The War Within

We all long to be the we, we are supposed to be, why is it so hard?dr-seuss-quotes

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. Gal 5:16,17

In the church when we refer to the enemy, we all know who we are talking about. In fact I prefer to call the devil the enemy, mostly so I don’t have to say his name. He is indeed the enemy of our souls.

But there is another enemy of our souls, one that may be even more difficult to deal with and subjugate to the Spirit’s will and power.  An enemy that can be manipulated and emboldened to fight against us by the devil but one which can also fight against us— and will— with no outside influence whatsoever.  This is an enemy which lives with us, sleeps with us, is with us no matter where we go or how weary of its influence we may grow.  And no, I am not talking about your husband or wife.  I am talking about your own flesh.

As the old saying goes; “Wherever you go, there you are.” We can’t escape ourselves so we need to learn to live with ourselves.  The good news is, God made you just the way he wanted you to be so we just need to be the we, we are supposed to be.

Many of you don’t necessarily want to be you. I get that, because of this constant war with our own flesh the you, you see is often the you, you hope no one else sees. This is starting to sound like a Dr. Seuss book I know— but you’re getting it aren’t you.

Our own flesh, the very core of who we are, or at least who we are apart from the influence of the Holy Spirit, is our worst enemy and the only way to bring it into line, to make it an ally instead of a stumbling block is to be led by the Spirit, that’s Spirit with a capital S, the Holy Spirit, which is now one with us as we are reborn, our dead spirits reborn by his.

If we are indeed being led by the Spirit, listening to, trusting and obeying the Spirit, the Spirit’s desires will become our desires and the flesh will have less and less influence on us.  The flesh, our own selfish—it’s all about me, how can I be fulfilled,  how can I be comfortable, how can I be in control”— flesh, is at war with our souls.

Because the way it attempts to acquire the things it thinks it needs, usually ends up hurting us in the long run and prevents us from fulfilling our purpose.

God created you with—and for— a purpose, and it is only the Spirit that can lead you into the fulfillment of that purpose and that can bring the flesh into line with the will of God in our lives, so that we can be whole, body, mind and spirit. 

I used mind in place of soul there to avoid confusion with spirit, the soul is the part of us that is our consciousness, what we consider to be our minds but that consciousness goes on whether it is housed in these bodies or not, it is eternal and in the end will either be with the Lord, which is life, or apart from God, which is death—hell.  We must be complete in all three—body, soul and spirit—to have life, and we must strike the right balance between them to truly accomplish our purpose.  That is what the war against our souls is all about.

It is that eternal destiny and realizing our purpose from God in this life, wholeness, which is our true joy and fulfillment.

That wholeness that can only come from walking in and with the Spirit, with the Lord, is not something we conjure up on our own it is something the Lord offers, something that we have to grab on to and hold on to tightly.  It is indeed another aspect of the spiritual warfare we are engaged in. And like all aspects of that warfare the battle belongs to the Lord, we have to acknowledge the enemy, in this case, the sinful nature within us, and then look to the Lord for the victory just like we do in our battle with the powers of darkness.  Those two enemies play off each other, the flesh and the devil, and both must be resisted.

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.” 1 Peter 2:6

Believers in Christ, living under the new covenant of grace  are no longer condemned by the flesh. Now the struggle is remembering that, and learning to tap into the power of that grace in order to win the war our flesh still wages against us— the war within. If we understand that Jesus won that war for us and that we just need to learn to claim—and walk in— the victory, the battles will be a lot less intense and more and more infrequent.

 

No Shame

As Believers the only weapon the enemy has left against us is shame, shame brought on by the lies that we are losing the war— well, we don’t have to win the war, it’s already won! That knowledge alone will make the battles winnable.

 

You are loved, you are free, you can be victorious!

 

 

 

Am I Crazy?

Cool fool-holding-an-open-book-with-dust-coming-out_rQZ9GJfg0.jpg

In my late teens and early twenties I was the life of the party, It was my house that everyone wanted to come to for a good time. I had the best and biggest parties, the best weed and the beer and liquor flowed freely. I was cool and I loved it. But the feeling of “Look at me, I’m somebody” turned out to be hollow and fleeting.

