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!

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.

A Bruised Reed

Back in the 1970’sthere was a Norwegian named Thor Heyerdahl who built a boat out of reeds that he named Ra, and tried to sail across the Atlantic. But it sank. On his second attempt, in RA II, he succeeded, sailing 4,00 miles from Morocco to Barbados.

 He was trying to show that it was possible that ancient man could have crossed the oceans. I don’t know why a Norwegian wouldn’t have been more interested in building a Viking ship, maybe he just wanted to go somewhere warmer—who can know the mind of a Norwegian? (I’m married to one.)

 I just remember it because they made such a big deal out of it, even making a movie about it. I guess they still make reed boats in some parts of the world. So they are still seen as strong and durable.

But a single reed—especially if it is still green and growing—if it is crushed in the middle, or bent too far, the fibers separate and a weak spot is created and even a slight wind or a passing animal can break it off and it will not recover, it’s toast. Think of a Montana wheat field nearly ready for the harvest suddenly struck by a massive hail storm—it’s devastating.

The beautiful full heads of grain cannot be harvested if they are laying on the ground on the end of a bruised and broken stalk, and they do not stand up again.

I just want you to get that picture in your mind, a semi crushed—bruised─stalk, still managing to stay upright but barely, or a lantern wick fresh out of kerosene, the flame gone but still an ember glowing as though just begging for a little more fuel and a gentle breath of wind to reignite the flame that can burn clean and bright.

That’s the human heart, it can be strong, upright and flexible, burning bright and pure, but in reality, especially if standing alone, can be a thing of great fragility. If it gets whacked just right, pelted by a few too many hailstones, all it takes is one good gust of wind and it’s broken. Or like a tiny smoking ember where once there was a flame, deprived of the air or fuel needed to revive, snuffed out and left to grow cold.

Jesus came and saw a world of bruised reeds, of smoldering wicks. He came to bring healing and life. He didn’t come seeking his own glory as so many who claim to speak for him do. Jesus came to bring healing and proof of his Father’s love.

Jesus, instead of blowing through life, trampling hearts on his way to the heights of glory, seeking the strong, the articulate and the righteous who could help him get out his message, to advance his agenda of being the conquering Messiah, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords─he stops and gently touches the bruised, he speaks life, he looks into the eyes of the hurting, he hears the cries of the heartbroken and grieving, he feels the pain of the sick and wounded— and he heals them.

Beggars, prostitutes, hardnosed—get out of my way I’m busy— working men; the crooked I hate you and you hate me tax collectors. Drunks, homeless, lepers reeking of rotten flesh—it didn’t matter— he loved and healed them all.

Not after they repented, not after they got straightened out and got right with the synagogue and God—he healed all who came to him. And then he taught them about the love of God and the power of Heaven and they believed it, and they received it, because they had experienced it. They experienced it and it changed their lives.

They were no longer bruised and broken, no longer smoldering wicks leaving smudges of soot on the walls of the Temple, they were changed forever and they found strength in one another. They were bound together like the reeds in an Egyptian boat ready to face the storms of even the mightiest seas. They were healed and could now be healers.

Compelling

That’s why the Gospel of Jesus Christ is so compelling and powerful; because wounded and broken people, the castoffs and scorned, the hopeless and forgotten, suddenly shining brightly with new life, standing tall and strong, fearless and unwavering, they— the ones no one paid any mind to before─ they were, and are, the messengers of the Kingdom.

No one can deny the power of God available in the words of Jesus Christ when a Leper who now has the skin of a new born baby, when a blind man is now looking you in the eye, when an uneducated fisherman is leaving the theologians frustrated and foolish looking, when a scorned street walker or a demon possessed mad man is now commanding respect and dignity and shining like the sun with a radiant undeniable joy—when they are the ones sharing the good news of the Kingdom of God, the gospel cannot be denied. 

I will put my Spirit on him,
   and he will proclaim justice to the nations. Mat 12

Swaningson Bible Memes

The gospel is healing, the gospel is alive, the gospel of Jesus Christ will continue to heal, will continue on as he, by his Spirit living in and speaking through the redeemed, carry on the message of healing, proclaiming justice until all the nations have heard, and all the bruised reeds and smoldering wicks, all those who desire to hear, who long for healing, for relief from their brokenness and unbearable pain, have heard the message of hope.

