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!

What I Do Have to Give?

In the first days of the new church Peter  and John are walking into the Temple and take notice of a lame beggar whose life and eternity is about to be dramatically changed.

“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 you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” Acts 3:4-6

The beggar was expecting coinage, just hoping for lunch money. He saw an empty hand extended to him that turned out to be far from empty. These radical Christ followers just gave from what they were given, and it turned a hopeless lame beggar into a joy filled child of God who would soon be leaping for Joy in the Temple courts. Simply because a couple of fisherman from Galilee listened when the Holy Spirit said reach out to this broken man.

What do I have? A question we all ask of ourselves. ‘What do I have that is any good to anyone? What do I have that sets me apart, makes me someone? What do I have to give? What can I possibly give to God? What do I have that he can use to advance his Kingdom, to bless his people, to bear fruit for Jesus?’

What do you have? You have a lot of things I’m sure, many of them unique to you, and many of them you are not even aware of. Most of us would be amazed at what others see in us that they wish they had, or are grateful that we share with them. Yet we spend much of our time being envious of others or wishing we were better.

You have gifts, talents and natural abilities that are passed along in your DNA, the miraculous code embedded in every cell of your body that can contain information handed down to you from countless generations of amazing people who came before you, now suddenly coming out in you. Gifts that the creator decided he would release in you as he was forming you in the womb. Gifts you can build on and perfect as you live, pursue, and experience life.

You have passions born of God given inspirations and life experiences. Wisdom born of God, and again, life experiences—hard lessons learned and scars that remind. You have a unique personality that sets you apart from all others and an amazing brain that can learn, shape and even rearrange ideas and concepts. Understand mysteries and create new ones.

You have a unique look and a beauty that is yours and yours alone that can only be truly released from within, allowed to shine forth by a bright countenance and a confidant smile no matter what imperfections of the flesh you believe you have. You have an inner radiance that ink, make up and piercing’s can never replicate and would only distract from.

You can laugh, cry, rage and soothe—at will if you so choose. You have a tongue that no one controls but you, that can encourage, teach, build up and praise. Hands that can either build or tear down, paint, draw, write, play music, defend or heal. Maybe all of those things, depending on what you choose to do or what your gifting allows, again, in ways that are unique to you.

And if you are a believer in Christ; a born again, Spirit filled, scripture loving, child of God; you have a light that shines from your eyes, a hope that is heard in your voice, a love that is felt in your touch, and a power that is yours to command that can make the universe tremble.

What do you have to give? You have the Holy Spirit of the living God dwelling in your heart. You have the name of Jesus to release it into the world and you have the love of the Father who calls you child and gives you the authority of a prince or a princess in his Kingdom.

So do not ever say—I do not have anything to give—what you do have to give is all that He gave you—and that is everything. You have life, love, healing and hope to give. What you do have, is Jesus.

Share you, share Jesus.

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!

Commissioned

Last week we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord, his victory over sin and death and his glorification and return to the Father. But there is so much more to the story. That was not the end of the story by any means.

It wasn’t— “Yay, Jesus is risen—let’s go to the buffet and feast in celebration of our promised salvation—then just go on with our lives, same ol’, same ol’. We’ll find out just what it all means when we die and go to heaven—we hope. Pass the deviled eggs please.”

They actually tried that, but Jesus was not done rocking their boats—literally, for some of them, as they had tried to go back to fishing—the story was far from over.

Their story was only just beginning. They were no longer to be hapless bystanders following Jesus around and marveling at his teachings and miracles. They were no longer just fishermen.

They were about to become his ambassadors and proxies, turning the world upside down, as they would soon be accused of doing. Taking on those who thought they had it all figured out already and sharing the truth of God’s love with those who thought they were far from worthy of hearing it.

But first Jesus has to get them away from the buffet table.

So he crashes their party and gives them a commission.

The empowerment to do the things Jesus speaks of here would come on the day of Pentecost, but on this day they, and we, received the marching orders.

