Tell Your Story

(I think myself Happy II)

“…one day it dawned on me, that I was going to have to tell my three sweet innocent little daughters that their Daddy used to be a drug addict and did a lot of stupid things.

In Acts 26 Paul finds himself standing before a lot of people who want to hear his story. He’s supposed to be on his way to Rome, his new God given destination. But he’s, shall we say, being detained a bit. It’s not always where we are going that is important in the day, it’s what we are doing with today. Telling our story is also an important element in the journey. It reminds us of where we’ve been and why we want to keep moving forward.

I have no doubt that Paul was not proud of who he had been nor eager to share what he had done. Except that reminding himself and others of the kind of person he was gave stark contrast to the person he now is in Christ, and gives his testimony as to the redeeming power of God through his Son, credence. And reminds Paul of why he wants to keep following his Lord.

Our sins are forgiven, but if we forget—we will fall back into that snare that is our sin.

Paul was not a good person. But Paul knew, as we must, that the person who committed those sins, the person he was before Jesus, is now dead and gone, A new creation in Christ, it is no longer Christ who lives but Christ who lives in him—and in us who receive as well.

 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me Gal 2:20

It’s Hard

The old sinful person we were is dead, but the story lives on. We all have stories to share and share them we must with those who will hear. Because many of those who hear are still living that story and must know that there is a way out of their nightmares.

It can be hard. Many of our stories are embarrassing. I’m sure Paul didn’t revel in the fact that he was responsible for the death of many of the saints he was now counted among. No doubt he would like to have forgotten all that, put it all behind him, never talk about it or have to share the horrors of who he was with anyone again. Just pretend that he has always had it together, always live a righteous life and never hurt anyone.

I know I do. So why did Paul think himself happy to share the story? Because it proves the love of God for us sinners, and shows that no matter how bad or destructive you were to yourself or others, you can be forgiven and redeemed—even changed in an instant.

Yes, the stories can be hard to share, embarrassing and shameful. But we must remember that the person who once was is no more. And that story— keeps it that way.

I have such a story. A story of night and day, drunken, stoned,—do whatever feels good and I can get away with—Dan on one side, and ‘Holy Smokes Jesus is real, he loves me and he’s right here!’ on the other side.

And I set out from there, from my Damascus road experience, to share my story with everyone I could. Because I wanted everyone to experience the freedom I was. How could anyone not want to know this Jesus that showed up in my living room and set me free from a life of drug addictions and anxieties?

So I told my story to all my friends, in the Jails, at youth detention centers, and at churches. I saw many, many people find hope and give their hearts to Jesus as a result.

Stupid things

Then one day it dawned on me, that I was going to have to tell my three sweet innocent little daughters that their Daddy used to be a drug addict and did a lot of stupid things.

It was shortly after we had helped start Hope Center on the south side of Billings and I was getting more and more involved in ministering to those struggling with addictions. My daughters were getting to the point where sooner rather than later they were going to hear my testimony, I could no longer keep that part of my ministry away from them.

One of the hardest days of my life was when I had to explain to my girls that I was once dumb enough, and weak enough, to have used drugs. And those were the words I used. I explained to them that yes, I had done these things but I no longer did, nor did I want to, because Jesus had set me free and the person who once did those things is no more. So long as I keep choosing to trust and follow Jesus.

Now there’s incentive to stay away from the old life, to keep the sinful flesh at bay. I do not want my girls, my wife nor my grandchildren now, to know that old me before Jesus. I want them to know only the new creation that I am in Jesus Christ. A new man who loves them, will sacrifice and work diligently to serve them and the Lord who blessed me with them.

I actually felt a bit of relief coming here to pastor in Red Lodge. Getting away from some of the more intense ministry to addicts, because I don’t have to share the story of that old man quite as fervently and frequently as I once did.

But that story, and the many Jesus stories I have been blessed to experience since then, are still my greatest weapons in my fight to advance the Kingdom of God and I consider myself fortunate every time I get a chance to share my story, the story of my Savior.

I love to share from the pulpit, in my writings, and in my many web platforms. But I still look for and find opportunity even apart from the various pulpits.

I told the story just last week to an electrician on my job. I didn’t plan it, the opportunity just presented itself and I thought myself happy to share.

And another arrow was taken away from the quiver of the enemy as a result, one aimed either at me, or at my electrician friend. Probably both. Because the scripture tells us that that is how we overcome him the enemy.

“Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.  And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” Revelation 12:10-11

Whether or not it seems anyone is listening, the power of heaven is released when we tell our stories. And in that is our victory because the Lord is listening, and the enemy is listening, one is magnified and the other diminished.

 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.”

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” Acts 26:27-28

Agrippa is nearly convinced by Paul’s story. But he is too proud to receive the grace that could have freed him from himself. He refused the power, and would forever be the villain in his own story.

Redeemed

I told you long ago, when we were doing our series on overcoming the wounds of sexual abuse, Wildflowers, that we need to redeem our stories.

That’s exactly what this is all about.

Redeem your story.

Take the power of it away from the enemy. My story isn’t about what the devil did to me, it is about what Jesus does for me.

Your story is no longer about what happened to you, it’s about what Jesus did for you—and what he continues to do.

Let me tell you ‘bout my Jesus!

E Mails

Can you here me now?!

Is it just me or has anyone else stopped receiving emails when the bloggers they follow post? I just went to my “WordPress Reader” and saw several posts from my favorite bloggers that I did not receive notifications of. It seems the more Scriptural, or conservative leaning a post may be, the less likely I am to see it in my Gmail inbox. Hmmm

If you follow me and are not seeing at least one blog a week come through your inbox than someone is censoring someone here. And if you have not heard from me for a while in regards to your post, it’s not because I gave up on you–I’m just not getting your stuff.

