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.

Curses, Foiled Again!

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

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

Intrigue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 54:17

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

Scene one

Setting the stage;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swaningson bible memes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Jesus is all over this.

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

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

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

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

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

Bound by the Spirit

The Will of The Lord

Come on Paul, don’t you listen to the TV preachers? Don’t you listen to the prophets? Don’t you read the feel good books? Don’t you know that you have to put yourself first, take care of number one before you can ever consider anyone else?

Swaningson Bible memes

We find in Acts 21 another very challenging narrative from the lives of the early church and the Apostles. We have been finding a lot of those as we work through Acts together here. It seems the apostles and the early church didn’t go to the same seminaries and listen to all the experts that today’s church leaders have.

I mean, here in this chapter we have Paul just setting his jaw, charging forth on his mission to return to Jerusalem after an extended missionary trip, even though he is counseled again and again not to, even by his partner Luke, the writer of this narrative.

“…a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ ”

Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 21;10-13

Paul leaves people who love and look to him weeping on the beach, and travels hundreds of miles by ship, visiting, teaching, encouraging  believers all along the way in the many ports of call, and runs into at least two different prophets who speak on behalf of the Holy Spirit that if he returns to Jerusalem he will get into big trouble.

But Paul knew this even before he got to these cities, as he was departing from his beloved church family in Ephesus he told them:

And see, now I go bound in the Spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, Acts 20:22-24

Doesn’t Paul know that you are supposed to listen to the fellow believers and church leaders that God puts in your life?

Doesn’t he know that when trouble is prophesied to be ahead that you are supposed to avoid it? Doesn’t he know that it’s all about you?—how you can be blessed and happy, fulfilled, and free of worry and pain? Why would you head towards it? Why would you believe God is leading you into it?

Come on Paul, don’t you listen to the TV preachers? Don’t you listen to the prophets? Don’t you read the feel good books? Don’t you know that you have to put yourself first, take care of number one before you can ever consider anyone else?

‘The Holy Spirit sets you free! Free to do and go wherever your heart leads you—Fly away, be free!’

Um, maybe we should read that again;

 And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there. . .

Well, Paul’s heart was bound in the Spirit, so Paul was following his heart. And he was indeed free. Paul was free to go wherever he chose, he was free from the influences of those around him who had other agendas and ideas, even warnings and fears for him He was free to choose to follow Jesus—even right into the lion’s den.

And that’s where it gets tricky. How often do we pray for the  Lord’s will to be done? Or are we afraid to? ‘Lord, my will would be great, but, if you want to get me there your way, why then sure, your will be done.’

No, that’s not quite what Jesus meant we he prayed, “Nevertheless Father, not my will but thine be done.”

I’m afraid this is a lesson the church needs desperately to hear right now. Because if we are afraid to follow Jesus into the fire, if we are not listening and prepared for the challenges to come, we will also miss the opportunities, and worse, we will have fallen away.

 The time for coddling and nursing, bottle feeding those who should be eating meat is over, the battle is joined and those who are not willing to be bound to the Holy Spirit, will be left cowering in the shadows while the true warriors are taking the field. Because a true warrior, a true disciple, knows that to be in God’s perfect will, the plans are His, and it is ours only to follow.

Remember When?

Remember When?

Remember when life was not nearly so complicated, or scary? When you could almost hear the voice of God in the wind, in the rustling leaves, or in the music of a creek? Remember when church was simple, when it was being together- when it was Jesus? Do you remember first love, when you met Jesus? I do.

To the church of Ephesus write. . .  you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Rev 2:3-4

Simpler Days

We sorely need to get back to the simple joys of being believers together in, and with, Jesus. We need to remember when. . .

  Remember when Church was a place where you gathered to connect with friends and neighbors, not a place from which to look down on them?

  Remember when you looked forward to church functions as a welcome break in the day to day grind rather than another dreaded thing to do?

  Remember when learning to love your neighbor meant helping them build their barn rather than taking a class on how to trick them into coming to church?

  Remember when you learned how to be a good parent by spending time with grandparents rather than by watching a video series?

