The Growing Cloud

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, Heb 12:1,2

cloudburst

As Christians we are a part of a much larger church, one that not only spans the world, but spans the centuries as well. We are we a part of something so much bigger than ourselves and our own little worlds.

That cloud has been added to immensely and quite dramatically in the two thousand plus years since Paul made his list as those who were called Christian lived and died as believers of Christ and did incredible things, literally shaping the world we live in by the hope that they had. So I want to spend the rest of our time here seeing the world through their eyes in past generations as those who went before us and carried on the hope, bore the light, that we might not perish in darkness.

Step into the past with me for a moment as those who are citizens of eternity.

2nd century

I am a citizen of Rome but I am an outlaw in my own country. Not because of any heinous crime I committed or tax I failed to pay. But because the Lord I follow, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, has been outlawed, as has Judaism,  as a threat to the emperor who fancies himself a god and because it threatens the revenues, the monies paid to the old Gods at their extravagant temples which draw people from far and wide to petition for favors.

I and my fellow Christians must meet to read the sacred writings of the Apostles and to worship our God in the catacombs beneath the streets where the dead have been buried for centuries. We celebrate life with the dead. I watched in horror as my brother, who was arrested for daring to speak about Jesus to a merchant who turned him in for a silver coin, was sewn into an Ox hide and fed to lions in the coliseum along with a dozen others followers of the way.

But the threat of death will not stop us and those who are martyred in the arena only serve as a witness to the power of God as they refused to deny Jesus right up to the end and even died with his name on their lips as they sang his praise. I am Christian.

9th century

I stand on the shores of the emerald Island and watch as the ship sails away carrying the brown robed ones who brought us what they called the word. They are returning back to the City of Rome to tell the one called Holy Father that there are now Christians in the untamed lands of the Celts that need churches and bishops. I don’t know what that is all about but I know I will miss them.

The other chieftains and I only listened to them, this time, because we saw in them a courage that could not be explained as they came knowing that the ones who had come before them wearing the brown robes had been cut down by the sword or enslaved, mocked as fools who talked of a strange nailed God. But they came anyway asking for nothing but to be heard. This time we listened.

Now, for the first time I feel like I have a reason to live other than just to survive another day without being struck down myself, either by this hard land, raiders or our petty and mischievous gods. I shared the stories of this one they called Jesus with my family and something happened that I cannot explain. I saw the life in their eyes shine forth as their entire countenance was changed from one of despair and worry to joy and peace. I am not sure how this far away unseen God touched the hearts of all of us here so far from his unseen throne, but he did.

All I know is, I look forward to what comes next and I no longer fear death, nor the dark winter nights. I am Christian.

20th century

I am standing ankle deep in the mud created by the melting snow of what they are calling the worst winter Germany has ever seen. I have driven a truckload full of troops across the Rhine and into the heart of the German mother land. Nearly every inch of the road was contested and if we weren’t being shot at we were stuck in the mud.

Now I am standing at the gate of hell looking at what can never be imagined even in the worst nightmares as I am overwhelmed by the stench of death. We heard the impossible rumors but now we see they were true. People, mere skeletons in filthy stripped clothes, looking back at us with sunken eyes. Eyes that scarcely belie a living being, yet are shining with expectation as they see in us a hope they had long ago given up on.

I am here because that is what a God fearing man does, he defends the defenseless and answers the call to defend what is right and just. This slaughter of the ones from whom our messiah came is surely motivated by an evil that cannot be imagined by a heart that Is not possessed by evil itself and it is a sight that, but by the grace of God, will haunt me forever.

But I am here and in spite of the stench and horrors within, we open the gates and go in, liberating this concentration camp from which their captors have just fled before us, and we touch these people whom the world has forgotten, and let them know, with our food and our medicine, that their God has heard them.

I am an American Soldier, I am Christian.

