Jesus Knows

Jesus tells an eye opening story one day about two men who enter the afterlife– to much different ends.

Lazarus gates

One of them is known only as “a rich man” and the other is Lazarus. Lazarus is a man down on his luck–big time. He is laid, apparently immobile, hungry and covered with sores at the gate of this rich man. He is ignored by all but the dogs who see him as a chew toy covered with sores that they find quite tasty–insult added to injury. While the rich man within the gates feasts daily in his opulence and revelry. Mindless and uncaring about the beggar dying  in the shadow of his mansion. The rich man never new his name.

Jesus knew.

And his angels were watching. Lazarus had barely closed his eyes for the last time when they swooped in to carry him off to paradise to feast with Father Abraham. The “rich man” then dies also, surrounded by luxury, and is buried in a tomb of great value–leaving his treasure behind. He is carried off as well, more like cast down–straight into Hades.

bosom of Abraham

The rich man then begs from his place of torment for Lazarus, whose name he suddenly remembers, to be sent back to warn his brothers–but it ain’t happen’. They, like him, had their chance. Now justice is served.

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What I see here in this story is hope. Hope and a challenge. The challenge is—if we were to die tomorrow would we wish we could go back and tell those we love that there is more to this life than satisfying the flesh, more to this life than this life—so don’t waste it you only get one shot? Would we be satisfied that we had told everyone we could about Jesus so that they didn’t end up in a place of torment, from which there is no relief or recourse?

Have you lived your life with the mindset of storing up your treasures in heaven as a priority over building your own stores of wealth? Or have you been faithful with your blessings to use them to also bless others, to help those left at your gates as though in so doing you are helping Jesus?

‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

Mat 25:40

Because in the end there is always justice. The piper always gets paid. As the line from old theme song from the 70’s cop show  Baretta used to say; “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.”

And the hope is—no matter how badly this world and this life treats us, we can look forward to an eternity of joy in a place, in a kingdom where all our tears are wiped away, where there is no more sickness and no more death, and where the wicked can no longer mistreat, abuse, mock or use us.

So long as your heart is right.

Jesus was addressing the hearts of those who despised and neglected Lazarus and those like him here. And because this nobody in the eyes of the world became somebody in the Kingdom of our God, we know that his heart had to be right. He didn’t rail against the oppressors and seek ways to steal or deride those who had what he did not.

He didn’t covet their wealth and curse his neighbors or blame God for his misfortune, he only longed to eat and made himself available to be helped by someone who could. But he had put himself at the mercy of a hardened heart, at least in this life—His soul was safe in the hands of his God.

20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. . . . 24 “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. Luke 16

In the end the one who showed no mercy was the one begging for it.

I can’t help but think of Job when I read  this. Job had lost everything he had. His children had all been murdered in the raid that destroyed his farm and he was left stricken by a horrible disease and a wife who despised him. He was covered with sores and had nothing left to do but put on sackcloth, cover himself with ashes and morn his fate.

the book of Job

 

His friends also came and told him we was a rotten sinner or surely he would not be stricken so—just curse God and die and get it over with.

He would not. And because of his continued faith in the God who was his righteousness, he was restored and he finished his life more blessed than he had ever been before. And his friends were put to shame for their ignorance.

Lazarus too, had lost everything, but he held on to his integrity. We don’t know the back story—only Jesus did. And only Jesus was able to see his final reward, which was of immeasurable worth. Very few knew and certainly no one remembered his name… Jesus did.

But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus,

Jesus knew his name.

He knows my name

He knows yours as well

Jesus knows. . .

Worth It?

Such are the dreams of the bi—vocational small town pastor.

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For all it’s challenges, I love pastoring a small church. We had such a wonderful and sweet Christmas eve service just gathering together with old friends, and new; seeing the kids have such a wonderful time as they acted out the nativity story, learning the real meaning of Christmas in the process while reminding and blessing the rest of us at the same time. All this on the heels of Sunday morning and having the kids, all ages together to make up a small chorus, to sing a few Christmas songs.

