The Prisoners are Listening

What are the hopeless hearing from you, you, who as a believer, even if you had nothing else, should have hope?

Acts 16:25

And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:23-25

We all have prisoners listening to us. You don’t have to be sitting in a jail cell to be surrounded by prisoners. The world around us is full of prisoners. Prisoners to fear, to hopelessness, to despair. Prisoners to addictions, to lusts, to greed—prisoners of their own minds or bodies that seem to behave and do things that make the person trapped within feel helpless and disconnected to themselves and everyone else.

Even believers may be temporarily imprisoned to certain afflictions, afflicters and circumstances as we struggle to keep moving forward in this present world of death and decay.

 But we need to remember that we are not citizens of this world, we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and our songs are not songs of despair, our prayers are not prayers of anguish. Our songs and prayers are spilling forth from hearts that are free, that are full of the joy of the Lord and His Holy Spirit, and any and all afflictions this sick twisted world or our own flesh could throw at us is only temporary and is all subject to the one in us who is greater that he who is in the world.

And those songs and prayers of joy and victory to a God who has overcome all of this world’s heartaches and death itself are the only thing the prisoners of the darkness around us are ever going to hear that may give them even a spark of hope and even set them free.

So what are they hearing? What are they hearing from you?

Paul and Silas had cast an annoying demon from a young slave girl who had been following them around. She had been serving her masters as an oracle of the gods. and making them money as such. They don’t appreciate this and they stir up the city against them. They are seized by an angry mob, dragged to the city council where they are given no right to defend themselves as they are accused of all sorts of sedition and trouble making, going against the social norms and speaking hateful and offensive things. ‘Who do these judgmental religious Jesus freak Jews think they are anyway!”

‘And look what they did to this poor girl who was only trying to help them. Making her look like she was doing something bad and ruining her ability to commune with the higher powers by casting some weird Jewish spell on her in the name of this Jewish God man they worship.’

‘These guys are ignorant, intolerant—they are a danger to society and must be done away with!’

“…they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison,” Acts 16:21-23

So they are stripped naked and beaten with rods, at the order of the authorities, until they are covered with long red painful welts–or stripes as they were known in a crueler age–and thrown into prison where they are chained and left to suffer in the fetid darkness of a prison cell surrounded by the sounds of curses and the moaning of others who had run afoul of the magistrates and influential of the day.

Hope

But Paul and Silas do neither, curse nor moan, though they certainly had reason. ‘Who do these people think they are? They cannot treat us this way! We have rights, we demand satisfaction and justice! Curse them, curse them all! Lord strike them down and make them pay for what they have done!’

They didn’t do that. Nor did they moan and complain. ‘Oh woe is me, we are finished! We have no hope, no money, no friends. All have deserted us. We are laying here in filth bruised and bleeding, naked and hungry and my everything hurts!’

“Lord where are you!? Why have you abandoned us? —’Oh, oh agony on me, deep dark depression, excessive misery!’”

No. they didn’t do any of that. What would it have accomplished? What would it have helped? Or better, who would it have helped?

That’s what the prisoners of the world do. those who have no God, who suffer without recourse and cannot see beyond the straits they are in. Those who heed the warnings signs as they enter into whatever hell of a prison they find themselves entering—“All ye who enter here, abandon all hope.”

Hope is what the prisoners of the world and the flesh lack. But hope is the only thing that cannot be taken away from those who belong to Jesus. And when that is all that is left—that is enough.

It was enough for Paul and Silas as they lay there chained and miserable in that dark cell watching the darkness grow as the night falls, and as the night sounds of misery and unseen vermin begin to prey on their minds, and as the indescribable smells of unwashed rancid flesh accost their noses—and God seems to be very far away.

He wasn’t.

Their God knew exactly what was happening, where they were, and he was right there as close as the spirit within them. The hope that this knowledge gave them was enough to get them through what could have been the darkest hours of their lives, and welled up in them because of their prayers and songs, and in their prayers and songs.

Paul and Silas spent their sleepless night praying to their God and singing the hymns of their faith. And all the others sounds ceased. The moaning’s ceased, the incoherent babblings, the wicked laughter, fearful whimpers and angry curses—they all ceased and gave way to the sounds of praise—to the sound of hope.

And hope does not disappoint them, any of them.

set free

The Prisoners are listening. What are they hearing from us? Hope or despair. They need hope, if we don’t have hope, if we don’t exude hope, then we the church have failed, and all is lost. But it’s not—not yet. Not as long as our God reigns and we keep looking up.

You are free, rejoice!

Rolling Away the Stone

“I felt like I was trapped in a tomb. . . All I had in there with me was a bag of weed, a bottle of whiskey and a bunch of good time friends to help me consume it.

“Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large. 

Mark 16:3-4

How often do we focus on the stone, beat our heads against it, rail at it, pray about it. And finally just camp out on it because—well, it’s not going anywhere.

The Marys and Salome knew that there was death behind that stone—but they didn’t believe they could do anything about it so they just focused on the stone. ‘Stupid rock! If only we could have done this the other day, before they sealed the tomb, we wouldn’t have to come back and worry about it now.’

If only Jesus hadn’t come back to Jerusalem, if only the Priests had listened to Jesus, if only he had been nicer to them, played their games. If only. . .  there is always an if only isn’t there? But we cannot go back in time, what is done is done. So now all we can do is worry about this big rock that is blocking the way.

Am I talking about the ladies or us? Both.

I can’t really get to my Lord because this stone is in my way.

‘I have to deal with it, or, I guess, just live on this side of it. Scared, alone and hopeless. Just as well, the situation is all hopeless anyway, there’s nothing on the other side but decay.’

That is just a lie, a distraction to keep you from even going to the tomb. At least the women had the faith to go to Jesus, even expecting little when they got there—’all we need is the stone removed—please?!’

Their mustard seed of faith was rewarded, and they realized that their stone, just like the ones Jesus had rolled away from their hearts when he was here, was gone.

Your stone can be drugs, eating, money worries or money clutching. It can be gambling, emotional scars, drugs, alcohol, pornography, physical pain and sickness, family issues, job issues, the cares of the world, the love of the world, fear, anxiety, depression—all of them huge stones that we push and push on to no avail—they are just there, keeping us from our Lord. And true life.

My biggest stone was being stoned. I spent years running around, running my own life, seeking everything that I thought my flesh needed and wanted, but got farther and farther away from my Lord until I felt like I was trapped in a tomb with no escape. All I had in there with me was a bag of weed, a bottle of whiskey and a bunch of good time friends to help me consume it.

But I was seeing and feeling more and more that I was dead and empty inside, and no amount of dope—not weed, not mushrooms, not cocaine, not acid, not speed—whiskey, beer or Tequila could cover it any more. And all the parties always seemed to end in heartache leaving me more lonely and empty than ever. Even the good money I was making in the welding trade that I had worked so hard to excel at was not rewarding in the least.