Everyone wanted to hang around and party with the Bird Man, (a nickname that evolved from the Swan in my last name) but I got tired of always being hungover and tired. I got fed up with people who smiled in my face but ripped me off when I wasn’t looking. Being able to do what I wanted when I wanted wasn’t as fun as it used to be. I could never get high enough, I could never be drunk long enough, the camaraderie and friendship I longed for with my friends became more and more elusive and shallow.

I remember handing out Acid (LSD) to my friends at parties at my house saying, “Let’s go to the moon together”—yeah, that’s the kind of person I was before Jesus—my hope was that we would get really high together and find some new level of camaraderie, of revelry together. I was desperate to recreate the euphoric feelings of the first time I had dropped acid with my friends, or the first few times I had gotten stoned with my buddies and we just laughed and laughed or the first times I had gotten drunk and felt closer to my drunken companions then I had ever felt with anyone.

But those feelings would never come back, they were a lie from the pit of hell designed to keep you coming back, closer and closer to your own destruction and the people surrounding me were getting scarier and scarier also. Being wasted became a lonely and scary place but I couldn’t stop. On more than one occasion I would wake up in the morning to find that the very people who had been partying in my house when I passed out had helped themselves to my stuff.

After several years of living for the party—I had slowed down on the hard stuff but still smoked and drank myself into oblivion regularly— I started to realize that I was missing something very important, I was missing the only fellowship that really matters, the only one that somehow I knew could fulfill my desperate need for acceptance and dispel the loneliness, I didn’t know how to do that but I knew I needed to.

So one night, in desperation, I opened my long neglected Bible and started reading, And I had my own blinding light experience with the resurrected Lord. It’s as simple as that, but it changed my life forever. I am ashamed to talk about the person I used to be, at the time I was ashamed of the person I was, but I was blinded to the truth and when I finally admitted it, Jesus showed up.

I couldn’t stand it anymore and I cried out to Jesus and he showed up in my living room, grabbed my heart and made me a new person in an instant leaving me to say “wow, I don’t know exactly what just happened but I like it and I don’t ever want to go back to the way it used to be.” It wasn’t religion, it wasn’t willpower or positive thinking, it was a surrender and an acknowledgement to a God who is very real, very alive and very active today.

Jesus wasn’t ashamed of me, he was desperate to bring me back into his arms, and he did.

I then spent the next year telling all my friends and everyone else who would listen what had happened and they all thought I was crazy. Funny thing is, this was exactly why I hadn’t done this sooner. I knew all along that I needed to get right with the Lord, that the way I was living wasn’t right, that it was sinful, selfish and harmful. But I was cool, for the first time ever, the kid that hardly had any friends at school, who was terminally shy— I was popular and I wanted to stay that way.

I knew if I gave my life over to Jesus that I would no longer be cool. But it wasn’t worth my soul.

And in that night of miracles when the Lord came crashing into my life in a very real and powerful way by his Spirit and through his word one of the things he showed me that helped set me free was the words of Psalm 118

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
the Lord answered me and set me free.
With the Lord on my side I do not fear.
What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side to help me PS 118

What can man do to me. Why was I worried about what others thought, why did I fear being called weird or losing the false friendship of those who didn’t even know the real me? If living in the freedom that Jesus was offering, if living a life that made me seem weird to the rest of the world would bring me into the glorious plan that Jesus had for my life, would invite his blessings of peace, fulfillment and bring an end to my despair—then let me be a fool for Jesus, yes Lord, I’m ready to be crazy.

Now that I’m crazy it turns out that being crazy is a whole lot more fulfilling, a whole lot less painful and frustrating then being cool. And again, it still isn’t religion, it still isn’t willpower or programs designed to help me earn my righteousness and keep my standing in the eyes of the church— it’s all Jesus.

Even the Apostle Paul was accused by the Religious and the powerful of being crazy, and he would die for it.

I am not insane, most excellent Festus,”… “What I am saying is true and reasonable. Acts 26:25

Not Crazy

Even though the world may think so. And we may even wonder sometimes— we are really not crazy, we just know the truth and unless you see and accept the truth with your spiritual eyes opened by the power of Jesus Christ, the same power that raised him from the dead and brings life to his word, you will never understand it and it will seem to be insanity.

The world will think us mad as our thinking, our perception is turned on its head as our hearts are healed and our minds transformed. We now know truth and all they see are well rehearsed lies. So yes, we will seem crazy, but we must stand firm.