Props were handmade or came from the Goodwill store and special effects consisted of an illuminated star ornament hanging off the light fixture above the stage, and a halogen work light hidden under a chair to illuminate the angels.

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But I can guarantee that everyone left  leave here last Sunday and Christmas eve with a heart full of joy and memories that a professional high budget mega church presentation could never replicate.

I know I was blessed. I’m still replaying the events of those two services over in my mind, it was just so rewarding in so many ways.

But you know, it’s a lot of work, and that’s what I was thinking about between Sunday afternoon and Christmas eve service. Pastoring a church while working full time besides, is a lot of work and takes a lot of discipline and commitment–and then you throw in an extra service?

Now I don’t do this alone, many are involved in making this church work, and we all have responsibilities and challenges, and that’s the point.

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Blow it off?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just say, the heck with it, I’m going to just pursue my own fortune, spend my time and money on myself, my own pleasure and just worry about me, me, me. Like all those other people. I don’t want to write another sermon, I just wrote one last week! (and every week before that) I don’t want to spend another Saturday alone at the church, I have a lot of better things I could be doing, camping, fishing, hunting, fixing up or even building myself a house.

Or I could just go home after putting in my time at work and just sleep in front of the TV with a beer or two while looking forward to a vacation in Vegas. ‘Been saving up all year, it’s going to be a blast!’ Or maybe something more noble like a trip to the Holy Land or my ancestral Scandinavian home lands.

I could at least try to get a job in a big church so I wouldn’t have to work two jobs and then I could travel to exotic places now and then and call it missions or at least earned sabbaticals.

Such are the dreams of the bi—vocational small town pastor.

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And just saying all that out loud makes me cringe because down in my heart I know—No, I wouldn’t rather do any of that. Because in the end, none of that matters. What matters is that I am serving my Lord, the bridegroom, in the manner and place he wants me to serve him. If it means standing in a dark place with my flickering lantern ready to be put to good use at a moment’s notice, so be it.

What matters is that you, are being fed, you are getting oil for your lamps. What matters is that those kids, my kids, your kids, are hearing about Jesus, that they know they are loved and that they are important to me, to you and to their heavenly Father.

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(One of my grand daughters, and a grandson in the background expressing his opinion of the music)

What matters is that I am ready for Jesus to come back at any moment and that I am not going to waste any time. I will keep doing what I can to prepare myself and others in the meantime.

And the joy I feel when I see the smiles of those kids, the treasures I have amassed in my heart at seeing those the Lord puts in my path have a little better day, a little more spark in their eyes and spring in their step and maybe a song of praise on their lips because we simply showed up here and did what the Lord called and gifted us to do, I wouldn’t miss any of that for all the gold in the world.

The world can have their gold, Gold won’t burn in a lamp or light the way to anything. It only weighs you down and adds to your burden. Only love will keep those lights on, those lamps burning. And I have a never ending source of that love, his name is Jesus.

foolish virgins

The NIV study bible suggests that those virgins were “perhaps bridesmaids charged with preparing the bride for the groom.” If that is the case, the church is the bride and I will do all I can to be a wise virgin so that the bride of Christ will be ready for her groom.

We need a lot more wise virgins I can tell you that. Because there are a lot of messed up brides out there who won’t even know who their groom is when he does show up. Because here’s the little secret about the oil—it has to come from the groom.

And once he is on the way, he’s not carrying his supply any more to give to those who ask, the time for preparation is over, the hour has come, it’s His wedding day.

Oil in the scriptures is often a representation for the Holy Spirit and perhaps that is what the oil in this story is. How do we get the Holy Spirit? How do we keep in tune with the Spirit?- live for the Spirit and not the flesh. We have to keep going to Jesus, and to the Father through Jesus. Spending time with him in prayer, in his word, in worship, meditating on his word, seeking wisdom, believing for miracles and intervention, trusting him for our needs while working with the hands and the gifts he gave us.

