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?

Bible memes Swaningson

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!

The Men in White

It’s like ‘Come ‘on people, pay attention!

 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

Acts 1:1-11

Olivet

Angels

Obviously, the ascension of Jesus is the focus of this opening chapter of Acts, but let’s picture this scene for a moment. The Men of Galilee, as they are addressed here by the strangers in white, are standing there on the Mount of Olives slack jawed, staring up into heaven, probably somewhat in shock as they have just witnessed Jesus, who appears to still be as human as them, though they know better at this point, has just floated off of the face of the earth and disappeared into the clouds. Leaving them alone–so they thought.

They suddenly they hear a voice and turn to see two men in white apparel asking them, seemingly somewhat incredulously, ‘Why are you standing here gazing into nothingness?’  It’s kind of like the young man in white who earlier had asked Mary; “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” It’s like ‘Come ‘on people, pay attention!

In both these cases these angels, as we now know them to be, appear, or are at least described as simply menmen in white. To me that sounds like they could be mistaken for just another person—who happens to be in the right place and just happens to have the right answers, in the moment.

I have to wonder how many times these men in white have inconspicuously stood by us with an answer we needed at just the right time and we failed to realize who they were—until much later, if at all. Paul reminded us of this in one of his letters.

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Hebrews 13:12

There are many great stories of spectacular angelic rescues to be heard, but often, they are just bringing a word in time, to save a weary soul.

A few years ago I was a little discouraged—okay, a lot discouraged. I had been toiling away at the church here in Red Lodge Montana for years, still working full time —at that time actually working on a project in Miles City during the week—and the church seemed to have hit a wall, or at least I had.

So I was sitting on a park bench overlooking Red Lodge, up by the airport in a little park area and I was praying, or should I say whining, to the Lord. “Lord, what am I doing here. My vision of a thriving church that supports a ministry of healing and restoration, drawing people from all over to be refreshed and recommissioned for the callings and passions you had given them to make a difference in this world for you; it just doesn’t seem to be happening.”

Not to mention my vision of having a church big enough to allow me to quit my construction job and focus more on ministry—”Lord? What am I doing here? Did I miss something?”

Suddenly I noticed an older gentleman in a jogging suit and a pair of sneakers, walking down the trail that ran right past the bench I was on. He greeted me with a big smile and said; “Nice place for some R and R!”  “Yes it is.” I replied. And he just kept on walking. I sat there and thought; Yes, indeed it is, as his words seemed to reverberate in my soul.

I wish I could say the man was wearing white, I don’t remember— But he spoke the words of God to me just as surely as if the heavens had parted and Jesus had hollered down at me—’Hey! This is why you are here—remember?’

I am convinced that he was an angel.

That one sentence confirmed in me and reminded me exactly why God had sent me here, and reassured me that the vision and call to be here was still valid.

God sent me here with a very clear mission to build a church of refuge and rest, a place to recoup, rebuild and refit for wounded soldiers who are weary of the fight, who feel scorned and cast aside or who just need a little R and R. And what better place for a ministry like that then in Red Lodge MT at the foot of some of the grandest and most beautiful mountains in the world?

Red Lodge -Swaningson

The very nature of a ministry like that, by design, is that people might stay for a while and then move on into the plan God has for them. Healed, forgiven, forgiving, and empowered by his Spirit. And it has been happening.

God never told me how many it would be happening with at a time—he just asked me to come. And to claim and cling to my own healing along the way.

And if it takes an occasional visit from the men in white to remind me—than thank you Jesus, I’ll take it. Why are you standing here gazing into the heavens? —’Why are you sitting here on this bench whining?’ Okay Lord, I get it. I’ll go back and do what you asked me to do.

And you know what? Anything I have ever done with and for the Lord, no matter how difficult, is still better than my old life without Jesus.

Angel is a word that simply means messenger. Are you listening to the messages?

I Know You, Still

I find great encouragement in the calling of those the Lord would use in days of old to speak truth beyond their own wisdom and understanding. Because the same God who called them is the same one who calls and equips us. And Jesus told us that we who are least in the Kingdom would be greater than even the greatest of the old prophets.

Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”
Jeremiah 1

Many times we see in scripture, references to how the Lord knew us and had a plan for us even before we were ever born.

How can we not trust and love a God who knows us better than we can ever know ourselves? Why would we ever fear that a God who knew us even before we were born, who was thinking about us and what great things we could and would do to make this world a better place, that he would not have our backs, would not equip us with what we need to accomplish the mission he gives us.

And why would we ever fear those who would come against us when it is God who gives us the words to speak and the signs to accompany it? It’s not something we muster up or contrive, it’s just us getting out of the Spirit’s way and allowing him to use us.

Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me:

“Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.
10 See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms,
To root out and to pull down,
To destroy and to throw down,
To build and to plant.” Jer 1:9
—10

 Sounds a lot like what Jesus was telling his followers, doesn’t it? God’s word is never left unfulfilled, it never returns void, and Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

If ever we need Jeremiah’s today is that day. If ever we needed Peters and Johns—Andrews and James, Stephens and Mary Magdalenes, Cornelius’s and Eunices—today is that day.

We must heed the call, step up and accept our commission by the Lord who knew us and had a plan for us long before we were ever conceived in the womb, and not be afraid of anything, for the Lord our God is with us.

…and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Mat 28

To me these are the most comforting words ever spoken in the language of men. The words of Jesus, the author of life, the lamb of God and the Lion of Judah—he in whose image I am created.

I do not fear the dark–the dark fears me!

Rolling Away the Stone

“I felt like I was trapped in a tomb. . . All I had in there with me was a bag of weed, a bottle of whiskey and a bunch of good time friends to help me consume it.

“Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large. 

Mark 16:3-4

How often do we focus on the stone, beat our heads against it, rail at it, pray about it. And finally just camp out on it because—well, it’s not going anywhere.

The Marys and Salome knew that there was death behind that stone—but they didn’t believe they could do anything about it so they just focused on the stone. ‘Stupid rock! If only we could have done this the other day, before they sealed the tomb, we wouldn’t have to come back and worry about it now.’

If only Jesus hadn’t come back to Jerusalem, if only the Priests had listened to Jesus, if only he had been nicer to them, played their games. If only. . .  there is always an if only isn’t there? But we cannot go back in time, what is done is done. So now all we can do is worry about this big rock that is blocking the way.

Am I talking about the ladies or us? Both.

I can’t really get to my Lord because this stone is in my way.

‘I have to deal with it, or, I guess, just live on this side of it. Scared, alone and hopeless. Just as well, the situation is all hopeless anyway, there’s nothing on the other side but decay.’

That is just a lie, a distraction to keep you from even going to the tomb. At least the women had the faith to go to Jesus, even expecting little when they got there—’all we need is the stone removed—please?!’

Their mustard seed of faith was rewarded, and they realized that their stone, just like the ones Jesus had rolled away from their hearts when he was here, was gone.

Your stone can be drugs, eating, money worries or money clutching. It can be gambling, emotional scars, drugs, alcohol, pornography, physical pain and sickness, family issues, job issues, the cares of the world, the love of the world, fear, anxiety, depression—all of them huge stones that we push and push on to no avail—they are just there, keeping us from our Lord. And true life.

My biggest stone was being stoned. I spent years running around, running my own life, seeking everything that I thought my flesh needed and wanted, but got farther and farther away from my Lord until I felt like I was trapped in a tomb with no escape. All I had in there with me was a bag of weed, a bottle of whiskey and a bunch of good time friends to help me consume it.

But I was seeing and feeling more and more that I was dead and empty inside, and no amount of dope—not weed, not mushrooms, not cocaine, not acid, not speed—whiskey, beer or Tequila could cover it any more. And all the parties always seemed to end in heartache leaving me more lonely and empty than ever. Even the good money I was making in the welding trade that I had worked so hard to excel at was not rewarding in the least.

