Tell Your Story

(I think myself Happy II)

“…one day it dawned on me, that I was going to have to tell my three sweet innocent little daughters that their Daddy used to be a drug addict and did a lot of stupid things.

In Acts 26 Paul finds himself standing before a lot of people who want to hear his story. He’s supposed to be on his way to Rome, his new God given destination. But he’s, shall we say, being detained a bit. It’s not always where we are going that is important in the day, it’s what we are doing with today. Telling our story is also an important element in the journey. It reminds us of where we’ve been and why we want to keep moving forward.

I have no doubt that Paul was not proud of who he had been nor eager to share what he had done. Except that reminding himself and others of the kind of person he was gave stark contrast to the person he now is in Christ, and gives his testimony as to the redeeming power of God through his Son, credence. And reminds Paul of why he wants to keep following his Lord.

Our sins are forgiven, but if we forget—we will fall back into that snare that is our sin.

Paul was not a good person. But Paul knew, as we must, that the person who committed those sins, the person he was before Jesus, is now dead and gone, A new creation in Christ, it is no longer Christ who lives but Christ who lives in him—and in us who receive as well.

 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me Gal 2:20

It’s Hard

The old sinful person we were is dead, but the story lives on. We all have stories to share and share them we must with those who will hear. Because many of those who hear are still living that story and must know that there is a way out of their nightmares.

It can be hard. Many of our stories are embarrassing. I’m sure Paul didn’t revel in the fact that he was responsible for the death of many of the saints he was now counted among. No doubt he would like to have forgotten all that, put it all behind him, never talk about it or have to share the horrors of who he was with anyone again. Just pretend that he has always had it together, always live a righteous life and never hurt anyone.

I know I do. So why did Paul think himself happy to share the story? Because it proves the love of God for us sinners, and shows that no matter how bad or destructive you were to yourself or others, you can be forgiven and redeemed—even changed in an instant.

Yes, the stories can be hard to share, embarrassing and shameful. But we must remember that the person who once was is no more. And that story— keeps it that way.

I have such a story. A story of night and day, drunken, stoned,—do whatever feels good and I can get away with—Dan on one side, and ‘Holy Smokes Jesus is real, he loves me and he’s right here!’ on the other side.

And I set out from there, from my Damascus road experience, to share my story with everyone I could. Because I wanted everyone to experience the freedom I was. How could anyone not want to know this Jesus that showed up in my living room and set me free from a life of drug addictions and anxieties?

So I told my story to all my friends, in the Jails, at youth detention centers, and at churches. I saw many, many people find hope and give their hearts to Jesus as a result.

Stupid things

Then one day it dawned on me, that I was going to have to tell my three sweet innocent little daughters that their Daddy used to be a drug addict and did a lot of stupid things.

It was shortly after we had helped start Hope Center on the south side of Billings and I was getting more and more involved in ministering to those struggling with addictions. My daughters were getting to the point where sooner rather than later they were going to hear my testimony, I could no longer keep that part of my ministry away from them.

One of the hardest days of my life was when I had to explain to my girls that I was once dumb enough, and weak enough, to have used drugs. And those were the words I used. I explained to them that yes, I had done these things but I no longer did, nor did I want to, because Jesus had set me free and the person who once did those things is no more. So long as I keep choosing to trust and follow Jesus.

Now there’s incentive to stay away from the old life, to keep the sinful flesh at bay. I do not want my girls, my wife nor my grandchildren now, to know that old me before Jesus. I want them to know only the new creation that I am in Jesus Christ. A new man who loves them, will sacrifice and work diligently to serve them and the Lord who blessed me with them.

I actually felt a bit of relief coming here to pastor in Red Lodge. Getting away from some of the more intense ministry to addicts, because I don’t have to share the story of that old man quite as fervently and frequently as I once did.

But that story, and the many Jesus stories I have been blessed to experience since then, are still my greatest weapons in my fight to advance the Kingdom of God and I consider myself fortunate every time I get a chance to share my story, the story of my Savior.