  Remember when fishing was a spiritual experience that you didn’t have to make excuses for because you may have missed church one day?

  Remember when Jesus could talk to you without a preacher in a suit that cost as much as your pickup, telling you what God wants you to do?

  Remember when the first verse of the 23rd psalm; “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.”  was enough to get you through anything?

  Remember when… it was just you and Jesus?—He didn’t go anywhere.

Go find a tire swing, touch the face of God and watch him smile.

Healing

One of the things that I have come to realize from having been  in the ministry for many years, and just being involved and engaged in the world in general, is that nearly everyone carries a wound. Some have deeper wounds than others, and some have more than others, but everyone carries something inside that colors how they see the world, usually for the worse.

It might be a wound that can be poked by someone without them having any idea that it’s even there, or worse, aggravated by the person or people who created it in the first place. 

I know that as a Spirit filled believer I am often able to see the wounds that many people miss, because the Holy Spirit is aware of everyone’s hurts and scars—he sees the heart, and if I’m paying attention he reveals them to me, not always in detail, just a sense that the wounds are there and the nature of them.

I was told years ago in my preparation to become a pastor, after a extensive gifting test, that one of my spiritual gifts, alongside of the prophetic gift, is encouragement, and it is a gift that I cherish. I want to be a healer. What good does it do to prophetically discern hurt if you cannot do anything about it?

But we all have that ability and we all have that call— to encourage one another. The scripture tells us to “Encourage one another daily for as long as it is called today.” (Heb 3:13)God has given me in my ministry role as a pastor, the specific assignment of creating a place of healing; primarily emotional and spiritual healing—to me one and the same, though we have seen a number of physical healings as well— it seems to me that it is the emotional healings that really have an impact for the kingdom. Because they get the healedto a place where they can be used to help others find healing.

Physical healings make a great testimony of God’s power and love but a story of emotional healing, of overcoming hopelessness─ that’s one that makes people say; “How can I get that?” People will listen to someone who has been where they desperately no longer want to be.

It takes empathy, it takes someone who really understands the healing and sustaining power of Jesus to be able to bring it to others, to share it. Because I’ll tell you what, if you start listening to people, just giving them a little bit of an inkling that you care and that you may have some experience or a bit of wisdom in what they’re struggling with—the thing that keeps them awake at night, that eats away at their souls and plagues their dreams—they are going to spill their guts to you.

Now you may be thinking: ‘I don’t want to hear people’s problems. Why would I want that? Good question, but guess what, it’s not about you. If Jesus has called you, healed you, delivered you—given you a hope and set you on a course to fulfilling your destiny, the plan he has for you—God’s plan for you will always involve you helping others, because we are the hands and feet of Jesus and he is using your mouth to speak healing.

He’s using your eyes and your ears to hear and to see what the Holy Spirit wants you to discern, and then using you to speak what he wants you to speak. And there is nothing more healing, nothing more rewarding, nothing that brings peace to your soul when you lay down your weary head at the end of the day than knowing that you made a difference, that you helped someone find hope, find release, find healing. That’s what Jesus was, and is, all about. He is calling you to be healed, and to be a healer—through and in him.

Give of what you have been given.

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.

Swaningson Bible Memes

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!

Dissension, Contention-Divide and Conquer

And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them.” Acts 15:1-2

I have been working my way through the book of Acts with my church, and one thing that has become abundantly clear, there was a whole lot of contention, dissension and dispute in the early church. Huh, some things never change do they? Usually it was because people were too busy talking and not listening, Same ‘ol. . .

You can say a lot of things about the past and current season this generation has been in and many of them would be argued with as soon as you said them. But that one thing that can’t be argued is that it has been a contentious season.

Contentious politically, culturally, spiritually, both nationally and on a world wide scale, as so much of what is going on or being foisted upon us affects us on a global scale like never before as the world gets smaller and smaller as populations and connectivity grow at breakneck speeds.

The enemy is tearing down everything he can, economies, nations and borders, histories, traditions and family, individualism and personal rights and identities, churches and relationships.