Then I started to hear the Lord call from the other side of the rock—’I’m here, waiting for you.’ I began to hear preachers preaching about a plan that the Lord had for me. I could no longer stand it—I had to get past that rock. But who will roll the stone away? I tried doing it myself. I tried quitting the drugs.

No smoking, no drinking, no snorting— nothing for a month! I declared. I am pushing that stoned stone aside.

Hah, it didn’t hardly budge an inch. I didn’t make it until the end of the first day and I was not only not moving that stone any farther, it was rolling back over the top of me.

I cried out “Lord, I do not want to be this way! I want to follow you, I want to really know you! I will do whatever it takes, go wherever you ask, I’ll read and study, pray and preach, I’ll make a fool of myself, go to the deepest darkest jungles—whatever—just roll away this stone—I can’t even breath anymore, I can’t stand to live this way!”

 ‘Out of my distress I called on the Lord, he answered me and set me free.’” The words of Psalm 118 that jumped out at me that night of my desperation from the old bible I hadn’t opened in years.

Those words became the messenger from God—the angel—that crashed to the earth like lighting in my soul and shoved that stone away like it was made of paper mâché. It turns out the stone wasn’t the issue.

The stone, the drugs and drink,  were hiding the death inside that was caused by my distrust in the Lord and my desire to maintain control. My real issue, the real stone, was the emptiness that came from running from God, from living for the flesh. I was worrying about the stone of addiction being rolled away when inside I was a rotting corpse.

When I decided to take that walk to the garden where I had last seen my Lord, to express my deep and unwavering love and devotion to him, when I declared that I would trust him, if he only rolled that stone away—that stone was obliterated.

When the words of that Psalm opened my eyes to see that I needed to trust Jesus and stop worrying about satisfying the desires of a never satisfied flesh, that I needed to stop worrying about what all my good time party friends thought of me, to see that I would never be free unless I cried out to Jesus—I knew I had to trust him, Trust him with my life, my heart and my soul. And he came crashing out of that tomb I had locked him in, in the dark recesses of my heart, and set me free.

The love and freedom I felt, the peace and the joy I felt, all of this came in an instant that night as I was kneeling on my living room floor with withdrawal cravings wracking my brain and body. On a cold January night the resurrection power of Jesus who walked out of that tomb and embraced me, set me free.

And I have never looked back.

And I have never regretted it for a minute. I have a freedom a purpose and the power of God Almighty backing me up. Because I finally believed—really believed. When I finally gave in and quit running from Jesus, decided to trust him with my heart and my life, the desire to dull my senses with dope disappeared. I did not want to miss a thing.

The stone was rolled away, and it was glorious.

I had been focusing on the stone, wanting it to be removed, but it was the death inside that needed addressed. But overcoming that was more than I could hope for–until I did. The miracle I got that evening was more than I could ever hope for, more than I expected. But we serve a God who overcame death–the stones are easy.

Turns out, Jesus didn’t want my promises of sacrifice and devotion–He just wanted my heart.

Crucified

There is just no good way to communicate all that happened when Jesus was crucified, no adequate words to describe nor explain, and surely, it is beyond human comprehension and description, all that happened that day on the cross, in the heavens, on the earth, below the earth, and most importantly and significantly —in the heart of Jesus, the Son of Man, Son of God.

We cannot fathom the depth of the love that held him to that cross and kept him on mission, thus we cannot fathom the depth of the pain he experienced in the depths of his soul as that intense and never faltering love was rejected, scorned and mocked—as those he loved, from his followers, to his people, to his own Father, turned away and rejected him, leaving him to suffer and die misunderstood and unappreciated.

The few who did still love and feel the pain of his ordeal in their souls were left without hope. And this only added to Jesus’ pain. No one seemed to understand that this was all necessary and foretold. Yet, if they had, it wouldn’t have happened; a plan and scenario only His Father could have foreseen and used for good—taking advantage of man’s ignorance and susceptibility to evil influences, to save him from those very things.

Even in their taunts they proclaimed truth, yet failed to understand the words. In three days this temple would indeed be rebuilt. But it would not be a temple built with hands. The large heavy curtain that separated the Stone Temple Sanctuary from the world was torn in two, perhaps because the Spirit of God had left the building— perhaps as a sign that the way was now open for all who wished, to come before the Father—through Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

 There would be no more need for a temple made of stone for the Spirit of God would soon be residing in the hearts of those who loved him, a new temple was being prepared that day, and would be completed on the resurrection day—a temple rebuilt in three days.

Preparing this message I prayed “Lord, help me to communicate the significance and gravity of this event, what the cross means to us and what it meant to you. Help me to communicate the price you paid for our sin, for our redemption through your words, from your Spirit, from your heartLord, I hesitated (dare I even say it) help me to see the crucifixion through your eyes.”

But then I knew, that’s what I had to do. To try to take you there, to the cross on that horrific and reality altering day, through the eyes of the Savior. As I said, words can never fully explain, nor minds comprehend, the things of the Spirit that were happening simultaneously in history and in eternity that day. But we have to try.

After all, we were there. It was our sinful flesh that was being crucified that day, the evil that dwells in our hearts was being transposed from us to Christ in those dark hours. His death was our death, his hellish nightmare experience should have been ours.

20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2:20

When Paul said he had been crucified with Christ, it was not word play, that is the reality of the believer in Christ. So, since Jesus became us on the cross, maybe it is not so radical to try and see the cross through his eyes. It is after all, not we who live, but Christ who lives in us.

Through His Eyes

Jesus, the Nazarene, teacher, prophet and miracle worker, is being nailed to a rough hewn and heavy wooden cross, the kind the Romans use to cause a slow and hideous death that becomes a fear inducing spectacle for all to see. The sight of a cross struck fear and revulsion in all, because they knew what it was for—so did Jesus, and it loomed large in his vision just before he was forced to lie on it.

His arms are lashed to the cross beam with ropes and he turns to look at the soldier who has placed a sharp spike against his wrist. He sees the hammer rise and fall and he cries out in pain. He is startled by the sudden intensity of the pain that manages to override momentarily even that of his lash torn back pressed against the wooden beam, and the new puncture wounds being made in the back of his head, as he is forced to lay his thorn crowned head against the cross beam.

But what he sees as he looks through swollen eye lids at the soldier who is swinging the hammer is a man who has no idea the evil he is perpetrating and who it is that he is piercing with the nails. He is just a soldier following orders to execute what he believes to be just another Jewish rebel. Jesus looks at him, the one who sees him as just another worthless Jew to be rid of, and loves him, him and his fellow soldiers; and prays, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

The next thing he sees is the soldier reaching over him to nail the accusation against him to the cross above his head. He feels the vibrations of every blow painfully transferred through the three nails holding his hands and feet.

