forgiveness, as illustrated by the story of the unforgiving servant for example, (Mat 18:22-35) is unlimited and unconditional—unless we fail to reciprocate it. That’s not His doing. That’s a heart becoming hardened by unforgiveness to the point where it can no longer even accept it, can no longer receive healing, no longer feel love, no longer heeds the Holy Spirit—and the Spirit is grieved.

grieved

I often struggle with this as a pastor. It’s real hard to tell someone whom you know is bound up, tortured in their very souls by the bitterness of unforgiveness, to forgive. When you know how badly someone was hurt, how wronged, mistreated and abused someone was by someone who still may have no remorse and take no responsibility. It’s hard to let go, and it’s hard to tell someone they need to.

But I do, because I have seen the incredible healing and transformation that takes place in a person when they do finally forgive.

Think about it. That bitterness in only poisoning your own soul. That hatred, the thoughts of revenge, the fantasies of repaying them that replay in your mind over and over, the obsessing over the injustice of it all—no matter how much energy you put into your desire to repay or be repaid, you are not harming that person, you are only perpetuating your own hurt.

prisoned

And if they truly are as bad as you imagine, they are probably relishing in the misery of your grudge burdened heart, they are probably flattered in their perverted arrogance that they live in your mind rent free. You are hurting no one but yourself.

You have to let it go. Be free of the prison of your own making. Only you hold the key—that key is forgiveness. If you cannot do it alone, ask the Lord for help. He desires nothing more than to set you free so that you can fully experience the joy of his forgiveness for you.

 

captives free.jpg

Jesus was sent to set you free. That’s a flat out promise not hidden in a parable but stated plain and clear.

If you want to be a free and functioning citizen of the Kingdom of God you must forgive as you have been forgiven.

Now, as a note of caution, forgiveness if not the same as trusting. If someone has abused you, hurt you and has not proven to you that they are able or willing to stop, you do not have to allow them a chance to hurt you again. Forgiveness happens in your heart, it doesn’t have to happen to their face. It can, and it can be beneficial, but do not put your self at risk.

If Jesus has set you free by giving you the grace to forgive, then let him restore your sight also that you may see the dangers and avoid them in the future.

There’s a big exciting world out there waiting for you to conquer and explore if you’ll just open up that prison door and step out into it.

Institutionalized

‘But I like it here, I know what to expect and I have good reasons to stay in my little corner of the world where others can care for me and keep trying to teach me things. There’s a word for that, it’s called being institutionalized. There are people who have been in prison for so long that they are afraid to get out. There are those who are afraid to leave school, they have no concept or desire to get out into the real world. They go from preschool to kindergarten to 12 more years of public school to several years of college to then working at or teaching in that college and their whole world is that campus.

I remember when I was in Job Corps, there were guys who were afraid to graduate and go back to the real world. They came there from high school to learn a trade so they could get out and make a living but the thought of being out in the big wide world where you have to buy you own food, pay your own rent, get up and go to bed when you want, have to be responsible for your self—that’s scary!

I would think;Are you kidding me? I can’t wait to get out of here and be free to find my own way, to make a living and make my own choices and decisions.”

I want to live in the real world—it’s a challenge and an adventure, an opportunity waiting to happen, life is what you make of it. Unless you choose to stay confined in one someone else made for you. If you are living in unforgiveness you are living in the world the one who wronged you created for you.

rain pain.jpg

Be free. Step out of the prison of pain and into the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a real world, it is the real world, and you need to get out there into it. God has a plan for you and freedom is just a prayer away.

‘”Lord forgive me my sins as I forgive those who sin against me’— and help me to forgive them.”

You are a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven, you can do this.

forgive.jpg

Don’t be institutionalized in your unforgiveness and anger, there’s a whole new Kingdom out there to explore.

 

The True Friend

If you can’t count on the one who holds your heart, you might have to take it back. And when you get it back it’s often very wounded.

annointed meme

A true friend is a treasure isn’t it? Someone who stands by you no matter what. No matter what others may say or think of you, no matter if you are being difficult or even foolish at times—a friend who stays with you in the good times and the bad and can keep the intimate thoughts and feelings you entrust them with, just between you and them.

Nothing hurts more than being betrayed by someone you thought was that friend. Throughout my life I have had friends come and go for various reasons, usually because distance and changes in life circumstances separated us, but the great thing about a true friend is that even after years apart that trust and love can still be there or can be quickly rekindled as you share things between you that are yours and yours alone.