I love to share from the pulpit, in my writings, and in my many web platforms. But I still look for and find opportunity even apart from the various pulpits.

I told the story just last week to an electrician on my job. I didn’t plan it, the opportunity just presented itself and I thought myself happy to share.

And another arrow was taken away from the quiver of the enemy as a result, one aimed either at me, or at my electrician friend. Probably both. Because the scripture tells us that that is how we overcome him the enemy.

“Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.  And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” Revelation 12:10-11

Whether or not it seems anyone is listening, the power of heaven is released when we tell our stories. And in that is our victory because the Lord is listening, and the enemy is listening, one is magnified and the other diminished.

 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.”

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” Acts 26:27-28

Agrippa is nearly convinced by Paul’s story. But he is too proud to receive the grace that could have freed him from himself. He refused the power, and would forever be the villain in his own story.

Redeemed

I told you long ago, when we were doing our series on overcoming the wounds of sexual abuse, Wildflowers, that we need to redeem our stories.

That’s exactly what this is all about.

Redeem your story.

Take the power of it away from the enemy. My story isn’t about what the devil did to me, it is about what Jesus does for me.

Your story is no longer about what happened to you, it’s about what Jesus did for you—and what he continues to do.

Let me tell you ‘bout my Jesus!

I Think Myself Happy

“I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused by the Jews…” Acts 26

“I think myself happy.” As we talked about last week, Paul has found his happy place, and it is in his heart where the Holy Spirit of his Savior dwells.

Now, Paul is happy because he gets to once again tell the story of how he met his Savior and gained eternity, the assurance of resurrection and a passion and a purpose to share that news with all.

His persecutors think him mad. Those who dare to listen with their eyes and their hearts open think him wise. His Lord thinks him loved and Paul thinks himself happy, or fortunate, as other translations read. And Paul is never happier, or feels more fortunate,  than when he gets to tell someone about his Jesus, when he gets to tell his story. Because his story is now Jesus’ story.

We all, anyone who has met and received Jesus Christ as Lord has a story, a Jesus story, that ties your heart to his and makes you bullet proof against the lies of the enemy who would kill your spirit with accusations and slanders. The enemy cannot touch our spirits if we keep reminding him and ourselves of where our hope lies, of the life that cannot die and the Father that loves us so that he would give his Son for us.

The Testimony

What is Paul’s story? He stands before King, leaders and governors and tells of his Jesus encounter. The blinding light experiance on the road to Damascus. In part:

 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’“ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. Acts 26:15

These words from Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, jumped out at me. Who was Paul actually going after? The church. He was seizing men and women who were suspected of believing that Jesus was a resurrected Messiah and bringing them before the powers that be in the temple to be excommunicated or stoned to death.

So Jesus is telling Paul, you mess with my people, you mess with me. I find that encouraging actually. The Lord takes the persecution of his people personally. And no one will get away with it indefinitely. There will be a day of reckoning. Fortunately for Paul, his day led him to believe in and receive the Lord whom he had mocked and rejected.

Grace truly is amazing, and Paul lives to share the story.

Paul recognizes that his testimony, his own personal experience, is powerful. The other apostles had the personal stories of having walked with Jesus, of having seen him crucified and then resurrected. That is their testimony, the good news that saves us all if we accept the truth of it.

But Paul, although he knew and told the story himself, as all who hear it should, it was not his personal experience and thus didn’t have the power of a firsthand account.

Paul’s own conversion story did. And combined with the Holy Spirit’s testifying to the hearts of those who hear as Paul speaks, it was powerful.

The thing is, we all have those stories. We all know the gospel— the amazing story of how Jesus came from heaven, lived as one of us, laid down his life and was resurrected and returned to glory. And if we have been born again, filled with the life giving, healing and loving Spirit of our God, taking us from hopelessness to hope, light to dark, death to life, then we have that story, we have that testimony that is irrefutable—because we lived it.