Go into all the world and preach the gospel . . . And these signs will accompany those who believe. . . .” Mark 16

Few people have any trouble accepting that the great commission applies to all of us as far as preaching the gospel to all nations is concerned, yet many struggle with the rest of it—the signs that would accompany those who believe.

Signs that include speaking in tongues, casting out demons, laying hands on the sick, protection from deadly venoms and poisons. This was not limited here by Jesus to the apostles, He says Those who believe. ”Do you believe? —Then there you go. Expect Jesus to have your back, to work with you to confirm the word, and he will.

We see Jesus working mightily through and with the apostles and the early church again and again in the book of Acts. And the apostle Paul would confirm this in his letters to the churches, that the gifts and signs were not just for the Apostles.

 “I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, . . .” 1 Corinthians 14:5

Why would Jesus send us out to share the gospel with the world, leave the sharing of the message that saves the souls of those he loves up to us to share, and not help us in that? He doesn’t. And why would we want to?

If Jesus isn’t working with me—His Holy Spirit going before me, speaking through  me, and confirming his words in my mouth to the hearts that receive—then I am wasting my breath. But I know better. Because I have seen and experienced his power working through and for me too many times to remember, confirming truth whether in the responses to my words, answers to my prayers, healings and deliverances released, and lives changed.

The Lord works through and with all of who believe and take the commission seriously.

We have been commissioned, empowered and released to share the words of Jesus with the world. And we must continue to trust and pray for more and more of his Spirit to be released and revealed in this quickly darkening world.

I pray continually for the power and love of Jesus to be evidenced in our lives and our worship services.

To see more healings, hear more heart healing words of wisdom and strength, more encouraging and fearlessly honest words of prophetic truth spoken—for the glory of God, not the speakers. To see people delivered from oppression of all kinds—for the glory of God to be seen, felt and experienced in undeniable ways that make people fall to their knees in repentance and worship.

It’s time to part the seas and lead God’s children to freedom.

A Grand Entrance

He is risen!

And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it.” 

Talk about a grand entrance!

Can you imagine the angels standing poised and ready to go at the word from the throne to release the risen Lord? Who will it be? When? Alright, there’s the sunrise—you—go! And an angle shoots down from heaven, no doubt at great haste once he was given the go ahead.

I have no doubt an angel can travel at the speed of light, and he makes a grand appearance—‘How about we shake the earth, that’ll show these big bad guards—and all the demons of hell, who the boss really is here, and then we’ll roll that puny little stone aside!’

‘Guards? Oh look, they seem to be a bit scared as they have fainted—poor dears.

I don’t know if angels employ sarcasm, I’m pretty sure my guardian angle does. Otherwise we’d never never get along. But somewhere in the midst of this grand angelic show—Jesus gets up and walks out of the tomb. Not just raised from the dead, but resurrected into a perfect glorified body.

A perfect body that can eat, yet walk through walls. One that can walk down a road and have a normal conversation with two travelers and  seem like another pilgrim, yet disappear in the midst of a meal at the end of the road. One that has flesh and blood scars that can be seen and touched yet can ascend to heaven like gravity is just no thing at all.

And then the angel just casually sits on the stone, I love that part. Hah, we’ll just slam into the earth at lightning speed with such force that the ground quakes, shove that little stone aside with a back hand brush like it’s just like it weighs nothing, watch the Lord of glory walk out into the sunlight like it’s the first day of creation when he created light and saw that it was good. And then the honored angel just casually sits on the rock like it’s a lawn chair at a picnic as he watches the guards finally recover their wits enough to run off like children being chased by hornets. —‘Off you go now!’

Fine day for a resurrection Gabriel! Why yes Michael, it is—the finest of days! At some point according to the other gospels, another angel has shown up as well—the gospels don’t name them, but it’s possible.

The angel, or one of the angels, then goes inside to sit and wait for the ladies.

