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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Soul Satisfaction

Is there a hole in your soul?

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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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Shunned -(The Wall part 2)

12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near, reconciled through the cross and bringing peace. Ephesians 2

Separated

It stinks to be excluded, to not be able to join in the reindeer games. Today, we call it being excommunicated, shunned, or our new favorite; tough love.Those who experience it just call it being judged and scorned.

In this scripture Paul is urging the gentile believers in Ephesus to remember how they once felt when they were not a part of the family of God, separated by different belief systems, different cultures and traditions—different gods entirely. The Ephesians had been living without hope as their gods promised nothing but demanded everything, leaving them without hope. They were looked down upon by the Hebrews, those who worshipped a God who offered the hope of eternity and blessings in this life and the next but shunned all who did not adhere to their laws or even belong to their race.

They were unclean, and as far as,any of the Israelites of Paul’s day were concerned they could just stay that way, but more importantly, just stay away!—Open hostility. The Israelites had always been called to be a light to the world but they didn’t always do a very good job of it.

Remember Jonah? He decided he would rather die in a storm at sea then go preach God’s message to the dirty Assyrians. “Just throw me overboard and the storm will cease…” But God wouldn’t let him off that easy He sent a great fish to swallow Jonah before he drowned and to spit him out on the shore so he could fulfill his mission of giving the Ninevites a chance to repent and be redeemed from judgement.

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He did, they did, and Jonah was furious. “These people deserve nothing but judgement, they deserve punishment” “Seriously God, where’s the justice?”

Mercy

That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry? Jonah 3

‘Really Jonah? You’re going to be angry because I am merciful and give second chances? You just need to get over your bad self.’

We don’t know if Jonah ever did (get over his bad self) his story ends with God rebuking him for being angry at God for his mercy toward sinners—the religious rebuked and the sinners restored. An unexpected twist and a theme that would be repeated over and over again throughout scripture.

Even Jesus said, “I did not come for the healthy, for the healthy do not need a physician.”

Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ 12 But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’ Mat 9:11—13

“Go and learn what this means.” That is a challenge from Jesus to those who deem themselves righteous.

We serve a God of mercy, a God so merciful that when he saw no other way to overlook the sins of humanity, who constantly rebelled and forsook his ways, He became one of them and bore the penalty of that sin in his own body, purchasing our mercy with his own blood.

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…thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Eph 2

Has God put to death your hostility? Or has it only shifted focus or even intensified? That’s a hard question we all need to be asking ourselves.

Restoration

The specific and unique mission the Lord gave me for my church is that we would be a place of healing, restoration and hope for the church, for God’s people, for his children. For the wounded and weary soldiers of the Lord’s army who have fallen for whatever reason, and have been kicked aside by the church. What about the unsaved? Without a healthy church there will be no saved, which is largely where we are today I’m afraid.

Back in 2011 I told our young church; “I think the biggest hindrance to people coming to the Lord through the church is the church.  People look in at us working ourselves to death, shooting our wounded, snubbing the world and say, ’I’ll just stay out here and take my chances, thank you very much.’”

I strive to lead a church where there are no walls of hostility, where all are welcome, all the time. The only people I have ever had even a hint of a harsh word for here are those who come in looking down their noses at me or at any of you. The religious and judgmental do not normally last long here and in fact the only spirits I have ever personally had to cast out of here have been religious spirits. Yes I mean spirits, not people. People are just pawns used by the spiritual forces of darkness, and self-righteous indignant people are  his favorite weapon for destroying churches.

A few weeks ago, I was beating myself up for not being able to prevent people from making bad choices and feeling the condemnation of those who think me too easy on the fallen and hurting—In my lowest point of discouragement The Holy Spirit told me in no uncertain terms, “All I ever asked you to do is love people.” Those words set my heart free.

It just dawned on me this last week that that is exactly how my mission to restore the wounded of Christ’s army is lived out, just loving people for Jesus, letting God be the judge.

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. Gal 6:1—3

Love gently restores. Only love can gently restore the wounded and weary, and the broken and fallen.

Fallen soldiers are not to be used by the ‘more spiritual’ for sword practice as they test how sharp their blades are by hurling God’s word at them like bayonets on the end of a Japanese rifle during the Baton death march where weary American POW’s were stuck mercilessly like living pin cushions.

Remember who ended up winning that war, the scorned and shamed Americans.

The point is, we are to be merciful and offer the hand of restoration letting God be the judge while offering to help bear the burdens of those we think least deserve it.

Save the bayonet practice for the real enemy, the one who is trying to destroy all of us, the fallen and the strong.

We do not kick our brothers and sisters when they are down, we do not shoot our wounded. We gently restore them because without mercy we are nothing. If we are not bearing one another’s burdens, we are deceiving ourselves if we think we are any better than anyone else—if we think we are anyone’s judge.

The one thing I have heard over and over again through the years from people who have stumbled and even fallen in the eyes of the church is this: “Where is the church when I need them? When I needed the church the most was when they shunned me.”

Up go the walls of hostility.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.” There are hurting people who need mercy, who need healing, who need restoration, who need love. We do not know the whole story, their story. I don’t care how discerning or informed you think you might be, there is always a much bigger story, causes, curses and pitfalls of hearts and minds damaged and bruised by the flaming arrows of the evil one in days gone by. Arrows that can smolder for years.

All we see are the sudden bursts of the flames that we are convinced must have been started by the wounded playing with and delighting in fire.

There are a lot of hurting people out there who need a church family and who need us to be there. Where are we? Are we the guards ready to shoot those who dare approach the walls?—“Release the hounds!” Or are we those who see motion on the other side of the walls and rush towards them, overwhelming those walls and the guards until the walls come down and we become one again.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. Eph 2

Jesus set aside the rules and just loved people into wholeness, gently restoring them. As he said to the woman caught in adultery; “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.”

And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

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Jesus came not to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved.

Jesus loved people into the Kingdom. Can we do the same?