Dan

I Think Myself Happy

“I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused by the Jews…” Acts 26

“I think myself happy.” As we talked about last week, Paul has found his happy place, and it is in his heart where the Holy Spirit of his Savior dwells.

Now, Paul is happy because he gets to once again tell the story of how he met his Savior and gained eternity, the assurance of resurrection and a passion and a purpose to share that news with all.

His persecutors think him mad. Those who dare to listen with their eyes and their hearts open think him wise. His Lord thinks him loved and Paul thinks himself happy, or fortunate, as other translations read. And Paul is never happier, or feels more fortunate,  than when he gets to tell someone about his Jesus, when he gets to tell his story. Because his story is now Jesus’ story.

We all, anyone who has met and received Jesus Christ as Lord has a story, a Jesus story, that ties your heart to his and makes you bullet proof against the lies of the enemy who would kill your spirit with accusations and slanders. The enemy cannot touch our spirits if we keep reminding him and ourselves of where our hope lies, of the life that cannot die and the Father that loves us so that he would give his Son for us.

The Testimony

What is Paul’s story? He stands before King, leaders and governors and tells of his Jesus encounter. The blinding light experiance on the road to Damascus. In part:

 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’“ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. Acts 26:15

These words from Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, jumped out at me. Who was Paul actually going after? The church. He was seizing men and women who were suspected of believing that Jesus was a resurrected Messiah and bringing them before the powers that be in the temple to be excommunicated or stoned to death.

So Jesus is telling Paul, you mess with my people, you mess with me. I find that encouraging actually. The Lord takes the persecution of his people personally. And no one will get away with it indefinitely. There will be a day of reckoning. Fortunately for Paul, his day led him to believe in and receive the Lord whom he had mocked and rejected.

Grace truly is amazing, and Paul lives to share the story.

Paul recognizes that his testimony, his own personal experience, is powerful. The other apostles had the personal stories of having walked with Jesus, of having seen him crucified and then resurrected. That is their testimony, the good news that saves us all if we accept the truth of it.

But Paul, although he knew and told the story himself, as all who hear it should, it was not his personal experience and thus didn’t have the power of a firsthand account.

Paul’s own conversion story did. And combined with the Holy Spirit’s testifying to the hearts of those who hear as Paul speaks, it was powerful.

The thing is, we all have those stories. We all know the gospel— the amazing story of how Jesus came from heaven, lived as one of us, laid down his life and was resurrected and returned to glory. And if we have been born again, filled with the life giving, healing and loving Spirit of our God, taking us from hopelessness to hope, light to dark, death to life, then we have that story, we have that testimony that is irrefutable—because we lived it.

And there is power in that because the same Holy Spirit that gave Paul and the other apostle’s stories credence, goes before us and touches the hearts of those who hear. We plant the seeds, the Lord sends the rain that waters those seeds.

The fertility of the soil that receives those seeds, well we cannot control that, but we must keep planting, we must keep looking for opportunity to tell the stories and consider ourselves fortunate for each and every chance no matter how unexpected, or what type of duress we might be facing.

Whether it’s being dragged out before Kings, governors and rulers as Paul is here, or just a chance encounter at work. We have to be ready, looking for opportunity and trusting the Holy Spirit to guide our stories.

I think often of Peter’s words in his letter to the church.

 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.”  But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 1 Peter 3:14—25

Keep telling your stories my friends.

Get a Grip Festus (part two)

Plan and scheme all you want, in the end God’s plans will not be thwarted.

No, not that Festus!

Nature abhors a vacuum and when God is missing from a heart, anger, stress and even hatred will move in at the first opening. We sure see that happening here in Acts 25 as the religious and powerful all conspire and scheme to destroy one man.

No matter how many rules and verses may be in the mouth, or the head, if Jesus is not in the heart and the Holy Spirit allowed his place as counselor and guide in your life, the corrupt flesh will have you doing things you never dreamed you would be capable of.

I imagine these highfaluting men in their expensive robes and even priestly garments, laying in the ditch along a road with knives clutched in their squishy businessmen’s hands, waiting for this one itinerant evangelist to come by so they can jump on him and stab him to death in a bloody fury of blows.

Then what? Are they going to kill or outrun the Roman guards that are escorting him? Their hatred has blinded them and driven them mad. But they don’t care, They have lost control and they will do anything to get it back. They are frustrated beyond rational thought. They pretend it’s for God but surely they could care less anymore. This is all about their pride and power.

What a sad place for them to be in. All they would have to do is open their eyes and allow the Lord to reveal the truth that is right before their eyes in the very scriptures they profess to defend, and listen to the man, one of their brethren and peers, who once was more hate filled then all of them—until Jesus showed up and knocked him on his butt.

Then picking him up and setting him on a new path. One with no hatred, malice or anxiety, only assurances of a reward at the end and a life of meaning and purpose in the meantime. The reward being eternal life and the purpose being sharing that with the world—that’s all.

Paul knows this and it is why he is fearless and largely unflappable.

Unlike his antagonists who are being used like cannon fodder against him by the enemy of their souls. But God has a plan for Paul and these Bozos are not going to stop him, in fact, they will advance the plan, giving Paul reason to appeal to Rome. Where Jesus has told him he would witness for him.

The Scripture

“But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged before me concerning these things?”

So Paul said, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know. For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Acts 25:9-12

 Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, “You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!”

There’s my out! thinks Festus. But Festus has a problem, he needs to have a crime to charge Paul with, and a coherent case to present to Caesar. He can’t just charge and condemn a man because he is unpopular. Much to the chagrin of the mob.