By seeking his Kingdom first and foremost and trusting that all else will be added unto us as we need, not as we desire.

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It’s living for the groom, not for ourselves. Keeping our jars full at all times.

Broken

“That cup in its state of scarred repair is more beautiful than it ever was.”– So are you!

A year or two ago our daughter Cally was over for our annual Christmas morning potato pancake breakfast. A tradition that started somewhat by accident as I enjoyed making breakfast for my girls when they were little and as I perfected the elusive perfect potato pancake. Enjoying a cup of coffee and the company of family gathered, she somehow chipped her coffee cup, the one with a real cool Currier and Ives type Christmas scene on it, that she was using. I heard the clink but didn’t see the damage and I said half-jokingly, “Oh don’t break that, that’s Mom’s favorite cup, she picked that up at the Christmas stroll.” A few minutes later, amidst the chaos of many little ones playing and adults visiting, she’s frantically searching the house for super glue—she wanted to fix the cup.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It wasn’t until later when she was explaining to her mom in tears that she had broken her cup that I realized the tragedy I had exacerbated. She felt horrible about it. And then I felt horrible because I had just made things worse with my off handed remark.

My wife, Donna, of course told her not to worry about it, she loved Cally more than any cup. Donna later fixed the broken cup.

Can you tell it was once broken? Yes, but it is more valuable now than it ever was because of the incredible love and emotion that was poured back and forth over that cup, because of the accident and the heartache it caused.

That cup now says to Donna, “My daughter loves me so much that she was broken over having chipped what she knew was something that I valued.” And that glued together cup also now says, “My mother loves me so much that she was more upset over my heartbreak than she was about her once beautiful but now broken cup.”

That cup in its state of scarred repair is more beautiful than it ever was.

Jesus tells several parables in his last days, many of them aimed at the religious hypocrisy of the Priests and Pharisees of his day. And the end of one such story he warns:

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Sounds dire, unless you know a little more about the nature of our God and the symbolism of his word built  in the scripture over time.

The way I see this, this business about falling on the stone and being broken? Being broken can be a good thing. And if you are going to be broken, the rock is the place to do it because the rock is where you can be rebuilt, it is after all a cornerstone, the chief corner stone.

The commentaries and study Bible notes will tell you that the reference here to falling on the stone and being broken means you’re done. That’s just not consistent with scripture. Being broken is always a prerequisite to being repaired, fixed—born again. God loves the broken. In fact, it is the only sacrifice he requires.

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I think the more profound and certainly more encouraging message here, the secondary and more consequential meaning of this prophetic word first uttered by Isaiah and then claimed by Jesus, is that if you fall on the stone, purposely throw yourself on the stone, broken—broken down, brokenhearted, a broken soul who has realized just how empty, sinful, hopeless and lost you really are apart from the chief cornerstone, you will be rebuilt.

Repentance—repentance is the first step to becoming a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

Powder?

believe and recieve Jesus

Now, rejecting the rock, Jesus, out of hand and in the end having to be crushed by it, is certainly a bad thing–something that’s ground to powder ceases to exist. But something that is broken can be fixed. God loves a broken spirit, God loves a broken heart, because it is usually a heart that is open for him to repair, to rebuild, to remake—better, more resilient and more committed to remaining strong and whole than ever before.

I believe that for you! Yours is now a heart that now knows that if it falls, it can get up and go on, that if it breaks it can be restored and it is now in a solid place where it can be rebuilt to withstand the storms. The rock is a place to build, it is not a place of destruction.

The Holy Spirit told me as I was starting to work on the larger part of this message for my church Sunday–and it didn’t make any sense to me at first in light of what the parable says:

“The rock is here and it is a place to stand, a place to be strong and a place to grow.”

a son is given

To us a Son is given, the rock has come. Claim your healing, claim your peace.