Everyone is being turned against everyone else and lumped into groups of us versus them. And those who dare try to have independent thoughts are slammed, shamed and silenced.

Why? Why would the enemy want this chaos and strife? Why would he want to destroy and cause all this strife?

Well, that short answer is obvious, he hates us all, especially those who know the Son of God. But the larger plan and purpose is that he wants to tear down everything that could possibly hinder him from seizing control of the world as a whole. And to destroy the people of God once and for all, Israel and the church.

For the first time on history the entire world is in a position where there could theoretically be one economy, one governing body, one religion, one standard set of laws and regulations. And we have already seen how easy it is to get everyone to comply with what would have previously seemed overreaching and intrusively untenable demands.

I mean, for a season, and still for some, we basically lived under Marshall law dictating our movements, and Sharia law as far as face coverings go, and faced communist style shortages while being policed Nazi style by our own neighbors as everyone was encouraged to report all dissension against the mandates.

And it was all justified, Marxist style, as being for the greater good of course. It all came together nicely in this season of pandemic hysteria and will continue to be pushed in the name of climate emergencies and social justice causes. We traded away all our freedoms for promised security and let fear rule the day.

And that’s why the enemy hates God’s people, there is no fear in perfect love, and perfect love is what we have.

Rolled Over?

We are now supposed to be okay with having our gender neutralized and our skin color being the sole thing that determines whether we are a victim or an oppressor. We rolled over and allowed small private businesses to be destroyed, our churches and schools to be closed, and now our speech, as far as speaking out or questioning any of that is being monitored and regulated. I have no doubt this very blog will be flagged and shadow banned by my various platforms.

And we are all supposed to be okay with all of that? And just submit? I’m sorry but I’m not and I won’t. Because I see it all as a perfect set up for the Anti-Christ to seize power, to just slide right in and declare, ‘Here I am to save the day!

My point is, if we want to have any hope of countering the plans of the enemy, or at the very least to survive as a church and to leave this world with our souls intact and headed for glory, we need to stop rising to the bait and bickering among ourselves. We need to stop worrying about things that in the end will not matter a whit, and keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, and treat one another with love so that all men may know that we are His disciples.

The Titanic is going down and we are complaining about the music the band is playing as she sinks.

Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, Acts 15:19

This is what came of all the arguments, of all the debates and contention and dissention in the early church about the finer points of the law, of those who thought they held the keys to the deeper things of God, the true way to the Father and his favor. Of those who kept troubling those who were deemed to be ignorant of truth and godliness.

The Apostles of Jesus Christ, the brother of Jesus Christ, James—those who had walked with him, lived with him and who were still guided and empowered by him through his Holy Spirit, all got together one day and to settle the issue between grace and religion once and for all—this is what they decided was important and necessary for those who were coming to faith in Jesus Christ and being baptized in his Spirit as a result.

Right at the top of this Supreme Holy Court decision was the admonition to stop troubling the gentiles with all your nonsense about the law and the deeper things of God let them turn to God. Let the know it all’s take notice—shut up and listen to what the Spirit says and open your eyes to see what he is doing among those you deem ignorant.

Stop troubling them. I know so many Christians who have lost their zeal and desire to go forth and plunder the enemy’s territory because some well-meaning, more learned and mature Christian made them feel stupid and ill equipped.

Champion

If you know Jesus as Lord and have been delivered from your bondages to sin and death, if you have the Spirit of the living God residing in your heart, you are a warrior, you are the Lord’s champion, you have a testimony and a name that is above all names, that will overcome the beast, that will set the captives free and will bring many sons and daughters to glory.

Don’t let anyone or anything stop you. Anyone who comes against you and troubles you in that regard is an agent of the devil. As Jesus said-Get behind me Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men!

And strive for holiness.

The Apostle’s provide an astonishingly short list of things the new believers should do to keep on track and not get sucked back into the clutches of the enemy. They all had to do with not opening yourself up to his control and destructive designs for us and the world; abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. 