Turned out the ladies were wishing for and worrying about the wrong thing. The stone was not a problem for the one who had the power to overcome death. In fact it sounds like the heavens had a lot of fun getting rid of that puny little rock.

Point made—what rock? Jesus is risen.

Let him roll away your stone today. Expect a bigger miracle, nothing is to big for the one who conquered death.

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!

Sandy’s Boy

What does the darkness that Jesus experienced at the end of his days on earth have to do with me? Everything!

A couple of weeks ago I was blessed to get to take a day off work to attend a spiritual healing seminar put on by a group called Elijah House.

Basically there were several sessions of teaching, each followed by a time of quiet prayer—just you and the Lord. One of the sessions had to do with overcoming shame; shame that may have been inflicted on you by the rejection or condemnation of someone in your life that caused you to question your worth, or your worthiness to loved.

Which of course greatly affects how you relate and respond to the world around you. Being despised and rejected can have great psychological effects that last way beyond the initial hurt.

We were instructed to ask the Lord to reveal to us words or an event in our lives that may have caused us shame. Something that we may not even remember as being anything that really impacted us.

As I was praying I kept having this memory of Hockey Practice in Minnesota when I was 7 or 8 years old. It wasn’t a repressed memory, it was something that I remembered very clearly and often, and have dealt with it. And, as far as I know, gotten over it.

We were doing reps back and forth on the ice under the lights and the falling Northern Minnesota snow, and near the end of practice I see my stepfather standing by the coach, come to pick me up I suppose, which was weird because I usually walked home. I skate over to him just in time to hear him respond to a question or comment from the coach with—“Oh, he’s not my boy, that’s Sandy’s boy. Just wait till my boy gets old enough to be out here, he’s gonna be a real athlete.”

Photo by Tony Schnagl on Pexels.com

As I have told you before, I was never the best hockey player, and I had plenty of reminders, like this one. But what was hurtful about the experience was that my stepfather felt the need—this wasn’t the only time I would hear this—to always make it known that I was Sandy’s boy, not his. Like that would have been embarrassing to him to have me as a son.

Fine, whatever. I got over that long ago and I always knew my real father, and my mother loved me and were proud of me. So, although it didn’t do a lot for my self-esteem in the moment, it wasn’t really life altering.

My real Father never despised or rejected me. And my mother always made me feel special by telling me that I could do whatever I set my mind to, and I believed her. Hockey was just not one of those—I just wasn’t that into it. Small wonder with the great encouragement from my step dad.

Anyway, something was just not clicking in this prayer time. It wasn’t the negative aspect or the rejection that seemed to be the focus of this memory that the Holy Spirit seemed to have planted firmly in my mind—it was those words that kept echoing over and over in my head—”that’s Sandy’s boy.”

Soon the session was over and it was break time. I checked my phone and saw that I had a message—I listened to it and immediately ducked into a storage closet and called back the person who had called. It was an outpatient nurse who worked with my mother. My mother was in the hospital, again, and was having a real hard time and the nurse was really hoping someone from the family could come be with her.

She had already called my brother and sister and they were unable to leave their jobs right then. My mother had just had a similar thing happen a month earlier where she was in the hospital with what they thought was a stroke. That earlier incident had been accompanied by terrible hallucinations and great confusion that had left her traumatized and terrified of hospitals. So this had me very worried.

As I was listening to the nurse I heard those words again—“That’s Sandy’s boy.” But now it was also accompanied by the pressing thought—Sandy needs her boy.

So I immediately excused myself from the conference and headed into Billings. I found my mother in a room off the emergency room, very agitated, scared and confused. Turns out she had a brain bleed caused by high blood pressure and it was causing all sorts of issues.

I spent the day with her comforting, reassuring, and praying for her. And, long story short, she is on the mend, and between my siblings and I, over the next week we kept her in a place of love and reassurance knowing that she would be okay.

God showed up—once again—to be there when I needed him most.