“King Agrippa!”

Verse 22

“Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.”

“Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.”

 So the next day, when Agrippa and Bernice had come with great pomp, and had entered the auditorium with the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at Festus’ command Paul was brought in.  And Festus said: “King Agrippa and all the men who are here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole assembly of the Jews petitioned me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying out that he was not fit to live any longer.  But when I found that he had committed nothing deserving of death, and that he himself had appealed to Augustus, I decided to send him.  I have nothing certain to write to my lord concerning him. Therefore I have brought him out before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the examination has taken place I may have something to write. For it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner and not to specify the charges against him.” Acts 25:22-27

The Sideshow

As much trouble as he was, Paul is becoming somewhat of a sideshow in the minds of the Romans by now. An entertaining if not brilliant oddity that provoked thought and debate, something the open-minded Hellenistic Romans thrived on. It made them feel smart and sophisticated.

But the best part about Paul was that he drove the pesky Jews crazy. These close-minded arrogant priests, Pharisees and rabbis, whatever they all chose to label themselves, had no tolerance for new ideas and had no respect whatsoever for other gods or those who worshipped them.

Then along comes this Paul proclaiming simply that a Son of their God had walked among them, had been killed at their insistence, and then—here’s the crazy part—came back to life.

Now that part, as thot provoking and entertaining as the notion is, is embarrassing to the Romans because it was under their watch that the Nazarene’s corpse had disappeared, giving them leeway to spread this wild story.

To the Jews, Paul is a major obstacle to their tenuous hold on the nation of Israel. ‘If we don’t have the full devotion of the people to the temple worship and sacrificial system then Israel is no longer separate and, holy and blessed.’ And their power and source of wealth is gone, as is the nation, in their eyes.

“We have already lost the throne and our sovereignty, we can’t lose our religion too. We have to hold out until God sends the Messiah to rescue us from our enemies and restore the kingdom to the greatness of David and Solomon!”

“This Jesus was not it, he didn’t save us from anyone or retore anything! Oh how wrong they are, but their arrogance the  unwillingness to admit they may have missed it has driven them mad with hatred and rage—they have totally lost it.

King Agrippa and the lovely Bernice think they are pretty big stuff, all pomp and circumstance, but this Paul and Festus come along and makes them feel foolish and empty with false flattery implying that they should know and understand all this Messiah and resurrection stuff because they are the King and Queen of the Jews.

Therefore I have brought him out before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the examination has taken place I may have something to write. Acts 25

Fakers

Everyone in this story is a faker, except for Paul. And they know it. Which is why Paul drives them mad.

In their hearts, Agrippa and Bernice know that they are but puppets of the Romans and have no true power, that they have little real knowledge of the law or the prophets of God because they just never cared all that much.

And now Festus is expecting some great legal insight that he can use to present his case to Rome against this rogue Pharisee who claims to talk to a dead carpenter. A dead carpenter who claims to be the true king of Israel.

This is all just a little too much for Agrippa, and he can hardly keep his composure or contain his distain, yet he feels like a fool and a faker at the same time, I think I need a drink! Let’s get this charade over so we can get to the feasting part.’

The high priest and the Jewish religious thugs have lost it and are looking to Felix. Felix has lost it and is looking to Agrippa. Agrippa never had it and is just trying to find it, Bernice is just along for the ride hoping she can keep living in luxury, and they are all just trying to save their behinds and cover their own ineptness so they can keep the fragile status quo.

The only one in this story who hasn’t lost it nor is he anywhere losing it, losing his grip on sanity, reality and peace. The only one who is not in turmoil over what to do and how to facilitate their agenda is the one who seems to have no control, who seems to be the madman and would appear to be totally at the mercy of others— and that is the accused prisoner, Saul of Tarsus, now known as Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ. He is the only one who still has a grip—who has a handle on reality.

Why? Why is the one being persecuted, ridiculed, accused and abused the one who seems to have it all together, who seems to be the adult in this story and is unflappable? Because he does not have to wonder what truth really is, he does not have to worry that someone else’s truth will supersede or displace his, and his truth has a name and lives in his heart. Jesus Christ.

His fate and his mission are totally in his Lord’s hands and he is totally sold out and trusting in his Savior. Thus he has no fear whatsoever.

And he can reflect back at the end of each day and marvel at how God orchestrated yet another attempt by the enemy to destroy him into another opportunity to proclaim the gospel.

Now Paul is not a passivist nor a drone here just going along for the ride. Paul has a passion, he feels the fire in his belly and he desires nothing more than to be out there sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, defending the church against false teachers and warning them of hard days to come.

He is not afraid to call evil to its face and challenge those who would come against him and the gospel. But his passion is far different from the pride driven frenzy of his detractors.

Paul knows that he is on the right side, that he is where he is supposed to be and that his words are not his alone, he speaks for Jesus and his Spirit is ever faithful.

He is in God’s hands, and that is a fine place to be. He doesn’t need to worry about hanging on, God is hanging on to him.  


          Paul has found his happy place. It is in his heart, it is wherever he is—with Jesus.

Get a Grip Festus (part one)

And Festus said: “King Agrippa …you see this man about whom the whole assembly of the Jews petitioned me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying out that he was not fit to live any longer. Acts 25:24

King Agrippa, what do I do with this pesky Jew? All of his people want him dead, he is a Roman citizen and I can’t just turn him over. He has this crazy Jesus thing going on that I don’t get and he’s as wiley as a fox and as innocent as a lamb all at once—and nothing rattles him. What is going on here? Huh… can you shed some light on this?”