It takes courage to stand firm on the promises, to continue in the truth, to keep talking about our radical crazy sounding Damascus road experiences, but it is vital, for your own soul and for the souls of those who are still in the dark.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 1 Cor 1:25

 

 

The Stories We Can’t Tell -part 2

Here’s a story I can tell-walking-in-the-light

The Orange Cart of Doom

Though I have been in Montana most of my life now I actually started in Minnesota, a great place to grow up in the 70’s.  When I was 12 or 13 we were living in a small town called Anoka just a couple of blocks from a huge golf course. You would be surprised how much fun you can have on a golf course after hours— at least until you get caught.

Back in the 70’s before everyone was afraid to let their kids play outside and there were kids everywhere because it was the baby boomer generation, we spent all of our summer days outside, my curfew was the street light, when they came on it was time to come in.

One of the things we liked to do was have sprinkler fights on the golf course. On a hot and humid Minnesota summer day this was just the ticket. In the late afternoons they would start watering the fairways. They had these huge high pressure sprinklers that stood up a foot or so of the ground and went around and round. So a bunch of us would ride our bikes out onto the fairway, jump off and race for the sprinkler because the first person  to reach it could grab the sprinkler head and then turn it on everyone else, soaking them with the high pressure stream of water that could shoot a good fifty feet or more.

Then the game was on, the challenge was to get to the person who was controlling the sprinkler and tackle them so you could take control of the jet stream. This usually took several people rushing all at once so that at least one of you could get through without having water blasted in your face.

One day I was triumphantly controlling the sprinkler and daring all my buddies,—all lined up facing me at a safe distance getting ready to make their move— when suddenly they all ran for their bikes and took off leaving me standing there alone with the sprinkler in my hand. It didn’t take me long to figure out what this meant; the dreaded orange cart was coming. The grounds keepers at the golf course all drove orange golf carts and just loved to chase us off the course, usually it was when we were wading in the ponds looking for golf balls to sell back to the golfers. So far, they had never caught us.

Of course being the one at the sprinkler I was the farthest from my bike but I ran for all I was worth, jumped on my really cool 5 speed bike with the custom curved handle bars, a big banana seat, an extra tall sissy bar, a racing slick rear tire, and a multicolored metallic paint job— and peddled as fast as I could. I made it to the edge of the golf course and on to the street thinking; ‘whew, beat them again!”

The orange carts never left the grass and went on to the city streets— till today. Much to my shock and dismay he didn’t even slow down, he jumped that curb and hit that city street like Beau Duke in the General Lee. The adrenaline kicked in in me and I went through them 5 speeds like a mad man. I got not even a full block when he was suddenly beside me crowding me over to the curb screaming at me to stop.

I knew I was done for, there was nowhere to go. So I hit the brakes fearing he was going to mow me down, jumped off the pedals and onto the ground holding the bike between my legs and trying to catch my breath. I didn’t know what was going to happen now, a beating with a garden rake, a week in golf course prison? He just sat there on his golf cart all red faced and yelling. “I’m sick and tired of you kids, I’m going to call the sheriff and you’re going to be in big trouble, don’t you ever let me see you in here again!”

As he was yelling at me it dawned on me that he really couldn’t do anything— what could he do? I certainly wasn’t going to sit there and wait for him while he went all the way back to the clubhouse to call the sheriff. He couldn’t drag me back with him, that would be kidnapping and he apparently realized that beating a kid with a rake wouldn’t look good on the evening news.

So I just stood there and listened to him yell while trying to look thoroughly chastised, which wasn’t too difficult because I wasn’t enjoying this tirade— and what had happened to all my friends anyway?- they were nowhere in sight. I felt like the poor water buffalo that had been separated from the herd by the lions. ‘Thanks for the warning, thanks for sticking by me— it was just me and this madman— grounds keeper Willie. He had caught up with me, the dreaded orange golf cart of doom.

Thots

Now, here’s where this fits in, this story that I am able to tell; the Lord revealed to me what I believe happened, all those things that I was referring to last week, the painful memories and anguishes caused by the stories that I cannot tell you, the things that had been dogging me for years, things I had been trying to keep behind me, that I thought I could outrun or that weren’t really a threat to me, as long as I kept on my toes and stayed diligent, They had caught up with me. All these things had piled on to a golf cart at the same time, jumped the curb and caught right up to me.