We the scarred and redeemed are the standard bearers. We are now the healers, bringing the message of hope, bringing the power of God to a world of bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. Let’s make sure we are not just blowing through the fields and trampling the bruised into the dirt or ignoring the smoldering until the ember fades.

We have the hope.  And if you still need healing, you need to bring it to Jesus, he will set you free and then he will set you on a mission because nothing helps bring your healing to completeness, nothing helps you live in the victory, like sharing with others what we you received.

No one can speak healing better than those who have been healed. No one can encourage the prisoners more than those who have been freed.

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Annoying Spirits

I have better things to do than marvel at your dazzle.

Acts 16

So, Paul, Silas and their posse, are being followed about in the city of Philippi by a girl who would have been considered in that culture, an Oracle— someone who spoke for the god’s. She is kind of acting like a side show carnival barker—“Come one, come all and hear the amazing tales of the men of the Most High God!”,

In that respect she was perhaps trivializing and minimalizing the message of the gospel by casting it in the same light at the rest of her for profit retinue of otherworldly utterings. But she was playing with fire and she was about to get her fire put out by the power of the Most High God she was mocking.

Reminds me of when Donna and I went through Deadwood South Dakota this spring. Deadwood is all about tourism and the Downtown area is real good at capitalizing on it’s somewhat lurid history and wild west nostalgia.

On main street there is a big sign in front of one of the old buildings that offers Ghost Tours. Claiming that the historic structure is haunted by the prostitutes and cliental who once did business there. Of course you know what I wanted to do, the thing that any Holy Spirit baptized disciple of Christ wants, or should want to do when they come across unholy spirits— invite them to leave.

So I turned to Donna and said, “Should we go in there and ruin their attraction?” She said no. Probably a good answer. I’m sure we would not have been very popular of we had started casting out evil spirits in the middle of a tour group full of eager half-drunk ghost enthusiasts and clueless tourists.

And the owners would not have appreciated losing their profitable, if dangerous, attraction. I can’t say I really wanted to do that anyway but it sure didn’t seem right walking away and leaving Casper and his shadowy buddies to run unchallenged through the halls of an old whorehouse in downtown Deadwood.

But, then again, that whole city is probably a can of demonic worms that some other warriors are called to open and not some random vacationing pastor and his wife from Red Lodge.

Not every battle is ours. We need to fight the battles the Lord leads us to.

Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to Philippi, and he was not going to let this annoying spirit dog him anymore. This whole story is a little weird if you ask me. Why would a demonic spirit be proclaiming that folks need to listen to Paul and his retinue, and why would Paul be annoyed by this?

Well, as I alluded to earlier, it was probably a demonic ploy to cheapen the gospel. And as for the annoying part, no doubt Paul was sensing in his spirit that this was not a sincere or Holy Spirit led nor approved endorsement.

Discernment

Makes you wonder how many of the noisier and boisterous elements and people in our own lives who seem all about proclaiming God are really just a distraction from the legitimate work of the Holy Spirit? All noise and no substance. Frankly I have never had much patience for that. Don’t waste my time. I have better things to do then marvel at your dazzle.

It takes a real discernment, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit by the way, discerning of Spirits, to know the difference between the sincere and the counterfeit when it comes to those who profess to be all about giving God the glory. It just seems wrong to question the motives or the spirit behind anyone or anything that comes across as godly, who claims to be wanting to know God better, or who is offering to help others know God better.

There are many people and things that appear upright and godly on the surface, that give me pause or outright make me want to avoid them. I’ve recently had to deal with someone like that and it is not fun. Someone who had me fooled for a long time yet always just seemed to work against the Lord as far as what he was wanting to accomplish on my life or the life of others. Someone who was sucking the life out of me, over and over and over again, to no purpose or gain for anyone-especially me.

Jesus warned us about wasting precious time and fertilizer on trees that never bear fruit.

‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’ ” Luke 13:8—9

I doesn’t matter how adamant someone may be about wanting to advance the kingdom of God and help others draw near to God, if the fruit of their life only shows a trail of angry, hurt and defensive people then they are not of the same Spirit that we are, and are in fact being used by the enemy to distract and ultimately destroy all that God is doing.