If you can have a friend like that in your spouse, one whom you know always has your back and will never betray your confidence, who has stood with you through many troubles, toils and snares, it is a relationship blessed without equal.  I am blessed to have that friend in my wife. In nearly thirty two years of marriage we have been through things together that only we know and have survived because we never lost faith in one another nor in the God who put us together.

freind meme.jpg

We are doing life together and there have been times when knowing that she is on my side and that she has my back has made the difference between total despair and the strength to go on, affirmed that I am not alone nor am I on the wrong side.

Being a pastors wife is no easy task as you see your husband attacked, challenged and questioned, often by himself—way too often. She never aspired to be a pastors wife but she has embraced the call and I am more grateful and heartened by that with every year that passes.

Aside from the ministry, just life in general, family, work or lack thereof, health issues, financial issues, disagreements, tragedies and hardships, that are too often common to all of us, can take a toll on a person and a relationship and tear it asunder.

And, sadly, many times it does happen for many people that it is too much to bear and a relationship crumbles. Usually because both parties are no longer standing with each other, but against. If you can’t count on the one who holds your heart, you might have to take it back. And when you get it back it’s often very wounded.

Fortunately there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother who not only will never stand against you, he will never wound your heart and he can, and will, fix that wounded heart.

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, Luke 4:18

No matter where you are in this challenging journey of life, Jesus is there, standing with you, just turn to him and trust him with your heart. All else is only window dressing to keep one from looking in and seeing the pain.

Stand with me meme.jpg

Soul Satisfaction

Is there a hole in your soul?

take nothing

I hate to keep using my own life as an example of living with a hole in your soul but it’s all I really have, that is my testimony—my story is Jesus’ story. Until I was willing to let go of my own destiny, to let go of my rebellious, ‘you can’t tell me what to do, I am free to do as I choose and these are the things that give me satisfaction’, attitude I was never truly satisfied, I had no soul satisfaction.

Quite the contrary, the more I pursued the partying, the emptier I became as the feelings of camaraderie and euphoria of the first time highs continued to be just beyond my grasp.

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When I was finally willing to trust the Lord to be my peace, to be my contentment without the drugs or drink that had just ensnared me I found out what real contentment—soul contentment was.

But it’s easy to forget that isn’t it? Throughout my life other things start to creep in promising contentment. We start getting anxious for other things worrying that we may never achieve them or be able to hang on to them if we do.

I have told many a worried young person who desperately wants to be married that God will most likely not fulfill that desire until you learn to be content with just Him. That also makes for a much healthier marriage because if you are depending on someone else to bring you contentment you will be disappointed, no one can live up to that, only God can do that.

A couple of years after giving my life fully over to the Lord and experiencing real freedom I was starting to worry that I would never get married. At 26 I had never even had a serious girlfriend; Thank the Lord for that, it no doubt saved me a lot of grief! But I was starting to think there was something wrong with me, that I was doomed to perpetual bachelorhood.

For one, I was way too shy to even really know how to pursue a relationship that may end in marriage, and there just didn’t seem to be any likely candidates crossing my path, there probably was but I was clueless as to how to pursue them. I was terminally shy and I was very intent on not getting into any relationship that God did not ordain for me or would likely not end in marriage. Dating for fun is one of the stupidest things you can ever do, especially if it’s done in the world’s model of dating, (unless of course you enjoy heartache and lifelong complications.)

Oh Lord, the world would be such a better place if everyone just lived by your standards and pursued godliness instead of just presuming on grace while letting the flesh run roughshod over their hearts. I used to be embarrassed to no end that at 26 I was a still a virgin, but the more I experience life and ministry and see the messes caused by giving away your most sacred gift willy nilly, the more grateful I am to the Lord that I was too awkward, shy and respectful of women to give in to demands of the flesh and the invitations of others.

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But I desperately wanted to get married, I wanted to have a family, to be the dad and to yes, end my life of celibacy. But I knew I couldn’t just make it happen, there are no guarantees in this life so I had to reconcile to the fact that I might be perpetually single, and that was that.

I had to come to the place where I knew I would be okay, that I would be content if I never got married. I had Jesus, I had a mission to share him with the world, I had eternal life and the Holy Spirit residing in me and I was never truly alone. Life is good.

And then the Lord told me to court and marry my friend Donna. My eyes were opened to the one I was supposed to love and, long story short. Less than a year later we were married. It was a pursuit— which is what courting is—because even though God had told me that I was supposed to marry her, God hadn’t bothered to tell her that she was supposed to marry me.