So, more plainly, here’s what I think happened— why I fell apart. In those weeks of dwelling on the issue of sexual abuse so that I could bring messages of healing from the word, and from the Lord, I had stopped running from the pain for a bit, I allowed the pain that I had been keeping on the horizon to catch up with me.

Spending a season of time in concerted ministry and focus on this issue had allowed all the pain and emotion, all the yuck and sorrow of knowing what too many people I know and love with all my heart, both in my family and in my church family, had been through—it had become overwhelming— it caught up with me, demanded I stop running and then threatened to destroy me, I knew it couldn’t but nonetheless, I suddenly felt all alone and abandoned; ‘Why wasn’t I warned, where did they all go, am I, of all the church leaders and pastors out there, the only one facing this evil?’

The orange cart of pain and despair had caught me, but, just as quickly, in that moment when the terror had caught up, I was delivered. I wasn’t alone, far from it, Jesus was here, is here, with me, and with you who have followed this series. I know now that the Lord wasn’t just using me to minister to you, he was also ministering to me. I wasn’t just carrying the burden of others, I was also carrying my own.

In that moment when the enemy was yelling at me; “I’m going to destroy you, you are in big trouble!” The Lord was taking my burdens, things that I can’t carry alone, things that I have carried for years and things that have been added just recently and said, “Here, let me handle this, let me take that—yes, you do have pain, it is your pain and it is real and I see it even if you don’t or won’t. Let me have it.

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me. …

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain. Ps 139:1, 6

We have a Lord who knows us, knows exactly what we need, exactly what we can handle and he shows up at just the right time in ways we can scarcely comprehend, at least not with our minds, but always with our hearts and all we know is that it was wonderful.

We all have stories we can’t tell, things that we have tucked away that maybe only one or two others know about because they went through them with you or because you had to tell someone. I don’t know the answer for you, how you get to a point where the Lord can heal you and free you from them, honestly, I am not even sure that I was completely redeemed from the hurts, but I do know that having my eyes opened to the truth that they were there and that the Lord not just knew, but cared enough to help me to see— that means everything to me, and that alone may be healing enough.

 

The Stories We Can’t Tell

 

…anyone who has had someone you love get hurt—you are a victim also.

“You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar. …
Dreamscapes #8Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.”  Psalm 139:1-2,6

There has been something that has been on my mind a lot lately, something that happened in my spirit though it took me a while to realize and began to understand what it was, and the reason it happened was purely the grace of God. And, I believe, a result of just doing my best to be obedient and do what I believed the Holy Spirit was leading me to do; ministering to you, tackling things that I wasn’t really comfortable tackling— as I talked about some last week.

You ever have God do something in you, you know it was really good but you’re not exactly sure what it was or why it was significant— and harder yet—trying to put it into words? For me it kind of boiled down to this:

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.


These words have been in my heart lately and that’s why I started with this psalm. As I write this I am still struggling with trying to understand what happened and the significance, so, as I have said so many times before to my church, when the Lord is trying to teach me something that is often what I teach on— because then I know it has to come from the Lord and that’s it’s fresh, even if it’s only half baked.

As you may know; I love to tell stories and I love to write. Stories help me to get my point across in a way that people remember and even enjoy, while writing helps me to sort things out in my own mind, it’s therapeutic. Writing and telling the stories of my life helps me to bring order to my life, helps me to deal with things that may have bothered me and— like I have told you in the last few weeks— telling our stories helps us to redeem our past.

It’s taking something that haunts us, that was meant to harm us and turning it into a weapon for good; that story becomes our testimony; the Gospel of Jesus Christ come crashing into our lives, the Holy Spirit eclipsing the flesh, the good chasing away the evil, the Kingdom of God overshadowing the power the evil of this world once held over us— that’s the redemption of our stories, that’s the God of eternity, the God of history becoming the God of our present, and altering our future regardless of our past.

That’s why we can say as in Romans 8:28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Untold stories

But what about the stories that we can’t tell?

A few weeks ago in the church I pastor, at the end of what was the culmination of my series on overcoming the hurts and pains of the past, breaking away from the dead who would drag us back and keep us bound up in fear, doubt, condemnation and guilt—much of it aimed at overcoming the pain of past sexual abuses— I had, like I said, something happen in my Spirit that I didn’t recognize at first, at least not for what it was.

