Almond Joy

9D494A70-DAF4-4DAC-B0AE-5395FD5D2AAB.pngI have a routine and it really goes in month long cycles.

September is Football and Franks.  I love to tailgate and grill.  I also love brats and hotdogs.  So I are mostly hot dogs and brats throughout the month.

November is turkey/poultry and Thanksgiving.  I will alter my crock pot taco soup recipe by substituting shredded chicken for beef, load up on the tobasco, Fritos, and shredded cheddar cheese and eat a crock pot full every week.

December is all about the three C’s: Christmas, cinnamon rolls, and chilie.  Chilie is served seven nights a week, cleaning out the crock pot only to repeat the process.  Fun fact: apparently this is a Kansas thing because if you mention it anywhere else people look at you like you are crazy.

But that leaves out October.  Taco Soup (with beef) will get me through the month, but it really is all about candy.  Walmart keeps dentists employed in November.  I  saw a sign the other day where a store is offering to buy back Halloween Candy to keep kids healthy.  Meanwhile, I spoke with a Dad who refused to buy candy this years so he is taking his kids Trick-or-Treating an hour early so they can circle back by their house to refill their own candy bowl.  That is #NextLevelParenting.

I have recently been studying the life of Jesus.  I have also been trying to organize some thoughts on leadership and methodology.  Here I bring the two together.  One of my favorite get-to-know-you/team building games is what I call “synthesis”.  Each group gets one note card.  They have to write down 5 topics or thoughts on the left hand side.  Then the team trades with another team.  The new team has one minute to write down a word that corresponds with the first teams thoughts.  The catch is that there is a theme.  It might have to be an animal, or a celebrity, or a song, or anything else.  They have one minute.  Then each group has to explain to the whole group why they chose that thing to describe the first teams topic.

Since October really is all about the candy, how would Jesus ministry be communicated through candy bars?

One of the first things that draws me to Jesus ministry is how contagious it was.  People were drawn to him.  They brought the sick, they brought friends, they traveled miles, and they fought through crowds.  They climbed trees, dug through roofs, watched from gates, crawled between legs, and snuck into dinners, just to be near him.  But what drw them?  Certainly it was his ability, some of it was probably his teaching, but I want to focus on something that not many other’s have touched: his Joy!  Mostly because I struggle with it.

Joy is really a Paul word.  First, I want to introduce you to three greek words.  This will be painless.

  • Chara is the greek word for “joy”
  • Charidzomai is the greek word for “forgiveness”
  • Charis is the greek word for “grace”

Notice that all three of theses words have the same root.  From that the connection is easily made.  When we understand that we are forgiven and have been shown grace, the only appropriate response is joy.  Paul was joyful because he understood the great lengths to which he was shown grace and the the great depths that he had been forgiven.  The reason I say this is a Paul word is quite simple.  Half the uses of these words in Scripture come from Paul’s pen.  He loved to talk about “joy” and “grace” and “forgiveness”.

Fir James and Peter, the source of joy is found elsewhere.  James begins his book like this:

”Consider it pure joy my brothers when you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1.2)

James knew that the growth received through the testing of faith would bring about joy. Peter echos this sentiment in his letter:

“These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1.7-9)

Peter and James found their source of joy in the trials they suffered.  These two knew about suffering.  Both would die a martyrs death.  Both would face beatings and persecutions.  Both would counsel people through the same things.  They knew that if you wanted the prize you were going to bear the scars.  This was joy.  Dostoyevsky once said: “One thing I fear is not to be worthy of my sufferings.”  Their joy came in the suffering in the same manner as Jesus.

But what about Jesus?  He didn’t need the grace that Paul was given and his sufferings were unlike any other.  It was his pattern that the other’s followed.  So where was Jesus’ joy found?  The Gospels don’t reveal it.  None of the epistles of Paul reveal it.  The only verse that touches upon it is found in Hebrews 12:2, in context it reads:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12.1-3)

The author of Hebrews encourages the Church to continue its run, not only because of those that have gone on before us and are cheering us on, but because that’s what Jesus did.  Still the question remains, what gave Jesus his joy?  Verse 2 tells us it was his death, resurrection, and ascension.  The process is called redemption.  Paul was joyful for the grace showed him, James for the sharing of suffering patterned for him, but Jesus was brought joy in the redemption he brought others.  Despite the coconut!


Isaiah 53: Paul’s Transition

If you have never had the pleasure of trying to “cut” cows on a true pure bred cutting horse…consider yourself lucky.