The debate was over, for a time. People just cannot let go of their pet theologies and traditions, convinced they alone are right.

We need to stop shooting at each other from our favorite theological bunkers. We need to love one another, encourage one another humbly and sincerely as we all struggle to navigate this evil world, as those who are no longer citizens of this world, and start heeding the warnings God is giving us from those who are shutting their mouths long enough to listen to him and to see what the Spirit is doing.

Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul. . . Acts 15:12

We need to stop worrying and arguing about things that in the end will not matter a whit, and keep our eyes on Jesus, we need to just shut up and listen, to stop fighting one another, and to heed those he sends to encourage and warn us.

We need to stop being the Pharisees and be the Jeremiahs, (A Jeremiah Spirit) and we need to hear the Jeremiahs. I said it the very first week this Pandemic business hit the fan last year, and it still holds true today, The Lord does nothing but that he doesn’t tell his servants.

Fire

I worked with a guy for several years who had a propensity to argue, in fact, I argued with him a lot. He was pretty stubborn and always wanted to act like he knew it all, or at least take credit for it all. When it was my work he was taking credit for, I had a problem with that.

Anyway, he also had a fondness for the beer and cigarettes, and one day the combination got him in trouble. I first heard the story on the news, and then later from him. He was sitting in his recliner one evening after having drank several beers, smoking a cigarette, and he fell asleep— or more like passed out.

He told me he remembers waking up and thinking it was really hot so he decided to go to bed. The next thing he knew someone was trying to drag him out of bed so he was trying to fight him off until he realized that his room was full of smoke and the guy who was wrestling him out of bed was a firefighter.

What happened was he had fallen asleep with a cigarette, the cigarette had started his recliner on fire, which woke him up, so instead of trying to figure out why his chair was so hot, he just went to bed.

A neighbor saw the smoke pouring out of his living room window and called 911. And of course the firemen searched the house for people as they put the fire out. They rescued him despite his fighting against them and even saved his house.

Did he learn? No, a few years later he was found dead in his bathroom of a heart attack, in his mid-forties, after years of heavy drinking and smoking. Despite the many warnings his body and his friends were giving him, he refused to even go to the doctor, he thought he knew better.

Things are heating up, maybe instead of going back to sleep, or fighting with those who are trying to save us, we should pay attention to why things are getting hot.

It’s not because our neighbors need us to straighten them out, we need to start by looking at ourselves. –Humility

Get some.

The Freedom of Trust

Real freedom comes from a heart of trust, we earn God’s trust by trusting in him. And that is a whole other level of freedom.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah had without question, a tough job. He was tasked with warning the Kingdom of Judah of imminent judgement unless they repented and turned back to the God of their Fathers, Yahweh. Long story short, they did not listen and Jeremiah found himself imprisoned by his fellow Jews while Jerusalem found themselves besieged by Babylon. The overthrow of the city was upon them and Jeremiah’s condition could only go from bad to wore on the day the city fell, or so he thought.

I will rescue you on that day… because you trust in me,  declares the Lord. Jer 39:18

The Lord keeps his promise to Jeremiah and he is later released from a Babylonian concentration camp on the orders of Nebuchadnezzar himself, after a short time in captivity. He is set free with an invitation by the captain of the guard to go anywhere he wants, “See, you have the whole country before you.” He even gets an invitation to live in Babylon as an honored and well appointed guest of this same captain. He choses to stay in Judah and minister to his own beleaguered people.

But that is his choice. Something he had not experienced for quite some time-the freedom to choose, within God’s plan for him.

This is a freedom that is hard to teach because it really has to be experienced, it is a spiritual state, not a physical one. A freedom that comes from grace, and, as a result of claiming it for ourselves— claiming it and defending it. Because others will not want us to keep it.

The freedom to follow our heart’s desires from a heart that has become one with our Lord, a heart set free from the impurities that would pervert and cloud our judgment.