He sees the dusty sandaled feet of those passing close by as they mockingly read the charge on the sign—“King of the Jews” And they laugh as they begin making jokes among themselves at his expense. He sees the hobnailed sandals of the soldiers as they push back the jeering mockers lest someone grab the pile of clothing that Jesus’ had just been stripped of—the sum total of his earthly belongings, now spoils to be gambled for.

To his left and right, he sees from the corner of his eye, other crosses and hears pained and hoarse voices alternating between curses and taunts as they too–mock him.

Lying on his back it is hard to see anything really, as He is forced to squint his burning eyes against the glaring overhead sun, a sun seemingly intent on adding to his misery. Suddenly his vision is swimming as he is quickly hoisted upright in one swift, well practiced maneuver, and he finds himself looking down on his world as the cross is lifted up and dropped with a flesh tearing thud into a hole in the ground.

Looking down

His vision soon clears as his dehydrated and blood loss weakened head stops spinning. He can now see the whole crowd, the same that has jeered and hissed at him all the way to this hilltop. He sees through the blood and sweat that flows unchecked into his tortured eyes, the Chief Priests who are now defiling themselves by looking upon the blood of a man who will soon be dead. Yet Jesus knows they must be there, the Chief Priests are the ones who must oversee this offering of the final Passover lamb.

Mark 15:31-32 Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”

Yet the taunts of the priests are like a knife to his heart, because he knows that they will suffer greatly for what they do, and they don’t have to —if they had only listened and believed. They were the first ones to be shown the truth; from the prophets, to his visit to the temple as a boy, and his many visits to the temple. God was speaking, and they were scheming.

He looks at the gathered crowd; he sees the faces in the crowd, and he sees into their hearts.

He sees the angry man who just lost all he owned to a crooked steward. He sees the hurting woman who just lost a baby girl to sickness and is despairing beyond words. He sees the horrified child peering out from behind his father. He sees the disappointed rabbi who really believed that he could be the Messiah, but is now angry that he was apparently duped—yet again.

Their taunts and jeers, rage fueled by disappointment and hopelessness, tears at his heart.

He sees the women who followed and cared for him looking on from a distance, horrified and confused. Their faces a mask of disbelief and pain as they weep into their hands and try in vain to comfort one another. He aches to be able to comfort them and tell them to not give up hope, ‘this is not the end’—but he knows that all they can see and hear now is death and despair.

Then he sees a sight that horrifies him more than all the rest—his mother, Mary,  standing next to his good friend and devoted follower—John. She desperately reaches out to him but is held back by John and the gleaming points of Roman spears.

The pain and anguish he sees in her eyes as they search his for some kind of answer, is another knife in his already aching and straining heart. “Mother,” he croaks between labored breathes “behold your son” referring to John. He then admonishes John —’this is now your mother’–care for her.

Everywhere he looks he sees and hears human pain, anguish, anger, fear and rage. All directed at, and magnified by his body pinned to this pagan cross.

But through it all, through the pain induced haze that causes his eyes to dim and nearly black out at times, through the taunts, cries and jeers, he still has a strength and a measure of peace; a strength and a peace that has been with him through all the years of his ministry, a presence he felt even as a child and recognized as a presence that he had known even long before that—a presence and oneness that had been his for eternity past—it was the presence of his Father.

His Father’s Will

He knows he has to do this. He knows the prophecies and the promises, that he is the promised one, the suffering servant, the seed of Evethe Lamb of God, he knows he is in his Father’s will. And that is what gave him the strength and the will to face this day in the first place, to come back to this city knowing it would be his end.

His cousin John had confirmed his mission at his Baptism—”Behold the Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world” and his Father had sent his Spirit to affirm and empower him in his human and frail form. But what happens now, as he hangs there on that fated cross, he is not prepared for.

Although he knew it had to happen, there was just no way of being prepared for it—the Holy one, the one through whom, for whom, and by whom, all things were created—he who knew no sin, had no way to comprehend, or scale by which to measure, the darkness that He was about to become—in the eyes of his Father.

And he feels the darkness as much as sees it approach.

He turns his eyes heavenward as the bright sun that had earlier tormented him now inexplicably dims until he can see nothing, not with his eyes—but his heart and soul are witnessing things he had never been forced to look upon before, he is feeling things he had never felt, and hearing voices of pain, vileness, condemnation and curses in his head that drown out and overshadow the mocking voices and the angry and anguished cries that have besieged him all day.

But then, the worst pain of all—the heart ripping, spirit killing, bone chilling feeling of sudden emptiness, scorn and abandonment, as all things good, all things right, his very sense of self and his very identity is suddenly ripped away—his Father has turned away—all of heaven, has turned away.

He has become sin, he has become darkness, he has become death. He is totally and utterly alone as all the heinous and vile things mankind has ever done or imagined doing is now in him. He is living it, breathing it, it is emanating from his very pores like the blood he had sweated out just the night before as he anticipated this moment.

He who knew no sin—has become sin. And his Father has forsaken him for it.

He looks down for a moment, forced back into the present by the painful reality of having to pull himself up against the nails just to take a breath as the pressure on his hanging torso makes it impossible to breath normally, and he sees, in the light of a few hastily acquired torches, the faces of his sheep—the ones he has promised to shepherd even if he has to go looking for them, and he knows—he knows, a sense from somewhere deep in his tortured core, that he has to endure this—for them.

But the anxiety, the rising feeling of panic, the bottomless pit of despair that has taken the place of the fullness and love he had always sensed from his Father is almost more than he can bear, and before he even realizes he has decided to speak, the anguished words of his ancestor King David are ripped from his cracked and bleeding lips—spoken in the language he learned at his mother’s knees “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” — “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

And still, the darkness grips him. He vaguely sees a sponge lifted before his face, he smells the sour smell of wine but it is soon withdrawn as those below shout something about Elijah.

He sees in his minds eye the brief image of Elijah as he was on the day that he and Moses had come to prepare him for this day, on the mount of transfiguration. And he is reassured just a bit, just enough to keep him from cursing the day he was born into this vile planet.

And he continues to fight to remember why he is here. To bleed for the sins which continue to course through him, and he understands the darkness of the sun. The Father had turned away from the sin he has become and the light of the world has departed, the Father has looked away and the Life and the Light of men is being extinguished.

Then suddenly, it is done. Three hours of torturous outer darkness separated from the love that is his Father, eons of compiled sin—blasphemies, perversions, murders, greed, vile and heinous acts of every nature, all crammed into the longest three hours ever lived by anyone on this earth—has ended.

He is still on the cross, he is still bleeding and fighting for every breath, still racked with pain and heartbroken for those he loves—but he sees the sun began to shine again and he hears the voice of his Father as coming from a distant place, and it whispers—it is finished.