Paul recognized that his annoyance was the Spirit telling him something was amiss here and so he dealt with it, decisively and finally. He commanded that spirit to depart.

Listen to your heart, annoyance can sometimes be more than just impatience.

The Prisoners are Listening

What are the hopeless hearing from you, you, who as a believer, even if you had nothing else, should have hope?

Acts 16:25

And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:23-25

We all have prisoners listening to us. You don’t have to be sitting in a jail cell to be surrounded by prisoners. The world around us is full of prisoners. Prisoners to fear, to hopelessness, to despair. Prisoners to addictions, to lusts, to greed—prisoners of their own minds or bodies that seem to behave and do things that make the person trapped within feel helpless and disconnected to themselves and everyone else.

Even believers may be temporarily imprisoned to certain afflictions, afflicters and circumstances as we struggle to keep moving forward in this present world of death and decay.

 But we need to remember that we are not citizens of this world, we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and our songs are not songs of despair, our prayers are not prayers of anguish. Our songs and prayers are spilling forth from hearts that are free, that are full of the joy of the Lord and His Holy Spirit, and any and all afflictions this sick twisted world or our own flesh could throw at us is only temporary and is all subject to the one in us who is greater that he who is in the world.

And those songs and prayers of joy and victory to a God who has overcome all of this world’s heartaches and death itself are the only thing the prisoners of the darkness around us are ever going to hear that may give them even a spark of hope and even set them free.

So what are they hearing? What are they hearing from you?

Paul and Silas had cast an annoying demon from a young slave girl who had been following them around. She had been serving her masters as an oracle of the gods. and making them money as such. They don’t appreciate this and they stir up the city against them. They are seized by an angry mob, dragged to the city council where they are given no right to defend themselves as they are accused of all sorts of sedition and trouble making, going against the social norms and speaking hateful and offensive things. ‘Who do these judgmental religious Jesus freak Jews think they are anyway!”

‘And look what they did to this poor girl who was only trying to help them. Making her look like she was doing something bad and ruining her ability to commune with the higher powers by casting some weird Jewish spell on her in the name of this Jewish God man they worship.’

‘These guys are ignorant, intolerant—they are a danger to society and must be done away with!’

“…they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison,” Acts 16:21-23

So they are stripped naked and beaten with rods, at the order of the authorities, until they are covered with long red painful welts–or stripes as they were known in a crueler age–and thrown into prison where they are chained and left to suffer in the fetid darkness of a prison cell surrounded by the sounds of curses and the moaning of others who had run afoul of the magistrates and influential of the day.

Hope

But Paul and Silas do neither, curse nor moan, though they certainly had reason. ‘Who do these people think they are? They cannot treat us this way! We have rights, we demand satisfaction and justice! Curse them, curse them all! Lord strike them down and make them pay for what they have done!’

They didn’t do that. Nor did they moan and complain. ‘Oh woe is me, we are finished! We have no hope, no money, no friends. All have deserted us. We are laying here in filth bruised and bleeding, naked and hungry and my everything hurts!’

“Lord where are you!? Why have you abandoned us? —’Oh, oh agony on me, deep dark depression, excessive misery!’”

No. they didn’t do any of that. What would it have accomplished? What would it have helped? Or better, who would it have helped?

That’s what the prisoners of the world do. those who have no God, who suffer without recourse and cannot see beyond the straits they are in. Those who heed the warnings signs as they enter into whatever hell of a prison they find themselves entering—“All ye who enter here, abandon all hope.”

Hope is what the prisoners of the world and the flesh lack. But hope is the only thing that cannot be taken away from those who belong to Jesus. And when that is all that is left—that is enough.

It was enough for Paul and Silas as they lay there chained and miserable in that dark cell watching the darkness grow as the night falls, and as the night sounds of misery and unseen vermin begin to prey on their minds, and as the indescribable smells of unwashed rancid flesh accost their noses—and God seems to be very far away.

He wasn’t.

Their God knew exactly what was happening, where they were, and he was right there as close as the spirit within them. The hope that this knowledge gave them was enough to get them through what could have been the darkest hours of their lives, and welled up in them because of their prayers and songs, and in their prayers and songs.