Then I started to hear the Lord call from the other side of the rock—’I’m here, waiting for you.’ I began to hear preachers preaching about a plan that the Lord had for me. I could no longer stand it—I had to get past that rock. But who will roll the stone away? I tried doing it myself. I tried quitting the drugs.

No smoking, no drinking, no snorting— nothing for a month! I declared. I am pushing that stoned stone aside.

Hah, it didn’t hardly budge an inch. I didn’t make it until the end of the first day and I was not only not moving that stone any farther, it was rolling back over the top of me.

I cried out “Lord, I do not want to be this way! I want to follow you, I want to really know you! I will do whatever it takes, go wherever you ask, I’ll read and study, pray and preach, I’ll make a fool of myself, go to the deepest darkest jungles—whatever—just roll away this stone—I can’t even breath anymore, I can’t stand to live this way!”

 ‘Out of my distress I called on the Lord, he answered me and set me free.’” The words of Psalm 118 that jumped out at me that night of my desperation from the old bible I hadn’t opened in years.

Those words became the messenger from God—the angel—that crashed to the earth like lighting in my soul and shoved that stone away like it was made of paper mâché. It turns out the stone wasn’t the issue.

The stone, the drugs and drink,  were hiding the death inside that was caused by my distrust in the Lord and my desire to maintain control. My real issue, the real stone, was the emptiness that came from running from God, from living for the flesh. I was worrying about the stone of addiction being rolled away when inside I was a rotting corpse.

When I decided to take that walk to the garden where I had last seen my Lord, to express my deep and unwavering love and devotion to him, when I declared that I would trust him, if he only rolled that stone away—that stone was obliterated.

When the words of that Psalm opened my eyes to see that I needed to trust Jesus and stop worrying about satisfying the desires of a never satisfied flesh, that I needed to stop worrying about what all my good time party friends thought of me, to see that I would never be free unless I cried out to Jesus—I knew I had to trust him, Trust him with my life, my heart and my soul. And he came crashing out of that tomb I had locked him in, in the dark recesses of my heart, and set me free.

The love and freedom I felt, the peace and the joy I felt, all of this came in an instant that night as I was kneeling on my living room floor with withdrawal cravings wracking my brain and body. On a cold January night the resurrection power of Jesus who walked out of that tomb and embraced me, set me free.

And I have never looked back.

And I have never regretted it for a minute. I have a freedom a purpose and the power of God Almighty backing me up. Because I finally believed—really believed. When I finally gave in and quit running from Jesus, decided to trust him with my heart and my life, the desire to dull my senses with dope disappeared. I did not want to miss a thing.

The stone was rolled away, and it was glorious.

I had been focusing on the stone, wanting it to be removed, but it was the death inside that needed addressed. But overcoming that was more than I could hope for–until I did. The miracle I got that evening was more than I could ever hope for, more than I expected. But we serve a God who overcame death–the stones are easy.

Turns out, Jesus didn’t want my promises of sacrifice and devotion–He just wanted my heart.

Crucified

There is just no good way to communicate all that happened when Jesus was crucified, no adequate words to describe nor explain, and surely, it is beyond human comprehension and description, all that happened that day on the cross, in the heavens, on the earth, below the earth, and most importantly and significantly —in the heart of Jesus, the Son of Man, Son of God.

We cannot fathom the depth of the love that held him to that cross and kept him on mission, thus we cannot fathom the depth of the pain he experienced in the depths of his soul as that intense and never faltering love was rejected, scorned and mocked—as those he loved, from his followers, to his people, to his own Father, turned away and rejected him, leaving him to suffer and die misunderstood and unappreciated.

The few who did still love and feel the pain of his ordeal in their souls were left without hope. And this only added to Jesus’ pain. No one seemed to understand that this was all necessary and foretold. Yet, if they had, it wouldn’t have happened; a plan and scenario only His Father could have foreseen and used for good—taking advantage of man’s ignorance and susceptibility to evil influences, to save him from those very things.