Most of the horses I have ridden were not bred, nor trained to cut cows.  They were ranch horses who would look at a cow but not really work one.  A true cutting horse will stop on a dime, shift its front end at break neck speed, with little warning.  If you aren’t prepared for such a maneuver, then you will soon find yourself performing different manuever that ends with you on your backside in the dirt.  But hey, I’ve never really been considered much of a horseman, so operator error is a valid explanation.  True cutting horses are quick, intelligent, intuitive, and powerful.  They will plant their back feet, roll their hips, and head another direction before the rider even cues them.  Paul does the exact same thing with Isaiah 53.  See, Paul uses Isaiah 53 as a turning point, as a transition.

The purpose of Paul’s letter to the Romans is found in Romans 1.16-17 where Paul writes:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness from God is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.'”

Located in this verse is a comparison, a contrast, and a transition.  “First for the Jew, then for the Gentile” shows the two sides.  At this time it was argued as the two sides of salvation. The Jews were saved; the Gentiles were on the outside looking in.  That was until, Peter opened the door to the Gentiles in Acts 10.

Romans is about bringing both the Jew and Gentile to faith..but there was a problem.

What is needed is a transition in thinking.  In both of Paul’s quotations of Isaiah 53, in Romans 10.16 and 15.21, the verse begins with the word “but” (gk. alla).  “But” signals a change, a transition, in thought.  A simple look at Romans 10 illustrates this point:

  • Romans 10.1: “Brothers, my hearts desire and prayer to God for the Israelite’s is that they may be saved.”
  • Romans 10.12-13: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all of who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
  • Romans 10.16: “But not all the Israelite’s accepted the good news…”
  • Romans 11.1: “Did God reject his people? By no means!” He then goes on about the remnant.
  • Romans 11.11: “…salvation has come to the Gentiles…”

The hinge of this entire section is verse 16 at the word “but” and Isaiah’s question: “Lord, who has believed our message?”  Isaiah and Paul both are asking where the belief lies.   Paul answers it in the “Gentiles”.  This is why he can claim in verse 13 of chapter 11: “I am talking to you Gentiles.  Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles…”

In Romans 15, instead of using “Jew” and “Gentile” as categories, he uses the terms “those who have heard” and “those who have not”.  Paul clearly states his mission as: “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” (Rom. 15.20)  Then there is that word “rather” (gk. alla) elsewhere translated “but”.  Then he quotes Isaiah 52.15.   Thematically the end of chapter 52, starting at verse 13, gels with Isaiah 53.  For sheer ease, I refer to the whole prophecy as Isaiah 53.  In this case Paul quotes the last verse of Isaiah 52: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”  Paul uses Isaiah to transition thinking about who needs the Gospel.  For Paul the answer is clear…those who have not heard.  That is why Paul had not been able to come to this body of believers yet. (Romans 15.22)

Secondly, Paul Romans 10.16 as a transition of salvation.  Paul attunes his readers to the fact that the Gospel changes peoples lives.  Romans 10.9-10 makes it very clear:

“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

and then he adds: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (10.14)  Paul understands that hearing leads to belief, and belief to confession, and confession to salvation.

But not all Israel believed.  Then he quotes Isaiah 53: “Lord, who has believed our message?”  Isaiah was originally written in the hebrew language.  In around 270 B.C. the Old Testament was translated from hebrew into greek so that people could more easily read it.  This is called the Septuagint, or LXX for short.  Paul quotes the exact words of the LXX here.  He uses the common Greek word for belief (gk. Pisteuo) and equates it with “accepted” in the quotes introduction.  The greek word for “accepted” is intriguing. The word used here (gk. upakousan) is a word that means “to answer the door”.  It is used of Rhoda in Acts 12.3 when she “answered the door” after Peter knocked.  You get the picture here.  The Jews refused to let Jesus in…but the Gentiles were willing.  A transition in those who are saved.  But there is another transition that Paul uses Isaiah for in Romans 15.