21st century

I kneel in the sand on the southern bank of the Mediterranean. I am in an orange jump suit and a man in a black mask shoves a video camera in my face and shouts, deny the Nazarene and you will live. I, like the men beside me, just look into the camera and calmly say that I am glad that I have the chance to die for Jesus, the Christ. A hand grabs my hair and I feel a sharp pain at my throat as a wet warmth spreads down my chest.

Before I even have a chance to realize that I am dying I suddenly see, that the sea is glistening like crystal and the waves sound like the voice of God speaking my name. I am then suddenly looking into the loving eyes of my Savior. I am free from my suffering, my brothers are there as well, no longer in blood stained orange, but clothed in robes of pure white. And there are tears of rejoicing. I am Christian.

Four of those stories are taken from my own blood family, all of them are about our collective spiritual family, those who have gone before us and continue to spur us on in that great cloud of witnesses, what Jesus calls the church. We are Christian, we are forever.

images

Carry on church.

12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.

1 Peter 1:12,13

 

Advertisements

I am Christian

I am not an adherent to, nor a member of a religion, I am a child of God and he calls me son.

Christian meme

A religion is a set of disciplines that are supposed to bring us closer to godliness by earning his favor. A relationship is becoming disciplined because we have his favor, and he walks with us and directs our steps, one step at a time, and helps us up when we stumble, because that’s what a Father does.

I Am Here

November 15th, 1978. I am 17 years old and sitting on a Greyhound bus looking out the window at the Montana winter landscape as I head west to the far away mountains near Anaconda. I am scared to death, leaving behind my family, my school, my dog, my childhood. I am headed to Job Corps to learn a trade and I will spend the next 18 months with two hundred other guys from all over the country and a handful of crotchety old guys who are trying to mold me into a productive member of society.

But on this bus trip I don’t have any idea what I am getting into, all I know is that I am going far from home to learn how to run heavy equipment in a place that will force me to figure out who I am real quickly as I am no longer the big brother to my two sisters and a son to my mother, I am now just ‘Swaningson from Billings’, a place most in the Anaconda Job Corps have never been.

I remember clearly the thought that consoled me and gave me courage as I watched the landscape fly by taking me farther and farther from home. I thought, ‘I am not alone, I have Jesus in my heart and I know he is watching over me.’ I knew that, but still I could not help but feel very alone.

I was a Christian. I had found Jesus, by reading about him in the Bible when I was 14. It just clicked one day as I was reading the through the gospels that Jesus was real, and somehow I just knew that I was going to heaven when I died. But though I knew that Jesus knew me, I didn’t really know him, I didn’t have a relationship with him, and certainly not with the Father. Then, a year or so after that November bus ride, lying in bed in the middle of a cold dark Montana night surrounded by a dorm room full of sleeping guys, I was having a meltdown. I had survived these last many months here in this place, establishing and discovering myself and I had the respect of my peers. I was now ‘Swany’; I was doing well in the welding and Heavy Equipment programs and had set a record high score on my GED test— but I was melting down.

cry-mimi-yoon

I had never felt so alone, so anxious, so out of sorts and desperate, feelings I know now were a full frontal assault of the clinical depression I had inherited from my mother, at the time I didn’t know what it was, and it probably wouldn’t have mattered if I did, naming a feeling or a malady doesn’t make it go away.

So I laid there in bed on the cold dark winter night unable to sleep and desperately praying in my mind to the God whom just a few weeks earlier I had asked to baptize me with the Holy Spirit after I had heard about that in a bible study group I had latched on to, I wasn’t really sure what that was about but I had received a prayer language and that proved to me that God really was with me. But I still didn’t really know him.

So I prayed, no doubt in my new tongue as well, I was praying for something to change, something to give, I didn’t know what it was or what I needed but I knew I needed something and I needed it now or I was going to explode, just little pieces of me all over the walls that hemmed me in in this frozen wasteland.

Then I heard, in my mind, a voice, a gentle voice that sounded like my own thoughts but I knew didn’t come from me: “I am your Father, and I am here with you.” Let me tell you, at that point my life changed forever. I grew up mostly removed from my dad by divorce and distance, and I had always sought out the attention of any man who would give me any as I longed for a father, as any child does, especially a boy.