Even in their taunts they proclaimed truth, yet failed to understand the words. In three days this temple would indeed be rebuilt. But it would not be a temple built with hands. The large heavy curtain that separated the Stone Temple Sanctuary from the world was torn in two, perhaps because the Spirit of God had left the building— perhaps as a sign that the way was now open for all who wished, to come before the Father—through Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

 There would be no more need for a temple made of stone for the Spirit of God would soon be residing in the hearts of those who loved him, a new temple was being prepared that day, and would be completed on the resurrection day—a temple rebuilt in three days.

Preparing this message I prayed “Lord, help me to communicate the significance and gravity of this event, what the cross means to us and what it meant to you. Help me to communicate the price you paid for our sin, for our redemption through your words, from your Spirit, from your heartLord, I hesitated (dare I even say it) help me to see the crucifixion through your eyes.”

But then I knew, that’s what I had to do. To try to take you there, to the cross on that horrific and reality altering day, through the eyes of the Savior. As I said, words can never fully explain, nor minds comprehend, the things of the Spirit that were happening simultaneously in history and in eternity that day. But we have to try.

After all, we were there. It was our sinful flesh that was being crucified that day, the evil that dwells in our hearts was being transposed from us to Christ in those dark hours. His death was our death, his hellish nightmare experience should have been ours.

20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2:20

When Paul said he had been crucified with Christ, it was not word play, that is the reality of the believer in Christ. So, since Jesus became us on the cross, maybe it is not so radical to try and see the cross through his eyes. It is after all, not we who live, but Christ who lives in us.

Through His Eyes

Jesus, the Nazarene, teacher, prophet and miracle worker, is being nailed to a rough hewn and heavy wooden cross, the kind the Romans use to cause a slow and hideous death that becomes a fear inducing spectacle for all to see. The sight of a cross struck fear and revulsion in all, because they knew what it was for—so did Jesus, and it loomed large in his vision just before he was forced to lie on it.

His arms are lashed to the cross beam with ropes and he turns to look at the soldier who has placed a sharp spike against his wrist. He sees the hammer rise and fall and he cries out in pain. He is startled by the sudden intensity of the pain that manages to override momentarily even that of his lash torn back pressed against the wooden beam, and the new puncture wounds being made in the back of his head, as he is forced to lay his thorn crowned head against the cross beam.

But what he sees as he looks through swollen eye lids at the soldier who is swinging the hammer is a man who has no idea the evil he is perpetrating and who it is that he is piercing with the nails. He is just a soldier following orders to execute what he believes to be just another Jewish rebel. Jesus looks at him, the one who sees him as just another worthless Jew to be rid of, and loves him, him and his fellow soldiers; and prays, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

The next thing he sees is the soldier reaching over him to nail the accusation against him to the cross above his head. He feels the vibrations of every blow painfully transferred through the three nails holding his hands and feet.

He sees the dusty sandaled feet of those passing close by as they mockingly read the charge on the sign—“King of the Jews” And they laugh as they begin making jokes among themselves at his expense. He sees the hobnailed sandals of the soldiers as they push back the jeering mockers lest someone grab the pile of clothing that Jesus’ had just been stripped of—the sum total of his earthly belongings, now spoils to be gambled for.

To his left and right, he sees from the corner of his eye, other crosses and hears pained and hoarse voices alternating between curses and taunts as they too–mock him.

Lying on his back it is hard to see anything really, as He is forced to squint his burning eyes against the glaring overhead sun, a sun seemingly intent on adding to his misery. Suddenly his vision is swimming as he is quickly hoisted upright in one swift, well practiced maneuver, and he finds himself looking down on his world as the cross is lifted up and dropped with a flesh tearing thud into a hole in the ground.

Looking down

His vision soon clears as his dehydrated and blood loss weakened head stops spinning. He can now see the whole crowd, the same that has jeered and hissed at him all the way to this hilltop. He sees through the blood and sweat that flows unchecked into his tortured eyes, the Chief Priests who are now defiling themselves by looking upon the blood of a man who will soon be dead. Yet Jesus knows they must be there, the Chief Priests are the ones who must oversee this offering of the final Passover lamb.