Paul and Silas spent their sleepless night praying to their God and singing the hymns of their faith. And all the others sounds ceased. The moaning’s ceased, the incoherent babblings, the wicked laughter, fearful whimpers and angry curses—they all ceased and gave way to the sounds of praise—to the sound of hope.

And hope does not disappoint them, any of them.

set free

The Prisoners are listening. What are they hearing from us? Hope or despair. They need hope, if we don’t have hope, if we don’t exude hope, then we the church have failed, and all is lost. But it’s not—not yet. Not as long as our God reigns and we keep looking up.

You are free, rejoice!

Withstanding God

“Before the Holy Spirit moved in, the flesh just ran the show. Ahhh the good old days. . . “

In Acts 11 the Apostle Peter has just returned to his home church in Jerusalem after sharing the word of God with a Roman centurion named Cornelius. As a result Cornelius and his entire household, dreaded gentiles, were saved and baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Peter is met back home with scorn and confrontation for this, him having cavorted with the filthy pagans. Peter shuts up these religious busybodies by explaining to them exactly what happened. Acts 11:16-17

Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” Who was I that I could withstand God?

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Resistance is futile

Now there’s a fight I know way too much about; wrestling with the Holy Spirit. If you are serious about following the Lord, and especially if you have been baptized with the Holy Spirit, be prepared for a lot of inner turmoil as the flesh will nearly always be at odds with the spirit. Before the Holy Spirit moved in, the flesh just ran the show.

Ahh— the good old days. . . Just kidding, those days were marked by emptiness and anxiety. Allowing the Holy Spirit to come in and give me new life through Jesus Christ, and then the power to overcome my flesh, just changed the nature of the struggle, but it put me on the winning side.

And still I ask, as does our title verse, who am I that I can withstand God?

An echo of the words of Peter as he relates his dramatic testimony of what he saw the Holy Spirit do amongst the gentiles as he preached the word of God to them.

Reminds me of something I read just recently a few chapters back in Acts, something that jumped out at me then and has continued to be in the back of my mind as I struggle with ‘What Lord, am I to do? Am I doing what you will for my life? Am I where I am supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing? Am I on the right road or did I miss a turn somewhere, or just wander off aimlessly?’

That saying I’m referring to comes from the words of Jesus to Paul as he waylays him on the road to Damascus to change his path. And that is: “It’s hard to kick against the goads.”

When everything seems to be difficult, or more of a challenge than it should be and it seems you are just getting bruised and bloodied for your troubles, it certainly makes you wonder if you are kicking against the goads.

We all struggle with that from time to time in our walk with the Lord, at least if you care enough about following the Lord to keeping pushing on in pursuit of him and working to advance his Kingdom with or through his bride, the church—the church who can either hurt or hinder you depending on who is prevailing in their struggle, the flesh or the Spirit.

A big part of the challenge is knowing who is holding the goad. Is it the enemy and the world, the weakness of the flesh, who is poking at you with that sharp metal tipped oxen poker to prevent you from following? Or is it Jesus urgently trying to get you to change course and head in the right direction?

Are we standing against evil, or withstanding God?

It can be hard to know at times. Whenever I feel like there needs to be a change of course, an attitude or perception adjustment, I am careful to not move too quickly, unless it is a clear and imminent word or prompting from the Holy Spirit, because there are ways to know. And sometimes it just means you need a rest, a reminder or a refreshing. Either way, patience usually pays a big role.

But whatever the season or the answer, In the end we must stand, we must not be silent.

That’s the thing about being baptized–filled, with the Holy Spirit–he will not leave you alone. Which is a good thing, because alone, I am very bad for my self and not much good to others. And who am I to withstand God?

I’ll let God have the last word, his words to Peter:

What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ 

Bible memes Swaningson

You are anything but common. Do not let them tell you, you tell them. 

The enemy wants nothing more than to silence us, but we, if we remember God’s word, always have the last word, we have the power to stop the argument, to silence the voices of accusation and slander. We are Christian.

Please pray for me my friends, I’m a little weary, as I know we all are. . .

Chosen Vessels

Have you said yes?

When the Radical and hateful Pharisee Saul was called by Jesus to carry his name to the nations, all were astounded, including Saul, but he was about to become known as the Apostle Paul, because he said yes.