But not only did I realize at that moment that I had a father who was with me, at that very moment, he was God, and he cared enough about me to speak to me, and because he had baptized me with his Spirit, I was able to hear him. I don’t know how or why it works that way but it does and thank you Jesus for that.

At that point I no longer had a religion, I was not just a Christian, I was a son, I now had a relationship with the Father though his Son Jesus Christ facilitated by his Spirit. Now you can spend the rest of your life trying to understand all the theology behind that or you can just realize as I did at that instant in my darkest hour— I am not alone, I am truly not alone, nor will I ever be.

I do not have a religion, I have a relationship.

prayer

I slept the sleep of the righteous that night and woke up with a peace like I had never known. The Lord saved me from my own mind that night, overriding whatever had short circuited, tweaking whatever chemical imbalance or deceptions of the enemy were messing with me and gave me a peace that passes all understanding. Nothing changed in my circumstance, I was still stuck in this institution that was run like a cross between a prison and boot camp, but I was free and full of joy.

I wish I could say that I continued walking in the freedom and the joy he gave me that night for the rest of my life but I used my freedom to get ensnared by drugs and alcohol, eventually falling back into despair. But this time there was something different, all the time the Lord was talking to me, ‘come back, this is not the way to live, I have something so much better.’ I didn’t believe him, what could be better than partying and being the cool guy, he just wants to ruin my fun.

At 23 I found out, when I cried out again to my Father on another desperate winter night and he ran to me, embraced me, and set me free, this time asking me to not only know him, but to also trust him. I did and I do. I am far from perfect but I am never far from my God and he has never left me nor forsaken me.

I am Christian. I am home.

“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. Luke 15:20

 

The Battle Rages On

 

(Please do not read this— if you are bent towards being politically correct or are looking for reasons to be offended.)

“We cannot depend on the goodness of others to never want to do us or our loved ones harm.”

Angel-fantasy-

Last Sunday evening when I learned of the shooting in Texas of over 50 of our brothers and sisters shot while they gathered together to worship, 26 of them dying, I was, as I’m sure all of us were, saddened. It hit me especially hard, having three daughters of my own, when I read that the Pastor’s 14 year old daughter was killed. I soon heard that entire families were shot, pregnant women, little kids, unimaginable carnage, cold blooded, cowardly carnage.

I was horrified and shocked, but I can’t really say I was real surprised. Were you? I mean, just in the last couple weeks we had people being run down on a bike path in New York, a mass shooting killing 50 in Las Vegas and last Saturday we had a guy drive through the front door of Big Bear, a large Sporting goods store in Billings just down the road from me, to steal guns apparently just so he could shoot it out with police–the store was destroyed and so was he. Every week for the last few years it seems there is another attack somewhere with guns, knives, bombs, trucks, cars, anything people can think of—it’s like a contest to see who can kill the most people the fastest.

The world seems to be going crazy. Of course it’s no real mystery to us as we realize that the world is getting more and more divided along the lines of those who love the Lord and adhere to the moral standards set up by the word of God and those who oppose everything in it as shortsighted, bigoted and hateful.

The difference is becoming more stark as we as a people, get farther away from the commonality of a shared moral standard that we once agreed upon as a nation. Whether you really knew the God who set forth those standards or not, we kind of shared the values purported in the book. Our founding documents and guiding laws were based on the Ten Commandments, our judicial system was modeled after that of ancient Israel as were our social norms of caring for one another, defending and feeding those who could not fend for themselves.

The very declaration that established us as a free people and set us on the path that would deliver us from the Tyranny of an overbearing government who looked down on the common people, was predicated on the very premise that there is a creator—“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

The premise is that we are all equally loved and cherished by that creator and were given by him, not by any power on earth, “certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It took us many years and battles to live up to those inspired words, but they were the catalyst that kept challenging and pushing us to make it happen.