Mark 15:31-32 Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”

Yet the taunts of the priests are like a knife to his heart, because he knows that they will suffer greatly for what they do, and they don’t have to —if they had only listened and believed. They were the first ones to be shown the truth; from the prophets, to his visit to the temple as a boy, and his many visits to the temple. God was speaking, and they were scheming.

He looks at the gathered crowd; he sees the faces in the crowd, and he sees into their hearts.

He sees the angry man who just lost all he owned to a crooked steward. He sees the hurting woman who just lost a baby girl to sickness and is despairing beyond words. He sees the horrified child peering out from behind his father. He sees the disappointed rabbi who really believed that he could be the Messiah, but is now angry that he was apparently duped—yet again.

Their taunts and jeers, rage fueled by disappointment and hopelessness, tears at his heart.

He sees the women who followed and cared for him looking on from a distance, horrified and confused. Their faces a mask of disbelief and pain as they weep into their hands and try in vain to comfort one another. He aches to be able to comfort them and tell them to not give up hope, ‘this is not the end’—but he knows that all they can see and hear now is death and despair.

Then he sees a sight that horrifies him more than all the rest—his mother, Mary,  standing next to his good friend and devoted follower—John. She desperately reaches out to him but is held back by John and the gleaming points of Roman spears.

The pain and anguish he sees in her eyes as they search his for some kind of answer, is another knife in his already aching and straining heart. “Mother,” he croaks between labored breathes “behold your son” referring to John. He then admonishes John —’this is now your mother’–care for her.

Everywhere he looks he sees and hears human pain, anguish, anger, fear and rage. All directed at, and magnified by his body pinned to this pagan cross.

But through it all, through the pain induced haze that causes his eyes to dim and nearly black out at times, through the taunts, cries and jeers, he still has a strength and a measure of peace; a strength and a peace that has been with him through all the years of his ministry, a presence he felt even as a child and recognized as a presence that he had known even long before that—a presence and oneness that had been his for eternity past—it was the presence of his Father.

His Father’s Will

He knows he has to do this. He knows the prophecies and the promises, that he is the promised one, the suffering servant, the seed of Evethe Lamb of God, he knows he is in his Father’s will. And that is what gave him the strength and the will to face this day in the first place, to come back to this city knowing it would be his end.

His cousin John had confirmed his mission at his Baptism—”Behold the Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world” and his Father had sent his Spirit to affirm and empower him in his human and frail form. But what happens now, as he hangs there on that fated cross, he is not prepared for.

Although he knew it had to happen, there was just no way of being prepared for it—the Holy one, the one through whom, for whom, and by whom, all things were created—he who knew no sin, had no way to comprehend, or scale by which to measure, the darkness that He was about to become—in the eyes of his Father.

And he feels the darkness as much as sees it approach.

He turns his eyes heavenward as the bright sun that had earlier tormented him now inexplicably dims until he can see nothing, not with his eyes—but his heart and soul are witnessing things he had never been forced to look upon before, he is feeling things he had never felt, and hearing voices of pain, vileness, condemnation and curses in his head that drown out and overshadow the mocking voices and the angry and anguished cries that have besieged him all day.

But then, the worst pain of all—the heart ripping, spirit killing, bone chilling feeling of sudden emptiness, scorn and abandonment, as all things good, all things right, his very sense of self and his very identity is suddenly ripped away—his Father has turned away—all of heaven, has turned away.

He has become sin, he has become darkness, he has become death. He is totally and utterly alone as all the heinous and vile things mankind has ever done or imagined doing is now in him. He is living it, breathing it, it is emanating from his very pores like the blood he had sweated out just the night before as he anticipated this moment.

He who knew no sin—has become sin. And his Father has forsaken him for it.

He looks down for a moment, forced back into the present by the painful reality of having to pull himself up against the nails just to take a breath as the pressure on his hanging torso makes it impossible to breath normally, and he sees, in the light of a few hastily acquired torches, the faces of his sheep—the ones he has promised to shepherd even if he has to go looking for them, and he knows—he knows, a sense from somewhere deep in his tortured core, that he has to endure this—for them.