‘It is finished Son’— words that Jesus quietly repeats. He looks down and sees the wide eyes and expectant faces of the now silent crowd and he knows that he has completed his mission. He senses his Father drawing nearer and he cries out— a cry of triumph mixed with pain and fury as from a warrior who has vanquished his foes yet still bleeds from the fight that was fueled by a need to finally and utterly destroy the enemy.

The body still wants to fight, his muscles quiver with the effort and his mind races with the implications of it all but he knows he is finished—for now. There is nothing left to do here and he releases himself from his battered flesh, he gives up his spirit, with the words, “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.”  

 He is leaving his battered body behind, the shell of the man he had become for thirty three years, but he knows he will return because he knows he has defeated death on that Roman cross—no one else knows it yet—but they will—soon, very soon.

 Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid. Mark 15:46-47

Sandy’s Boy

What does the darkness that Jesus experienced at the end of his days on earth have to do with me? Everything!

A couple of weeks ago I was blessed to get to take a day off work to attend a spiritual healing seminar put on by a group called Elijah House.

Basically there were several sessions of teaching, each followed by a time of quiet prayer—just you and the Lord. One of the sessions had to do with overcoming shame; shame that may have been inflicted on you by the rejection or condemnation of someone in your life that caused you to question your worth, or your worthiness to loved.

Which of course greatly affects how you relate and respond to the world around you. Being despised and rejected can have great psychological effects that last way beyond the initial hurt.

We were instructed to ask the Lord to reveal to us words or an event in our lives that may have caused us shame. Something that we may not even remember as being anything that really impacted us.

As I was praying I kept having this memory of Hockey Practice in Minnesota when I was 7 or 8 years old. It wasn’t a repressed memory, it was something that I remembered very clearly and often, and have dealt with it. And, as far as I know, gotten over it.

We were doing reps back and forth on the ice under the lights and the falling Northern Minnesota snow, and near the end of practice I see my stepfather standing by the coach, come to pick me up I suppose, which was weird because I usually walked home. I skate over to him just in time to hear him respond to a question or comment from the coach with—“Oh, he’s not my boy, that’s Sandy’s boy. Just wait till my boy gets old enough to be out here, he’s gonna be a real athlete.”

Photo by Tony Schnagl on Pexels.com

As I have told you before, I was never the best hockey player, and I had plenty of reminders, like this one. But what was hurtful about the experience was that my stepfather felt the need—this wasn’t the only time I would hear this—to always make it known that I was Sandy’s boy, not his. Like that would have been embarrassing to him to have me as a son.

Fine, whatever. I got over that long ago and I always knew my real father, and my mother loved me and were proud of me. So, although it didn’t do a lot for my self-esteem in the moment, it wasn’t really life altering.

My real Father never despised or rejected me. And my mother always made me feel special by telling me that I could do whatever I set my mind to, and I believed her. Hockey was just not one of those—I just wasn’t that into it. Small wonder with the great encouragement from my step dad.

Anyway, something was just not clicking in this prayer time. It wasn’t the negative aspect or the rejection that seemed to be the focus of this memory that the Holy Spirit seemed to have planted firmly in my mind—it was those words that kept echoing over and over in my head—”that’s Sandy’s boy.”

Soon the session was over and it was break time. I checked my phone and saw that I had a message—I listened to it and immediately ducked into a storage closet and called back the person who had called. It was an outpatient nurse who worked with my mother. My mother was in the hospital, again, and was having a real hard time and the nurse was really hoping someone from the family could come be with her.

She had already called my brother and sister and they were unable to leave their jobs right then. My mother had just had a similar thing happen a month earlier where she was in the hospital with what they thought was a stroke. That earlier incident had been accompanied by terrible hallucinations and great confusion that had left her traumatized and terrified of hospitals. So this had me very worried.

As I was listening to the nurse I heard those words again—“That’s Sandy’s boy.” But now it was also accompanied by the pressing thought—Sandy needs her boy.

So I immediately excused myself from the conference and headed into Billings. I found my mother in a room off the emergency room, very agitated, scared and confused. Turns out she had a brain bleed caused by high blood pressure and it was causing all sorts of issues.

I spent the day with her comforting, reassuring, and praying for her. And, long story short, she is on the mend, and between my siblings and I, over the next week we kept her in a place of love and reassurance knowing that she would be okay.

God showed up—once again—to be there when I needed him most.

In what could have been a very dark and lonely hour—those words, and the fact that I knew without a doubt that they came from the Lord in just that moment, gave me assurance that I was not alone, that I was being comforted and remembered in what could have been a very distressful time.

And, just as importantly, that He was remembering my mother and had set up this day just so that we could be there togetherSandy and her boy. Knowing that God was in control, that he remembered both of us, made that dark valley a lot less frightening.

Thots

Because Jesus was rejected, we never will be, and he proves it over and over again.

I tell you that story, as inadequate as words are to explain what was truly a deeply spiritual and emotional encounter and experience, to try to illustrate to you the incredible and almost unfathomable significance  and veracity of the love of God for us, and the treasure we have available to us because of Jesus’ willingness to experience being rejected and despised.

The Holy Spirit, working well in advance and through multiple levels of players and circumstances set me up to take off a day from work—my first this year, to be at a conference where I would be in a room full of people who were contending and believing for the Holy Spirit to move among us unhindered by the doubts or distractions of those who don’t believe or aren’t comfortable with the personal encounters with the person of the Holy Spirit.

So I was in a room saturated with his presence and given opportunity and encouragement to listen for a word. The word he gave me was relevant to what we had been learning and did encourage me, but more importantly—he set me up spiritually for the raw experience of seeing my mother in a near death state of delirium and physical peril.

And then he stayed with me, throughout the day. He made known clearly, powerfully and sweetly through all of this, that I was not alone—that I was not despised nor rejected by my God—no matter what—I was never, and would never, be alone.

But more than that—through this experience he was caring for my mother. He didn’t just set the stage for me to be able to handle the challenge of the day and weeks to come, he was also setting things up for my mother, whom he also loves and will never despise, reject or leave alone.

He made sure she would not be going through this dark valley alone—that I would be there and able to assure and remind her that her Lord was there as well. And I’ll tell you what—that made the difference between a nightmare experience for her and just a hurdle to get over. I know because the nightmare and the darkness was hovering all over and just itching to take control—it has before.

But not today bubba. Because my God was despised and rejected, me and mine are not. My mother is on the mend in a great rehab facility and me and my siblings were brought together in this in a way we have not been in many years.

An anguished and lonely prayer in a garden, a kiss of betrayal, a curse and a denial from a best friend, a crooked trial amid horrendous accusations by the very priests who claim to serve the Father who sent him, and a death sentence for the blasphemies that the Son of God is incapable of committing—pain, anguish, betrayal, abuse and slander—it all led to a whispered word to a descendant of barbarians a half a world and two millennia away—“That’s Sandy’s boy.”