“Oh wait, you’re just smoke and mirrors, a well-dressed bumbling fool just doing what you’re told to appease the clamoring crowd who needs to feel like they still have some say in things. ‘Hail King Agrippa, the puppet king of the Jews.’”

“It’s hopeless, maybe I can just ride this out and hope it all goes away before it blows up in my face.’

Poor Festus, he finally made it. Living in the finest place in Judea in the beautiful coastal city of Caesarea, the governor of a huge province with the power of an empire behind him.

Yet he is at a loss as to what to do with just this one man who seems to have the whole region riled up—for what? Some silly argument over their way too complicated religion? Who can understand it all anyway and who cares?

‘Steward! Bring me some more wine!

“What other chaos do I have to deal with today? There must be something I can fix today.”

Spinning out of Control

Do you ever feel like everything is spiraling out of control and you are losing a grip on everything? We all want to be in control, to have everything in order and know that it’s all going according to plan, preferably our plan—’um, what is my plan? I dunno but this wasn’t it!’

You all know where I’m going with this right? No, not the puppet king in the Whitehouse, that’s just one of many things that can drive us to the brink if we let it. I’m talking about trust. Not losing our grip.

Realizing that we cannot control everything around us and that seldom do things seem to go according to plan—That’s Christianity 101, the plans are the Lord’s and we have to trust in him. That’s what the whole of scripture points to, that’s what Jesus lived and taught, not my will but thine be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

But it’s just not in our nature to let go and trust completely, to look for the Lord’s plan and patiently follow even as it unfolds frustratingly slow, often just step by step, while trusting that the end he has revealed to us will be our destination. Often we know where we are going, like Paul going to Rome, we just don’t know how we are getting there—yet. That’s where the letting go and trust comes in, but we have to.

Because it is the lack of letting go, trusting, being brave enough to do what we know we must do while trusting the results to the Lord, that can drive us buggy and leave us frustrated and anxious.

That’s what’s going on in today’s chapter of study. Paul, the one who seems to be at the mercy of everyone else, is the only one who is not stressed about his fate and anxious about clinging to what he thinks he has. Maybe because he has nothing, while knowing that in reality, he has everything. He has Jesus and he has the assurance that he is exactly where he is supposed to be, even if it’s not what most would consider a happy place.

But the true happy places are found in the heart, not the accoutrements or the scenery. You can be in the most beautiful place on earth surrounded by luxury and security and still feel totally out of control and threatened by circumstances that appear to be beyond your control. Why can’t I just. . .?! You fill in the blank.

That’s the point, you can’t. But God can.

The Scripture

“Now when Festus had come to the province, after three days he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem. Then the high priest and the chief men of the Jews informed him against Paul; and they petitioned him, asking a favor against him, that he would summon him to Jerusalem—while they lay in ambush along the road to kill him. But Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was going there shortly.  “Therefore,” he said, “let those who have authority among you go down with me and accuse this man, to see if there is any fault in him.”

  And when he had remained among them more than ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day, sitting on the judgment seat, he commanded Paul to be brought. When he had come, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood about and laid many serious complaints against Paul, which they could not prove,  while he answered for himself, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all.” Acts 26:1-8

So the saga of, Let’s kill Paul, continues. Subtitled, How do we get rid of this pestilent fellow— why won’t you die? Or, the Roman sub title, I don’t know why these crazy Jews want to kill you but it sure is annoying, if not entertaining.

And my personal favorite, Get Agrippa Festus!

Paul has been held for two years now at the palace of the Judean governor in Caesarea, first under Felix, and now under the new governor, Festus.

There is by now a new High Priest, Ananias has been replaced with a man named Ishmael, which we don’t learn here in the text because, well, I guess he just wasn’t that important. But it is rumored that he liked to announce himself by proclaiming “Call me Ishmael.” (Lame I know) And, like Moby Dick’s Ishmael, he would become obsessed with destroying something much bigger than him, but would ultimately fail spectacularly.

High Priest Ismael, like his predecessors, was out of control.

Once again these religious elites, the spiritual leaders and arbiters of God’s truth would scheme, lie, plot, and even personally lie in wait to ambush and murder a man because he had the audacity to worship the Father through Jesus whom he claimed to be the Christ, the Son of God and Savior of all who believe.

They are determined, you have to give them that. The level of hatred, spurred on by a misplaced zeal for an ideology that they justify by pretending that it is God whose laws and worship that they protect, is astounding. And the unabashed selfishness in the level of conniving they are driven to has turned them into a mockery of what the leaders of God’s people and the keepers of his covenant and word were supposed to be.

Their hearts are far from God despite the trappings and pretense of religion and piety.

A good lesson on what happens when the worship of the living God is reduced to liturgy and ritual. When it does not penetrate past the exterior and into the heart. A person can say and do all the seemingly right things, have everyone believing that they are godly and righteous beyond reproach, yet be dead and dark inside.

Nature abhors a vacuum and when God is missing from a heart, anger, stress and even hatred will move in at the first opening. We sure see that happening here.

This is all about their pride and power. What a sad place for them to be in.

Where are you? Do you have a grip? If you are in Christ, you need to let go and let him…

The Jesus Plague

“…we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” Acts 24:5

You have to wonder where we are in the timeline in light of all that’s happening, and what those stoking the fires of fear really fear.

The Trial

In Acts 24 we find Paul standing trial. He has narrowly escaped with his life from his accusers, the violent mob, the crooked Jewish high court and the band of hungry sworn assassins. He has been secreted off in the night by a detachment of Roman soldiers and taken to the palace of the regional governor, Felix.  Here he will, as is his right as a Roman citizen, be given a hearing to determine what and if the charges against him warrant his being prosecuted according to Roman law

Reading through the chapter of study this week, Acts 24, this verse jumped out at me.

