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.

A Bruised Reed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compelling

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

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

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

Swaningson Bible Memes

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

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

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

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

Swaningson Bible Memes

The intimate God

We’re all familiar with what has become known as the Last supper. But I want to look at what was going on in the room where this was happening. This was far from the thunder on the mountain, blinded by the glory, let’s start a religion kind of moment, this was a bunch of very real people whose lives had been intertwined for years who were about to have their world turned upside down.  

John writes in his gospel that Jesus was very troubled in his spirit during this meal in the upper room and told his friends, one of you is going to betray me.

His disciples all looked at one another shocked and incredulous. Peter pokes Paul and whispers, “Ask him who it is.” John was sitting right next to Jesus, so close in fact that he just leaned back against Jesus and asks him; “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answers, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread after I have dipped it in the dish.” He then dips the bread in the oil and hands it to Judas. Who takes it with apparently no hesitation, he’s just sharing a meal with a guy whom he has followed for three years, and whom he is conflicted over because he just seems so… so ordinary, so humble and loving.

‘Isn’t the messiah supposed to be a conquering king who will put all their enemies to flight? Wielding a sword and destroying all who stand in their way? Isn’t the Son of God supposed to come with fire and fury, thunder and smoke—just like God came to Moses on Sinai?’

What is this ‘servant of all, wash my feet, have some bread, lean on me and tell me your concerns’ kind of Messiah?

As soon as Judas took the bread and all these thoughts raced through his head, Satan entered into Judas, and he was done. He could not stand for an intimate God.

But look at John, oh how I long to be John here, leaning on Jesus like we are closer than brothers and just talking.

23 Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke.

25 Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” John 13:23,24

Imagine the intimacy of this moment. The realness on every level.

When the scriptures tell us to draw near to God it’s not an analogous statement calling us to a higher sense of ritual or greater religious experience, it is very literal and real. “Come and sit with me, lean on me, look into my eyes and ask me the hard questions.” Nothing is ever answered by just being good, a relationship is not strengthened through do’s and don’ts. A relationship with God, like any relationship, is strengthened by being together.

Your goodness will grow out of that relationship, the answers to the questions that drive you to the brink of madness in this life will only be answered by being with, sending time with, leaning your head against the chest of the Lord looking up into his eyes and asking: “Who is it Lord? What is it, where is it, when is it? Just what am I believing for, what am I to be contending for? What do I need to work on in my life for your glory, for my own good, how can I be the best person I can be?” Only this kind of intimacy will assure you that you are Okay with the Lord, that you will be alright, that the Lord has a plan for you and that you are still his child.

Come to Him, his arms are open wide.

Annoying Spirits

I have better things to do than marvel at your dazzle.

Acts 16

So, Paul, Silas and their posse, are being followed about in the city of Philippi by a girl who would have been considered in that culture, an Oracle— someone who spoke for the god’s. She is kind of acting like a side show carnival barker—“Come one, come all and hear the amazing tales of the men of the Most High God!”,

In that respect she was perhaps trivializing and minimalizing the message of the gospel by casting it in the same light at the rest of her for profit retinue of otherworldly utterings. But she was playing with fire and she was about to get her fire put out by the power of the Most High God she was mocking.

Reminds me of when Donna and I went through Deadwood South Dakota this spring. Deadwood is all about tourism and the Downtown area is real good at capitalizing on it’s somewhat lurid history and wild west nostalgia.

On main street there is a big sign in front of one of the old buildings that offers Ghost Tours. Claiming that the historic structure is haunted by the prostitutes and cliental who once did business there. Of course you know what I wanted to do, the thing that any Holy Spirit baptized disciple of Christ wants, or should want to do when they come across unholy spirits— invite them to leave.

So I turned to Donna and said, “Should we go in there and ruin their attraction?” She said no. Probably a good answer. I’m sure we would not have been very popular of we had started casting out evil spirits in the middle of a tour group full of eager half-drunk ghost enthusiasts and clueless tourists.

And the owners would not have appreciated losing their profitable, if dangerous, attraction. I can’t say I really wanted to do that anyway but it sure didn’t seem right walking away and leaving Casper and his shadowy buddies to run unchallenged through the halls of an old whorehouse in downtown Deadwood.

But, then again, that whole city is probably a can of demonic worms that some other warriors are called to open and not some random vacationing pastor and his wife from Red Lodge.

Not every battle is ours. We need to fight the battles the Lord leads us to.

Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to Philippi, and he was not going to let this annoying spirit dog him anymore. This whole story is a little weird if you ask me. Why would a demonic spirit be proclaiming that folks need to listen to Paul and his retinue, and why would Paul be annoyed by this?

Well, as I alluded to earlier, it was probably a demonic ploy to cheapen the gospel. And as for the annoying part, no doubt Paul was sensing in his spirit that this was not a sincere or Holy Spirit led nor approved endorsement.

Discernment

Makes you wonder how many of the noisier and boisterous elements and people in our own lives who seem all about proclaiming God are really just a distraction from the legitimate work of the Holy Spirit? All noise and no substance. Frankly I have never had much patience for that. Don’t waste my time. I have better things to do then marvel at your dazzle.

It takes a real discernment, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit by the way, discerning of Spirits, to know the difference between the sincere and the counterfeit when it comes to those who profess to be all about giving God the glory. It just seems wrong to question the motives or the spirit behind anyone or anything that comes across as godly, who claims to be wanting to know God better, or who is offering to help others know God better.