I got done preaching the message “See Her” About the woman that people had labeled as a sinful woman, yet Jesus had seen beyond that hard and false exterior that had been forced upon her and saw the person deep inside that she wanted to be, saw the healing that needed to take place and ministered to it, forgiving her and setting her free.

Jesus had ‘searched her heart and he knew her’— just as the psalm says—and loved her into wholeness. I finished the message and turned things over to the worship team as I normally do and took my seat to join in the worship and, in the midst of the worship, I was overcome with emotion and just started to weep, and I wasn’t sure why. I knew something was happening in my heart, that the Lord was doing something, I wasn’t sure what, but it felt like the Spirit was just washing over me and taking care of something.

Next thing I knew worship was over and the worship leader is looking at me like; ‘okay, your turn.’ So I went up with tears still streaming down my face, normally at this point I give one last thought and then close in prayer; I looked at the faces looking back at me and all I could do was say— let’s just pray—close my eyes and bowed my head. I have no recollection of what I prayed but I think the Lord was in it.

Afterwards I was totally wiped. I thought, okay Lord, this has been a very emotional morning, this last few weeks has been very emotional for a lot of us as, things have been being acknowledged and ministered to that have been swept under the rug for far too long, so yeah, it’s going to be draining as you allow the Lord to use you to bless people. But I quickly realized that this went way beyond that.

The reason I was feeling the way I felt, the reason I had lost it at the end of that series and why I felt so totally emptied—drained— yet freshly empowered to begin a new thing at the same time; was because the Lord had healed me as well, he had ministered to my heart as well; the minster was being ministered to.

The reason I didn’t recognize it was because I was redeeming the stories I can’t tell.  And I didn’t recognize that this was possible.

You see, the amazing thing about our God? He knows us better than we know ourselves and if we trust him, if we follow him into even what seems to be the scary places— ‘the last thing I want to do, the last thing I want to face’ -places— we find redemption and grace.

I had told my church that I didn’t have the stories of sexual abuse so whatever ministry was to be born of this was going to have to be theirs. I never considered myself a victim of sexual abuse but the Lord knew better. The Lord revealed to me that I was a victim, not directly, but I, like so many, was also a victim— anyone who has had someone you love get hurt—you are a victim also.

You think you are carrying someone else’s pain you think you are feeling someone else’s hurt, you pray for them, you protect them and you wish that you could have done something to have prevented it, and you hate yourself for not being able to prevent it, you just wish you could make it go away—but you don’t recognize what it is doing to your own heart.

When you get the worst news you can possibly get as a parent—twice— and when you learn that your childhood home was far more dysfunctional than you ever imagined and that things were not as safe for all your siblings as you thought they were, when you love people like they are your family and know the secret pain they carry from things that are taunting them from their pasts—when you carry these things but you cannot share them, you cannot tell the stories because they are not your stories and above all you must protect those you love, those are the things that eat you up; the hurt is yours as well.

So, what I learned is, those are the things the Lord knows about and wants to heal as well. Those are the things the Lord cares about. In my obedience to minister to and tackle an issue that nobody wants to talk about, that I certainly didn’t want to talk about, I was ministered to as well, by the Holy Spirit himself.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.  —Romans 8

The Lord searched my heart, and really, I am just left standing in awe of our God.

“Lord you searched me and you know me… Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain!”  I do not know how to pray as I ought, I do not know what all the enemy has planted in my heart, I do not know  why I have such grief, why I have such fears, why does this bother me, why can I not express my frustrations, what is it that eats away at me like a cancer and I can’t explain it let alone counter it —but Lord, you know, you understand, you know exactly what is in my heart, you know exactly what I need— Holy Spirit intercede for me and the very will of God will be done.

And his will is that his children are whole and that they have a “peace that passes all understanding”.

 

 

Knowing Nothing

cross-and-light

I do not come with eloquence or human wisdom.

This last season has been especially trying for me, very emotional and draining to be honest with you, yet I feel more blessed and awed at the power of God than I perhaps ever have. I see the Lord doing incredible things in the lives of people in our church and even for those who have never even been in these doors, yet have found us on line thru the website, my blog, Facebook, my books— and I feel a little overwhelmed; “Lord, how can I handle this? How can I maintain this? How can I keep bringing it?” Those are the questions that bombard me when I let my guard down and I have to remind myself of this simple truth; I can’t.

