Stay on Task

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This nasty cold subzero weather we have been enduring lately has me praying often for ranchers who are calving. I used to calve in February and remember well the struggles of keeping calves alive and well when these cold fronts hit. You just did what you had to do, no matter the cost in sleep, comfort or resources. The life of every calf is precious, not just for money but because you love your animals—the money could never be enough to motivate all that you endure for these critters.

If you visit or talk to any rancher who is calving in weather like this, if they had time to talk, you would find that they have or have had brand new wet calves in the cabs of their pickup trucks, in their kitchens, even in their bathtubs, sometimes all at once and at all hours of the night and day. While the ranchers themselves are emanating the pungent aroma of old and new afterbirth, manure and sour milk as they guzzle coffee and try to thaw out their feet in time to go catch the next calf.

I have an old black and white photo hanging in my church office, counting my years as a children’s pastor it has been in my office for almost 20 years now. I found in at the big museum in Cody WY years ago and instantly fell in love with it because it so captures that spirit of doing whatever it takes to care for your animals, staying on task no matter the cost.

Charles Belden circa 1920-1930

It’s a picture of a Cowboy taken in the 1920’s near Meeteetse Wyoming. The cowboy is on a horse in a blizzard, bundled up as best he can against the cold, and he has a new Herford calve draped across his lap as his horse struggles up a hill against the wind driven snow. It hangs in my office as a reminder to me that ministry is not always easy nor fun. That reaching the lost and caring for the flock is seldom convenient nor is it a part time, yeah, I think I’ll stay in tonight, everyone will be just fine without me kind of assignment.

What does that have to do with end times? Everything. But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. 

No matter what you hear, no matter the forecast, the rumors or the challenges—you need to keep trusting in me and the strength that I will give you to complete your task of reaching the lost.

If you read through all of this chapter 13 of Mark and catch the heart of what and why Jesus is telling the disciples of the storms to come, it is so that they are not caught off guard, that they know he expects them to keep seeking the lost, to stay on task and no give up no matter the struggles and difficulty of the times and places they find themselves. And that goes for all of us who follow Jesus and are called according to his purpose.

Every life, every soul, is precious and worth facing the storms for.

Are you ready to face the storms? How have you been holding up in the storms? These are important questions and are exactly why Jesus warns us of them, so that we do not get discouraged and thinks it’s all over, that this is our end. It is not, remember, there is no past tense for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Mark 13 is an entire chapter devoted to Jesus’ warnings of the tribulations to come.

The big scary end times, death and destruction, persecution and tribulation, desecration and desolation, Jesus is coming and the angels are going to gather the elect from the four corners of the world chapter.

“For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be. 20 And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.Mark 13:19-20

It’s scary both to read and to try and teach on because Jesus gives us just enough detail to let us know scary big events are coming, but not enough detail to know exactly when and how they are going to happen. And Mark, as per his usual style, just records the facts and leaves the commentary and analysis to the many generations of preachers and scholars to come.

It’s not scary to me personally, I actually love that Jesus gives us these words of warning and encouragement, detail wrapped in mystery. An eternity altering mystery whose clues will not entirely be understood until they all fall into place as they happen and we who knew the clues say, “yes, yes, yes,—that’s it, that’s what it all meant, the prophecies were true and God is in control!”

But as a pastor it’s scary to teach on because so many have such strong opinions as to what it all means and will argue it as though their salvation depends on it.

That’s just wrong. Your salvation does not hinge on how you interpret end times prophecies—on when you think you will be whisked away, from bliss to bliss or from tribulation to bliss. Nor does it depend on where you think we are in the timeline of God’s plan for the last days. Your salvation depends on one thing, or one person rather, and that is Jesus Christ and whether you have accepted him as Lord and Savior—period.

Jesus is not concerned with how good we are at solving prophetic riddles, he is concerned with how seriously we take the need to stay on task no matter the chaos and challenges around us—Chaos and challenges we were promised and warned would come.

But he also promises to ride the storms with us, giving us the strength and the passion to complete our mission. Don’t give up cowboy, the big roundup is still to come.

The Brink of . . . What?

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

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

Spirit bears witness dove

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Need To Hear You Lord!

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

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

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

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

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

We the people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raelynn

 

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

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

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

 

God is love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greater is he in you dove

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

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

The End Is Always Near

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

Give to those in need

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

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

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

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

light shine bible

As the Apostle John would say Little children, love.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

toilet paper Apocalypse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

love your enemies

 

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

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

Blessed are the poor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hearts conmdemn us hands

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

We are going to be okay.

Don’t Lose Heart

The hearts that bleed are the hearts that need. 

content meme

So, your tooling along, minding your own business, just trying to keep a low profile because it seems whenever you start getting ahead, getting a leg up, Boom!the other shoe drops. It seems like you just barely got out from under the other one. You just got new tires for your car and your tranny goes out. You just got your water pump replaced and your water heater goes out. You just got done saying goodbye to an uncle and a good friend passes away. You just got your knee operated on and you tear your rotator cuff.

I just made up all those examples but I could have just as easily given you a real list of examples from our own life lately that would make that one look like a picnic. But it’s not about me, it’s about Jesus and it’s about encouraging you and it’s about advancing the Kingdom of God. And the Kingdom of God is not dependent on how well my day went. Therefore the condition of my heart is not dependent on how well my day went either because the Kingdom of God dwells within my heart and my soul is well.

Tribulations will come, that we can depend on,  but they always have one of two purposes, they are given us by the enemy of our souls to try and destroy us by making us turn away from God, and or, they are allowed by God to refine us and make us stronger for the battles ahead.

lose heart

A few weeks ago I was at a lunch meeting with other Foursquare pastors from the Peaks to Prairies division and we were all asked to give a summery of how things are going and what we need prayer for. I started with, “I am doing okay. Which is saying a lot in this season of challenge.” I then went on to tell about some of the challenges Donna and I have been facing with our health, our family and our church and as they were all looking at me like I should be having a nervous breakdown and calling for an immediate replacement in the pulpit so we can go on an extended vacation I said, “Remember, ‘I am Okay.’” Seriously, God is good, he is still on the throne and I will not give up and I will not give in.

The Lord has taught me the greatest lesson anyone can ever learn in this life and one we all need to grasp, that is that our hearts are safe and secure in his love and nothing can change that, nothing except us and our failure to grasp the mystery of the depth of his love for us and the peace that comes with that that is beyond natural comprehension or explanation.

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

. . .who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,  Eph 3:18—21

I have a God who is doing things in my life and all around me, things that are beyond my comprehension to even recognize just yet, let alone ask for—good things in the end that in the meantime seem bad.

It is well with my soul. Period.

Stick that in your rancid pipe and smoke it devil!

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