But the point is, when I had come to the place where I decided I did not need to married to be happy, as long as I had Jesus, then he blessed me with a wife. And I am forever grateful and appreciative of, and for her, because of that.

That same principle has been repeated over and over again in my life. My first house—after striving and conniving to try to buy a house with no credit and no money I had to confess to the Lord my frustration and repent, telling him I would be happy living in a tent as long as I had him. The Lord then did a miracle and a couple weeks later (Literally) I was signing the papers for my first house.

Pastor?

For years I fought and fretted, trying to figure out how to fulfill my call of being a pastor when I could not take the time nor the money to go away to school, long before everything became available on line. And no one seemed to be willing to facilitate my desire to climb the church ladder into a pastoral position.

And then one day, at least a decade after I had decided I would never be a pastor in this lifetime, and that I was okay with that, more than okay with that actually—who in their right mind would want to be a pastor? —the Lord opened the Yellowstone Valley Bible institute which was accredited with the very Bible college I had been trying to figure out how to get to years earlier, in my own backyard, or at least in my home church.

He then told me to sign up. But Lord, I am content just being a Sunday school teacher, making hay, raising cattle and kids, and…—’no, you need to go to school.’ Okay Lord. —But if I’m going to start a church, which I knew was where he was taking me, it had better be in a big town so I can have enough people to pay me a good salary and make it all worth the effort.

Boy did I have a lot to learn.

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‘Red Lodge? That’s not a big town!’ But you know what? By the time the Lord got me here, I had had more than my fill of church attitudes that took a business approach to ministry—‘How can we get more customers— I mean tithing members? How can we improve the product—I mean make the gospel more appealing?

How about you just let God be God, preach the word, the whole word, and allow the Holy Spirit to draw—or repulse—sinners and saints? Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from having fully grasped how to get away from this church marketing and growth strategy mindset but I have learned to stop stressing about it also—something that I think makes my fellow pastors worry that I have lost the vision.

No, I have just stopped listening to the lies of the enemy that keeps dangling that golden ring out there for all to chase right into his trap.

1 Tim 6:8 -And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. . . . 

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I know I am where I am supposed to be, smack in the middle of His plan for me. And in that I have soul satisfaction, and that is priceless!

 

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Find your freedom in Jesus!

Forgiven Much

“‘love covers a multitude of sins.’ I love that, don’t you? —I can do that.”

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Anyone forgiven much? —Do you love much? That’s a little harder question isn’t it? We all know we are supposed to love, love the Lord our God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves. But where the rubber meets the road, it’s a lot harder to do then to say.

I don’t care what anyone says, we’re all pretty good at loving ourselves, even the woe is me, I’m a pitiful wretch I hate myself, person who claims they need to learn to love themselves is focused on what? Themselves. “Look at me, help me, love me.” We all want to be loved, if we didn’t love ourselves we wouldn’t care if anyone loved us.

Jesus didn’t make any disclaimers when he told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. He didn’t say, “Unless of course you don’t love yourselves.” Selfishness is rooted deep in the human psyche. We might not always like ourselves, but fallen man always puts himself before anyone else and anything you put above all else is what you love the most.

Jesus is asking us to put others before ourselves, and especially to put God before ourselves. That’s true humility, not drawing attention to ourselves with our own woes but being willing to put ourselves out for others, to even humiliate ourselves. That’s what the woman we studied last week, the sinful woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears did, and why Jesus was so moved by her love that he declared her forgiven—she got it.go in peace

 

The last thing she needed to do, and would have wanted to do, was to come into a room full of people who loath her, downright despise her as wicked and dirty, and make a spectacle of herself for the sole purpose of thanking one man for showing her respect, for treating her like she mattered, who loved her for no other reason than that she came to him seeking something beyond herself—seeking redemption.

And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, 38 and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; Luke 7

She went away pure, and at peace, because Jesus declared her so—forgiven much.

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Preparing my sermon last week and spending much time thinking about the woman who was so overwhelmed by a feeling of love for Jesus that she ended up washing his feet with her tears, I knew I wanted to spend more time on those words that Jesus spoke to Simon the Pharisee and the rest of the room concerning the woman whom they could only see as sinful and shameful;  “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

I have pondered that verse many times over the years and am always astounded at how I have seen it proven true over and over and over again. It’s somewhat of a sad testament to the human condition that those who seem to have fallen so far, gotten so far away from a life that honors God and his ways, are the ones who, if and when they are willing to receive the healing touch from Jesus, are the ones who ultimately become the most passionate about their relationship with him.

