Withstanding God

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

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

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

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

Bible memes Swaningson

Resistance is futile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we standing against evil, or withstanding God?

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

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

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

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

What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ 

Bible memes Swaningson

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

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

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

The Chosen People

Hard Lessons Learned

After a crazy vision of a sheet being let down from heaven full of “unclean” animals with a command from God to eat, the apostle Peter is led to go to the house of a Roman centurion, to share the gospel. Normally, being a good Jewish boy, Peter would have flat out refused, but the sheet thing has him expanding his horizons a bit. He goes, the Holy Spirit falls on the whole house full of Romans and they all start speaking in tongues and praising God, leaving Peter to proclaim; Acts chapter 10-

Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.  But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all—Acts 10:34-36

Jesus is Lord of all.

We have see over and over again throughout the gospels and through much of Acts—example after example of Jesus wanting this message of the Father’s love, and the Spirit’s desire to heal and deliver, being for all persons regardless of nationality, gender or status. Jesus’ last words before he ascended back to heaven were that the Apostles were to go and make disciples of all nations.

We have seen the early church scattered and the message being brought to other nations and peoples by the persecuted church such as to the Samaritans and the Ethiopians. We have seen Paul being appointed by the Lord as a chosen vessel to carry the gospel to the gentiles.

Yet for all this, in the first years of the church there is still a deep seated and unshakable bigotry on the part of the Jewish believers, particularly on the ones who should know better, the Apostles.

They just can’t get over this notion that has been taught them since childhood, not just them, but countless generations of Israelites, that they are chosen by God, at the exclusion of all others, by virtue of their linage as descendants of Abraham to whom the promise was first made, that they would be a chosen people through whom many nations would be blessed. And that they are not to mingle, to be intermarried, have fellowship with or eat with anyone who does not worship the Lord their God lest they become unclean.

This notion originates in the law and the prophets. But it was meant to protect and preserve them from their own weaknesses, not from other people. And it was never meant to engender a hatred for anyone. The prophet Jonah learned that when he refused to go to the hated Ninevites with a message of warning and opportunity for the Assyrians, and ended up in the belly of the great fish thinking about how, apparently to God, all lives matter—even Assyrian.

Photo by Elianne Dipp on Pexels.com

Although Jonah finally went and preached to the Assyrians in their capital city of Nineveh, in the end, the Assyrians would become a larger influence on Israel than Israel ever was on Assyria, because Assyria was more than happy to share their gods with Israel. And, as a result, God would use Assyria to mete out his Judgement on Israel for their adulteries.

He would later do the same to Judah with Babylon.

But, instead of learning the importance of being a light to the Gentiles, they doubled down on separating themselves once they were allowed to return from exile. They were the chosen people and no one else in the world had any right to oppress them or had a share in their inheritance.

Isolationists

So now, in Peter’s day, this notion of superiority and separation has been taken to the extreme by the post exilic Jews who are determined to not get led astray again by foreign Gods and carried off once again by foreigners as punishment for their unfaithfulness.

Sounds like a good policy, but they have taken it to the extreme at the urging of their rabbi’s, priests and pharisees who see total isolation from all things non Jewish as the equivalent of holiness. When in reality this isolationist theology is preventing them from being the light to the world God had always intended for them to be.

And it was preventing them from thinking they had any personal responsibility in it all—they were children of Abraham, what else do you need to know? Even Jesus had pointed out the problem with this notion on more than one occasion. Yes they were chosen and set apart, but not because they were somehow a superior race that would just skate into God’s graces by virtue of their heritage.

It was God keeping a promise to Abraham, and being determined to bless the world as a result.

I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” Gen 26:3-5

God had chosen Israel as a people set apart as keepers of his covenant and his word. Not so that no one else would have access to it, but so that it would be preserved and passed down for all to know.

And we will forever owe a debt of gratitude to the chosen people, the descendants of Abraham, for preserving that word for us. And, for ultimately fulfilling the promises given through them that all would be blessed and that we would see a great light to lead us from the darkness, in that our Savior, the Messiah, came to us from the lineage of David, a descendant of Abraham.