A chosen vessel? Me, I don’t feel like a chosen vessel…

There was a time in my life when did horrible things that I am ashamed still to admit. Stealing, cheating, lying, using my God given gift of leadership to lead others astray, talking others, even in my own family, into doing drugs and setting them on paths of destruction.

I stole goods and gas from the Salvation Army truck, sold drugs to teenagers, spent my weekends drinking and tripping on psychedelics, and my work days stoned on weed and powered by whatever stimulant I could find to swallow or snort. And my temper was legendary—and embarrassing.

I was running like the wind away from myself and my labels, but I could not outrun God and he revealed himself to me in such a way that I could not deny.

Like Paul, I thought I knew God, but the Jesus I thought I knew was only a shadow of who he really was because I always kept him at arm’s length. But when I could no longer stand even myself, when I was tired of the never ending high that never seemed to satisfy and the constant search for a real connection with someone who could ease the loneliness in my heart, I cried out to Jesus and he came to me.

I didn’t see a blinding light but I felt his presence all around me as my soul was bathed in a light that chases away all that had strangled and deceived me for so long. And I knew I never wanted to be that person I had been ever again.

I was, and am, a new creation in Christ Jesus, a chosen vessel to bear his name. And I do not take that calling lightly. I chose to say yes when the Lord asked me to trust him and follow him that night in my own living room. He met me where I was.

And I have lived to the best of my ability since in such a way as to always be cognizant and ready of his leading as he calls me to share what I have been so abundantly given and what I choose as his vessel to carry.

Gone is the heart full of fear, loneliness, pain, addictions, anger, lust, hopelessness and depression. I choose to keep filling my heart with his Holy Spirit, and the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control that he gives to those who are willing to say yes when he calls, when he offers.

Stop kicking against the goads.

What do you want me to do? It’s a question I still ask a lot, and the answer is almost always—just trust me.

It’s a question all who love the Lord ask. Stop looking to others for the answer, stop thinking you have to know the big picture. Stop thinking that you cannot know the answer, and just trust.

Paul would spend the rest of his life discovering the answer. Some things he knew well in advance, amd some things he only knew just as he was doing it. But it was always the Holy Spirit who led. Because Paul knew and believed that he would.

Paul would say yes Lord.

The answer Saul got to his question of the Lord, what would you have me do? The first honest and heartfelt question Paul would ever ask of Jesus?

“Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Acts 9:6

Go into town and wait till I give you the next step.

That’s what being a chosen vessel is all about, being willing and ready to take that one step.

Labels

Only God knows your heart, the real you.

We all know of the blessed Apostle Paul, But how about the murderous and feared Pharisee Saul?

“Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. . . . 

And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. Acts 9: 13, 26

Paul had had a serious change of heart, but Ananias and later, the church in Jerusalem, were loath to trust this hot shot Pharisee. They thought they knew Saul. They knew what kind of a man he was, the hatred and evil he harbored. He had been certified dangerous and  labeled accordingly. And no one was too keen on welcoming him in to their confidence, let alone their presence.  

But Jesus had other ideas. He was changing the game, altering the narrative, and he knew exactly who was needed to accomplish this so that all might hear the gospel despite the seeming hopelessness of the cause.

He had used Saul’s bitterness to scatter the church, to begin the spreading of the word, and now he is going to wrestle him back from the enemy and use him to ultimately plant the gospel so deeply into the consciousness of the nations that it would never be removed—exactly the opposite of what Saul had in mind as his life was devoted to this point to eradicating all traces of the memory of this convicted blasphemer, Jesus of Nazareth, from the face of the earth.

But Saul had something in him God could use, something the rest of the church only saw as a bad thing. He had a zealousness for the things of God, a zealousness that had blinded him to truth, but one that the God he yearned for could turn in the right direction, once he let go of his bitterness.

And he had a vast knowledge of the Law and the prophets that God would use to help others see how Jesus had fulfilled the law and the prophets, and to set them free from the condemnation of the very law they used as a club to destroy those that God wanted to save.

No one else saw any of this, they only saw a religious fanatic who refused to listen to anything that might challenge his perfect and complete understanding of God’s word. He knew it all and you had better not question nor challenge him.  