There are many people and things that appear upright and godly on the surface, that give me pause or outright make me want to avoid them. I’ve recently had to deal with someone like that and it is not fun. Someone who had me fooled for a long time yet always just seemed to work against the Lord as far as what he was wanting to accomplish on my life or the life of others. Someone who was sucking the life out of me, over and over and over again, to no purpose or gain for anyone-especially me.

Jesus warned us about wasting precious time and fertilizer on trees that never bear fruit.

‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’ ” Luke 13:8—9

I doesn’t matter how adamant someone may be about wanting to advance the kingdom of God and help others draw near to God, if the fruit of their life only shows a trail of angry, hurt and defensive people then they are not of the same Spirit that we are, and are in fact being used by the enemy to distract and ultimately destroy all that God is doing.

Paul recognized that his annoyance was the Spirit telling him something was amiss here and so he dealt with it, decisively and finally. He commanded that spirit to depart.

Listen to your heart, annoyance can sometimes be more than just impatience.

The Prisoners are Listening

What are the hopeless hearing from you, you, who as a believer, even if you had nothing else, should have hope?

Acts 16:25

And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:23-25

We all have prisoners listening to us. You don’t have to be sitting in a jail cell to be surrounded by prisoners. The world around us is full of prisoners. Prisoners to fear, to hopelessness, to despair. Prisoners to addictions, to lusts, to greed—prisoners of their own minds or bodies that seem to behave and do things that make the person trapped within feel helpless and disconnected to themselves and everyone else.

Even believers may be temporarily imprisoned to certain afflictions, afflicters and circumstances as we struggle to keep moving forward in this present world of death and decay.

 But we need to remember that we are not citizens of this world, we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and our songs are not songs of despair, our prayers are not prayers of anguish. Our songs and prayers are spilling forth from hearts that are free, that are full of the joy of the Lord and His Holy Spirit, and any and all afflictions this sick twisted world or our own flesh could throw at us is only temporary and is all subject to the one in us who is greater that he who is in the world.

And those songs and prayers of joy and victory to a God who has overcome all of this world’s heartaches and death itself are the only thing the prisoners of the darkness around us are ever going to hear that may give them even a spark of hope and even set them free.

So what are they hearing? What are they hearing from you?

Paul and Silas had cast an annoying demon from a young slave girl who had been following them around. She had been serving her masters as an oracle of the gods. and making them money as such. They don’t appreciate this and they stir up the city against them. They are seized by an angry mob, dragged to the city council where they are given no right to defend themselves as they are accused of all sorts of sedition and trouble making, going against the social norms and speaking hateful and offensive things. ‘Who do these judgmental religious Jesus freak Jews think they are anyway!”

‘And look what they did to this poor girl who was only trying to help them. Making her look like she was doing something bad and ruining her ability to commune with the higher powers by casting some weird Jewish spell on her in the name of this Jewish God man they worship.’

‘These guys are ignorant, intolerant—they are a danger to society and must be done away with!’

“…they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison,” Acts 16:21-23

So they are stripped naked and beaten with rods, at the order of the authorities, until they are covered with long red painful welts–or stripes as they were known in a crueler age–and thrown into prison where they are chained and left to suffer in the fetid darkness of a prison cell surrounded by the sounds of curses and the moaning of others who had run afoul of the magistrates and influential of the day.

Hope

But Paul and Silas do neither, curse nor moan, though they certainly had reason. ‘Who do these people think they are? They cannot treat us this way! We have rights, we demand satisfaction and justice! Curse them, curse them all! Lord strike them down and make them pay for what they have done!’

They didn’t do that. Nor did they moan and complain. ‘Oh woe is me, we are finished! We have no hope, no money, no friends. All have deserted us. We are laying here in filth bruised and bleeding, naked and hungry and my everything hurts!’

“Lord where are you!? Why have you abandoned us? —’Oh, oh agony on me, deep dark depression, excessive misery!’”

No. they didn’t do any of that. What would it have accomplished? What would it have helped? Or better, who would it have helped?

That’s what the prisoners of the world do. those who have no God, who suffer without recourse and cannot see beyond the straits they are in. Those who heed the warnings signs as they enter into whatever hell of a prison they find themselves entering—“All ye who enter here, abandon all hope.”

Hope is what the prisoners of the world and the flesh lack. But hope is the only thing that cannot be taken away from those who belong to Jesus. And when that is all that is left—that is enough.

It was enough for Paul and Silas as they lay there chained and miserable in that dark cell watching the darkness grow as the night falls, and as the night sounds of misery and unseen vermin begin to prey on their minds, and as the indescribable smells of unwashed rancid flesh accost their noses—and God seems to be very far away.

He wasn’t.

Their God knew exactly what was happening, where they were, and he was right there as close as the spirit within them. The hope that this knowledge gave them was enough to get them through what could have been the darkest hours of their lives, and welled up in them because of their prayers and songs, and in their prayers and songs.

Paul and Silas spent their sleepless night praying to their God and singing the hymns of their faith. And all the others sounds ceased. The moaning’s ceased, the incoherent babblings, the wicked laughter, fearful whimpers and angry curses—they all ceased and gave way to the sounds of praise—to the sound of hope.

And hope does not disappoint them, any of them.

set free

The Prisoners are listening. What are they hearing from us? Hope or despair. They need hope, if we don’t have hope, if we don’t exude hope, then we the church have failed, and all is lost. But it’s not—not yet. Not as long as our God reigns and we keep looking up.

You are free, rejoice!

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.

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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.