And that even that message, the gospel of Jesus Christ, was shared, written and preserved for all the world by the Jewish—very Jewish— Apostles of Jesus of Nazareth.

Continue to pray that more and more of the Jewish people will come to the Messiah for salvation and for the peace of Israel.

And let the God of Abraham, fill you, let him open your eyes, let him set you free—free at last. Through His son and by His Spirit. Amen

Chosen Vessels

Have you said yes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop kicking against the goads.

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

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

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

Paul would say yes Lord.

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

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

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

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

Labels

Only God knows your heart, the real you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acts 9

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

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

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

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

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

Labels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev 2:17

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

No Mere Servants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resistance to Truth

The Stephen of the book of Acts is known as the first Christian martyr. But why? Why was he so violently and unjustly pummeled to death? He was just a servant!

Stephen was one of several who had been appointed by the apostles to help with the distribution of the food to the widows and those in need after a dispute had arisen because of what some saw as an unfairness in the way it had previously been handled.

But we also learn in Acts 6 that Stephen was empowered by the Holy Spirit not just to serve food but that the Lord also used him to speak great words of wisdom and to do “great signs and wonders among the people”.

Thus proving that it is not those who aspire to lead who are the true leaders. It is the servants who are anointed to lead whom God uses. It is the faithful and the obedient who carry the sharpest swords.

 But this Holy Spirit anointing was getting Stephen some undesirable attention as not everyone was ready to listen to the truth. And they soon started leveling false accusations at Stephen, accusing him of subverting the law of Moses and threatening the destruction of the temple through Jesus Christ.

These contrived accusations were in response to the unanswerable and irresistible words that Stephen had been speaking as he shared the gospel with all he could, while stumping those who would come against him with the wisdom of his answers. He was frustrating the snot out of those who refused to see truth, just the same as Jesus did. Because he is doing it by the Spirit of Jesus.

He was speaking words that cut straight to the heart and they either healed or hurt depending on the response.

So instead of arguing with him any longer on the merit of what he is saying, they falsely accuse him. And when that does not stop him, they stop their ears, then drag him from the city, and stone him to death. We’ll get him to shut up one way or another!

A little drastic don’t you think?

Well, the enemy will stop at nothing to silence the words of truth, causing those whom he has deceived, into totally irrational behavior, causing them to abandon all reason, to ignore evidence and even resist the Holy Spirit himself who would open their eyes and ears to the truth that would save them and set them free—if they would only listen.

So when this world seems to you to have gone mad, when you struggle to understand why this unnatural and unreasonable aversion to the things of the Lord—why scriptural decency and biblically based morality is disproportionately attacked and rejected when every other set of beliefs and values, or lack thereof, is embraced and welcomed— remember how they reacted to Stephen as he simply laid out truth using their own history and scripture to do so. (Acts 7) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+7&version=NKJV

When you consider that this is the very same reaction we see so many times in so many places over and over in history and the world, It becomes clear who must be behind this aversion to the truth and who is driving the lost insane with hate. It is the devil himself.

When a heart is deceived and full of darkness and lies, death and hate, words of life and light cut straight through to the core and create a crisis in the minds of the deceived—Believe and admit that I was wrong, or succumb to the evil within and silence or destroy the words that threaten my self-made world where I can justify my sin and selfishness?’ So many choose ignorance, that is the great paradox of mankind.

But, then ignorance is much easier to maintain and demands nothing of the adherent. Ignorance is bliss? Funny, those who cling to it don’t appear too happy to me. Because the ignorance we are talking about is not just a rejection of truth, it is an embrace of the lies, by default.

We have the truth, never stop wielding it, a warrior who gives his sword soon looses everything-freedom, family, dignity, life. You are a child of the King. No one has the right to silence you!

Find the courage that dwells untapped in your heart. Release the barbarian spirit and let God use it for His glory!

Cut to the Heart

You ever have someone share the word of God with you or read a scripture and feel a quickening in your heart like—Wow, that is for me, that is important, I want to write that on my bathroom mirror so that I see it every morning!