It seemed we had, or at least gotten real close. But now it is, seemingly on purpose, being undone, the fabric of our society is being ripped apart and in the last decade we have gone from arguing and accusing one another, to trying to outlaw one another, to just plain killing one another.

The enemy has for the moment lost some of his grip on the government so now he is stirring up hatred in the masses for one another and using those with a microphone to slander and lie, bearing false witness and just plain delighting in destroying people.

There is only one explanation for this madness—it is a spiritual struggle being played out in the hearts and minds of men. As the time of the day of the Lord draws nearer, as the Spirit of our God is poured out on more and more of his people, the spirit of the enemy is stirring the hearts of those he has deceived into a greater and greater frenzy to the point where rational thought is no longer possible and the voices in your head say— Kill!

I have been around for a while now and have heard it time and again over the years. When you get a glimpse into the mind of a killer—they often say “the voices in my head told me to do it.” Do not doubt that the enemy is behind this. The last couple of years have seen a marked increase in the number of church shootings, many of them barely make the news anymore. And in reality all the attacks of Islamic extremists are made against us because they perceive us as a Christian nation—they are in their minds, on a mission to destroy Christians.

We see that in the middle east. Islam—under the black banner of ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, one Islamic group or another—has been systematically torturing, enslaving and slaughtering Christians from Egypt to Syria and all points in between for years now while the world largely looks away. We just got a little taste of what they have been experiencing over and over again last weekend.

One advantage we have here? Because of the foresight of our founders who believed that all men were created equal, they ensured that we would be able to defend that premise against those who think themselves superior to us for whatever reason by giving us the right to bear arms. We can defend ourselves.

It always takes a good guy with a gun to stop one who is bent on killing. Last weekend it was a neighbor who had a rifle and the courage to use it, to put his own life in jeopardy by confronting and shooting it out with that gunmen in Texas, that finally stopped the slaughter.

We cannot depend on the goodness of others to never want to do us or our loved ones harm or to subjugate us, not so long as the enemy of our souls is alive and well. We pray and we trust the Lord for protection, and we know our souls are in his hands no matter the nature of a threat, and that is the one and only thing that will allow that Pastor to go on as he mourns the loss of his daughter, but we also have a responsibility to do our best to keep our loved ones safe from the evil that would seek to destroy the flesh.

Our faith is a gift and so is our innate desire to protect those we have been entrusted with.

36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. Luke 22

Just as we have used vaccines as a weapon to eradicate the threat of many diseases that once threatened to destroy untold millions, and have, we also have weapons to eradicate, or at least minimize the threat of those who seek to do us harm and we would be negligent to not use the tools we have to protect our loved ones.

If your child has or is threatened by the measles and there is a medicine that can save their life you will use it, if you are any kind of a loving parent, and I know if someone was pointing a gun at your child you would wish you had a gun in your hand and you would not hesitate to use it—that’s the nature of the barbarian who lies in the heart of us all—to defend those they love, don’t let anyone talk you out of that.

I am sorry we had to go there, but unfortunately that is the reality of the world we live in, at least as I see it.

We need to morn and grieve for the lost brothers and sisters, pray for their families, that their faith will be strengthened and not destroyed as the enemy desires, and that their hearts will be healed. And pray that it never happens again, and let it remind you to pray for the persecuted church everywhere.

Iraqi Christians, the few that are left, are just as much our brothers and sister as Texas Baptists are.

 

 

Prophesy

“It’s not a side show talent or something only special people–spiritual super stars–Spirit meme can do. 

29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 1 Cor 14:29—20

If we are living for and in the Spirit we do not need to conjure up a Holy Spirit official word moment, we need simply to allow the Lord to use our mouths to accomplish his purpose. Whenever I am talking to someone who is seeking help, advice or prayer I always listen to them with one ear attuned to the Spirit and an attitude of prayer.

Then when I do speak, pray or reply, chances are the words are from the Lord. We can all do that. If you have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, if you truly love or seek to love and encourage others in truth, the Lord can and a will use you to speak for him, sometimes without you even realizing it.