No small wonder since our whole world has been focused on and turned upside down to varying degrees by just that, a plague. Or as we more sophisticated of the 21st century call it, a pandemic. Not just any old pandemic—a global pandemic.

Paul is called a ringleader of that plague, that plague spawned by those called the Nazarenes. Interesting that the New King James, my current translation of choice, uses the word plague here while other popular translations use the word pestilent, which means deadly, lethal or virulent. Either way it is bad news. Paul is being accused of spreading something which causes death. Strong words, carefully chosen by this high power lawyer to besmirch a man for simply worshipping his God the way he believes he should, through Jesus Christ, his Lord.

It would seem to us, in the 21st century, that the words used to label Paul no longer have the sting that they once did, because like so many of the words that our culture latches on to in order to whip up fury or to silence opposition, the words pandemic, or plague, no longer carry the weight they once did because, in reality, the flu that has been unimaginatively labeled COVID, is just not all that lethal. If you get it, there is a more than good chance that you will survive.

And nearly every year for the last couple of decades there has been something else that was going to kill us all. Swine flu, Bird flu, Killer Bees, Aids, West Nile, SARS, Monkey Pox, Zika virus, to name a few. None of them lived up to the hype, so many of us just stopped listening. Like the boy who cried wolf! You can only panic for no good reason so many times before you stop listening, and then when the wolf does come you end up being wolf chow.

Not so with things of the past that were labeled as plagues, pandemics or pestilences. It would conjure up images of sure death preceded by immense suffering leaving the survivors to carry on in a world where corpses outnumber those left to bury them. There was no room for debate or denial. You were either dead or those you loved were all dead, and you just wished you were.

Thank God for the treatments and vaccines we have. I’m old enough to remember the horrors of Polio and we all know the devastation that small pox created among the natives of the Americas.

Death Sect

So, with that notion of what plagues used to mean, Paul here, in the mindset of his day, is being maliciously accused of being the ringleader of a death sect that threatens to destroy civilization itself. That is truly what they are intent on conveying here with their accusations and their arguments as to why Paul must be destroyed and this pestilence wiped out completely. And the High Priest Ananias and his corrupt Sanhedrin are the ringleaders of the effort to stop the Jesus plague.

A little, but relevant aside here; our pandemic seems to have a ringleader or two also and boy are they making hay while the sun shines. I’ll be willing to bet 99% of you had never heard the name Fauci before. Now he is a household name, love him or hate him. He has his own bobble head dolls, action figures, socks. There are even Fauci prayer candles that picture him like he is some sort of patron saint to be worshipped—quite disturbing if you ask me.

I know the plague is real, I know people who have died and many people are still getting sick, but the politicization of it all, and the shameless and thinly vailed leverage of this largely survivable plague has done far more damage to the economy and the psyche of this nation, and the world, than the flu virus, that it is, could have ever done  if simple common sense and traditional rational had been used.

I think this flu is a little more stubborn and certainly more odious than most because it appears to have been manipulated by man via gain of function tweaking, and it appears that effective treatments are being suppressed. The evil of the manipulators behind this is unsurpassed.

This is one nature nor God can be blamed for. This one is all on us. But then, all sickness is on us because sin is what brought and brings sickness and death into God’s perfect creation.

But the Bible does speak of pestilences and famines to come as the end of God’s patience with man’s arrogance and depravity draws near and his wrath is poured out after all have had opportunity to accept or reject his gift of life. The same amazing gift of life that Pauls’ accusers call a plague.

Apocalypse

 But just imagine what it’s going to look like when the real plagues, the one’s that really do kill everyone who gets them, when the bowls of God’s wrath are poured out and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are released.

If you’ve read the book, you’ll know that things get real. And the plagues found in those bowls, and the weapons of the horsemen that will bring the evil and deceived of this earth to their knees begging for an end to their suffering, are many and horrible. And would seem to be much worse than what we see today. But you have to wonder where we are in the timeline in light of all that’s happening.  

Perhaps we’ll get into Revelation next.

I’m not convinced this is not it, that it hasn’t already started. Could a truly deadly plague like the black death or small pox have wreaked any more havoc, cause any more dissension and chaos, created global shortages, shut down business for good, altered election results, closed churches—in many cases for good—created fear and panic in the hearts of billions, driven millions to drugs and even suicide?

Could a truly deadly plague have wreaked more havoc on our medical communities? Made dying people afraid to go in for treatment of their life threatening ailments? Forced a generation of kids to miss out on significant chunks of their education and stolen their identities and individualism with a piece of cloth while giving them nightmares of impending death by disease for them and all they love?

And it is far from over I’m afraid. I don’t really see how the plagues of revelation could ask for more than what we got out of this one. Yeah, this plague, this pandemic might not kill everyone it touches outright, far from it, but the resulting disruptions, unrest and chaos it has and continues to cause, may in the end kill many more than we dare to imagine at this point.

More likely, this pandemic was whipped up by the devil himself for the purpose of destroying our system and recreating it in a way that allows his puppets to come into power. The Beast, the man of lawlessness, the Antichrist, whatever you want to label his chosen man—or woman.

We are a fragile people living in a fragile system and any ripple, if allowed to, can build in waves of fear and panic bringing it all crashing down around us. We are all surrounded by what we think are wonderful people until they get hungry. Then your neighbors become a hungry mob trying to take your food.

And then along comes a hero to save the day. And we all worship the new savior and take his mark—whatever that will be it will add up to 666, and life will be good again.