Barbarians in the kingdom

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Preacher Dan

Have a most blessed and merry Christmas everyone!

Secret Things

Who am I, why am I, who put me here and where is he?”

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We all love to learn about things that have been kept secret right? Whether it’s the secrets of the universe we live in, the secrets of the government, the secrets of our neighbors or, more frighteningly, our kids—let me see that phone!

We hate having things kept from us and the more information we are entrusted with, the more valuable or important we feel.

We are a curious lot, insatiably curious; ‘Just what is on the dark side of the moon?’ ‘What is in a black hole?’ ‘What is dark matter?’ ‘Is there life out there?’ ‘What’s over the horizon?’ The questions are endless and our thirst for knowledge constantly leads to more and bigger questions. God created us with a capacity to dream up, explore and comprehend incredible mysteries.

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We are never satisfied; Just what is hiding in Area 51? Did Lee Harvey Oswald really act alone? Where in the world is Jimmy Hoffa’s body? What happened to Hillary’s Emails? Did Noah really forget to load up the unicorns? If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

We may never know.

I mean, how can we? Just how many peppers make up a peck and just where do pickled peppers grow anyway? I do know this— two pecks make a kenning and four pecks make a bushel—and if you give me two bits I’ll stop…

Peter Piper—Now there’s a useless parable. I’m glad Jesus wasn’t just into telling nursery rhymes, tongue twisters and conspiracy theories.

Parables and mysteries

His Parables answered questions, revealed mysteries, that had been kept a secret from the very foundation of the world.

Here’s a head scratcher—If there is no one to ponder a mystery, is it a mystery? If there is no one to desire to know something that is being kept secret, if there is no one to keep a secret from, then are there really any secrets?

So, by that logic, there were no secrets to reveal about any mystery until there was a sentient being with enough self-awareness to ask the question, to seek an answer. And the greatest mystery of all, the most ancient secret, the first heart cry question— “Who!?” And it came from mankind. Who am I, why am I, who put me here and where is he?” It’s the question that reverberates in the heart of every man and woman who has drawn breath ever since.

And then, eons later, comes the answer, the answer with the answers. He is the embodiment of the answer to who we are, why we are and who put us here—Here I am—even before Abraham was, I Am. And he is also the one who illustrates the answers, reveals the mysteries of the Kingdom he brought, with his stories and with his life.

We are beings created by and in the image of God. We are created for good works, to love and be loved by God, and he is now here among us by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit. And we are now citizens of the Kingdom of our God, the King of heaven.

 

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Jesus is the answer to the most important questions ever asked, the eternal questions, and he reveals to us that He is the answer, in part through his parables. Descriptions of the kingdom within and the kingdom to come.

The Kingdom of heaven is like. . .

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Matthew 13

We get to know the secrets that people have longed to look upon since the fall of mankind back in the garden. When the Kingdom was lost to us and the restoration promised. That was a very long time to wait, but now we know the secret things of God.

Secret things Deut 29

I Am

We now have the answers to all the mysterious promises made by God down through the ages. And they are even greater than Moses, who wrote these mysterious words from Deuteronomy could ever have dreamed. Because his I Am that I Am burning bush, rumbling mountain, all powerful and awesomely frightening God is now our personal Lord and Savior. The great I Am became a Son of Man and now we can say I am—His.

 

 

Tastes Like Chicken

“… I started paying attention to the hooting of the owls I was also hearing. This is nothing new, we have had owls around the house for several years–but we never had chickens before…yikes!”

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“For we were also once foolish…” It’s easy to get arrogant when you are suddenly unlike so much of the rest of the world who seems to revel in foolishness and debauchery.

When we are transformed so completely by the power of the Holy Spirit it’s easy to forget that we were once totally deceived by the flesh and the enemy as well and if we do remember we think, “Wow, I really cleaned up my act, I really pulled it together!” No. actually, you barely did squat, Jesus did it—you just finally allowed him to do it in you, and for you.