Finally, Paul uses Isaiah 53 in Romans 15, to show his transition in ministry.  The first quotation was about salvation, this one is about evangelism.  The change in thought, led to a change in ministry.  If you are unfamiliar with Paul’s story the short version is this.  He was a persecutor of the church (Acts 8.1) but after an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), Saul (his former name, more on this later) would spend a few years in the desert (Gal. 1.18), then 14 years preaching in Judea to the Jews (Gal. 2.1), and finally was called to preach to the Gentiles (Gal. 2.2,7-10).  He had a transition in ministry.  When Saul, a Hebrew name from his parents, took off on his first missionary journey, to plant churches among the Gentiles, in Acts 13.9, he took on a Greek name, Paul.  A transition in ministry.  He defends his ministry with this: “I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15.15-16)

When Isaiah penned his words in Isaiah 53, 700 years before Paul, he was finishing his work.  The Servant whom this prophecy was about was the exclamation point to his entire work.  This was the figure that was the end, the goal of Isaiah’s words.  He would bring the people back from the exile.  He was the one that Isaiah waited and hoped for!.  But for Paul, Isaiah’s words were a transition.  Paul’s mission, his ministry, and understanding of salvation all hinge on Isaiah’s Prophecy in Isaiah 53.  Paul thought of Isaiah’s words as a new beginning in thought, salvation, ministry.  His words opened up the ministry to the Gentiles, it was a gateway for Gentile salvation, and a step towards a new understanding of people.  Paul makes it clear in Ephesians 2.4: “But, because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.” For Paul, and in many ways us, Isaiah’s quotes can be seen as the first steps toward a great adventure, if we are able to understand, believe, and confess this “Suffering Servant” and his name is Jesus.  Our lives can turn on a dime; they can transition when we call on the name of Jesus.

Philippian Joy

One of my partners in ministry

As I sat down to study over the last few weeks one thought has raced through my mind: during this time of transition, what type of man do I want to be.  It’s not a question of what I want to do or accomplish, but who I am becoming.  After a few weeks of studying, listening, and absorbing, I have found that I want to be a giving man, a praying man, and a joyful man.  The first two are fairly easily remedied.  I should pray more and give more, but how does one become joyful?  Quoting John Ortberg: “I am joy impaired!”  So I asked the question: What gave Paul joy?

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is packed with joy, but the circumstances of the letter was not.  Paul is in prison for preaching the Gospel.  To pass the time, he picks up a pen and writes to a body of believers that understands what persecution looks and feels like.  In spite of his current condition, joy flows from his pen.  It was these very people who saw Paul and Silas beaten and thrown in prison on their first visit to Philippi.   They were also the people who heard that at midnight their songs and prayers filled the prison (Acts 16.25).  What gives a man joy that allows him to sing while in chains?  Philippians 1 gives us a glimpse.

It’s the joy of partnering with others.  Joy can be found in the people sharing the fox hole.  “I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayer for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel…” (Phil 1.3-4)  The Philippian Church was a vital partner in the ministry of Paul.  So much so that he would take a rabbit trail in a letter to another church, the Church at Corinth, to brag on the Macedonian churches.  

“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.  Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.  Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in the service to the saints.” (2 Cor. 8.1-4)  

The ones who are doing ministry alongside him, gives him the joy to sing.  This week I was brought joy by:

  • Watching a soccer coach pour into her athletes, so much so that they call her their ‘soccer mom’.  The love of Jesus is being shown through her life.
  • Riding with a horse trainer talking about the opportunities he has been given this summer for clinics and competitions where he will have contact with more lost people than most people do in a lifetime.
  • Eating Mexican food with a good buddy talking about his future fatherhood
  • Talking to the youth ministry students at Ozark
  • Bringing my buddy, Penny-Dog to school and watching her love the kids…she is my partner in ministry.

The joy of partnership can fade circumstances and situations into the background.  The joy that is found in partnering to advance the gospel cuts through the dark, rises above the fog, and brings clarity and freedom.  Paul tells Timothy, in 2 Timothy 1.4, “I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy”.  Partnerships are what made Paul sing.

It’s the joy of grace.  Paul continues his letter: “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.” (1.7)  The greek word for joy, chara, is very similar to the greek word for grace, charis.  Over half the times the word ‘grace’ is used in the New Testament, it is by Paul in his letters.  It is a concept Paul cant communicate enough of.  These words also form the root of one of the words translated in Scripture as ‘forgive’, charizomai.  The point is that joy is not to be separated from grace and forgiveness.  Paul sings because of the grace he has been shown by God.  The gift of grace, extended to the chief of sinners, is a reason to sing.  Paul tells Timothy:

“The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of who I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as a an example for those would believe on him and receive eternal life.  Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever…Amen.” (1 Timothy 1.14-17)  

He ends that passage with doxology, a song.  Song flows out of the grace that he himself has been shown.  When is the last time your heart was moved to song because of a gift?  Scripture, song, and prayer have been composed in some dark places: Job’s trials, David’s retreat, Jeremiah’s tears, Jesus’ night of agony.  But song and prayer overflows in times of refuge and peace as well…”Shout for joy to the Lord all the Earth” (Ps. 100); “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” (Ps. 150).  Now Paul finds himself in the midst of both.  He is in chains but his heart is in joy.   He is drowning in persecution, but his heart is overflowing with joy.  The joy of being shown grace.