Not in my own strength I can’t, not by my own wisdom I can’t, not by myself I can’t. But why am I even in this place, this place of exhausted awe, intermixed with a driving passion to keep going? How am I able to touch lives in ways that bring healing, that brings out things into the daylight that have been hidden away for so long that they have festered into a poison, tainting the very heart of a person, brings them out so that they can be cured. How are we, this little rag tag army in small town Montana able to thwart the plans of the enemy and set hearts and spirits free?

It’s Jesus, it’s all Jesus. One incredible season after another, this last one—I don’t know how to minister to victims of sexual abuse—no clue, yet in the last few weeks we have made tremendous strides in healing long hidden wounds. I have people who have been going to counselors for years, people who are writing books on this topic, telling me that they have been totally transformed and that even the way they look at the healing process has changed, and I say; “Lord, how is this possible?”

How is it possible that I, with no formal education in this, can possibly know what to say? How can I teach these people anything worth their effort to be here? How can I, a simple carpenter by trade, tackle such daunting issues? The gravity of it all can be overwhelming when I think about how much damage I could do if I did it wrong.

My flesh asks the questions but my spirit knows the answers, it’s because the cross is my PHD. In fact, most of the time I don’t even think it’s my words, it is the power behind the words, only the power of the Holy Spirit can touch and heal hearts, only Jesus can set people free, he just needs us to show up and let him move through us. I am just a messenger for another carpenter by trade— the Nazarene.

When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Cor 2:1,2

And I take great comfort in knowing that I am just one of the vessels of his love in our church. He moves through the preaching of his word but he also moves through the worship, through the way we welcome the stranger and continue to love one another, being honest and open about our problems and our struggles. He moves through us visiting, encouraging and praying for one another.

When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 1 Cor 14:26

Last week after service Cindy grabbed me—a lot of people were still here visiting as they always do long after service is done— and said; “Shelly would like us to pray for her because she is leaving for India this week to minister to the girls in the brothels of Mumbai”—“Oh, is that all?” —wow.

So, Cindy and I laid hands on her and started praying and soon I realized that it had gotten quiet in the room. I looked up and everyone who was still here, about 15 people, had gathered around, had their hands extended and were also praying.

I actually had to do a little refereeing to make sure everyone got a chance because so many people wanted to pray and give her words of encouragement. Now that’s a church that wants the Holy Spirit to show up, that’s a church that loves one another—that’s a functional family.

We don’t have to be experts, we don’t have to be professionals, and that’s my point. If we are all doing our part, being the church and not just going to church then we don’t need to depend on the experts, we are not burning out leaders by demanding that they fix us.

We must keep Jesus front and center and lean not on our own understanding—As the pastor I must understand, and remember, that all my wisdom comes from Jesus.

I don’t have to be an expert, I don’t have to be a polished professional speaker, I don’t have to spend my nights reading the latest phycology and theological treatises and methods, our worship team doesn’t have to have flashing lights, lasers and smoke machines, we don’t need trained and specially appointed prayer personnel hovering around on the fringes, but what we do have to have, what we absolutely need is Jesus, I, you, we, have to lean on Jesus.

And if it stops working, if lives are no longer being transformed, then I know it’s because it is being done in our own strength. If I preach the most eloquent sermon or people are delightfully entertained but go home unchanged—then it’s time to once again to remind myself that I know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified— because I don’t.

 

Warriors

 

shield-maidenThis world needs more shield maidens-

In this election cycle we have been hearing a lot about empowering women, particularly since we have a woman running for president. This need to empower women is one of many— “yeah, we need to fix that!”— issues that politicians use to divide us and whip people up into a righteous anger as motivation to hate the other side. And if you don’t agree with whatever social issue the loud voices in the media have decreed is currently out of hand and destroying the fabric of our society there you’re a backward, redneck hater— “so vote for me to prove that you’re not.”

Don’t get nervous, this is not a political messageI do however want to talk about empowering women, something Jesus and the Holy Spirit had done thousands of years ago and continues to do. It is we that are slow to recognize this, especially when it comes to politics. Personally I have no problem whatsoever with women serving in the highest offices—women have been successfully serving and functioning in the role of leaders for all of recorded history and into modern times, and we have indeed finally entrusted many women to serve as governors and senators but for some reason we in America have been slow to entrust a woman to be our president.