You would think it’s the ones who never strayed that would be the most passionate in their love for Christ but I guess it makes sense that the one who has been the most hungry for the longest time is the one who is most grateful for the bread when they find it.

Perhaps it’s that “You never know what you had until you lose it” principle at play. Those who think they are just always in right standing with the Lord, who say in their hearts, “Well I’m certainly doing a lot better than those messed up people over there so I must be worthy.” are the ones who end up bitter and ungrateful because they always believe they are getting the short end of the stick.

“I deserve better than this! Why am I not getting a ring and a fatted calf?” —to use a prodigal son reference. While those who have failed miserably and know they will probably get nothing short of scorn and judgement, are so grateful when they receive loving graces from the Father that they can only rejoice, and they cannot wait to share with others who are still in the same miserable shoes that they were in.

Listen! I am standing at the door

I have often said of myself when people express thanks to me for teaching or preaching the gospel, “I’m just a beggar telling other beggars where I found bread.” It’s a line I stole from an old gospel song I heard years ago and it just sums it up for me. I’m no one special, just someone who was starving for truth and meaning and stumbled upon a treasure trove of both in Christ, in his word and by His Spirit.

I just had to be willing to receive it when it was offered. And there is plenty for everyone. Why so many prefer to go through life starving when they can have the bread of life is beyond me but I am determined that it won’t be for lack of me trying to point the way to the pantry.

Really, that’s what it comes down to, that has been the motivating factor in my walk with Christ ever since he rescued me from my own self-induced famine and filled me to the top with his love and forgiveness.

The night in 1985 that I fell to my knees a trembling convicted mess and arose a man overwhelmed, filled to overflowing with love and joy, is a night I will never forget.

After several years of running from the Lord and life, after years of doing what I knew I should not be doing but unwilling to let go of my own destiny and trust Jesus, only giving the Lord a little bit of my heart, only living by his word when it didn’t interfere with what my flesh wanted. I had finally had enough of the frustration and loneliness that comes from a life separated from God by willful disobedience and dove into God’s word searching for an answer— anything to help me overcome my addictions and anxieties and he infused his word with such a power that I was unable and unwilling to close my heart to its truth any longer.

I was unwilling and unable to close my heart off to his Holy Spirit’s offer of love, joy, peace and patience any longer and I simply said yes, ‘yes Lord. I trust you, yes Lord I am yours, Yes Lord I will follow you wherever you lead.’

I gave him my life and he gave me my life back. “Go in peace, your faith has saved you.”

At that point I knew I was truly forgiven much and I loved much as a result. And I still try to do my best to do so, in his power, and he is always faithful. It doesn’t always make me popular, much of the church doesn’t understand how I can love some people, how I can accept some people, how I can keep an open heart and open arms.

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I am only doing what Jesus did for me and what I continue to see him doing. I am called to love all, both the unbeliever who doesn’t even know they are a sinner and the believer who is entangled in sin but is unwilling or unable to face the truth of how it’s hurting them, and breaking the Lord’s heart. I know, because I feel his heartbreak, that’s what is there when you get past the anger and offense, neither of which serve any good purpose, a love that is willing to bear pain is a love that is hard to hold.

But it is the kind of love we are given, and called to share.

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If we are doing our best to love much, we will not scorn others, nor will we be scorned, for love covers a multitude of sins. I love that, don’t you? —I can do that.

 

 

The Dead Ahead II

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It is not your lot in life, nor the Father’s desire for you, to live in fear of harm.

As a man, a husband and a father I consider it my highest calling in life to provide for and to protect my family, to ensure that they are, and feel, secure. I know that not all of you can relate to a father who really cares about your well being—But you indeed have one. We see him personified in Jesus and can know him through his Holy Spirit. It is His desire that you, His child, should not live in fear. that you can rest easy knowing that things are being taken care of by someone who not only cares, but has the power to take care of things in a perfect way.

Get safe

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But—what if you have found yourself saddled with someone who does not care? If you have sailed off to safety with Jesus, away from the dead in your past in that proverbial boat we have been studying, and been met on the opposite shore by the dead and allowed yourself to be deceived by them into trusting them. Like I said last week—If you are not safe, you need to get safe, it is not the will nor the desire of the Lord for you to live in fear or pain, to tolerate or excuse, or to take the blame for someone else’s evil.

