The Freedom of Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Puppets

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

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

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

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

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

The freedom of trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

A Mother’s Heart, and Gold

After Peter and John healed a lame man in the Temple gate one day they took the opportunity to preach the gospel to the gathering crowd.

Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…” Acts 3

How often do we moan and complain about how weary we are, how helpless and downtrodden we feel. ‘Lord, why don’t I feel the joy of my salvation like I used to? Why do I feel like I have nothing left to give?

Well, is there repentance involved in your walk with the Lord? Or are you just presuming on grace, always presuming and never turning away from the things we need grace for?

The simple truth is, you are not going to be feeling a lot of refreshing in the Lord’s presence if you are always wallowing in the sin he died to rescue you from.

Turn from the lust of the flesh and the distractions that bind and blind, and turn to the one who can set you free, look to Jesus and expect something, expect a miracle.

And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.” So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give to you.” Acts 3:5-6

Jesus can give you whatever you need to overcome whatever it is that keeps you from him, but you need to trust him enough to turn to him in honesty, and to look into his eyes and say “Help me Lord, I’m tired of fighting this alone and I need a touch from you. Silver and gold I do not need, times of refreshing in your presence is what my soul desires.”

Living in a world of plenty we easily forget that, as a church, as people, as parents. We lose focus on what is truly valuable when we focus too much on what the world considers treasure.

A story is told of Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century priest, friar and philosopher, calling on Pope Innocent II one day as the Pope happened to be counting out a large sum of money. “You see Thomas,” said the Pope, “the church can no longer say ‘silver and gold have I none.’” “True Holy Father,” replied Thomas, “neither can she now say, ‘Rise and walk.’”

Was the church richer when it had nothing to offer but Jesus and nothing to gain but forever?

Are our families richer when we have nothing to offer our kids but our hearts, our time, and our outstretched arms?

Mothers, I hate to say it, but you’re the worst. You love your kids and you want to give them everything. You want to be the world’s greatest mom and you judge yourself in that regard by looking at what you perceive other ‘perfect’ moms giving their kids—or maybe by the standard of your own mom who seemed to have it all together and made your childhood special.

Here’s a secret, your  mom had the same struggles, was not perfect, and neither are all those other moms whose kids you deem to be so lucky and well adjusted.

You are the perfect mom for your kids. They would not want any other mother than you, and they see in you things that they love and admire that you are blind to.

But most importantly, more than all the things you could buy them, more than all the programs you could get them to, more then all the crafty things you could invent for them or perfect lessons you could teach them—they just want you.

They want your time and attention, they want you—loud, messy, disorganized and broke—they don’t care. They just want what you have to offer them, the best things they could possibly receive from a mother, the same things you get from your Father in Heaven— unconditional love, mercy, grace, wisdom, correction, stories, tenderness, strength, a smile to wipe away the gloom, or a tear to share a hurt and a kiss to fix the boo-boo.

When they reach out to you in expectation, they don’t want money or stuff, they just want your hand reaching back to them, because like Peter on that day at the Beautiful gate, your hand is far from empty.

Happy Mother’s Day all!

The Men in White

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

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

Acts 1:1-11

Olivet

Angels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am convinced that he was an angel.

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

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

Red Lodge -Swaningson

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

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

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

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

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

Rolling Away the Stone

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

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

Mark 16:3-4

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

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

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

Am I talking about the ladies or us? Both.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I have never looked back.

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

The stone was rolled away, and it was glorious.

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

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

Mocked and Mobbed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandy’s Boy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Tony Schnagl on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh yeah, this:

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