We can’t be like the pharisees acting holier than thou and we can’t act like the pagans indulging in whatever the flesh decides it wants at the moment. We need to behave like those who hold ourselves to a higher standard while still treating others like we truly care about them, to treat others the way we want to be treated.

This is what gets people to stop running from a God whom they think they could never please, and gets them coming to him and asking “Please; I want to stop running.” It can be hard to be a friend to sinners because they are so deceived they don’t recognize the danger and when they do, they don’t know where to turn. And even when they ask for help and desire rescue from their misery and addictions, they still run from the one who could truly save them.

Chickens inspired that, people are often no smarter than chickens.

As I was working on my sermon Tuesday evening the two chickens we are watching for our daughter Jessie interrupted my study. A couple weeks ago she brought over two of her chickens, one of which had an injured leg that made her a target for the other chickens of her flock who sense any weakness and pounce on it. And she brought over a friend to keep her company.

photo of rooster on grass
Photo by Matthis Volquardsen on Pexels.com

She put them in the dog kennel with the big dog house in it. We don’t have a dog right now so that works fine, except the chickens soon figured out that by getting on top of the dog house they could fly over the fence and get out.

So Donna and I started just letting them roam around in the day time and then we put them in the dog house at night and put a hog panel in front of the door to keep them in and the predators out. The problem is, they insist on roosting on the patio furniture on the back deck as soon as the sun goes down so we have to catch them and carry them to the dog house. No big deal, once they roost they become pretty lethargic—more like half comatose.

I’ve never had chickens before so I find this all very interesting. Anyway, Tuesday night I was in my office sermonating when I hear the chickens, which were just settling in to their roost mode on the back of a patio chair next to the sliding glass door, pecking on the glass and making  fuss. At first I ignored it, it wasn’t the first time they thought they should be able to come in the house, but they were getting more and more rambunctious.

Then I started paying attention to the hooting of the owls I was also hearing. This is nothing new, we have had owls around the house for several years, but we never had chickens before…yikes!

So I made a beeline to the patio door, saw the chickens, apparently safe on their chair but still doing the chicken “buck buck  buck-oc!” thing so I step out on the deck and see a big ‘ol great horned owl, sitting on top of my truck about 15 feet away. I’ve seen these massive owls at various times ever since I was a kid and for some reason they always send a shiver down my spine. Maybe because they are huge and fearless and have a way of appearing out of nowhere.

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This one was no exception, suddenly sitting there like some grey stone gargoyle on top of my truck. He doesn’t seem a bit concerned that I’m out there. I look for something I can throw and don’t see anything I really want to hit my truck with so I just run at him yelling and waving my arms and he takes off on those great silent wings.

At the same time I see another owl take off from off a fence post on the opposite side of the yard, they had our chickens surrounded. My wife Donna wasn’t home yet, she’s usually the one who puts the chickens to bed, but these girls need to get tucked in now!

All right ladies, bed time. So I plucked one of the now quiet birds off the chair back and carried her to the dog house/coop, placed her inside and went back for the other one who now decided I was the one she need to be scared of. So she made me chase her around the deck, off the deck, back on to the deck, under the chairs, all while trying not to get her too riled up, until she finally paused long enough for me to grab her without pouncing like a hungry cat.

It must be hard to be a chicken, pretty much everything wants to eat you, because, well, after all—chicken really does taste like chicken. I know many of you here have learned the hard way how many critters want to eat your chickens.

So I get the second chicken into the dog house with the other hen and put the panel across the door, safe and sound. I went back to work on my sermon and, after hearing the owls commence their hooting again, I remember that I didn’t shut the kennel door. Better do that to keep the coyotes out. So I go back out and here’s one of those very large owls sitting on top of the kennel and her partner just a few feet away on the fence. Right up until then I thought it was pretty cool to hear these owls at night, not any more.

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Thots

The chickens were smart enough to call for help. But then they were too dumb to accept it. Anyone relate?