Unless of course, you are the Son of God himself. The Lord had waylaid on the waylaid Saul as he was set out to destroy his church, appearing to him in blinding glory.

Acts 9

And he (Saul) said, “Who are You, Lord?”

Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”

Immediately, Saul shows that he had the right stuff inside. He didn’t argue like Moses at the burning bush, or try to convince Jesus that he had made a mistake in choosing him like Peter in the boat, he just asked for direction. “Lord, what do You want me to do?”

Right answer. Jesus had chosen the right man, despite the labels that had been slapped on him by others.

Labels

The world is very good at attaching labels to everyone. It seems to be a favorite tactic of the enemy these days especially as he uses politicians and the media to put everyone into neat little groups that are labeled in such a way as to be  unable to intermix or abide by those who wear another label. We are all set against one another based on political leanings, religion, income, color, sex, health—you name it, class warfare is at a fever pitch.

At least that’s what they want us to believe. I don’t see it in the real world as much as we would be led to believe by the media and policy makers, but it’s there and getting worse.

Sadly, it’s just basic human nature being played against us on a grand scale—and we fall for it. But when you take God out of the picture, that’s all that is left, basic human nature. We seem to have this need to categorize everything and everyone and don’t you dare leave your pigeonhole.

It starts early. As kids we are labeled by others with labels we might be wearing for our entire lives either in the minds of others or in our own minds. Some we can never overcome and some we grow weary of trying to live up to. But those labels are often far from accurate.

The heart and soul of a person is virtually indiscernible without spending a lot of time and energy to discover it. And few people in our lives do that, and we often don’t even know ourselves that well. Some vessels are stopped up tighter than others.

You just never know do you, what might be inside that vessel, the labels on the outside or the condition of the container can be very deceptive. What do you see when you look into the mirror? Do you see the labels slapped on you by others? The dirt and scratches you acquired on the journey? Or do you see what Jesus sees?  

We are really clueless it seems. Preconceptions cloud our vision also.

We all have a notion or an image in our minds of the kind of person God would call to represent him before many varied and powerful people, those he would entrust with great wisdom and insight to share in such a way that people receive it. And we all have a notion of who might not be qualified.

Many would even put themselves in that category of—Who me? A chosen vessel to bear his name before Gentiles, kings and Israelites? I seriously doubt it. Well, guess what, You do not get to decide if you are called or not, you only get to decide if you will answer the call. Only the Lord knows what your label truly reads, and not even you will know what that label says until the day you stand before him.

But in the meantime he will help you overcome the false labels the world, and yourself, have slapped on yourself.

To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” ’

Rev 2:17

Regardless of what the world may call you, the Father calls you child.

No Mere Servants

In the eighth chapter of Acts we meet Philip. Phillip is one of those, as was Stephen, who was appointed and anointed to distribute the groceries to the widows of the church. A mere servant, yet one like Stephen, who will be used to do powerful things and make great strides in advancing the Kingdom of Heaven.

It would seem there are no mere servants in the church of Jesus Christ. Perhaps because servants go where they are asked to go. And Philip is about to do exactly that, even as the Apostles, who had received the command known as the great commission from Jesus, remain in Jerusalem. Probably feeling obligated to stay and care for the flock who was unable for whatever reason to flee the persecution.

So Phillip goes on to have some real adventures starting in Samaria, the hated land of the cross bred remnant of the northern tribes of old Israel.  They even make celebrities out of sorcerers. In Acts 8 we read:

But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great,  to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.”  And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.  But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. Acts 8:8-12

The Samaritan’s are used to grand shows but they have never seen anything like what this religious refugee  from Jerusalem is bringing. Philip is making causing no small stir in Samaria, even the famous Simon is astonished by his Spirit filled acts and preaching.

Remember, Philip was nobody in the eyes of the world, and perhaps much of the church. As one of those from what was called the Hellenists, a Greek speaker in a church full of diehard Hebrews, there were likely those who looked down their noses at him.

That’s important to note. Because it seems to me that we are entering a time in our day where the obscure, unknown and even often scorned servants of the Lord will be the ones God uses to bring on the next revival and outpouring of the Holy Spirit we so desperately need right now, as big churches struggle and high profile leaders seem to be falling left and right.