And there is power in that because the same Holy Spirit that gave Paul and the other apostle’s stories credence, goes before us and touches the hearts of those who hear. We plant the seeds, the Lord sends the rain that waters those seeds.

The fertility of the soil that receives those seeds, well we cannot control that, but we must keep planting, we must keep looking for opportunity to tell the stories and consider ourselves fortunate for each and every chance no matter how unexpected, or what type of duress we might be facing.

Whether it’s being dragged out before Kings, governors and rulers as Paul is here, or just a chance encounter at work. We have to be ready, looking for opportunity and trusting the Holy Spirit to guide our stories.

I think often of Peter’s words in his letter to the church.

 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.”  But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 1 Peter 3:14—25

Keep telling your stories my friends.

Get a Grip Festus (part two)

Plan and scheme all you want, in the end God’s plans will not be thwarted.

No, not that Festus!

Nature abhors a vacuum and when God is missing from a heart, anger, stress and even hatred will move in at the first opening. We sure see that happening here in Acts 25 as the religious and powerful all conspire and scheme to destroy one man.

No matter how many rules and verses may be in the mouth, or the head, if Jesus is not in the heart and the Holy Spirit allowed his place as counselor and guide in your life, the corrupt flesh will have you doing things you never dreamed you would be capable of.

I imagine these highfaluting men in their expensive robes and even priestly garments, laying in the ditch along a road with knives clutched in their squishy businessmen’s hands, waiting for this one itinerant evangelist to come by so they can jump on him and stab him to death in a bloody fury of blows.

Then what? Are they going to kill or outrun the Roman guards that are escorting him? Their hatred has blinded them and driven them mad. But they don’t care, They have lost control and they will do anything to get it back. They are frustrated beyond rational thought. They pretend it’s for God but surely they could care less anymore. This is all about their pride and power.

What a sad place for them to be in. All they would have to do is open their eyes and allow the Lord to reveal the truth that is right before their eyes in the very scriptures they profess to defend, and listen to the man, one of their brethren and peers, who once was more hate filled then all of them—until Jesus showed up and knocked him on his butt.

Then picking him up and setting him on a new path. One with no hatred, malice or anxiety, only assurances of a reward at the end and a life of meaning and purpose in the meantime. The reward being eternal life and the purpose being sharing that with the world—that’s all.

Paul knows this and it is why he is fearless and largely unflappable.

Unlike his antagonists who are being used like cannon fodder against him by the enemy of their souls. But God has a plan for Paul and these Bozos are not going to stop him, in fact, they will advance the plan, giving Paul reason to appeal to Rome. Where Jesus has told him he would witness for him.

The Scripture

“But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged before me concerning these things?”

So Paul said, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know. For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Acts 25:9-12

 Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, “You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!”

There’s my out! thinks Festus. But Festus has a problem, he needs to have a crime to charge Paul with, and a coherent case to present to Caesar. He can’t just charge and condemn a man because he is unpopular. Much to the chagrin of the mob.

“King Agrippa!”

Verse 22

“Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.”

“Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.”

 So the next day, when Agrippa and Bernice had come with great pomp, and had entered the auditorium with the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at Festus’ command Paul was brought in.  And Festus said: “King Agrippa and all the men who are here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole assembly of the Jews petitioned me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying out that he was not fit to live any longer.  But when I found that he had committed nothing deserving of death, and that he himself had appealed to Augustus, I decided to send him.  I have nothing certain to write to my lord concerning him. Therefore I have brought him out before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the examination has taken place I may have something to write. For it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner and not to specify the charges against him.” Acts 25:22-27

The Sideshow

As much trouble as he was, Paul is becoming somewhat of a sideshow in the minds of the Romans by now. An entertaining if not brilliant oddity that provoked thought and debate, something the open-minded Hellenistic Romans thrived on. It made them feel smart and sophisticated.

But the best part about Paul was that he drove the pesky Jews crazy. These close-minded arrogant priests, Pharisees and rabbis, whatever they all chose to label themselves, had no tolerance for new ideas and had no respect whatsoever for other gods or those who worshipped them.