But you know what that really means? What it meant to me? That is not just Sandy’s boy, the Heavenly Father says in that “That is my boy, and his mother is my daughter, and there is now therefore no more shame, no more fear and when he walks through the valley of the shadow he shall fear no evil, for I am with him.

And what more could we possibly need, want or desire?

Oh yeah, this:

I Am— The one who was and is and is to come, is coming back for you and me.

Escape from…

There are a lot of things that people can escape from—work, responsibility, slavery, abuse, prison… The first thing I think of, and is kind of what inspired this title is Escape from Alcatraz, a movie title from 1979 based on the true story.

Then there was the more noble escape attempt from a German POW camp in 1944 during WWII, that has become known by another movie title The Great Escape. The camp was deep in the heart of Nazi occupied Poland.

It seems pretty much the entire prisoner population was in on the escape and they spent a year digging nearly 400 feet of tunnel to get past the outer fence and guard towers—but they didn’t quite get far enough.

This, their third attempt at tunneling out, got them just past, but dangerously close, to a guard tower where they popped out. But once they broke the surface they were committed—it was now or never— so they went for it.

76 prisoners made it through the tunnel and into the woods before the 77th man was spotted emerging from the ground, sparking a massive man hunt and prison shakedown. All but 3 of the prisoners, were recaptured and, sadly, 50 of those were executed. The other three, with help from forged papers and sympathetic civilians, made it into allied territory and lived to tell the story of their harrowing and daring escape from the clutches of the enemy.

Their story would become the inspiration for the popular ‘60’s sitcom called Hogan’s Heroes. A show I loved as a kid by the way. In the TV show version the Germans are all bumbling idiots who have prisoners coming and going at will via their underground network of tunnels by which they pull off all sorts of espionage and sabotage against the Nazis.

Of course the hapless commander of the camp, the monocle wearing Colonel Klenck, believes his camp to be unescapable and delights in declaring so to anyone and everyone, usually just after a caper has been pulled off right under his nose by the unflappable American saboteur and supposed prisoner—Colonel Hogan—’There’s no escaping Stalag 13!

Que the credits and play the music. Leaving the audience laughing to themselves—”’No escaping Stalag 13?’ That’s what you think!”

That is of course what anyone who holds someone else against their will wants their captives to think.

It doesn’t matter the type of captor, prison camp commandant, prison warden, jail guard, abusive spouse, drug pusher, porn peddler, the devil himself—if they can convince you that there is no escaping, their job of keeping you enslaved and imprisoned in much easier. Because a hopeless captor is one who is much easier to manage.

Corruption

“he has given us, … his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption”— Peter here is largely talking about us escaping the most destructive captor of all—our own flesh, a flesh corrupt and all but dead by virtue of our having been enticed and ensnared by the lust for things the enemy throws in front of us to lure us to our destruction.

The enemy wants us imprisoned in the hopelessness of the corruption of our flesh so that we either cannot, or believe we cannot, be freed. He wants us to believe that even if we were free there would  be nowhere for us to go and to be ignorant of the potential for greatness we have by virtue of us being created in the image of the creator himself, an image that was corrupted by sin.

The enemy, and those he uses to speak for him, wants to keep us excluded from participating in the divine nature that we should be a reflection of. Paul said much the same thing to the Church in Corinth.

If we accept the redemption, the forgiveness available to us by the blood of Christ and strive to be those who live in the freedom of the spirit rather than in the bondage the flesh would keep us in, we will one day be free of this corrupt flesh entirely and be resurrected just as our Lord was—incorruptible.

We will be changed in an instant from spiritual beings living in a dying and depleted body and into eternal beings that are now clothed with eternal, regenerated and perfect bodies of flesh and blood—just as Jesus now is—the heavenly Man who has gone before us to prepare the way for us in his Father’s house.    

Yes Colonel Klenck, there is escape from your Stalag, it happens all the time and we are in the process ourselves.

God’s grace is our exoneration and our pardon all at once, and in that our peace is multiplied. And we have it in writing.

This promise  that we can escape from the world’s corruption, through God’s divine power and partake of the divine nature, is a promise that is ours by virtue of the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.  Knowledge is power. Especially when that knowledge is of God.

And how do we get that knowledge?

Primarily from the scriptures. The Holy Scriptures are our official pardon, signed, stamped and dated by the Supreme Judge of the universe and we need to know what is in those papers because the enemy of our souls does everything he can to keep us from reading and knowing what is written there. And if we do, he wants to recapture or at least dishearten us so that we cannot lead anyone else into the light of freedom.

The Germans executed those 50 recaptured prisoners of war, against the laws of the Geneva convention, to send a message of discouragement to all the rest, that attempts to escape are not worth the consequences of failure. But it had just the opposite affect because the knowledge that three men had gotten free inspired the entire POW population and word spread like wildfire.

The story of escape to freedom of even one person can inspire thousands to keep hope alive.  We who know Jesus have those stories. And if you do not, you need to know the story—the message of freedom and hope found in the scripture that can and will set you free as well—free from the prison of corruption so that you can write yourself into that story.

The enemy, the devil, has and is slaughtering thousands— millions—of freed prisoners to stop them from spreading the message that there is escape, but his attempts to silence have always served to inspire others. If one is willing to die for something then it must be greater than this life or anything it offers, it must be eternal—and eternity is worth dying for—and living for.

Just the irrational killing of so many simply to stop a story being told tells you how dangerous and powerful they think that story is. We have a dangerous faith—dangerous to those who would control and enslave us because it reveals and releases us to our true nature—the divine nature.

If you are to be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust, you have to know the words of life. The words the enemy is bent on destroying and discrediting.

We have to know, know and believe, that everything we need to live a life of freedom, to live a life of purpose, peace and meaning—all that we need to live a life of godliness—free from the corruption that would destroy all of that—can be found in the scriptures—the very words of God.  

We have the words of freedom, we have the hope and the assurance of final victory, we have been declared free and we must live as those who have that hope and that promise and not give up and give in. We should rejoice and find great comfort and hope in the words of freedom that are ours to claim.

Our redeemer lives–and so shall we.

Leadman

As a good leader you know that everything that happens under your watch is your responsibility.

Years ago I was working on a project at Rocky Mountain College in Billings. It was an addition on the Student Union building. I showed up shortly after it started to help form the walls for the foundation and quickly realized that the guys who were doing the work did not have all the stuff they needed, namely whaler brackets, and they did not really know what they were doing —the hundred foot of wall they were forming was as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.

The foreman was off getting some parts at the yard so I made a phone call to the shop to try and catch him because the guys had told me what he was after and I knew it was not what we needed.

I was no expert but I had been on a couple of big concrete jobs by then and had learned from the best. This was long before everyone carried cell phones so the best I could do was call the office and hope someone could run out to the yard and give him the message.