In what could have been a very dark and lonely hour—those words, and the fact that I knew without a doubt that they came from the Lord in just that moment, gave me assurance that I was not alone, that I was being comforted and remembered in what could have been a very distressful time.

And, just as importantly, that He was remembering my mother and had set up this day just so that we could be there togetherSandy and her boy. Knowing that God was in control, that he remembered both of us, made that dark valley a lot less frightening.

Thots

Because Jesus was rejected, we never will be, and he proves it over and over again.

I tell you that story, as inadequate as words are to explain what was truly a deeply spiritual and emotional encounter and experience, to try to illustrate to you the incredible and almost unfathomable significance  and veracity of the love of God for us, and the treasure we have available to us because of Jesus’ willingness to experience being rejected and despised.

The Holy Spirit, working well in advance and through multiple levels of players and circumstances set me up to take off a day from work—my first this year, to be at a conference where I would be in a room full of people who were contending and believing for the Holy Spirit to move among us unhindered by the doubts or distractions of those who don’t believe or aren’t comfortable with the personal encounters with the person of the Holy Spirit.

So I was in a room saturated with his presence and given opportunity and encouragement to listen for a word. The word he gave me was relevant to what we had been learning and did encourage me, but more importantly—he set me up spiritually for the raw experience of seeing my mother in a near death state of delirium and physical peril.

And then he stayed with me, throughout the day. He made known clearly, powerfully and sweetly through all of this, that I was not alone—that I was not despised nor rejected by my God—no matter what—I was never, and would never, be alone.

But more than that—through this experience he was caring for my mother. He didn’t just set the stage for me to be able to handle the challenge of the day and weeks to come, he was also setting things up for my mother, whom he also loves and will never despise, reject or leave alone.

He made sure she would not be going through this dark valley alone—that I would be there and able to assure and remind her that her Lord was there as well. And I’ll tell you what—that made the difference between a nightmare experience for her and just a hurdle to get over. I know because the nightmare and the darkness was hovering all over and just itching to take control—it has before.

But not today bubba. Because my God was despised and rejected, me and mine are not. My mother is on the mend in a great rehab facility and me and my siblings were brought together in this in a way we have not been in many years.

An anguished and lonely prayer in a garden, a kiss of betrayal, a curse and a denial from a best friend, a crooked trial amid horrendous accusations by the very priests who claim to serve the Father who sent him, and a death sentence for the blasphemies that the Son of God is incapable of committing—pain, anguish, betrayal, abuse and slander—it all led to a whispered word to a descendant of barbarians a half a world and two millennia away—“That’s Sandy’s boy.”

But you know what that really means? What it meant to me? That is not just Sandy’s boy, the Heavenly Father says in that “That is my boy, and his mother is my daughter, and there is now therefore no more shame, no more fear and when he walks through the valley of the shadow he shall fear no evil, for I am with him.

And what more could we possibly need, want or desire?

Oh yeah, this:

I Am— The one who was and is and is to come, is coming back for you and me.

Heart Love

This wordless expression of love had to have been a gift that Jesus’ heart desperately needed as he was about to face his final rejection—alone.

We can probably assume that because of the very similar recounting of the story of anointing in the gospel of John that this woman is Mary of Bethany—Lazarus’ and Martha’s sister. The  Mary who had so controversially sat at Jesus’ feet to listen as her sister served, and who would later see her brother raised from the dead. She certainly has reason to be grateful, but more than that, she has allowed herself to be changed, change by love deep in her core.

What we see here is an act of pure unselfish love and devotion as she pours out on Jesus what would have been a very expensive, rare and special jar of ointment called spikenard. Probably brought there all the way from India by camel caravan along the infamous Silk road.

It may have even been an heirloom. But Mary, despite what others may think, or the cost to her, breaks the neck of the costly and beautiful flask, hand carved from alabaster, and pours it on the head— and according to John’s gospel—even the feet of Jesus, and then wipes it in with her hair. Quite unbecoming really, especially for a young woman from a respected household.