It’s the joy of being rooted in God.  Just like Nehemiah and David before him, Paul knew the source.  “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8.10)  and “…David found strength in the Lord his God.” (1 Sam. 30.6)  “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil 1.9-11)  Joy only comes through a relationship founded in Jesus Christ.  One of the byproducts of the Spirit, the fruits as Paul puts it in Galatians 5, is joy.  Paul’s joy is a direct result of his daily connection with God.  His joy comes through his relationship with Jesus Christ.  And he prays that the Philippian joy comes in the same way, from the same source, through the same work of Jesus.  

Joy is found despite what we are covered in, surrounded by, or in the midst of.  Paul had more things go wrong than most, still he was known by his joy.  What makes a man sing in prison, amid shipwrecks and beatings, abandonment and persecution, in a word: joy.

Mentoring Monday’s: Prayer


prayerNever mistake activity for achievement.”  Keeping busy doesn’t mean that progress is being made.  In mentoring youth or men, the same is true.  We can fill schedules with meetings, take them out for dinner, suggest books, do Bible studies, or take trips, but at its core, a Mentor must pray for his protege’s. Two things strike me about the prayer life of Paul:

  • Paul prayed for future leaders. During their first missionary journey through the province of Galatia, Paul and Barnabas circled back through the towns they had just visited and appointed (cheirotoneo) elders for the churches that they had planted.  These men were committed (paratithemi – literally the word means to “lay down for” or “place”) to the work of the Lord and men whom Paul and Barnabas trusted to lead the church.  Paul understood the importance of the leadership in the fledgling churches of Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, and he bathed those commissions in fasting and prayer (Acts 14.23).  During the third missionary journey as Paul and his team are traveling around the archipelago of Greece, he longs to speak with the men whom he spent two years with in Ephesus.  Ephesus is kind of like Grandma’s house, you don’t just stop for 2 minutes, so Paul has them meet him in Miletus (Acts 20.17).  When the Elders arrived, Paul gave them a final commission and training.  They knelt and prayed together because they knew they would never see his face again (Acts 20.36-38).  In his last bit of training for the eldership of Ephesus, Paul prays.  Finally, as Paul is headed toward Jerusalem, his ship docks at Tyre (Acts 21.5).  In the city Paul finds some disciples who urge him not to continue onto Jerusalem.  Paul will not be dissuaded, but before he leaves he prays with the disciples and with their families.  The people Paul leaves places are always covered in his prayers.   Perhaps he was just doing what was modeled for him by the disciples and Elders in Antioch (Acts 13.3).  Mentoring is about training people and then releasing people to use that training.  Training people to do what you do and them letting them do it.  It is our responsibility as mentors to pray for the people we are training.
  • Paul’s prayer life was consistent. Paul’s prayer life was of all things consistent and continual.  When he writes to his Trainee Timothy: “night and day, I [Paul] constantly remember you in my prayers.” (2 Timothy 1.3), he writes not as an isolated instance but as a spiritual habit of praying.  Spending time in prayer is not something that ebbed and flowed with Paul.  After Jesus appears to him on the road to Damascus, Paul spends three days praying waiting for Ananias to show up (Acts 9.11).  He and Silas prayed through the night in the prison at Philippi (Acts 16.25).  Throughout his letters, Paul’s prayer life and teaching is on display: to the Ephesians, “I haven’t stopped remember in you in prayer” (Eph 1.16) and “pray on all occasions” (Eph. 6.18); to the Colossians “I haven’t stopped praying for you” (Col 1.9); to the Thessalonians, “pray continually” (1 Thess. 5.17) because we “constantly pray for you” (2 Thes. 1.11); to the Roman Christians, “at all times I remember you” (Romans 1.9-10) and “be faithful in prayer” (Romans 12.12); and to Philemon,  “I always thank God as I remember you in my prayers” (Philemon 4).  Paul displayed a passionate prayer life to the churches and the disciples.  Consistently he was in prayer for the people and for the churches.  Randy Gariss, pastor of College Heights Christian Church had this to say about the importance of prayer in the leadership, “You don’t want to be part of any church where the leadership doesn’t regularly fast and pray together!”  Paul was reliable in his prayer life, knowing that prayer would have the greatest influence on the people he was leading.  Prayer for the people we are leading takes the least amount of effort on our part, but returns the greatest gain in their life.  Letting God take control of the situation, bending His ear constantly, and offering up our followers to Him, will accomplish more than any of the lessons we give.  If we want to lead the next generation of leaders, and answer the question “Who’s Next?” we must make sure that we are mentors and leaders who pray.  Constantly they must be covered in prayer, daily they must be lifted up, and continually we must display for them a life devoted to prayer.