If you love the Lord and his word than no doubt you have had that happen. That would be, after all, what got you saved in the first place—you heard or read the word of God and the Father just seemed to be calling your name as the words cut straight to your heart and you surrendered to him and entrusted your soul and your heart to him.

But, sadly, there are those who when they hear the word of God, they too are moved—moved with anger and fear because they do not want to let go, they do not want to face truth, they refuse to give up complete control of their hearts and their lives.

They are cut to the heart by the word, but they refuse to let Jesus come into what is now a wound where the heart was opened up to expose the rot within, so they just keep bleeding until they finally bleed out and wake up one day in outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The indignant group that Stephen faces in Acts 7 is apparently practicing the gnashing part early.

Acts 7:54 reads: When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth.

This phrase actually originates from the the term “cut to the quick”? The quick in old English, is the living essence of a person. That which animates. —to quicken—bring to life.

The Greek used here that is translated variously as full of rage or cut to the heart literally translates as “cut to the quick.” Quick meaning life. It was used in the older Bible translations as a way to differentiate between the living and the dead.

Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead. 1 Peter 4:5 KJV

And really, that is what it all comes down to—how and by whom we shall be judged in the end. Do we believe there will be a day of reckoning, when the quick and the dead must give an answer to their Creator? Or is this life all there is and no one has any right to judge us and we shall never answer for what we did with what our spirits testified to us was truth?

Stephen was making the point just before he was martyred that Jesus was that judge, and that only through faith in him would we survive that day of reckoning. Why people would reject him and the mercy he offers is a question that has many answers, but the bottom line is this—

“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. John 3:18-20

Why?

This is the Apostles John’s perfect summation of why evil men hate the truth of Jesus Christ. Why they vehemently, irrationally, and  violently, hate and must stop truth at all costs. Because their ways are evil, they are addicted to that evil, and the light exposes their deeds as evil.

And the only way those who are entrapped by the evil they embrace can have any peace of mind whatsoever is to deny that their ways are evil. They cannot continue in that denial if the truth of God’s word keeps shining the light of truth on them. So they must destroy it.

The truth cuts to the heart, cuts to the chase and cuts to the quick because it is indeed sharper than any two edged sword.

When the word cuts to the heart, what it finds in that heart determines the reaction. It is life to those who are being saved and death to those who are perishing. The perishing are cut to the quick without the resolve of repentance.

I found this definition of the phrase cut to the quick—

“To cut to the quick means to injure someone emotionally, to hurt someone with words or an action. To cut someone to the quick means to deeply distress them.”

Really, it is to touch someplace very deep. And that is power.

We wield the sword of power.

The Sword of Power

Cut to the heart, cut to the quick, cut to the chase—The word of God is sharper than a two edged sword. And it is ours if we choose to use it.

We have little concept of the power we really have. Wielded by our tongues. It can build or destroy, kill or heal. If we are speaking the words of God, the results are up to Him, but if we refuse to wield it, the blood of those who perish for the lack of truth is on our heads.

Stephen wielded that sword and he was welcomed into the arms of the king as a returning conquering prince. Keep your sword sharp and free of rust–you will never, ever regret it.

Kingdoms have risen and fallen based on the quality of the steel in their swords. Our sword was forged in heaven and tempered in the blood of Christ.

He who holds the sword rules. In folklore, from the Legend of King Arthur to the Lord of the rings, to countless other stories, the one who holds the sword of power rules over all and has the power to conquer those who refuse that rule. That power ultimately belongs to Jesus, but as fellow heirs with Christ, we wield the sword as well.

Keep speaking words of truth!

Power Servants

The healings were so complete and really, uneventful, that it was hard to even remember that anything had been wrong—it was like we had just traded realities, a bad one for a good one.”

The early church had a lesson to learn not long into their new found faith– true power is released by the Holy Spirit, in those willing to serve. They had to stop complaining and start doing.

It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; . . .   And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Acts 6: 2-3, 6

Thinking about this passage of scripture and the concept of true servants who make a real impact that reaches far beyond the work they put their hands to. I kept thinking about our old friend Ron Unfortunately Ron passed away a months ago but his legacy lives on.