Then along comes this Paul proclaiming simply that a Son of their God had walked among them, had been killed at their insistence, and then—here’s the crazy part—came back to life.

Now that part, as thot provoking and entertaining as the notion is, is embarrassing to the Romans because it was under their watch that the Nazarene’s corpse had disappeared, giving them leeway to spread this wild story.

To the Jews, Paul is a major obstacle to their tenuous hold on the nation of Israel. ‘If we don’t have the full devotion of the people to the temple worship and sacrificial system then Israel is no longer separate and, holy and blessed.’ And their power and source of wealth is gone, as is the nation, in their eyes.

“We have already lost the throne and our sovereignty, we can’t lose our religion too. We have to hold out until God sends the Messiah to rescue us from our enemies and restore the kingdom to the greatness of David and Solomon!”

“This Jesus was not it, he didn’t save us from anyone or retore anything! Oh how wrong they are, but their arrogance the  unwillingness to admit they may have missed it has driven them mad with hatred and rage—they have totally lost it.

King Agrippa and the lovely Bernice think they are pretty big stuff, all pomp and circumstance, but this Paul and Festus come along and makes them feel foolish and empty with false flattery implying that they should know and understand all this Messiah and resurrection stuff because they are the King and Queen of the Jews.

Therefore I have brought him out before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the examination has taken place I may have something to write. Acts 25

Fakers

Everyone in this story is a faker, except for Paul. And they know it. Which is why Paul drives them mad.

In their hearts, Agrippa and Bernice know that they are but puppets of the Romans and have no true power, that they have little real knowledge of the law or the prophets of God because they just never cared all that much.

And now Festus is expecting some great legal insight that he can use to present his case to Rome against this rogue Pharisee who claims to talk to a dead carpenter. A dead carpenter who claims to be the true king of Israel.

This is all just a little too much for Agrippa, and he can hardly keep his composure or contain his distain, yet he feels like a fool and a faker at the same time, I think I need a drink! Let’s get this charade over so we can get to the feasting part.’

The high priest and the Jewish religious thugs have lost it and are looking to Felix. Felix has lost it and is looking to Agrippa. Agrippa never had it and is just trying to find it, Bernice is just along for the ride hoping she can keep living in luxury, and they are all just trying to save their behinds and cover their own ineptness so they can keep the fragile status quo.

The only one in this story who hasn’t lost it nor is he anywhere losing it, losing his grip on sanity, reality and peace. The only one who is not in turmoil over what to do and how to facilitate their agenda is the one who seems to have no control, who seems to be the madman and would appear to be totally at the mercy of others— and that is the accused prisoner, Saul of Tarsus, now known as Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ. He is the only one who still has a grip—who has a handle on reality.

Why? Why is the one being persecuted, ridiculed, accused and abused the one who seems to have it all together, who seems to be the adult in this story and is unflappable? Because he does not have to wonder what truth really is, he does not have to worry that someone else’s truth will supersede or displace his, and his truth has a name and lives in his heart. Jesus Christ.

His fate and his mission are totally in his Lord’s hands and he is totally sold out and trusting in his Savior. Thus he has no fear whatsoever.

And he can reflect back at the end of each day and marvel at how God orchestrated yet another attempt by the enemy to destroy him into another opportunity to proclaim the gospel.

Now Paul is not a passivist nor a drone here just going along for the ride. Paul has a passion, he feels the fire in his belly and he desires nothing more than to be out there sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, defending the church against false teachers and warning them of hard days to come.

He is not afraid to call evil to its face and challenge those who would come against him and the gospel. But his passion is far different from the pride driven frenzy of his detractors.

Paul knows that he is on the right side, that he is where he is supposed to be and that his words are not his alone, he speaks for Jesus and his Spirit is ever faithful.

He is in God’s hands, and that is a fine place to be. He doesn’t need to worry about hanging on, God is hanging on to him.  


          Paul has found his happy place. It is in his heart, it is wherever he is—with Jesus.