But the anxiety, the rising feeling of panic, the bottomless pit of despair that has taken the place of the fullness and love he had always sensed from his Father is almost more than he can bear, and before he even realizes he has decided to speak, the anguished words of his ancestor King David are ripped from his cracked and bleeding lips—spoken in the language he learned at his mother’s knees “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” — “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

And still, the darkness grips him. He vaguely sees a sponge lifted before his face, he smells the sour smell of wine but it is soon withdrawn as those below shout something about Elijah.

He sees in his minds eye the brief image of Elijah as he was on the day that he and Moses had come to prepare him for this day, on the mount of transfiguration. And he is reassured just a bit, just enough to keep him from cursing the day he was born into this vile planet.

And he continues to fight to remember why he is here. To bleed for the sins which continue to course through him, and he understands the darkness of the sun. The Father had turned away from the sin he has become and the light of the world has departed, the Father has looked away and the Life and the Light of men is being extinguished.

Then suddenly, it is done. Three hours of torturous outer darkness separated from the love that is his Father, eons of compiled sin—blasphemies, perversions, murders, greed, vile and heinous acts of every nature, all crammed into the longest three hours ever lived by anyone on this earth—has ended.

He is still on the cross, he is still bleeding and fighting for every breath, still racked with pain and heartbroken for those he loves—but he sees the sun began to shine again and he hears the voice of his Father as coming from a distant place, and it whispers—it is finished.

‘It is finished Son’— words that Jesus quietly repeats. He looks down and sees the wide eyes and expectant faces of the now silent crowd and he knows that he has completed his mission. He senses his Father drawing nearer and he cries out— a cry of triumph mixed with pain and fury as from a warrior who has vanquished his foes yet still bleeds from the fight that was fueled by a need to finally and utterly destroy the enemy.

The body still wants to fight, his muscles quiver with the effort and his mind races with the implications of it all but he knows he is finished—for now. There is nothing left to do here and he releases himself from his battered flesh, he gives up his spirit, with the words, “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.”  

 He is leaving his battered body behind, the shell of the man he had become for thirty three years, but he knows he will return because he knows he has defeated death on that Roman cross—no one else knows it yet—but they will—soon, very soon.

 Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid. Mark 15:46-47

Mocked and Mobbed

The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial is one of mocking, misery, injustice and slander. All against an innocent man.

Just the day before he was the long awaited King, the Son of David come to restore the Kingdom, in the minds of the adoring crowds. But today, those same crowds are calling for his death. And they use the title, King of the Jews, to mock and convict him. Their adulation has turned to mocking.

The mob is a dangerous and fickle beast. Our forefathers recognized this and it is why we have the court system that we do, or are at least supposed to have, where all are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. And all have a chance to defend themselves and to face their accusers. Jesus was convicted and sentenced to death here merely to gratify the crowd who demanded justice for a crime that could not be named or proven.

That is also why we in this nation have a representative form of government, restrained within a long standing and time tested Bill of rights that is supposed to prevent rash and emotional sentiments from ruling the day no matter how big or loud a mob demands it. We are not supposed to be ruled by the whims of the crowd, much to the surprise and dismay of many today—we are not a straight out democracy. Reason and truth are too hard to hang on to when emotions and peer pressure are running high. We are a representative republic, governed by representatives that we choose.

Jesus is the victim of mob rule here, straight up on the fly democracy, subject to the verdict of the people who were persuaded by those who were supposed to be the experts in these things, to demand the release of a murderer at the same time they are demanding the execution of a man who has never committed a crime in his life.

This is probably not the usual track you see a preacher take when he is teaching on the trial and conviction of Jesus but I believe there is an important and relevant message here for the church today. We cannot get caught up in popular sentiment and assume that just because most say something is so, or because the experts say it is so—that it is.

And when those popular sentiments turn against us, when the band wagon we refused to jump on tries to run us over, we must not give in, and we must realize that sometimes the best response is just what Jesus did here. Stand on truth, don’t waste your breath arguing with the hysterical and the liars, and never compromise who you are—a child of the Most High God.  A God who in the end will not be mocked and will remember all the mocking and pain inflicted on his children.