We can buy and sell, be part of society, participate in schools and commerce and not fear the authorities who only have our best interests at heart. Just show your hand or scan your forehead and there will be no problems here.

Brothers and sisters, stay awake, stay alert and keep praying! If our Jesus was not powerful and able to deliver, they would not fear his name, and they do!

Whitewashed Fools

Know this–there is a battle happening on a higher plain and it makes all this chaos around us so very interesting. Be encouraged as you look to your own world and learn to recognize the hand of God as he makes the sophisticated and powerful of our own generation look like complete and total fools in their efforts to subvert his laws and his people. The mockers are becoming a mockery of the wisdom they claimed to have cornered the market on. Learn to engage on that higher plain. Pray that their plans backfire horribly, as the schemes of evil men usually do. Evil is stupid no matter the sophistication or the sharpness of the creases in their clothes. But unless we engage, evil people, no matter how foolish, will prevail.

Don’t shrink back, Jesus and his apostle Paul never backed down, neither should his church!

Yes, ultimately, the battle belongs to the Lord. But we have to be willing to engage, and we need leaders and prophets who are not afraid, who recognize the battles taking place. If those in the pulpits are not calling out evil, how will the prayer warriors, whose prayers affect and strengthen the heavenly warriors, know where to direct their prayers?

It is courage, boldness, prayer and the hand of the Lord that will turn this nation back from the course of destruction we are on, and that rallying cry I told you we needed last week must be heard coming from the pulpits of those God has called to feed his sheep and equip his saints.

A bunch of soldiers, no matter how dedicated, running around in different directions with no battle plan or leadership is not an army, it is at best a bunch of lone rangers who affect little. And at worse, it is a mob that eventually forgets who and why they are fighting. Let alone who for, who drops their weapons and runs for the caves in the hills.

We fight for the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, no weapon formed against us will prosper, no terror that comes by night nor arrow that flies by day will cause us to fear or run away defeated. You come to us with lies and deceit, or even sword, spear, and javelin, but we come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts whose name and whose armies you have defiled, and God will not be mocked.  

Curses, Foiled Again!

And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. Now there were more than forty who had formed this conspiracy. Acts 23:12—13

Thus the *band of brothers, (band of boneheads more like) the most foolish, and soon to be the hungriest, band of brothers in Jerusalem was formed. I have always wondered what became of them, if they eventually broke their oaths and snuck off to eat some crow, or if they just starved to death. Because, spoiler alert, these idiots who no doubt thought they would be eating again in time for the brunch buffet at the Royal Fork, never did kill Paul. Curses! Foiled again!

Intrigue

The 23rd chapter of Acts https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+23&version=NKJV reads like the outline of a good suspense novel. The diabolical plots, violence, political intrigue, conspiracies, disputes among religious power players, supernatural visitations, rescues in the night, armies on the move, secret spies and clandestine messengers—I mean, you couldn’t make up a better story. And that’s all in just one chapter here.

So what does it all mean? What does it all point to? All this plotting, scheming, drama and intrigue involving the most educated and politically connected people in the middle east at the time? All of it centered around one man, a disgraced Pharisee and teacher of some new sect of Judaism that primarily the downtrodden and ignorant were drawn to?

It means that the powerful and connected can scheme and plan all they want, the Lord still determines the outcome, he is still in control. And in this case he uses the schemes of evil men to destroy his Apostle to the gentiles, to accomplish his and Paul’s goal of preaching Jesus as Lord in the capital city itself—Rome.

And as Snidely Whiplash (From the old Bullwinkle cartoons) used to say whenever Dudley Do-Right would save Nell from his evil scheming, you can almost hear the enemy  proclaiming over and over in this story—“Curses, foiled again!”

          Ol’ Snidely  was pretty hapless in his irrationally evil need to always being tying helpless women to railroad tracks, but then, after reading through this chapter, I hope you get a chance, it would seem the devil is pretty hapless also, at least when he comes up against the Lord and those who are following his plan.

Again, the verse that played so prominently in last week’s message as we talked about standing against the evil schemes of those who would bring this country and the church down, comes to mind:

          No weapon formed against you shall prosper,
And every tongue which rises against you in judgment
You shall condemn.

Isaiah 54:17

 We could call this the Snidely Whiplash verse-Curses foiled again!

Scene one

Setting the stage;

Paul has been brought up before a council made up of the religious big shots, the dreaded Sanhedrin, as he has come to face his accusers after being accused of desecrating the temple and subverting the law of Moses.

 He has already gotten to preach Jesus to hundreds of Jews, thanks to an intervention by a detachment of Roman soldiers who rescued him from a murderous mob,

And now he gets to defend Jesus before Pharisees, Priests and Sadducees as the Romans, to whom Paul has appealed as a citizen of Rome, are trying to discover just what it is that has the Jews so riled up about this seemingly harmless Jew named Paul.

But Paul, he’s pretty feisty, he has a razor sharp wit and is not shy in any way shape or form.

 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?” Acts 23:2

I love this. Lest you think Paul a pushover, he gets smacked in the mouth by the bailiff and he calls the judge out for acting contrary to the law in ordering him struck just because he claimed to be guiltless before God. “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!

Again, Paul stands up for his rights as a Jew, just as he has as a Roman.

When he is told that the one who ordered him struck, Ananias, is the High Priest, he humbly apologizes for dishonoring the office against the commands of God.

It seems unlikely that Paul would not know who the High Priest is but when confronted with the fact he perhaps realizes he may have crossed a line here, or he realized that cursing the judge was not going to help his case—that’s generally never a good idea.