With a mentoring relationship comes the commitment to pray for your disciple daily, asking God to direct and guide them, to work in their lives and transform them, to teach them and to encourage them.  Prayer needs to be a top priority within the mentoring relationship.

To often, especially in mentoring relationships, life can run renegade.  It gets away from us as we plan meetings, teach lessons, and invest in our relationships with those we are pouring into.  Let’s not forget that we have our own lives to lead, families to manage, and work to do.  Often the first thing to go is our prayer time.  There is a great statement in the middle of the Book of Daniel, which demonstrates the kind of prayer life that we as leaders need to cultivate.  Daniel 6.10-11: “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room were the windows opened toward Jerusalem.  Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.  Then these men came as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help.”  If someone wanted to catch you praying, could they?  Would they be able to find me, as a leader, in consistent prayer for the next generation of leaders?

Manure Happens

Manure is a most101

int’resting thing

Put it in the garden

And the plants turn green

Rub it on your lips

They’ll never be chapped

It ain’t that it heals

But youll stop lickin’, true fact.

It polishes boots

Gives’em a shine,

Even masks the smell

Comin’ from the inside.

It comes in all hues

Of brown, black and green

From the dark em’rald free range

To high-grain-grey and b’tween.

To numerous to mention

Are the names it goes by

All manners of slang like,

chip, muffin, patty, and pie.

It lays in fields undisturbed

a testament to feed

four chambers of leftovers

a vet gets to read.

The little swirled disk,

Like a book it contains

Everything that that went in

And what still remains.

The stuff that ain’t turned to beef

Hits the ground with a thud

Showing off all the great things

That manure’s made of.

Manure is fascinating,

And so much info wont fit

Some much more to say

But it’s time to end the bull…you get the picture.

Manure is something I am quite familiar with. It seems to be everywhere I travel, most places I stay, and few places that most would want to spend an expended period of time. Gardner’s, ranchers, and farmers love the stuff. Put some in the bottom of a hole and place a plant on top and the poo produces produce; the manure makes magic; the feces fosters flora. Shoot it in the air over your brome, alfalfa, or any other crops and refuse becomes reused.

This has probably been the most you have ever read about dung and it is certainly the most I have ever written about it; but I read a read a fascinating statement the other day that brought to my mind manure.

Paul says in Philippians 2.12: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you will and to act according to his good purpose.”

A study of this word, as used in Papyri, is helpful to mention at this point. The word occurs various places without any real background information or illusory usage. However, in one script, dated to 119 b.c., the word for “work out” [gk. Katergazomai] was used of a man named Menches. Menches was given the job of Scribe of the Village, under the presupposition that he would take a previously unproductive field in the village and turn it profitable, at his own expense of course. His task was to “cultivate” [katergazomai] this field and make it profitable. How does one “cultivate” a field? Turn it from unproductive to productive? It takes labor, stress, and change. (Papyrus Tebtynis 1.10)

The Greek word for “work out” is used 22 times in scripture and many times it is used in connection to pressure and opposition of some kind. Paul says in Romans 5, in the face of suffering:

“…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces [katergazomai] perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (v.3)

“…do not lose heart…for our light and momentary troubles are achieving [katergazomai] for us and eternal glory that far outweighs them all…” (2 Cor. 4.16-17)

“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God…for while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us [katergazomai] for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit…” (2 Cor. 5.1-5)

“Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that went the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done [katergazomai] everything, to stand.” (Eph 6.13)

James would add to Paul’s argument of cultivation despite opposition with this:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance…” (James 1.3)