Sometimes we are afraid to speak, or speak for him, because we make it such a big thing, like somehow we have to conjure it up or we just assume we can’t, and then we get frustrated—’why can’t I prophecy, why don’t I know which verse to speak, why I am not worthy or spiritual enough to speak for the Lord!?’ Do you love Jesus? Do you love the person you are speaking to? Then yes you can speak words of wisdom and truth that come from the Lord— that is prophecy!

I have people tell me all the time about something I said to them while visiting or praying that I didn’t think was significant at all if I even remember it, but the Lord used the words to change something in their hearts. The Lord wants to encourage and bless us, all of us, why would he not use you to do it? You don’t need to be perfect, you just need to be willing.

Years ago, back in the 80’s, Donna and I went to a Full Gospel Businessmen’s  banquet. Donna’s dad used to invite us to the banquets and even pay our way, he was a big part of their ministry. Full Gospel Businessmen was a Pentecostal ministry started by Demos Shakarian that encouraged men to meet together on a regular basis to encourage and bless one another. There were many men in Billings that I still know that were greatly blessed by this group, many of them went on to become pastors—including myself I suppose.

They were Spirit filled and not afraid to let you know. If you were around them manifestations of the Spirit were expected and frequent. And If you went to a banquet, it was unashamedly Pentecostal.  

heart-fire

I remember one particular banquet quite well, Actually it might have been the first one I went to because Donna and I weren’t married yet, in fact we weren’t even dating. But apparently I had a secret crush on her. You’ll know why in a minute.

The speaker was an older gentleman who had the “gift of prophecy, or words of wisdom,” Honestly, I am not sure what the distinction is, both involve speaking things that originated from God for the purpose of revealing something important to someone that the Lord wants them to know. But anyway, after the really loud and spirited worship and the Chicken Cordon Blue the speaker gets up and just starts giving people messages from the Lord.

This was nothing new to me but I had never seen anyone just spend an hour going around telling people things about themselves that no one could know and encouraging them with good things that were going to happen. I spent the evening scared, not because I thought it was weird, I thought it was awesome and I really wanted to be able to do that. But I was scared because I was afraid he was going to look at me, point at Donna, and say “You are supposed to marry that girl.” Donna was sitting next to me but at that time she was just a sister of my friend Charlie whose Dad had paid for my ticket.

Well, in spite of my fears I wasn’t outed by the prophet and I got to court my future wife at my own pace.

But the reason I tell you that story is because of the first thing I said about that experience; I really wanted to be able to do that. Why? I have to admit that it might have been because I thought it would make me look really cool in a super spiritual way. And, looking back, I don’t remember being encouraged or anyone else being encouraged to share a word, it was all about the “Prophet.” I hate to say it, but it was kind of a Pentecostal side show.

I struggle with things like that, like the big name healers who fill stadiums and TV slots with their get’em healed shows. Get’em on the stage, slap’em on the forehead and tell them they are healed, book the next stadium and see you next time, by the way, we take PayPal and PushPay.

That’s great, I know the Lord is using these people to help but the thing is—we should all be able to do that We look at them as someone special or super spiritual, but they aren’t, they just have a powerful God and realized that they can be used by him. . When we look admiringly at people on a stage or a pedestal God no longer gets the glory and we feel diminished.

A word in time or a healing prayer is not just for Kingdom Super stars, it’s for all of us.

It’s not a side show talent or something only special people, spiritual super stars can do, it is something all of us who have given our hearts to Jesus and accepted the further gift of the baptism of the Spirit can and should be doing. It is one important way that Jesus blesses and encourages his church, by using us to speak into one another’s lives. Words guided by the wisdom gleaned from reading and knowing his word and words given specifically for the person you are talking to, to address a situation in the moment.

Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 1 Cor 14:26

Here is a word from the Lord, the one the Lord gave me as I was working on this message.

 “My church is a place to encourage, not to discourage, to bless and not to curse.”  HS

Christian dove
Christian dove with bright sun rays