That’s the way the world is, and honestly, too often we are also; “Help me help me” What? No wait, I want to stay here where I’m comfortable, where are you taking me? And we run around in circles while the Lord is patiently trying to move us away from the great horned death looming in the darkness just waiting for a chance to finish us off.

“Don’t mind me, I’m just a little ‘ol hoot owl, here to sing you a lullaby.”kindness.jpg

Funny how we have to keep being reminded of God’s mercy and kindness.

 

Do I Know You?

Do you want to know me, or just pretend to? 

 

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Photo by George Webster on Pexels.com

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’   -Jesus  Mat.7

So this begs the question; what does it mean to know Jesus?

Anyone can know about him, know his story, his birthplace, his travels and teachings, his very detailed, execution narrative and resurrection witnessed by hundreds—I mean, his life and death and the politics and list of named characters that had a anything to do with his life, and the world stage that set up the scenario that facilitated the events of his life and death—the event that was Jesus Christ and the birth of his church is the most historically recorded event in human history by both biblical and non-biblical sources bar none.

Really, anyone who is willing to read a little can know about Jesus, they can join an institution that teaches them more about Him and even offers to make them a part of his church—’just sign here, sprinkle here, put money here, repeat after me and don’t let us catch you misbehaving—and you’re in. Here’s your wafer.’

But do you know me? Jesus asks, because I’m not recognizing you. . . have we met?

I’m afraid you fell for the lies…

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How?

So, how do we know the Lord? The best way I can illustrate it is by comparing it to a marriage. Which is after all, what Jesus does—we are his Bride.

It’s not just enough to know about the person you’re married to, anyone can do that. We have to become one with them—to have no secrets from one another, to spend enough time together, to be honest and forthcoming, to have shared experiences, to go through trials and share joys—we have to have all that, to eventually begin to be able to see the world through their eyes, and use that ability to serve and encourage that person as only someone who knows and shares a heart can.

Knowing Jesus is the ability to see the world through his eyes, to hear with his ears and feel with his heart. It is to have things between you that make sense only to you and him because you have those things between you that no one else has as he has been guiding you, teaching you, stretching and even rebuking you for years.

My wife Donna and I have things between us of great meaning, rich histories and connotations that can be communicated with just a couple of words, words that may mean nothing to anyone else listening. That’s the kind of relationship we must have with Jesus.

When Jesus told me a few years ago he sent me to Red Lodge “because he needed a barbarian here, not a politician” I knew exactly what he meant.

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I had to write and entire sermon series that later became a book (Barbarians in the Kingdom) to explain to you all what that one sentence wrapped around one word, spoken to me from Jesus meant to me. I knew what it meant because I had been allowing Jesus to turn this undisciplined, if it feels good do it, and if it doesn’t feel good, kill it barbarian, into a barbarian that could be used to advance his kingdom for many years. It was both a joke and a term of endearment between us when the phrase came to be my call sign, so to speak, according to Jesus who was now in the pilot’s seat of my life while I manned the torpedoes in the back.

Only a God who knows me because I have committed to knowing him, could turn being a barbarian into a good thing. He can do that for all of us, or whatever it is between you and him that has come to have great personal meaning because it comes from the one who knows you intimately. Are you tracking with me here?

I can’t tell you the specifics of how you have a relationship like that with Jesus, I can only point you in the right direction, the rest is up to you. It takes work and commitment just like a marriage does.

It’s walking with the Lord, praying and listening for the still small voice that speaks truth into your heart. Reading his words in the gospels and allowing the Holy Spirit to make them come alive in your heart. Learning to discipline the flesh so that those words move from your mind and into your heart.

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Knowing Jesus is knowing and acknowledging his presence in you by his Holy Spirit, seeking and allowing him to fully immerse you in the baptism of that Spirit and then not quenching Him nor expecting it to be some sort of new age phenomenon that that allows you to amaze and delight your friends and neighbors. It’s recognizing that the Holy Spirit is a person with a personality and a presence who desires to empower you for the Glory of the Father.