It’s time for the scattered to pay attention. Because those who are paying attention know that their scatter matters. God is not on vacation, or wringing his hands perplexed, he is always at work.

 To be honest with you, I always read this in the past thinking that Philip was an apostle. This book is called, the Acts of the Apostles after all. But so far, we are seeing ordinary disciples, if there is such a thing, making some pretty big waves here. And, in my defense, there is an apostle named Philip. But  this Philip is just another servant disciple who is determined to keep serving his Lord.

You would think that after the stoning death of his good friend and brother Stephen that he might want to keep a low profile. But, and you may have noticed this, being filled with the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ is not real conducive to keeping a low profile.

You are going to be noticed, and you will either be targeted or drawn to, either way you will be noticed. A light on a hill in the dark of night will be seen, unless hidden under a bushel basket.

If that’s the case the Spirit will just move on and work with someone who will shine. When the big production spotlights go dim the smaller flickers of the faithful who kept their lamps full of oil seem much brighter—and genuine.

And that’s what Philip is doing; being a light of truth that all are drawn to.

Keep shining on my brothers and sisters–God sees you, and so will the world.

The heart of the Lord is for you, for your heart and for your mission. —Carry on.

A Mother’s Heart, and Gold

After Peter and John healed a lame man in the Temple gate one day they took the opportunity to preach the gospel to the gathering crowd.

Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…” Acts 3

How often do we moan and complain about how weary we are, how helpless and downtrodden we feel. ‘Lord, why don’t I feel the joy of my salvation like I used to? Why do I feel like I have nothing left to give?

Well, is there repentance involved in your walk with the Lord? Or are you just presuming on grace, always presuming and never turning away from the things we need grace for?

The simple truth is, you are not going to be feeling a lot of refreshing in the Lord’s presence if you are always wallowing in the sin he died to rescue you from.

Turn from the lust of the flesh and the distractions that bind and blind, and turn to the one who can set you free, look to Jesus and expect something, expect a miracle.

And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.” So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give to you.” Acts 3:5-6

Jesus can give you whatever you need to overcome whatever it is that keeps you from him, but you need to trust him enough to turn to him in honesty, and to look into his eyes and say “Help me Lord, I’m tired of fighting this alone and I need a touch from you. Silver and gold I do not need, times of refreshing in your presence is what my soul desires.”

Living in a world of plenty we easily forget that, as a church, as people, as parents. We lose focus on what is truly valuable when we focus too much on what the world considers treasure.

A story is told of Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century priest, friar and philosopher, calling on Pope Innocent II one day as the Pope happened to be counting out a large sum of money. “You see Thomas,” said the Pope, “the church can no longer say ‘silver and gold have I none.’” “True Holy Father,” replied Thomas, “neither can she now say, ‘Rise and walk.’”

Was the church richer when it had nothing to offer but Jesus and nothing to gain but forever?

Are our families richer when we have nothing to offer our kids but our hearts, our time, and our outstretched arms?

Mothers, I hate to say it, but you’re the worst. You love your kids and you want to give them everything. You want to be the world’s greatest mom and you judge yourself in that regard by looking at what you perceive other ‘perfect’ moms giving their kids—or maybe by the standard of your own mom who seemed to have it all together and made your childhood special.

Here’s a secret, your  mom had the same struggles, was not perfect, and neither are all those other moms whose kids you deem to be so lucky and well adjusted.

You are the perfect mom for your kids. They would not want any other mother than you, and they see in you things that they love and admire that you are blind to.

But most importantly, more than all the things you could buy them, more than all the programs you could get them to, more then all the crafty things you could invent for them or perfect lessons you could teach them—they just want you.

They want your time and attention, they want you—loud, messy, disorganized and broke—they don’t care. They just want what you have to offer them, the best things they could possibly receive from a mother, the same things you get from your Father in Heaven— unconditional love, mercy, grace, wisdom, correction, stories, tenderness, strength, a smile to wipe away the gloom, or a tear to share a hurt and a kiss to fix the boo-boo.

When they reach out to you in expectation, they don’t want money or stuff, they just want your hand reaching back to them, because like Peter on that day at the Beautiful gate, your hand is far from empty.

Happy Mother’s Day all!