You do not deserve to live in pain, you do not deserve to live in fear and if you are now a follower of Jesus—you will recognize that evil just as surely as Jesus did when he confronted the legion of demons who had taken possession of that poor man on the far side of the lake; What is your name?” The demons could not lie to Jesus and had to admit that there were many of them“We are legion” please let us go live with the pigs! How pathetic is that?

“Come out of the man, unclean spirit!” Then He asked him, “What is your name?”

And he answered, saying, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country.

11 Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. 12 So all the demons begged Him, saying, “Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.”

Mark 5

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And that didn’t last long, Jesus arranged a little burial at sea.

Once we have buried the dead—silenced the voices, we must not allow the enemy to stand in our way or saddle us with new demons and hurts. Not only must the dead stay buried, we must avoid future ensnarement.

That demon possessed man had come out to meet them. According to Matthew’s telling of this same story, these demons had been harassing and preventing people from passing here for some time now, disrupting people’s plans. But the demons quickly recognized that they were the ones who were about to have their plans changed and their day ruined. When Jesus showed up and their host carried them right into His presence they knew they were in trouble and could only beg for a little reprieve from their ultimate end.

This man had attacked everyone else and beat them mercilessly but he runs to Jesus and worships him. The spark of life, the glimmer of hope still alive in his heart recognized that God had heard his anguished cries and somehow knew his redeemer had come—just for him.

Jesus, nor those who love him are not subject to the whims and wiles of the enemy. The disciples had left the dead to bury the dead and they were not going to get bogged down by the dead ahead.

No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. Mark 5

Free

No one was strong enough to subdue him, no one that is, except Jesus— with just a word. Everyone else was dealing with the man, binding him and avoiding the spirit, Jesus was dealing with the spirit and freeing the man.

Jesus Saw beyond the madness, the nakedness, filth and threats and saw a good heart waiting to be rescued, a heart that was so tormented and in such pain that he spent his nights crying out alone in the graveyards, who was in such anguish that he cut himself with sharp rocks and was so hopeless and forlorn that he only sought to hurt others while they only sought to bind him and keep him away from them.

No one loved him, no one cared a whit about himno one that is, except Jesus. Jesus left the 99 to rescue the one.

Jesus didn’t just protect the disciples from a demoniac, he delivered the demoniac—a man created in is image—he set him free and cured his heart. Because—Jesus is fiercely protective of his children; all his children.

35 Then they went out to see what had happened, and came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 They also who had seen it told them by what means he who had been demon-possessed was healed. Luke 8:35,36

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You are safe with Jesus, there is no need to fear the dead, nor the demons, that taunt from behind and will keep trying to cut you off in your journey with the Savior. Keep pushing forward, keep trusting, be as innocent as lambs and as wily as coyotes and as bold as lions as you traverse the many trails ahead. The road is wide that leads to destruction while the path that leads to salvation is narrow, but it is a path that is well lit and secured by Jesus, the one who will never leave you nor forsake you.

Find your freedom. Embrace the barbarian in you!

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Heart Storms (Bury the Dead II)

“We are afraid, not because we forget, but because we cannot forget– nightmare experiences where we had no control and felt vulnerable, verbal abuse, beatings, neglect, sexual abuse.”

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Like the disciples who feared for their lives even as they were in the boat with Jesus– as Christians, we often forget who we are with. If we have given our hearts to Jesus, we are safe in the arms of the Savior, indwelt by his very Spirit of power and perfect peace. That is the key to overcoming all our fears and failures, to quieting all the voices of the past and the fears of the future— to remember who we are with.

But, like the disciples sitting literally in the very same boat with Jesus, we forget. We let our past become our biggest enemy, our greatest hindrance to following and moving forward into the perfect plan he has for us, into the perfect healing he has for us. We need to stop looking back, to let the past be the past while at the same time using it for his glory, to strengthen us and even give us a testimony of how we overcame in Christ—“You go and proclaim the Kingdom”—Tell the story, be a voice of hope. ‘Do you know what God has done for me, I was lost and now I’m found, I was blind but now I see!”

‘I was a victim but now I’m a victor. I have followed Jesus and he took me away from abuse, from addictions, from perverts and manipulators, from the sick and demented, from the liars and the hurtful—he has delivered me from evil, I have escaped the dead—and you can too.” —That’s our testimony!