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Photo by Joy Marino on Pexels.com

He is not just an impersonal, or cosmic power that we tap into with the proper channeling or incantations.

 

Knowing Jesus is sharing a heart with God. It is feeling his grief at others pain and trouble. It is feeling his joy when you or those you love overcome the flesh, accept freedom from addictions, when chains are broken and hearts are touched by love, real love. Knowing Jesus is loving others with a love that can only come from him, loving when no one else does, standing with those who are being kicked by the world and by those who only know about Jesus but have stopped short of truth.

 

 

It’s hard

Knowing Jesus is hard because seeing the world through his eyes reveals how messed up, hurting and ensnared it is, but that pain is love motivating us to do something about it, and that something is something that only you and him can know—because he knows you and just what he has equipped and prepared you to do.

Knowing Jesus is trusting him with your heart.Heart n hands

He will never leave you nor forsake you.

 

 

Mushrooms, Beer and -Jesus?

“…there are few feelings of emptiness and disconnection from all things good, and all people  living, like there is when you are coming down from a drug induced high. Especially when you just want it to be over.”

A few years after graduating from Job Corp back in the 80’s my best buddy Bob and I, whom I had met in Job Corp, decided we were going to go visit another friend from Job Corp whom we hadn’t seen since he graduated and returned home to Aberdeen SD. So on a Friday evening after we got off work we jumped into the ’72 Pontiac Bonneville I had recently bought from another buddy. It didn’t have plates on it yet but oh well, we were driving at night and decided to take the chance.

So we grabbed a cold pack or two of Rainier Beer—and a bag of mushrooms we had just scored, not the kind you put on a salad—and took off, party time. We were jacked, the plan was to just party our brains out for the weekend on a whirlwind trip to Aberdeen and back. It was fun, a lot of fun—for an hour or so.

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We were cruising along Interstate 94 with Mollie Hatchet blaring on the 8 track stereo as the psychedelic mushrooms were starting to kick in and the beer was tasting better and better when all of a sudden the car just stopped running, about the same time I noticed the sweet smell of antifreeze permeating the car.

Bob and I looked at each other in disbelief as I turned off the music and coasted over to the shoulder. I popped the hood and peered through the steam at the massive 455. Pontiac engine—not much to see in the dark. The radiator cap was hotter than all get out and I knew better then to try to open that. As we were sitting there with the flashers on waiting for the engine to cool a car pulled up behind and asked if we needed help.

This was long before the days of cell phones when people still stopped for motorists in despair.

I had already tried to restart the car and it wouldn’t turn over so he offered to give us a jump. Still nothing (I later discovered that a radiator hose had burst and was too busy partying to realize that the car was overheating to the point where the engine seized up) The good Samaritan was anxious to get going so I asked if he would give me a ride to a phone.

I looked up and saw that we were sitting right next to a sign that said “Custer 10 miles”. I reluctantly left my car and my buddy behind as my new friend gave me a ride to Custer to look for a pay phone so I could call back to Billings for help. Well, Custer is one of those towns where they roll up the streets after dark—nothing was open, so we headed to the next exit, the Little Big Horn river exit, where there was a bar. At this point my new friend’s charity and patience was plum out so he told me he was going to drop me off here and leave. “Good luck, bye!”

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I thanked him for the ride and watched as he drove away leaving me in front of a strange bar in the middle of nowhere Montana. I walked in and several dusty cowboy hats with weathered faces under them looked my way. I mustered up my courage and asked the bartender if they had a phone I could use. I’m sure my pupils were as big as saucers about then but I did my best to be redneck. He pointed to the corner near the door I had come in and, wasting no words, said “Phone’s broke.” I turned and saw a pay phone hanging on the wall with a note taped to it that said “Out of order.”