Donna and I first met Ron at Faith Chapel in Billings many years ago. He would later come on board there as a staff pastor but back then he was just a fellow believer who loved Jesus and gathering with the saints. He was an electrician for Montana Power and also turned out to be neighbor on Blue Creek, at least by rural standards, he was still several miles away.

Ron’s wife Becky did the flowers for our wedding. and their kids were in our Sunday school classes. Ron and Becky would go on to be a part of our lives for many years, off and on, even until just before he went home to Jesus as they were ministering to married couples from their home near Absorakee where they had retired to, supposedly, and we were blessed to have been one of those couples.

But Ron had won his way onto our hearts long before that. As many of you have heard before, our house burned down three weeks after we were married but we were blessed enough to be able to rebuild right away.

It was a challenge and time and money was tight but with the help of some good friends and church family we were able to get it done. It’s hard to ask for help and it’s hard to find time to help, but with Ron, I did not have to ask and he somehow seemed to find time—it was what he did. He was a true servant.

Several Saturday’s that summer as we were framing the house, Ron would pull up with his two boys, put on their tool belts and go to work. I have a vivid picture in my mind, and a couple of old photographs, of Ron helping us set roof tresses, standing on top of the wall doing the Karate Kid crane pose. No particular reason other than he was just a goof ball making a hard job fun.

Fast forward several years, we now have three girls and have lived in our beautiful new home for several years. Ron is now a staff pastor, who gives great council and even does a little teaching, though he is still pretty comfortable with a hammer in his hand. And I am taking night classes at a Bible Institute, preparing to answer the call myself, to become a pastor.  

And I realize that Donna and I are under attack. I have answered the call, after a season of wrestling with the Holy Spirit, and the enemy does not like that. He is not touching me, but he is going after our girls, or so it sure seemed.

Our oldest daughter Cally about 12 at the  time was going through her second, weeks long bout with Mononucleosis in just a year or so and was feeling lousy and dragged out.

Jessie, our middle daughter, had whacked her head on the playground equipment at school  and had to have stables to close up the gash; this on the heels of having to have staples in her knee to close up the gash from a sledding mishap— and scariest of all, Danielle, barely five at the time, had contracted some rare and strange blood disease that caused her to break out in horrible hives and made her joints hurt so bad she began crawling around the house because it hurt too much to walk. 

The baffled doctors had no clue what to do about it.

At the time I was just learning about, and fully realizing, the incredible power of the Kingdom of God that was available for those who understood that it was there, the great faith and power that could overcome and alter the physical realm we live in for good.

So after service one Sunday morning, Donna and I went and collected our kids from their Sunday school classes, sore, tired, itchy and stapled, and brought them back to the sanctuary and found Pastor Ron whom we knew would be hanging around loving on and praying for people.

Donna and I were standing on the verse that said if any of you are sick go to the elders and have them pray for you.

We recognized Ron as an elder, not by age, but by God’s calling and place in our hearts.  So we explained what was going on and had him pray for and anoint the three girls.

The next day, we got a call from the lab at the hospital saying that the test results from the blood they had drawn from Cally the previous week had surprisingly come back negative for Mono. Cally had already been feeling as good as new and had her energy back. God had not only healed her, but he had healed the blood they had drawn the week before!

At the same time Danielle was bounding around the house like she had never been ill a day in her life leaving the doctors baffled as to why they no longer had to worry about their first and only case of this rare incurable disease.  And Jessie’s wounds healed up and she managed to avoid having to be stapled back together anymore after that.

The healings were so complete and really, uneventful, that it was hard to even remember that anything had been wrongit was like we had just traded realities, a bad one for a good one. 

But Donna and I remember, we remember well the goodness of God and the servant of the Lord whose faith and anointing God used to channel his healing power to our girls

We all need Stephens in our lives, and should strive to be more like those servants.

Don’t think it does not still happen. God still loves his children and his Spirit is still powerful. And he uses his humble servants to prove it.

That servant, Ron, never sought or claimed any credit or glory for himself. He never bickered or complained about his lot or his church, and he died with a tool belt on, of heart failure, in his “retirement” doing volunteer maintenance work at Camp on the Boulder, a Christian kids camp.