It may be that Paul was so caught off guard by such lawless and unseemly behavior from the chief justice of this Jewish Supreme court that he forgets for a moment where he is. It seems, as we have so painfully learned in our own nation, that no matter the laws and principles binding an institution, even one charged with preserving and interpreting those laws and principles, that the integrity of any body or office is only as strong as the character of the people holding the position.

So, after apologizing for cursing the High Priest, and now understanding the room, he cleverly turns the hearing into a brawl between the council members themselves by playing them against one another. He does this by subtly highlighting their theological differences, pitting the Pharisees against the Sadducees and leaving the priests frustrated at losing control of the proceedings’ focus on demonizing Paul.

Swaningson bible memes

This court has no integrity whatsoever and this becomes evident when suddenly their own pride and the need to be right was the most important thing, and Paul was just a pawn to be used or destroyed, whichever suited their purpose and fit their narrative.

The dispute becomes so violent, one side arguing that Paul is right, that there is a resurrection thus maybe he is sent by an angel or a spirit, while the other, believing in neither, that they began to literally have a tug of war with Paul. And the Romans, fearing that they may tear him apart, forcibly take him away from the esteemed and holy council.

No doubt they were still screaming at each other long after Paul was removed ‘wait, where did Paul go?’ Curses, foiled again! What a sad testimony for a court that is supposed to represent God and dispense justice to God’s people. But we should not be surprised, this is the same court that determined that Jesus was a danger to society and who needed to be dragged out of the city and crucified.

Of course that plan backfired horribly, as the schemes of evil men usually do, and that is why Paul is now standing before them. But, evil is stupid no matter the sophistication or the sharpness of the creases in their clothes. And they soon lose all control of this situation, handed to them on a silver platter, as well.

Now the band of boneheads takes over where the Sanhedrin failed in their attempts to destroy Paul, the very annoying man who insists on talking about Jesus everywhere he goes. Remember who’s really wanting Paul done and gone, Satan, the same one who tried to destroy Jesus by inciting Judas and the religious leaders and then the Romans against him.

He must be so frustrated here as Paul keeps slipping away and foiling his efforts, always just as it seems like a sure thing.

The sad heartrending pleas from his friends not to go to Jerusalem failed. The angry mob of mostly peaceful protestors failed to kill him, (Acts 21) the Roman riot police failed to finish him off, the high court failed to charge or convict him. ‘I know, let’s get a bunch of thugs full of righteous indignation to ambush him!

Well, the thing about schemes inspired by higher demonic powers? They draw the attention of, and are easily foiled by, the highest power, the one who foiled and overcame the greatest evil scheme of all, murdering the Son of God, the Lord himself.

And Jesus is all over this.

Knowing this, that there is a battle happening on a higher plain here, is what makes this so interesting and encouraging as we look to our own world and learn to recognize the hand of God as he makes the sophisticated and powerful of our own generation look like complete and total fools in their efforts to subvert his laws and his people.

The mockers are becoming a mockery of the wisdom they claimed to have cornered the market on.

We face a defeated foe, he’s just too dumb to know it. And we have the Lord standing with us, let’s not be too dumb to see it.

Be of good cheer, and keep fighting the good fight!

*No disrespect or dishonor intended in any way to the Band of Brothers of 101st Airborne fame. You are true heroes.

The America That Was

(For my American friends)

Are we just going to shake our heads and just let it all be stripped away? God will only give up on America if his church does.

What kind of a nation are we? I may be an idealist, but I face my family and my God and proudly say, I am an American and a God fearing man, and the America I stand for and have known is one that must stand and will only stand so long as her God is the Lord.

And right now we are standing on shaky legs, but we still stand, we must stand.

I want my kids and grandkids to live in the kind of country that I was blessed to grow up in, living up to the ideals that were instilled in me by my parents and my teachers. An America where, for the most part, no one cared what color you were, we all did our best to get along and give one another a fair shake, where character was truly what mattered.

A country where a dollar was worth a dollar, where you kept the wages you earned, and the harder you worked, the more you could earn. And those who truly needed help were cared for by those who were able, and because they wanted to. A country where men were men and women were women and both were valuable and respected, different but equal.

Where what you did in your bedroom was no one’s business but yours and the rest of us were not forced to not just have to hear about it, but to condone and support it.

Where marriage was sacred, family was important, churches were full and not only left to worship as they saw fit, but were respected and influential parts of the community.

Where everyone rallied around the flag and the anthem knowing that they stood for a country that had flaws and had made mistakes but that she was always striving to improve and live up to the founding ideals that had made her the most prosperous and powerful country on the face of the earth in just two centuries, whose people, left to create, explore, innovate and reach for the sky had reached the sky— the sky and the moon.

And whose farmers were feeding the world and whose technology brought us out of darkness and improved the lives of all mankind.

I want my grandkids to know the kind of country I knew where you could speak your mind, even if no one agreed with you, and not be beaten, shouted or shut down. Where the Holy Scriptures were the standard against which truth and wisdom were measured and Jesus was still allowed and welcomed in school, in the halls of government and in the public square.

Where all people were considered equal, with an equal chance to succeed or fail, where right was right and wrong was wrong and no one was afraid to say so. Where we had compassion for all peoples but looked especially to caring for our own first and the moto of our armed forces, that no man would ever be left behind, was the motto of this nation and a creed we would die for.

A nation where women and children came first and men were respected and encouraged to be strong, to pray and to exemplify the Father in heaven. Teaching their sons to be men, to be gentlemen, their daughters to be ladies and to accept nothing less than respect and chivalry from the men in their lives. Expecting a ring and a vow before giving away their greatest treasure—themselves.