I thought; “There has got to be a phone behind the bar!” But he wasn’t offering and between the drug induced paranoia I was feeling and all the love in the room for this long haired 20 year old kid in a cowboy hat, I wasn’t about to question him. Knowing I was now up the proverbial creek without a paddle I turned on my heel and vanished out the door.

Now what? I am totally abandoned, alone and stoned in the middle of Montana in the middle of the night. 50 miles from home, 12 miles from my worthless car and the only person in the world who even knows I’m out here somewhere, and he is stranded as well.

Well, I’ll start walking, surely someone will pick me up. Across the interstate and down the ramp back to the east bound lane I went. I started walking, sticking my thumb out whenever a car zoomed by. Turns out no one is too keen to pick up a young man walking down the Interstate alone late at night. It was kind of cold out but I had on my favorite old Levi jacket and I was wearing my Tony Lama’s—not exactly the best boots for a long hike.

And hike I did, mile after mile, counting the mile markers knowing that I had to pass twelve of them to get back to my car. To this day when I see a mile marker on the highway I often think about how far apart they are when you are having to walk from one to another.

Somewhere in that hike I came across a rest stop and went in hoping to find a phone—seriously? No phone! I thought about approaching someone and asking for a ride but my courage alluded me again. The extreme shyness that I had not yet conquered coupled with the knowledge that I was still high on the mushrooms and probably pretty scary looking stopped me from approaching anyone.

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So dejectedly and resolutely I headed back down the highway. If you figure a person can walk 3 or 4 miles an hour I had a very long walk that night and it seemed like it took forever. After a couple of hours I was even hoping a Highway patrolman would stop and even though at least one drove by, none did. I was getting cold, my feet hurt and I was exhausted when I sat down on a guard rail post and started to pray—”Lord, no one will help me, I don’t know if I can make it, please give me strength!”

I was totally tapped out but as I got up and continued my walk I suddenly saw in my mind’s eye Jesus walking beside me. I know I didn’t physically see him but I know he was there and I can still see him in my memory just as though he was. I didn’t deserve his help, I had gotten my own stupid self into this mess but you know what? I knew at that point that he still loved me, that he cared and that he was there and suddenly the mile markers did not seem so far apart. And as I counted off number twelve I looked up and saw my car across the road.

A dead car never looked so good. I climbed in as Bob, who had been sleeping in the back seat asked what had happened. I told him I got abandoned on the Big horn and that I would tell him the rest of the story tomorrow. I then laid down and passed out on the front seat.

In the morning I flagged down another ride, much easier in the daylight when you are standing next to a stalled car, and got a ride to the gas station in Custer, called a buddy who came and towed us back to Billings.

So much for that road trip.

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That seems like another lifetime ago and I have long since given up the partying in favor of a real relationship with Jesus,  but I remember that feeling of Jesus’s presence like it was yesterday and it was a catalyst to me finally being willing a couple of years later to fully surrender myself to him because I knew that if I did, I would have that presence, my Jesus standing with me, more than just when I was desperate–and I do.

 

Why didn’t he just stop a car and get me a ride? Because then I would have just attributed it to luck, but even more importantly, I would not have had that hours long experience of having my Lord walk beside me through what had started as a very dark, cold lonely night of despair. And really, there are few feelings of emptiness and disconnection from all things good and all people like there is when you are coming down from a drug induced high, especially when you just want it to be over.

There was no reason Jesus should have paid me any never mind at all that night, but he did. He walked by me and got me through it safe and sound. And because of that, I know that no matter what, no matter how badly I screw up in this life, no matter how put upon, abandoned, lost or alone I might feel or be, I am never alone, and I can always count on Jesus to stand with me.

I have been through several long dark nights of near total despair since then, dark nights of the heart as the world seems to turn against me, but through them all, my Jesus stands with me.

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I am never alone and there is always hope.

What does it mean to have Jesus stand with us? It means to have strength, it means to have peace, it means to have hope.

The mornings are always brightest after the darkest nights.

Yetrday's troubles