 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. 
. . . And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel. Acts 6
: 10,15

A servant full of faith and power, one that God can use to release the kingdom power and healing on this earth, is one who is not contentious, who is not looking for offense or whining about wrongs to right, is not swayed by the voices of criticism or accusation, but is one who is just using the gifts they have been entrusted with and not letting anything get in the way. And their joy cannot be stolen.

Their heart language is love.

Move in the gifts I’ve given you but strive for all of them. Power is power and must not be held back. HS

No More Games

Saphira’s husband has just fallen dead at the feet of Peter for lying to the Holy Spirit, now she comes along and doubles down on the scheme.

“Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?”

She said, “Yes, for so much.”

Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Acts 5:8-9

She does indeed fall down dead. OMG!

Apparently character and integrity rank pretty high on the Lord’s list.

Why it matters

Yes what happened to this couple may seem harsh. But integrity, honesty, character is important. Very important to God because he knows what we will be facing if we are truly following him.

The attacks and the trials of a Spirit filled believer who professes Jesus Christ as the Son of God in a world that is largely in control by the Prince of Darkness who hates us and our God, who knows that our words are just exclamation points on his defeat are frequent and relentless. Our strength of character and the integrity of our relationship with God is paramount to our standing and even flourishing in the attacks.

Immediately after this event we see why character is so important.

“Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”  . . . and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.  So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. Acts 5:28, 40—42

A clean Heart

The Lord needs our hearts to be right for the trials ahead. A pretentious spirit that wants to please godly men while disregarding the Spirit within will never stand up when it matters, when they are called to proclaim the words of life to others even if it may cost their own.

What a stark difference between the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira and the Apostles here. The first two sought acclamation and attention by pretending to be sacrificially serving the Lord in obedience and thus suffered internally even to death.

The later sought only to glorify Jesus, sacrificially serving in obedience to the Lord even though it made them look rebellious in the eyes of man and thus they suffered externally. But they rejoiced and were strengthened within.

The time to play games is long past. The time to pretend is long past. It is time to be real, to be who we are in Christ and to be honest in all things to ourselves, each other and most importantly, we must be honest to God.

Because in the end, we must be found standing. We must stand in and against this evil day. To do that we must have a heart of integrity. No pretensions, no falsities, no showboating.

All the Lord wants is a heart that’s true, a heart that’s pure, a heart that‘s His

We are the bride of Christ, we are one with him, as we are one with our spouse. A dishonest marriage, a marriage where one person lies to the other with no remorse or hesitation is not a marriage that can nor should survive, it is in fact not a marriage at all as marriage is based on a covenant, a promise, a word.

 If that word is no good, the marriage covenant is meaningless. The same is true in our relationship to our God. You gave your heart to Jesus, be true to him. He is always true to you.

Honest to God

“A religious spirit that fosters pretenders will not be tolerated.”

God wants honesty, not lip service, hearts not appearances, “let your yes be yes and your no be no.” As Jesus said.

Acts 5 starts out with a rather disturbing story, not one we expect to see in the New Testament. A man and wife in the early church, caught in a lie and apparently struck dead as a result.

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. “But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” Acts 5:1-4

But remember, it is the same God on both sides of Matthew chapter one. Sin is still sin and God still desires hearts that are honest before him and are appreciative of the grace and mercy given. The difference is that we now have direct access to that God through his Son Jesus Christ and we are now his Temple, and the Holy Spirit now lives in us So we better pay attention to what we do with that access and what kind of condition we keep that temple in.

Ananias and Sapphira were trying to make themselves appear sacrificially generous and thereby godly in the eyes of Peter and the church. What they did not realize was that lying to the church, the body of Christ, and to those anointed to lead in that body, was tantamount to lying to God.

The Holy Spirit of Christ was leading the church through Peter, and the other apostles, thus a lie to them concerning things of the Lord was a lie to the Holy Spirit.

And this could not be allowed. Sudden death seems a harsh thing for a small crime—small to us but huge to God. The fallen nature of man makes lying all to acceptable, but with God, not so much, especially among the newly birthed church.