The book of Philippians was written to a church in Macedonia where great persecution was happening.  Paul mentions his own chains, the ones he is dealing with in Rome at present, in the first chapter of his letter.  Those in Macedonia are facing pressure and suffering; trials and persecution.  It is a struggle, Paul writes in Phil. 1.30.  After he mentions both his and their struggle, Paul moves into Christ’s afflictions and his attitude:

“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2.8)

Then comes the verse that was looked at earlier.  Paul says: “work out your salvation.” (Phil 2.12)  Remember this is Paul who knows that it is not by his own accord or works that brings righteousness (Phil 3.9), but faith.  He isn’t advocating works as a means to salvation, but a process that ends in salvation.  Paul is saying: “Your salvation will come about, but sometimes you have to trod through the manure of this life.”  Cultivation [katergazomai] is a hard, messy, manure filled journey to harvest…just like our salvation.  Jesus promised us life….he never said it would be easy.

In the face of opposition, while standing in the manure, what comes out? Cultivate the crops. Cultivate the field. When manure happens, cultivation happens. When the manure is spread, it can smother us or grow us. Paul testifies to it and so does James. For those of us living in the manure, what will the outcome be? Will it cultivate us to become more God-like, or will we let it derail us? In the midst of disease, divorce, and doubt; while cancer strikes and confusion hits; when manure makes its appearance…what happens? Cultivation is happening, how do we respond?

A little bird was flying south for the winter when a cold arctic blast hit him. He fell to the ground, his wings frozen, and prepared to die. Just then a cow wandered pie and pooped on him. While laying in a pile of poo, the little birdie began to warm up. He found himself so excited that he began to chirp. A cat wandered by and heard the chirping. He dug the little birdie out and ate him. A couple points come out from this story:

  • Not everyone who poops on you is your enemy.
  • Not everyone who digs you out is your friend.
  • When you find yourself covered in poop, its best you keep your mouth shut.

David Erickson posed the question so eloquently in his Preaching and Teaching Sermon in 2007 when he asked: “What do you do when you find yourself in the midst of the uncomfortable?”

When we find ourselves knee deep in manure, the only thing to do is cultivate! Keep working the land; keep turning over dirt; and develop the perseverance that Paul talked about. In the midst of cancer, death, divorce, and denial, use it as fertilizer for the life that will come. Cultivation uses manure and poo to bring new life and new growth.

In the moment poo stinks, is unsanitary, and worthless. But when applied to a field, a plant, or a garden, manure is transferred and changed into something that gives life, gives sustenance and nutrition. Our sufferings and doubts can lead to the same place.

Bloody Door Frames

Pedigree’s are what the Ag industry runs on. If you ever want to burn an hour, ask a horse person about their futurity prospect. They will tell you what breeding their 2-year old has on top and bottom, what discipline their bred for, and how they expect them to perform. But what if breeding didn’t matter?

Regionally ties run deep in the cowboy world. The way things are done in Montana is quite different from the cowboys of the Southeast. We here in the Flint Hills have our own traditions, working cows, grazing patterns, and ways of fencing. But what if region didn’t matter?

These were the questions that God answered as he performed a difinitive act of judgement upon the gods of Egypt. Up to this point the plagues effected regions and peoples. God would differentiate the land of Goshen, home of the Hebrews, from the land of Egypt, home of the Egyptians. His plague would strike the land surrounding the Nile but be held back around the land of the Delta (Goshen). They effected some people and not others, based solely upon their lineage. Those that could trace their heritage back to Joseph were spared and those who couldn’t suffered.

But not the final one…

God gave his final plague instruction to Moses without deference to lineage or acreage.

On that same night I will pass through Egpt and strike down every firstborn–both men and animals–and I will bring judgement on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I wil pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strke Egypt.”

In other plagues it was “I will spare the land of Goshen” or “I will not strike the Hebrews”; but here it is “when I see the blood”. Those that will be spared will have the blood on their doorposts.

Instead it was:

At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.

No blood…no salvation. The Lord didn’t pick and choose, didn’t show the hebrews any favor or the land of Goshen. It was blood and blood alone that protected the inhabitants. After reading the beginning of Exodus, the Hebrews weren’t exactly taking God at his word. The Israelites complained to Moses: “May the Lord look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” (Ex.5.23) Translation: “Moses, this salvation thing isn’t working out!” I would hope that they would do better listening to these final plague instructions…but part of me wonders if there were some that didn’t. Could the Lord have taken Hebrew life that night? Deep down, it is likely that some Israelites didn’t believe that God would really kill their firstborn.