I want my kids and grandkids to live in the America I once thought I knew, where we are all just left alone to be who we were created and called to be. Where the Constitution that was written to prevent tyrants who would deign to rule over us from stripping us of our God given rights to be free is still the law of the land, and where justice is dispensed equally to all no matter their position or station and was based on the law of God.

Where the ten commandments still adorn the courthouse walls and freedom is mine to defend and cherish, and so is my and my families lives and livelihood if need be. I want a country whose God is the Lord and all are free to disagree but not to displace our God or his people.

I want my kids to know that we are blessed as a nation because we bless Israel, and defend her as God’s people even when all the world comes against her, which they will the moment we are gone.

I desperately love this nation, I desperately love my God, and I will not stop fighting for either. I am an American Christian, and I do not lay down and roll over. Like the rattle snake, I will not strike first, but I know the power that is within me when I am forced to defend myself.

And it is ours not just to defend, it is ours to proclaim and assert the victory that Jesus won. Enough of the enemy’s lies.

28 The commander answered, “With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.

And Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.

29 Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him. Acts 22

It’s time we break our bonds of fear, timidity and passivity, and put the fear into him.

Don’t tread on me.

No weapon formed against you shall prosper, And every tongue which rises against you in judgment You shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, And their righteousness is from Me,” Says the Lord. Is 54:17

To hear the podcast of the message this came from click the link below:
https://anchor.fm/dan-swaningson/episodes/Dont-Tread-on-Me–full-message-e17tru1

All my brothers and sisters outside of the USA who follow me, and I know you are many, please pray for us, and forgive us for the times we fail you. Those of us who love Jesus love you as well!

Rebels?

The world, our leaders, our culture, is in rebellion against everything good that is from God and the feel good Christianity of yesterday will not survive in a world that no longer feels good.

Like it or not, we are in a war.

 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship… 2 Thess 2:3—4

You must trust the Lord you know, you must be equipped and you must be determined—knowing that the victory is ours only too claim, but claim them we must.

We must give those standing on the side of the man of lawlessness a run for his money like he never expected. The true church must not go quietly into the night never to be seen again, we must fight until the last trumpet sounds.

The enemy is awakening a sleeping giant and he is being warned; Don’t tread on me.

Because we are citizens of no mean city.

Revolution

“Don’t tread on me.”That expression comes from the revolutionary war that birthed this nation. I have been thinking a lot about that Revolution in the last couple of years.

One of the benefits of having grown up in a day when they still taught history is that I know a lot about the founding of this great and blessed nation, having instilled in me as a child a realization and an awe of how unique and extraordinary this country truly is. And I am an avid history buffI know the good the bad and the ugly. The good always prevails in the end, which is what makes us so.

I know that this nation is and has been extremely blessed. And I believe it is because it was founded on Godly principles, principles that are spelled out in our founding and governing documents as unalterable and undeniable truths. All of them based on and premised with the simple yet radical notion, as far as governance is concerned,  that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The Constitution codifies those rights and the bill of rights enumerates those rights. All of them based on God’s laws and principles, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

But this didn’t just happen. Our founding fathers did not just wake up one day in a vacuum, free of all outside restrictions and regulations and say “Hey, let’s start a country where everyone is free to be who they want to be, to worship God when and where they choose and benefit from the fruit of their own labors free from fear and oppression.

No, they had to fight, to shed blood—they had to rebel against their own government. A notion which terrifies any tyrannical government and why they must disarm, disband and dishearten any people who may have such a notion.

This is why they must control any religion that teaches and propagates such notions.

Our founders knew this which is why the Whitehouse was open to all, the right to bear arms and to assemble were codified into our laws, and why our first president refused to serve for more than 8 years and citizens chose people from among themselves to represent us in this republic of free men, to serve and answer to those people, lest anyone think of themselves as any better than anyone else.

How far we have fallen. The Whitehouse is a militarized zone, we seem to have a ruling class who never goes away and despises the laws which hinder them from controlling us.

At what point is enough enough, and we stand up on our hind legs and say no more, don’t tread on me!? As those brave men and women did, not so long ago as the history of nations go, and whom we once held as heroes but now whose names and statues we watch being torn down.

I’m not advocating a bloody revolution, I’m just pondering the mindset of a God fearing people who saw fit to stop submitting to what they deemed an ungodly and oppressive rulership and threw off the reigns of oppression, and were blessed as a result—blessed immensely.

And how far we have fallen as a people from those ideals, from godly principles, and from a government who cherished and respected those principles, our founding documents, and why we have allowed it to happen. And I wonder how much longer we will remain in God’s favor.

We have blood on our hands, the blood of those we have failed, and those who gave their lives for that which we now snub.

Gadsden Flag

Early on in that struggle which birthed our nation, we had several different flags to represent a people who struggled to break free of the tyranny of a King who had little regard or respect for the hicks on the other side of the ocean.

One of those was what is known as the Gadsden Flag. A flag which expressed the heart of those who longed to be left alone to live their lives and raise their families in peace, and to pursue the dreams the Lord put on their hearts.

When Benjamin Franklin saw the flag that the Continental Army’s fledgling Navy had adopted as their battle flag he was duly impressed. He would tell his friend General Gadsden, speaking of the of the Rattle Snake, a uniquely American animal that he deemed perfect to represent the Americans:

“She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.”…”but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal:—Conscious of this, she never wounds til she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of stepping on her.—Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?” —Benjamin Franklin

Does this still hold true? What kind of a nation are we? I may be an idealist, but I face my family and my God and proudly say, I am an American and a God fearing man, and the America I stand for and have known is one that must stand, and will only stand, so long as her God is the Lord.

I will not relent

And right now we are standing on shaky legs, but we still stand, we must stand.