Not Puppets

That freedom from God is a far cry from religion, but it’s also a far cry from the notion many Spirit filled Christians have that their every move has to be directly guided by the Spirit like they are just a marionette on a set of strings. God never wanted puppets, and he still doesn’t. He guides us and often needs to adjust our course as we still have to struggle to keep the flesh at bay. But more often, in the life of the believer, he trusts us and allows us to make our own decisions.

I know a lot of Christians who struggle with this notion, they don’t believe they have a choice. That everything they do has to be out of obedience to a direct command from God, or from someone representing God.

Do you believe in the freedom to choose, the freedom in Christ, to choose? Jeremiah got to a place where God trusted him, God trusted him to make his own choices knowing that Jeremiah would make a wise choice because Jeremiah knew the heart of his God, he now had that same heart.

God doesn’t just invite us to follow him, he invites us to walk with him. At first that sounds like a very insignificant difference. And it may be one that occurs over time in the life of a believer. And in reality, it was the difference between the Prophets of old, and those like Peter who knew the Lord.

 If, as in the case of Jeremiah here, we have been faithful to follow the Lord, to seek his will and obey his voice, eventually, especially now that the Holy Spirit is available to dwell within us and radically change the way we see the world, we will get to the point where we can know the heart of the Lord, where we can be his hands and feet, literally walk beside him keeping step because we know his heart—we share his heart.

The freedom of trust

Real freedom comes from a heart of trust. When we get to the place where we truly trust the Lord, our hearts are free, free from fear, from hopelessness, from worry- so many things, because we know we are cared for, we know that no matter what happens, it’s going to be all right in the end.

At this point we are truly free. At this point we are not only trusting God, God is trusting us. This is a good place to be. It is not easy to get there, but if we are faithful, if we continue to hold on to hope, believing the promises, you will get there, God wants you there. He wants to call you a friend -not a servant. He wants to truly set you free.

Freedom is the basis of our entire being and relationship to God. When we trust Jesus for our salvation we are freed from many things, primarily we are freed from the penalty of sin. We are free from the fear of death, born into new life, life that cannot end because it is a gift from the author of life. Then we are offered freedom from the things we have been forgiven for, freed from the power of sin to ensnare us.

We are freed to fulfill the plan that God has for our lives- a promise God gives us in part through the prophet Jeremiah himself—the famous Jeremiah 29:11 promise. “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord. . . “

We are freed from the curse, from the law, from fear, condemnation, and we can be freed from sickness and addictions, despair and anxiety- if we truly trust the Lord, not just for our salvation, but as our Lord, as one who truly loves and cares about us, who seeks only our good.

When we get to that place where we truly trust the Lord, not only are we able to truly live free, but we are now trusted by the Lord.

But you know what? Most Christians fear that freedom. They don’t want to be free, they don’t want to have choices, they don’t want the whole country before them to go anywhere they choose- they want to be told where to go. They want the spiritual equivalent of the magic eight ball. Throw out the brains and the wisdom and just shake the ball and watch for the answer in the little window.

“Lord, show me your will, what is your plan for me?- give me a sign!” I cannot tell you how many people I know who agonize over this, who are rendered almost useless and immobile because they are afraid to move within the freedom they are offered.

So what happens? They find themselves back in chains, chains of fear, chains of submission to another’s calling, another’s agenda, or chains of a feeling of unworthiness. All of these can be crippling.

Yes the Spirit will guide you, yes he will put people in your life to help guide you as well, but sometimes he gives you a choice- trusting your heart, that you will make a good choice.

Here’s a thought; maybe, just maybe, the things on your heart are planted there by God, maybe your hopes and dreams did come from him— maybe it’s okay to trust a heart that is filled with the Holy Spirit! Maybe you can make wise choices.

There’s also this little thing called character. We know God is concerned with our character. Why would he be so concerned with our character, the kind of person we are, spending so much time teaching us, orchestrating our lives to build our character, if he wasn’t going to allow us to live our lives based on the paths we chose out of a character honed and strengthened by him?

 We have to always be seeking the Lord, but never frozen immobilebecause we are afraid to move, we have to trust that God will guide the paths of the righteous.

He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Psalm 22:3