Whitewashed Fools

Know this–there is a battle happening on a higher plain and it makes all this chaos around us so very interesting. Be encouraged as you look to your own world and learn to recognize the hand of God as he makes the sophisticated and powerful of our own generation look like complete and total fools in their efforts to subvert his laws and his people. The mockers are becoming a mockery of the wisdom they claimed to have cornered the market on. Learn to engage on that higher plain. Pray that their plans backfire horribly, as the schemes of evil men usually do. Evil is stupid no matter the sophistication or the sharpness of the creases in their clothes. But unless we engage, evil people, no matter how foolish, will prevail.

Don’t shrink back, Jesus and his apostle Paul never backed down, neither should his church!

Yes, ultimately, the battle belongs to the Lord. But we have to be willing to engage, and we need leaders and prophets who are not afraid, who recognize the battles taking place. If those in the pulpits are not calling out evil, how will the prayer warriors, whose prayers affect and strengthen the heavenly warriors, know where to direct their prayers?

It is courage, boldness, prayer and the hand of the Lord that will turn this nation back from the course of destruction we are on, and that rallying cry I told you we needed last week must be heard coming from the pulpits of those God has called to feed his sheep and equip his saints.

A bunch of soldiers, no matter how dedicated, running around in different directions with no battle plan or leadership is not an army, it is at best a bunch of lone rangers who affect little. And at worse, it is a mob that eventually forgets who and why they are fighting. Let alone who for, who drops their weapons and runs for the caves in the hills.

We fight for the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, no weapon formed against us will prosper, no terror that comes by night nor arrow that flies by day will cause us to fear or run away defeated. You come to us with lies and deceit, or even sword, spear, and javelin, but we come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts whose name and whose armies you have defiled, and God will not be mocked.  

Curses, Foiled Again!

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

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

Intrigue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 54:17

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

Scene one

Setting the stage;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swaningson bible memes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Jesus is all over this.

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Tread On Me

We face a defeated foe, why would we shrink back in fear?

No weapon formed against you shall prosper…” Is 54

One Nation Under God -Swaningson

Citizen Rights

Then the commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?”

He said, “Yes.”

The commander answered, “With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.”

And Paul said, “But I was born a citizen. Acts 22:27-28

We are a church in need of a rallying cry, an army in need of a vision, warriors in need of a trumpet call, a generation in need of a King and a Savior. We have all of those things, if we would just wake up and realize who we are and who our God and our King really is.

Nothing is too hard, no night too long, no accusation too heinous, no pain or sickness too great, no death too final, because our Jesus has conquered them all and no weapon formed against us shall prosper. At best they are only speed bumps on our road to forever and we cannot let them stop us, we cannot let them discourage us, we must not lay down and wonder why the road is so hard and let the enemy run over us.

We are the champions of the living God, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and we will have the victory!

And there is now no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus, for we who are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and (for my American friends) of these United States of America. And if we don’t stand up and reclaim those rights, assert our freedoms and let our voices be heard, than we will have lost both of those kingdoms to this world, and the blood of the victims of the darkness that deceived us into surrender will be on our hands.

I am not one to roll over as a citizen of either, of this Kingdom of God, and of this one Nation under God.

And lest you think I just derailed off the gospel tracks, that is exactly where Paul is in Acts 22 as he stands up in the midst of the haters who have beaten him to a pulp, arrested and detained him, both without legitimate justification or due process, and claims his rights as an uncondemned man, both in the Kingdom of God and as a citizen of Rome.

 And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?” Acts 22:25

Is it lawful? I think not, and everyone there knew it. But the mob cares not about truth and justice, the mob is led by the devil, and by emotion and rage. But God was still on Paul’s side, because he always has the last word. Right is always right, and truth is always truth, in the end. And there will be no scourging today my frantic screaming friends.

Paul is no longer welcome in the Holy City. He is maligned, slandered, shouted down, beaten, and arrested. He is about to be hauled off, likely to be jailed and tortured, until Paul speaks up and demands his rights. ‘I am a citizen of Rome and I have a right to be heard, I have a right to due process, you cannot treat me this way!’