I missed the foreman, he had come and gone, but somehow I ended up talking to the big boss and I explained to him what was going on and he agreed that ‘yeah, you need some whaler brackets to straighten that wall— why don’t they have any?’  

We soon had some whaler brackets. Of course then I was worried that the foreman would be angry that I had seemingly gone over his head to get the right parts. Instead he was grateful that I had set the wall and the crew straight—he admitted that he was not very experienced in doing concrete foundations. I had to admire his humility anyway.

As the job progressed it wasn’t long before the crew was looking to me for guidance on how to form the walls that got higher and more complicated as we worked around the building. I was just a carpenter, same as everyone else, but one day the foreman came to me and asked, “Dan, I would like you to run the concrete crew.”

I said, “That would be fine but if you want me to push these guys I need to get paid to make it worth the push back.” (Actually I said it in more blunt construction terms; “If I’m going to be an asshole, I need asshole pay”) He said he would talk to the big boss and see what he says.

A day or two later the big boss came out to take a look at the job and he came over to where I was working and looked at a corner in the twelve foot tall foundation wall we were forming. He saw some bracing he thought was inadequate and said, “You know the hydraulic pressure of that much concrete is probably going to blow out that corner the way it’s done there.”

I looked at it and said, “Well, yeah, you’re probably right. I didn’t form this corner, Randy and Monty did.” At this —and I’ll never forget this—he turned and looked me in the eye and said; “A foreman has to take responsibility for everything his crew does.”

I looked at him for a moment and simply replied; “I’ll make sure it gets taken care of.”

That was his way of telling me that I was now the official leadman and I did get an extra dollar an hour on my paycheck. And a couple years later I got promoted to foreman.

We all have those moments when something changes the way you think and set’s you on a better course that leads to favor and blessing—if we’ll humble ourselves and listen.

I remember that day well, standing there in that hole on a hot summer day some 25 years ago, covered in form oil, dust and sweat, and it was a lesson I never forgot. And I still live by that rule to this day, as a Job superintendent and as a leader in the church. With authority comes great responsibility and everything that happens under your watch is your responsibility. And you cannot throw people under the buss to make yourself look faultless.

In the end that only makes you look small, and the people you lead will stop respecting you and the quality of the work will suffer greatly. Carrying the load of others’ mistakes or failures is never easy but that is what those who would lead, whether in business or in the church, are called to do.

It’s not just taking the responsibility, it’s striving to help others avoid those mistakes going forward and to recover and recoup from the mistakes already made.

Heavy is the Head

There’s an old saying that was popularized by William Shakespeare in Henry the IV; “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.”

Everyone wants to be in charge, until they are. True leaders know that they are servants who get others to follow by showing them the way, not just telling—carrying the burdens with them, not just demanding that they be carried. True leaders have been there and done that which they are now expecting of others while knowing that if the job is not done he will likely have to do or fix it himself.

Am I talking about construction or ministry? —both. Heavy is the head that wears the crown whether it’s a white hard hat or the anointing oil of ordination. And the older you get, and the more you understand the significance and the reasons why, the greater the burden becomes and the more valuable your leadership.

If others will listen. It’s the fool who despises the words of their elders.

Which is why we are told to submit.

People who have earned their authority didn’t get there by being lazy or foolish.

It is not for naught that Jesus gives certain persons the gift of leadership and then has them earn their crown—pay their dues so to speak. Those who don’t are more likely to fall, or more likely be knocked off their high horses.

Grace and favor come to the humble.

Our humility today, our humble and faithful service, will gain us the crown of glory. We do not get to lord over anyone today as if we have already been glorified and all must look up to us. We have our greatest example of that, of course in Jesus. Jesus set aside his glory and became a servant, a suffering servant.

Exaltation through Humility. Jesus literally took the blame for everything mankind has ever done, he bore all our sins on that cross, exemplified love, grace and selflessness and is now wearing the crown of the king of glory over all the universe.

Certainly, his was a heavy head as it was crowned with thorns. But he did it because he knew that the end result was worth it, the end result being the redemption of those he loved.

The same thing that should motivate us.

The Pure Milk

Instinct

One of the things I miss most about not ranching anymore is the adventure of calving. It can be one of the most challenging and stressful times in a ranch operation but also the most rewarding because, that is after all, the whole reason that you do what you do as a rancher—to bring those calves into the world to either sell in the fall, or use to build the herd that your whole operation and much of your life is centered around.

But each calve that hits the ground on your ranch is more than just a paycheck, it is a miracle—another life, vibrant, warm and curious, looking at the new world with big dark eyes, and within minutes struggling to stand up and get on with the business of life.

The most fond memories to me to me are of the ones who came in the middle of the coldest and darkest nights. Memorable because I had a nice cozy barn where I could get them in if I knew a cow was about to calve. I would herd an imminent mother into a stall where there was warm straw on the ground and enough light that I could keep an eye on them.

No matter the weather or the lateness of the hour it always seemed warm and safe in the barn. There is just no way to describe the feeling of being alone in the quiet of a barn in the night with an animal who trusts no other human in the world besides you.

To either witness and assist, as in the case of a heifer having her first calve, or to find the new born calve of a seasoned cow struggling to it’s feet shortly after being born, it’s always wonderful and amazing to behold.

One of the things that never ceased to amaze me about the whole calving scenario, and to me speaks volumes to the undeniable fact that there has to be a creator, is the fact that every calf within minutes of hitting the ground knows where to find the milk.

Think of it. Here is a calf who has just seen the world for the first time, has no experience in anything whatsoever except being shoved through a tight dark tunnel and dropped unceremoniously onto the cold hard ground in a heap of slime that moments earlier had been it’s whole world, it gets licked off by this giant four legged creature with a familiar sounding moo.

And the next thing you know it is pushing its hind end up on wobbly legs followed by first one, then two front legs, being perfectly placed under the front shoulders to push the calf up the rest of the way. And what is the first thing it does? From there it could go in any direction or no direction at all. It could fall down and decide it’s just too much work to do any more.

But no, it heads straight for the tiny little space just under the belly of the giant creature standing nearby, and latches onto the even tinier little spigot tucked underneath and makes the prefect sucking motion with its never before used mouth to get the pure milk that will give it everything it needs to keep it alive and strong for the next few hours, and will sustain it for the next several months as it grows by several hundred pounds.

You can’t tell me that that little pea brained calf who doesn’t know a barb wire fence from a chokecherry bush, or an ice cold creek from a bed of straw at that point, yet knows exactly where to go for it’s first meal, was not given that knowledge by the God who designed and created her.

How about you? With all your vast knowledge and life experience, do you know where to go for milk? Is that calf smarter, more blessed than you? You know where to go, you just have to guard your heart against thinking that you have had enough or that there are other things that will help you more.

There is not.

The calf, knows right where to go, if it doesn’t—it dies.