We ripped Sarah Palin to shreds 8 years ago, dumped Carly Fiorina a few months ago like a bad habit and are now convinced that Hillary was forced on us like the Castor oil our parents were forced to swallow as children.

We forget about Catherine the Great, Cleopatra of Egypt, Visina, Heid and Vebjorg, shield maidensleaders of Viking armies, Debra, the Judge of Israel, Boadicea- warrior Queen of the ancient Britons, Joan of Arc who led French armies and died a Martyr for saying she was led by God, Amy Semple McPherson, the Founder of the Foursquare Church of which I am a part.

But this is not about politics, this is about the church. Societies traditional attitude about women has largely come from the church.

We can take a few scriptures, like we can on any issue, and use them to relegate women to little more than servants. But we need to look at the whole of Scripture, to look at what Jesus did and taught about women and look at what God has done in his church through and with women. Because I’ll tell you what, if we are not entrusting, equipping and empowering women to be leaders in the church, we are severely limiting the potential of the Kingdom’s work being done on this earth.

And, subjugating women in the church, using scripture to knock women down a peg or two below men, has allowed and enabled men to abuse women, using God to justify very ungodly behavior against women.

Warriors

We don’t need to empower woman— God does that, we just need to get out of the way and let them go, to let them follow where Jesus leads with the gifts and the passions he has given them. Having raised daughters, I have no doubt that they are capable of great things, both in this world and for the Kingdom of God and I raised them to believe that. I did not raise any doormats, I raised warriors for the Kingdom—son in laws beware.

 I see the gifts and talents the Lord has given them—all 4 of them different—and though they are flavored by the fact that they are women and have estrogen rather than testosterone, their gifts are no different than those a man would have. There are not separate lists of Spiritual gifts for men and women.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 1 Cor 12:4

God activates them all in everyone.

Jesus empowered women. The Holy Spirit empowered women, his Spirit was poured out on all flesh— There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female (Gal 3)

Who was the very first person to see Jesus after his resurrection? It wasn’t a coincidence; she didn’t just show up before Jesus had a chance to get out of there and go to the men who were hiding away.

He waited for her in the garden near his tomb, made sure she knew exactly who he was and that he was alive and then told her to go; “Go and tell Peter and the others that I have risen.”Who was the first person to go share the gospel, to share it with the apostles no less? It was Mary Magdalene— a woman— the first warrior for the Kingdom of God.

Jesus never subjugated her, Jesus never limited her, Jesus never disrespected her— nor any other woman. A subjugated woman is a disrespected woman, a powerless woman and the one subjugating her is not acting in love, he is acting in selfishness and pride and is one step away from crushing her spirit and just another step from hurting her physically as well. Why do men hit women? To keep them in their place.

That’s when the barbarian influence on the religious civilized mindset that men are superior to women comes into play and you need to break out the shield maiden that God put into your DNA. Don’t let the maiden part fool you, the shield maidens of the Norse sagas were anything but—they led armies of giant hairy men who gladly followed them into battle, and they won.

All I’m saying is; don’t cow-tow to overbearing and spiteful men and don’t limit your calling because you are a woman, heed the Spirit, follow Jesus. You are loved and you deserve love.

Women don’t get much press in the gospels, other than Luke, but Jesus had many women disciples.

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. Luke 8

…and many others. Men, if you are holding your wives and daughters back from following the Lord then you are not being the Spiritual head the Lord has called you to be. Your job is to lead by example, to encourage and bless your charges, to protect and provide—never to hinder or humiliate them.

Bottom Line; This world needs more shield maidens leading God’s armies. Get up, get out —and conquer!

(Art by Raph Lomotan)

 

See Her

woman-with-tear

 

There is an amazing and even startling story in the gospel of Luke (chapter 7:36-50) about a “Sinful Woman” most likely even a prostitute, who crashes a dinner party. She is desperate to find and somehow thank the man who had made her feel human again for the first time in as long as she could remember, the carpenter from Nazareth who was passing through her town.

She brings along her only possession worth anything, a bottle of perfume she had saved up  her illicitly earned money for, but when she arrives she doesn’t know what to do. Everyone is staring and whispering, she doesn’t care, here he is, she starts to sob. Her tears are falling on his feet as he reclines at the table so she does the unthinkable, she gets down and wipes his grimy feet with her own hair and kisses them. —Scandalous.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Everyone is embarrassed and offended, but not Jesus, and not the woman.