That creaky old boat sailing off into the setting sun to a shore you cannot see is the safest place you have ever been and it is all you need—as long as Jesus is in it. There may be storms but you will reach the other shore and what a story you will have to tell— you may even walk on water.

Don’t let the things of yesterday overshadow the faith you need to survive today. Don’t be like those who saw Jesus do miracle after miracle only to wind  up scared half to death hours later in a storm. Peter saw Jesus heal his own mother in law with a touch, and that same evening loses all hope. Yeah, that storm was bad and very real, but there reactions were really cause by unseen storms, the storms within, that was their real issue, and the one Jesus was concerned with.

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Heart storms

Heart storms, any little thing that goes wrong, any big thing, and suddenly there is a storm released in our hearts. “Lord, don’t you care that I am perishing?!” That’s why we are afraid, we are afraid because we are looking back beyond the deliverance we received, the love and assurances we received just moments ago quickly fade into the darkness of a past that continually boils on the horizon like a summer storm building a perfect thunderhead that looks like it could devastate us. We are afraid, not because we forget, but because we cannot forget.

We need to let go, get free of the past and stop fearing the storms that the world keeps throwing at us. We need to stop looking at the storms and start looking at the one in the boat with us,I am His and He is mine and nothing can change that.’ He is the resurrection and the life and He cannot be destroyed— hence neither can I. If He can calm the storm driven waves He can certainly calm my storm driven heartif I’ll let Him.

Those inner storms are the voices of the dead. The dead keep coming back to taunt us. Things that we thought we buried, things we heard as a child that caused us to wonder about our worth, we buried. We buried them next to other graves that hold memories of nightmare experiences where we had no control and felt vulnerable, verbal abuse, beatings, neglect, sexual abuse. . . .

We finally move past those things and get away from the perpetrators— out of the grave yard—but then we run into more people whom we think love us but end up speaking words of death to us, and our hearts flash back to thoughts of past—lies we thought we left buried.

And we start to wonder—’Were they not lies? Am I really worthless, sinful, stupid, unlovable, worthy of no one better, of nothing better?’

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‘No! I can’t go there again!’ —and we run back into the graveyard frantically digging  a grave for the new lies while the old ones keep resurfacing like the swimming pool scene in Spielberg’s movie Poltergeist where coffins and corpses are popping up from the mud like gophers at Chucky Cheese. Words from a boss, a spouse, a co-worker, a parent’s love and approval we still seek, a manipulative and abusive ex–we keep digging, frantically trying to bury them, but all we seem to be doing is digging our own graves.

The voices of the dead start to feed off one another and we are overwhelmed. ‘I can’t do this, I can’t handle all this, the bills, the kids, the jobs, messed up relationships—maybe I deserve this, maybe I am not worthy just like they said’ —in the midst of it all those voices of the past, the nightmares we tried to forget and the wounds we thought were healed, the things we can’t share with others because they are so shameful— the all come crashing from the sky like waves on a boat and we find ourselves in the perfect heart storm and we cry out: “Lord, help me, don’t you care that I am perishing?

39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Mark 4

There are no storms in your life or in your heart that Jesus cannot get you through and even still—there are no voices his voice cannot still. You will not drown, you will not perish, you are worthy of love and deliverance—his love, his healing love.

You will not perish—That’s a lie. Jesus didn’t call you, reveal himself to you—bring you here to hear this message—just to watch you drown.

And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, 17 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:

“He Himself took our infirmities
And bore our sicknesses.” Mark 4

Jesus carried your wounds, took them and destroyed them on the cross.

Stop listening to the lies and start listening to Jesus. You heart is in the safest place it could ever possibly be, in the hands of Jesus. Trust him when he beckons —come follow me, as he says to your heart— peace be still.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, keep moving forward. Live in the today he has given you and in the hope of an even better tomorrow. Bury the dead, write them a farewell note of forgiveness and throw it in the hole as you turn away and to Jesus, the one who has the words of life.

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But pastor, you don’t know what I’ve experienced. Perhaps not, but Jesus does and he is not shocked nor overwhelmed by it. He was betrayed by those he loved also.

Those are the worst—betrayals by people you love, people who were supposed to protect you or at least love and cherish you—and if there is a sexual component, it becomes more heinous because then the whole being is affected, body, mind and soul.

The sexual betrayals outstrip them all but they can be overcome as well by the same principle of letting the dead bury the dead and recognizing that you are in a safe place with Jesus.

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Find your true freedom in Jesus

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