We must not be swept up by crowd or emotion driven passions and become hysterical caricatures useful as tools for those with whatever agenda. You stand apart, you stand strong, you stand dignified and tall—even if you must stand alone. The quiet and nonplussed demeanor and reaction of a child of God, to the abuse of the mob, drawn from the hope and the strength of our faith, will drive the mob insane with fury, but it is our victory and our greatest witness and may even win some to Christ.

“Surely, this man is a son of God.” —The words of one Roman soldier after all he witnessed on this day when the crooked politicians and the lynch mob prevailed over the body of Christ, yet could not break his spirit.

That soldier spoke as one, not as a mob, because, after all, mobs are made up of individuals. Individuals that, when all the noise and peer pressure subsides, must wrestle with all they have just been part and parcel to.

But what about us? How do we respond to the mob?

For years I read the story of Jesus’ bogus trial and marveled that Jesus did not do more to defend himself, to stand up to and counter his accusers and mockers. But he remained mostly silent, speaking only a few words, basically just confirming their accusations against him, which of course had to do with his claims to be the Messiah, the Son of God. With very few, yet poignant words, he confirmed both to the Sanhedrin and to the Roman court that he was as they said, the Christ, “the Son of Man who would return with the clouds of heaven”, and that he was, in answer to Pilate’s query, “the King of the Jews.” Thus he was crucified for telling the truth.

But he didn’t argue his case—that he really was the Christ, the King. He didn’t explain how the scriptures bore that out. He didn’t use any of the mike dropping responses that he had so often used against those who challenged him or perform any of the miracles he was so widely known for, he just went along, as the prophets said he would, like a sheep—dumb before it’s shearers and then led to the slaughter. We know he had to die to fulfill his mission to purchase our salvation. But how could he be so passive about it? It’s not really passiveness though—there’s a real dignity to his unflappable nature in the face of such horrific mocking and abuse.

The strength and wisdom behind Jesus reactions and responses to his abusers and accusers becomes more evident and admirable the more you understand who Jesus is and the nature of men. Jesus once taught that the meek would inherit the earth. Meekness is not weakness. It takes incredible strength and restraint not to respond in kind to mocking and abuse, to stand tall when others are doing their utmost to knock you down. Often the best defense is a refusal to rise to the bait, to let the evil have their say and to let them fully expose themselves in their foolishness and hate. Hate always proves itself the fool if given enough opportunity to do so. Even Pilate here was beginning to have his doubts as to the legitimacy and justification for crucifying this supposed rebel and troublemaker. As heartless and hardened as Pilate was, he was struck by the strength of one who would so calmly face and stand tall in the face of such abuse and frenzied accusation. And he even tried to find a way to release Jesus. “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy.

But the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them. Pilate answered and said to them again, “What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” Mark 15

But the mob continued to vote no. And Jesus continued to stand tall and refused to debate with those whom he knew he could not dissuade. He was listening to his Father and he knew the prophecies, he knew he would be mocked, scourged and crucified no matter how he responded. Evil was having its day, or so it thought. It was actually playing right into God’s design to overcome death itself.

But today, standing before the dignitaries and the thronging holy day crowds in the City that God had chosen for his Temple, it sure seems like Jesus would have had a great opportunity to expand on why this was all a mockery and that they were all being duped. I think Jesus also understood that they were past that. He had spent three years doing just that already, they knew the truth yet they chose to accept the lies. There comes a point when you must realize that you have nothing left to prove; you know who you are, your life and words have proven it time and again, and it is only the wannabe’s who are still squawking.

Jesus was not going to dignify their foolishness any longer and his actions today would become his greatest witness to date. That is something we all need to learn from. Honorable restraint and wisdom comes from listening to the Father, and from knowing where you stand. Truth in the light of lies needs no defense, does not dignify a response, when it is evident that the one perpetrating the lies will not hear nor stand for truth—and will only mock it when it is present.

We win in the end, our God will not be mocked-nor will his children!