There is something very powerful going on here as she finds herself on the floor intimately washing his feet with her own tears and she now knows what she can do with the perfume, it wasn’t silly after all to lug this bottle along, and suddenly feeling overwhelmed with the love that had compelled her to bring this gift to Jesus, even at the risk of humiliation, she completes the spontaneous act of love by doing something she had never imagined doing for anyone, she willingly kisses his feet.

He has not pulled away in repulsion and she does not want this moment to end, she feels a love welling up in her breast that she has never experienced before. So she lingers face down at his feet, still too ashamed to look him in the eye yet too overwhelmed by her feeling of love to care what anyone else thinks.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?

Jesus turned and looked at the woman, Jesus saw her, he had no doubt seen her before and that is why she was now here. He had seen her as the person she knew in her heart that she was, the person she wanted to be, and that had empowered her to become that person. His seeing her had set her free.

And that is why this scenario playing out before them now is not scandalous at all to Jesus. Jesus is in no way being lecherous and allowing a woman to embarrass him along with all the self-righteous sensibilities of everyone there. Jesus Is not bound by cultural biases, Jesus is not tainted by the perverted carnal lust of the flesh, he doesn’t see with the eyes of generations of fallen man who sexualizes everything possible about the opposite sex. He still sees the beauty and purity of what God had originally created to be beautiful and perfect.

Jesus was seeing this woman with his heart, his heart is pure therefore there is no lust involved. Remember the garden, what Genesis says about Adam and Eve? “they were naked and unashamed?” Man was not created full of selfish lust; we took that on ourselves later. As the perfect man, Jesus was seeing her with a heart of purity, and he could see her heart, she was beautiful, she was loving—she was a person. And now he is challenging Simon to do the same. “Simon, do you see this woman?” Stop looking at her with the eyes of your flesh, with the eyes of judgement and perverted perceptions, stop seeing her with disgust and thinly veiled lust—see her heart!

‘She is doing what she is doing out of love, she is doing what you failed to do because you failed to see who it is here before you, you failed to see me—she has not, and because of that, her many sins are forgiven, she has found peace.’

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

‘She sees me because I saw her.’ – Isn’t that what saving faith is, him knowing me, and I knowing him?

Grace

Jesus tells her: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Now this sends the religious in the room into a tizzy. “Who does he think he is and what has she done to deserve forgiveness!?”

Well, he is God, that’s who. And she has not done anything, really, she has not proved her loyalty, her obedience, she has not submitted or done any penance, she has not even confessed or spoken a word that we know of for that matter—yet she was forgiven, more than forgiven, saved. Because what she did do was show her love and gratitude in the most sincere and honest way she knew how.

She has given up on pretending long ago. We don’t know her story but it’s not hard to guess. It is likely that she was forced into this lifestyle, an adolescent girl who may have been assaulted and left soiled rendering her unfit for marriage in a culture who placed a young girl’s virginity at the top of the list for marriage criteria, as Jesus’ own mother found out. She may have been sold into prostitution by her own parents who valued money more than her. She may have been forced into the companionship business as an indentured servant or even outright slavery in this Roman province, in the Roman Empire if you were not a citizen proper, you were just as likely to be a slave.  She may have even stolen this perfume from her master, more holy irony.

Either way, she felt left with no other options, no one would ever see her again as anything other than a sinful woman. She was just an object to be used for selfish pleasure or to be scorned as beyond redemption and surely deserving of reproach—the more reproach the better—she doesn’t deserve anything more.

Then comes the teacher from Nazareth. He sees her, he sees the scared little girl that has long ago hidden behind the painted eyes and exotic dress of her trade. He sees beyond the mask of lewdness forced through a tincture of stubborn hardness and anger. He sees the pain and humility—he sees the tenderness that has looked desperately for an outlet, for a heart that would return the love she longed to set free—that cried at night when no one was around and she could no longer ignore it; ‘What have I done to deserve this? Why won’t anyone help me, why can’t anyone see the real me?’

“Simon—do you see this woman?”

No doubt this startled the woman, her first instinctual reaction would have been at this point; “No, don’t look at me, I can’t stand the way people look at me!” Jesus changed that.

Who is he asking you to see?