I wonder how many Isrealites marched through the Reed Sea down a family member? How many rejoiced in their deliverance but mourned for their disobedience?

Paul tackled the same question in Philippians 3:

“If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eight day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ…” (Phil 3.7ff)

Paul had every reason for his confidence…the right people, the right father, the right status, but it was Jesus and his work on the cross that gave him life. It is far to often that we place our trust in our attendance, in our proximity to other’s faith, or our works to bring about salvation. Without bloody door posts, however, we have no hope! Without the blood of Christ covering our lives, there is no Passover, no do-over, no life.

Rodeo Tales and God Stories: What Christians can learn from Rough Stock Riders

judd pope autograph card
Judd “the Stud” Pope in Action

Rough Stock riders have the best stories. One of my favorite activities at youth rodeos is to watch the roughies interact and go about their business.  Whether a kid rides bulls, sheep, steers, or calves, they all have the same walk: “the bullriders limp”.  When asked, they will assuredly be able to give you an account of the size, type, and temperament of the animal and how they came to acquire their limp.  Young bullfighters are the same way.  Daniel and I’s help at the youth rodeos, Judd “the Stud” Pope, age 7, is always beat up from some hooky calf or temperamental steer.  He is usually nursing some kind of injury that always has as story behind it.  Ropers are the same way when they talk about their horses.  Every roper has a story about them and their horse, an injury that their horse has overcome, or a quick run made possible by the horsepower they ride.  That being said, older rodeo contestants aren’t any better.  We all have stories about rides, runs, animals, and traveling partners.  My favorite stories to tell, be it injuries, travels, or accomplishments, seem to have rodeo as a backdrop.  Rodeo People are proud of their stories…and more Christians should be!  Stories are deeply personal and intimate.  Stories communicate our character, reveal our passions, and express our emotions.  When someone tells you their story, you know what makes them tick.  The men of Scripture knew this.

The Bible begins with 10 toldoth’s (heb. “this is the account of ________”) in the book of Genesis.  These “accounts” are the stories of what brought Israel into Egypt, a story that Moses was very familiar with telling.  David, when trying to persuade Saul to let him fight Goliath, doesn’t offer him an itemized list of his strengths, but tells Saul his story: “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep.  When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth.  When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it…The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Sam 17.34-35, 37)  Paul, when on trial, summons his chief witness of God’s power, himself, and tells his story before King Agrippa (Acts 26) and an angry crowd (Acts 22).  Scattered throughout his Epistles, Paul inserts his story into key places to connect with his audience, to spread the gospel, and to illustrate his teaching. In 2 Corinthians he discusses his struggles (2 Cor. 11.16-12.10) and Galatians its his receiving of the gospel (Gal. 1.11-24).  In Ephesians 3 he argues for the grace and message given him (Eph 3) in the same way he criticizes confidence in the flesh in Philippians 3.4-10.  With the Thessalonians he makes it clear that he set an “example” for them, a “model” for them to follow. (1 Thes. 1.5;2.9; 2 Thes. 3.7-9).  And with Timothy he doesn’t even need to tell the story, because like all good wingmen, Timothy was with him for much of them. (2 Tim 1.13; 2.2; 3.10-11)  Paul’s story gives guidance to his message, background to his teaching, and insight to his words.  But there is one thing it cant do.

The stories of others can inspire us to action (think of the last scene of Braveheart and William Wallace’s effect on Robert DeBruce) but it doesn’t usually change the way we view ourselves.  When Paul wants Timothy to remain strong, to act, and to stay the course, Paul reminds him not of his story, but of Timothy’s.  In 2 Timothy 1, Paul brings up Timothy’s story.  “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded now lives in you also.  For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” (2 Tim. 1.5-6)  Timothy “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures…” (2 Tim. 3.14-15)

Our stories have the ability to bring people closer to God, to challenge them to follow Christ closer, and to give hope to those struggling.  Our stories bring color to the message we live out and preach, amplification to God’s interaction with man, and testimony to a life lived with God.  Our story is a powerful tool that God can use…but only if we know it, if we own it.  I challenge you to put it into words.  Attached to this post is a handout on how to effectively articulate God’s work in our lives.  Take some time this week, as a devotional exercise, to put your story onto paper.  Someone might need your story (God’s story in your life) this week!

Testimony Tips: Testimony Tips–How to write your testimony