And if not dealt with here and now, nipped in the bud, it would be a condition that might only worsen and spread to the rest of the body. And, if this behavior is allowed to stand, the strength of character that would be such a vital part of following Jesus in their hostile world would be destroyed.

Character cannot be faked, holiness cannot be faked. Lying and deceit is the antithesis to holiness and character.

Jesus compared this condition, when he perceived it in the Pharisees, to white washed tombs. They look good on the outside but inside they are full of dead men’s bones. That pretend holiness would not be tolerated in the fledgling church. Peter, in the Spirit, deals with it immediately and decisively. A religious spirit that fosters pretenders will not be tolerated.

A religious spirit is one that pretends to be Godly. And it is from the devil himself.

But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? Acts 5:3

Satan mimics everything good and then perverts it, even holiness. It is his greatest deceit. Pretend holiness in the flesh to make one look good, as opposed to genuine heart surrender with no concern for one’s image, deceives others, and sometimes even yourself, into thinking you are godly. But, like the prophet Samuel had told Saul so many years earlier; “Obedience is better than sacrifice.”

Peter no doubt remembered the time when he became the mouthpiece of Satan when he voiced what seemed like a holy sentiment at the time as he tried to steer Jesus away from the cross. Jesus looked him straight in the eye and commanded: “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

So, in that sense, it was not Ananias and Saphira who were being rebuked per se, but Satan himself, and these two were victims of his deceit, like Judas who hardened his heart to the point where he allowed himself to betray the Lord even knowing that Jesus knew he was lying to his face about his loyalty. Death became his end also.

So being honest before the Lord. Honest to God, is critical if you want to stay free of the enemy’s influences and to be in a place where you can be trusted by the Lord to be used for his purposes, to fulfill the plan he has for you and be blessed in the process with joy in your heart and a peace of mind.

Pretenders

It’s all kind of sobering if you ask me. How many times have I stretched the truth, led others to believe I was more godly, generous, obedient or committed than I really am? It’s especially tempting for someone who is prone to be codependent, as I am. I want to play by all the rules, make everyone happy and make myself praiseworthy—especially those in power.

Okay, maybe I’m not that way anymore so much. If you have been around me for a while, and especially if you read last week’s blogs, https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/blog.hopechapelredlodge.com/3424 you know I am largely over the submissive obedience thing for the sake of looking good. The Lord has fanned to flame the barbarian heart of the warrior in me so I am a recovering codependent. By the grace of God and the freedom found in Christ.

But it is still tempting to want to appear to have it all together for Christ, or appear to be suffering and giving more for Christ than you really are. Or at least make sure you are getting noticed and getting credit for all that you do.

Unfortunately it seems that is more the norm in the church than the exception. Churches are known as a place where people come together and act like they have it all together and that they are blessed into eternal bliss because of all their sacrifice and obedience, and oh yeah, faith.

You are not going to see a lot of that in my church. I won’t put up with it especially if it is being done in a way that knocks others down. People who are wanting to climb the “look at me I’m super godly” ladder often do so by stepping on others to make themselves look higher up that ladder than they really are.

That’s what I call a religious spirit. And I have tangled with those many times. I have cast more than one religious spirit out of our building. This barbarian preacher can spot a pious faker a mile away. And the spirit’s they leave behind leave a real sour taste. Just like the faces of those they deceive—sour.

But the main reason I won’t put up with those lying sour sprits, and why you don’t see a lot of pretension here, is because we foster an environment of honesty. If you’re a mess, we want to know you’re a mess, so that we can love on you and pray for you. If you are lying to the Spirit via your brothers and sisters in the church, and to the pastor, you cannot be prayed for and ministered to by those who are moving in the Spirit and in the authority of the Spirit.

We are all real people here who just happen to know an awesome God and we are all on a journey to know him better and to learn to follow him more closely. Pretension only gets in the way of that. Our eternal souls are too important to jeopardize by playing games. And life is too short to play at being perfect when the truth can set you free.

But to receive and benefit from truth you have to be truthful. There is an unalterable law in God’s creation—You reap what you sow.