And guess what? He is heard, why? Because he is right. He is moving in the power of the Kingdom of heaven and is on a mission from God, and those who are in authority there as dispensers of Roman justice know that he is right—he is protected as a citizen of Rome and they could be in big trouble for abusing those rights.

Paul is telling them in affect, Don’t tread on me.

Paul would later write to the church in Rome, admonishing them to be subject to the governing authorities for to do so would be to resist the ordinances of God. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. (Rom 13)

Yet Paul here, on this day in Jerusalem, is resisting the authorities. But he is not really, for those who have arrested him have overstepped their authority and are working against the ordinances, the higher authority, in this case of Rome, that would ensure fair treatment of Paul, that he would have a right to be heard, a right to appeal to Rome against his accusers, and a right to a trial if he is charged.

So yes, this governing entity would not be a terror to good, if it adhered to its own laws. So Paul stands up and against these agents of that government and demands his rights for they are in this case acting as a terror to good works. And indeed they back down and recognize that Paul is right.

So Paul is not acting against his own admonitions for God’s people to submit.

Paul’s admonitions are for a submission to a government from God that are not a threat to good and do not praise that which is evil and exalt that over good.

 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.  For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. Rom 13:2-3

Submit to that and to those who are in authority, until they run counter to God’s ordinances and become a terror to good. The actions of Paul, coupled with the words of Paul, tell quite a telling story and one the church seems to have a hard time grasping. At least in our nation, because up until recently, we have not had to make the hard choices of whom we are to submit to, God or man, not until our leaders started trying to supersede the true authority of our land, the Constitution.

When our so called authorities start acting contrary to our overarching laws, and turning everything we once cherished and adhered to, things that we had agreed as a people would be our governing principles and truths, upside down and suddenly leave us in a place where we are afraid of the authorities who have become a terror to good works and a protector of the evil—then we no longer have a God given mandate to submit.

It seems that’s where we are.

We suddenly find ourselves living in a world that is essentially saying to us what they said to Paul when he dared to speak an uncomfortable truth to the people—

And we have shrunk back, nobly desiring not to offend, our propensity to love our enemies used against us to silence us, even by those within our own ranks. It happened little by little over the last few decades and has increased exponentially into a no holds barred all out assault on decency, on the church, against Christianity and against God himself.

The goal being the death of the church.

Well, as the Lord keeps reminding us, he will not be mocked and I’m sure he’s just shaking his head and saying, really, you want to go up against me, against my people? But at the same time he weeps for his church who has not risen to the challenge and recognized the ground we are conceding and victories that we are giving up. We fail to stand let alone fight.

But I for one am not ready to give any more ground, I am not ready to throw in the towel, crawl in my hole and wish the world away. I am not going to give up on this country that my mothers and fathers gave up everything to reach, and or fought so hard to build and preserve. Their dream is that this would be a place to live in the freedoms and blessings that our God created us to yearn for and enjoy, a light to the world with blessings to share and a gospel to spread with the wherewithal and the resources to do so.

A place that stands for those who cannot stand for themselves, and welcomes those who need a refuge when their own governments render their lives worthless. If we are gone, if this nation under God, with liberty and justice for all, with its government of the people, by the people, and for the people, ceases to exist from the face of this earth, there is no place left to turn. There is no more refuge, no more light on the hill, no more bastion of hope from which the gospel of Jesus Christ can so freely flow.

But we are still here, the church is still alive and our God still reigns. And the devil has overplayed his hand. “He’s gone against the King, gone against the crown, and their ain’t no devil gonna tread on me!

–He’s nothing but a liar.” And we are citizens of no mean city.

We face a defeated foe, why would we shrink back in fear?

Bound by the Spirit

The Will of The Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Um, maybe we should read that again;

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember When?

Remember When?

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

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

Simpler Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give of what you have been given.

A Bruised Reed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compelling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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