And once that calf starts in on that milk, I have seen it happen again and again, you can see the energy start to flow through and into the body of that calf, the life giving colostrum rich milk warming from head to toe, the nutrients and antibodies surging into and through the blood stream and affecting and protecting every cell of it’s being.

You can see the lights coming on in the glazed and dazed eyes as they start to shine with life and the sucking becomes more voracious, the head starting to butt the bag above it, stimulating even more milk to be dropped down into the milk filled bag that will be her sole source of life for a good long time.

And she will come back again and again, each time more aggressive and needing more and more—”Milk, I need, I want, milk! I have tasted and seen that the milk is good and I need nothing more!”

That’s what Peter is telling us here. If you have tasted the pure unadulterated and unaltered milk of the word of God, been given life itself, you should want nothing more than to keep coming back to it for more nourishment, so that you can grow thereby.

The pure milk of the word that has given you life, pulled you from darkness to light, death to life, has to be—and this should not even be a question or something you need to be reminded of—your continuing source for strength, for healing nutrients and immunities.

As long as I have walked with the Lord it has continued to baffle me how a person can receive Jesus, be born anew, forgiven and regenerated, and not absolutely fall in love with the word of God and desire more and more of it.

As long as we walk this earth we are still growing and maturing in the Lord and we must keep going back to the place our hearts just instinctly know it must go, to find what you need to sustain that new life.  If not, perhaps you heard the wrong gospel and never truly tasted that the Lord is gracious. — IF indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious -Peter says.

There are a lot of false or incomplete gospels out there.

What is the gospel? It is as follows:

Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs . . . you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; 24 whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. . . .

36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”. . .

38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” -Acts 2

That’s the gospel, direct from the Holy Spirit through the lips of Peter mere moments after the church was born on the day of Pentecost . The pure gospel.  That is the pure milk of the word of God. That’s the colostrum that gives you life and delivers you from the old world of darkness and ignorance to the world of light and enlightenment. You want to be woke, live in and for the word of God.

All else is rubbish.

And that is the message the world has and is rejecting and why this world is such a mess. And the world, who has not left the womb of ignorance and darkness, is now trying to shame us into turning away from the pure milk of the word.

They are not just rejecting us, they are not just rejecting the word of God, they are rejecting the Lord himself, the precious living cornerstone.

But we who do believe, who do not reject the truth will by no means be put to shame.

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.

Cross Welding part II

These are trying times and a lot of people have lost a lot in this season of social upheaval—jobs, businesses, freedoms, social lives, confidence, security. Many things have been and are being affected by this shutdown which we are just breaking out of and in many places is still in full force. And the full ramifications of it all are only beginning to be realized.

Enduring

It’s hard to be confident in the face of so much unknown; What businesses will survive? What freedoms will be restored? Will I or someone I love still get sick and maybe die? Will people who hate this country, hate the president and the church, use this to destroy as much or all of that as they can? Will we end up becoming even more divided as a nation as those who advocate a new normal come up against those who just want normal again?

Many want a choked down version of life as we knew it, a “new normal” which for most businesses is unsustainable and for most people induces great anguish.

Everyone just wants their lives back, but I’m afraid we are not going to get them back the way they were without a fight, as many are already convinced that we cannot go back.

Fine, I’m not going to argue that here and I only know what I know. The disturbing part for most is the unknown. What does the future look like? At what expense and who will suffer as a result long term and short? Will I? Will my family?

Those are the big scary questions and concerns that can make us want to give in to despair, that can push us over the edge and away from the Lord. Especially on the heels of whatever problems you were dealing with even before this shared upheaval started. Life is hard, isn’t it?

We have to focus on the good and we have to keep our eyes heavenward and we need endurance. And that is the message of Hebrews here.

yet a little while

Endurance

We need endurance if we are going to make it through this life and receive our enduring possession in heaven, that we may receive the promise. The promise of eternal life, the promise that Jesus is coming back, the promise that we will live—by faith.

We can and should have a heart full of joy in this life as we walk in the light of his love, but it is nothing compared to the hope we have, the knowledge that the best is yet to come.

Jesus is coming

Do not draw back, do not give up, endurance is what wins the day, and by patience possessing your souls. (Luke 21:19)

Paul gives the early Christians he is writing to here kudos for joyfully following Jesus, continuing in faith, enduring, even as their goods were being plundered. Many of those who chose to follow Jesus were severely persecuted, they lost jobs, homes and all their goods seized.

Yet they never gave up the one thing that could not be stolen, the one thing that was the reason they joyfully gave all to follow Jesus in the first place, and that is their souls. They had been illuminated from the inside, the Holy Spirit was witnessing to their spirits that they were now truly alive, and that the best was yet to come.

If they just endure a little longer, they will receive their enduring possessions, live forevermore in the kingdom of the one true God. They had put their trust in Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth who died on a cross and walked out of the tomb three days later and returned to heaven with the promise that one day all would see him return in just the same way, to collect his bride for the wedding feast—and we are the bride.

That cross which once represented a death that all in the Roman empire rightfully feared and had nightmares about, became the symbol of hope, of life everlasting, of their promise that there is something much greater than anything this world could offer.

They just needed to be patient, and to keep trusting the one with whom they had become one.

One

That cross that I welded on top of St Agnes (see my last blog Cross Welding) is still standing, it has endured for 25 years now, because the cross has become one with the steel structure inside of that steeple. All you can see from the outside is the cross and the shell of the steeple. What you can’t see is the important part, the part that keeps it standing, and that is the framework that is permanently attached to the foot of that cross—as I said, it has literally become one with it.

church cross Red Lodge(St Agnes in Red Lodge MT)
The unique thing about welding is—unlike screws, nails, bolts or glue, which hold two separate things together—when you weld two pieces of metal together they are literally becoming one piece of metal.

It happens at a molecular level. When you heat a piece of steel with a torch or an electric arc, the molecules that make up the steel get excited and start moving around, the hotter they get the faster they move, until the steel, once cold and hard, actually becomes a liquid.

So if you heat two pieces of metal that are touching each other to that state of liquidity, the liquid flows together, the atoms within the two pieces of metal mingle together.

If you introduce some more metal, in the form of a welding rod, than not only are you causing the two pieces of steel to become one, you are introducing even more steel to make that meeting point even thicker and heavier than it was before. That is why the weld, if done right, is often the strongest point on the steel.one in spirit welding

So you’ve got all these super heated steel molecules dancing around each other and getting all mixed together forced into whatever shape the skilled welder manipulates them into that suddenly cool off when the heat source leaves, and they are now solid—cold hard steel again— and nothing can separate them again without extreme measures—they are one.

Through the cross of Jesus Christ, we are one with the Lord who died on that cross; by faith, The just shall live by faith, we are one with Jesus. Faith is the weld that has joined us with him. His Holy Spirit is welded to our soul and nothing short of extreme measures can separate us.