But she did not care what others thought, how they would respond. She was not just pouring out scented oil—she was pouring out her heart. She desperately wanted to pour out her heart, to express her barely contained love for this Messiah, and this was the most lavish and sincere way she could think of to do that.

And her heart won the day; her heart was listening to the Spirit and her mind came in line and complied.

And she was derided for it by those who saw with their eyes but not with their hearts. But she was blessed by the one who mattered, the one who saw her heart—Jesus.

It would probably be the only true and pure expression of love and devotion he would receive that entire tumultuous last week of his life. It had to have been a gift that his heart desperately needed as he was about to face his final rejection—alone.

No words

And this love was expressed without a single word spoken. Words are necessary, yes, but they are but a trigger and a reminder of what cannot truly be expressed by mere words.

Love is felt, not heard. Best expressed with the eyes—through which one can see into the soul. It is best received with a look or a touch when the words cannot come because the feeling is too deep. The deepest and truest expressions of love are communicated heart to heart. That’s what Mary was doing here for Jesus.

You all know that look, that feeling, the depth of emotion and conviction that can only pass between a husband and wife, a child and a parent or grandparent, between brothers and sisters in the Lord—those who share a common heart, a like mind and a spiritual bond—when there is something powerful between you that no one else can understand or know but the two who share it.

It’s a love that finds its origins in our God. And it is the love he has for us, the look he has in his eyes when he sees us, if we’ll only take the time to look back at him and respond with our hearts and not just our heads and lips.

26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8

Because if we don’t connect on a heart and soul level with Jesus, we’re missing the whole point and our responses will be way off target.

She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” Mark 14

Because Mary followed her heart and did what she could. Because she did not let her head get in the way as some of the men were doing, and convince herself that this would be an extravagant and foolish waste that really accomplished nothing but making Jesus smell good for a while, embarrassing herself in the process—her mind knew it was a big gamble—because of this, she was fulfilling a prophetic and important act that no one could possibly know the significance of but Jesus.

She was anointing him for his burial a day or two later. And giving him what would be the last and only sincere measure of comfort and assurance he would receive at the hands of another human before his brutal arrest and execution.

Because Mary listened to her spirit and allowed herself to know the truth, she was moving in the prophetic without saying a word. Think about that… next time you are moved to act on something the head doesn’t understand.

This seemingly insignificant act of foolish waste was an anathema to the well versed chosen twelve. But Mary was one who knew what was important. She knew when it was time to talk and time to listen. She knew when it was time to work and time to sit. She was the one who was chided by her sister Martha for sitting at Jesus’ feet listening, while Mary fretted about the work to be done.

Mary was the one who unashamedly and passionately threw herself, weeping at Jesus feet, laying it all out there;  “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died!”

In that moment, hers was a broken, passionate and honest heart that moved Jesus to share in her grief and would spur him on to do his greatest miracle yet—raising a man long dead and buried from the grave.

Mary knew when it was time to connect with her Lord. And this day in the house of Simon the leper, was one of those times—not for her, not for her brother, but for her Lord—they both needed this.

We could all learn a valuable lesson here. If our relationship and time spend seeking and being with our Lord is always to see what we can get—then it is not a true heart response to the love we are so freely given. And it is not a response that is influenced or inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Everything Jesus says, is and does points to one thing–He loves you, right now, just as you are..

And when you realize it—when you understand and open the eyes of your heart to see that Jesus is ever standing before you beckoning you come, cheering you on, praying for you, holding your hand and always teaching you things that will make you wiser, stronger and prepared for the challenges to come in the courtyards of the priests, in the quiet moments when the enemy tries to whisper that you need to take things into your own hands because this Jesus and Holy Spirit stuff is just whatever—you fill in the blanks—when you recognize the love in the eyes that are looking at you from within your very heart—then you will respond like Mary did, and you will finally know what it truly means to be loved.