And that cross that becomes the symbol of who we are, the strength of what is a reality inside of us, the endurance and strength that others may not see but we and our God know is there, that cross will hold up as we are lifted up, lifted to our rightful place in the Kingdom of our God.

And he who is going to lift us up is on his way, “For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry…” So hang on, be patient and endure.

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You are not among those who draw back–You are a child of the King, a son or daughter of the Father, a Spirit filled, born again—’I can do all things by him who gives me strength’—untouchable, unflappable, enlightened and enduring  believer and nothing anyone can do or say, not all the wiles and winds, treacheries and sorceries, not all the trials and tribulations, prosecutions and persecutions, ‘nothing can separate me from my God’—follower of Jesus Christ.

And you have an enduring possession.

Stuck in Galilee

From the Vatican to Red Lodge MT, from Grandma’s backyard to the White house lawn, this Easter is resoundingly quiet, and reflective. A huge and unsettling departure from what we are used to. We are all stuck in Galilee.

strike the shepherd hammer

“The flock will be scattered” When Jesus said this he knew he was fulfilling what the prophet Zechariah had said, he knew the horror that he was about to be struck with and the terror this would strike in the hearts of his flock. But even so, he was giving them hope, if they would just listen—After I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.

Galilee, why Galilee? Have you ever wondered about that statement?

What was in Galilee? The homes of the disciples.

That was where Jesus met them, that is where Peter was reinstated, forgiven and given another chance after his dismal night of betrayal at the trial of Jesus.

Their own homes

We are in Galilee right now, listening, seeking, being reassured and assured by the risen Lord that he does have a plan for us. He is giving us a chance to repent, be reinstated, recommissioned and then he is going to tell us to come back together to be anointed afresh because we have work to do.

Work to do with boldness and in power because when we gather again it will be those who did not fall away, whose faith was proven to be real because it stood the trials of the storm that has befallen all of us no matter what station of life, faith or lack of faith, we are all in the same boat wondering if the next wave is going to roll right over us and suck us to the bottom of the sea.

But those who recognized that they are not in that boat alone, who did not depend solely on church programs, smooth talking, smiling preachers and professional performers to lead them in a sing along where you can’t even hear yourself sing—they will be the ones who come back to that big room in Jerusalem, gather with the faithful who listened to the Lord in their days of exile, who see, hear and taste the glory of the Lord in Spirit and in truth.

It will be a glorious day church, and it will be a new day for God is doing a new thing and all that was first will be last and all that was last will now be first.

And those who have toiled in obscurity, those whose righteous souls have been vexed by the state of things as they were, all those who have loved and longed for truth and recoiled at the ear tickling ‘you are all wonderful and nothing bad will ever befall you’ name it and claim it preaching that promises earthly wealth while ignoring the poverty of the soul, they will be the ones rejoicing as we bring in the sheaves.

Those who have been listening have been told over and over the last couple of years  that there is a great harvest coming. Well get ready because here it comes! But harvests don’t bring in themselves.

We need to be here–gathering to be fed, we need to be ready, and we need to be out there being the church.

We need to be Jesus to a scared and anxious world. People are seeking answers right now, people are reevaluating what is important—’who and what do I trust, what if I die tomorrow, who is the God I will meet on the other side and am I ready to stand before him?’

You, church, have the answers, we know the truth, that Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life, is risen and we can be as well. We do not fear and we do not bow to anyone but our God.

take heart

Many are going to show up in church as soon as the doors are open again because they have found truth, they have found answers, they have found hope on-line by watching those who have been preaching truth in a way that all of a sudden hundreds and thousands of people who have never been to a house of worship are able to hear.

A new church

I’m gonna be brutally honest with you here, I have been preaching here to a near empty building for the last several months as the church has been drifting away, finding excuses to not be here, finding other places where they have more to offer in the way of programs or events, taking offense in me or in others, and I was starting to wonder how much longer my church would be viable.

But I kept clinging to the promises and standing on the word. And now, suddenly we have hundreds— literally hundreds—of people watching our humble little church services on Facebook over the course of the week as it sits there beckoning people, and I believe it is the Holy Spirit beckoning people, come, click on this and listen to truth. Listen to hope, be renewed and reborn by the word of God.

And when the storm passes, and it may take some time, Lord I hope not, but it may be a storm that lasts longer than any of us hope or dare believe because there may have to be some real pain before many are ready to turn their hearts to the only one who can get them through the storms.

But when God’s purpose is accomplished in this, when the enemy, who is playing this for all it’s worth and thinks he is defeating us by striking us and scattering the flock, all away from the shepherds and back to their own fearful corners of the world, people are going to come back to church, many for the first time, seeking the love and the peace that they felt in their hearts when they stumbled upon those faithful servants who still speak truth in Jesus name.

And you, church, those who have been feasting at the troughs that the shepherds of the Lord’s flocks—shepherds that the enemy has been striking over and over and over again, yet have refused to fall—you who have been feeding at the troughs that they have toiled to keep full for you— you will need to be here to show them that the love and the joy that they felt is real, and that one of the greatest joys of being a part of the family of God is being a part of the family of God.

Little children, love.love in deed

The Lord is indeed doing a new thing, but he can only give us the opportunities, we must still do our part.

How long will this pandemic hysteria last? Probably until we have learned what we are supposed to learn, and or, until enough of the church contends through fasting and prayer, repentance and humility, for the healing of our land, of our hearts, our hands and our bodies.

When he see’s that we commit to seeking first the Kingdom of our God over our own, that we live for the fruits of the Spirit not the works of the flesh, that we are willing take up our cross daily rather than looking for ways to shirk it, that we answer the call instead of putting God on hold. If we can do that, this world would be a different place tomorrow. A place of health, blessings, and joy.

When the disciples finally burst forth from their homes they changed the world with those words—He is risen. It was a game changer for the entire world.

But that was that generation, God is now calling on us, getting our attention, it’s time to get serious about following Jesus again, taking up his command to go and make disciples of all the world. “Disciples”—not pew sitters or simple converts who never mature but always demand to be fed more milk.

God is going to do it, it’s time, perhaps the last time. Whether we are part of it is our choice.

If God does it in spite of us, it will be so that he can raise up a new army who will take him seriously and who will heed his command to take the good news that he is risen to the world while the old guard seeks out entertainment centers called churches. They will return to pat you on the head and tell you you’re wonderful preachers and then wonder why the next round of tribulation woes has not spared any of them a lick.

Happy Easter! Yeah, I’m a radical, but so is the Lord I follow.

But don’t miss the point; The disciples were all scattered for fear, when they came back together they were much different people with a much different outlook. That should stir your soul.

Game Changer

Everything is always different after a true Resurrection.

Now more than ever, you need to release your inner barbarian for Jesus!book cover