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!

Dissension, Contention-Divide and Conquer

And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them.” Acts 15:1-2

I have been working my way through the book of Acts with my church, and one thing that has become abundantly clear, there was a whole lot of contention, dissension and dispute in the early church. Huh, some things never change do they? Usually it was because people were too busy talking and not listening, Same ‘ol. . .

You can say a lot of things about the past and current season this generation has been in and many of them would be argued with as soon as you said them. But that one thing that can’t be argued is that it has been a contentious season.

Contentious politically, culturally, spiritually, both nationally and on a world wide scale, as so much of what is going on or being foisted upon us affects us on a global scale like never before as the world gets smaller and smaller as populations and connectivity grow at breakneck speeds.

The enemy is tearing down everything he can, economies, nations and borders, histories, traditions and family, individualism and personal rights and identities, churches and relationships.

Everyone is being turned against everyone else and lumped into groups of us versus them. And those who dare try to have independent thoughts are slammed, shamed and silenced.

Why? Why would the enemy want this chaos and strife? Why would he want to destroy and cause all this strife?

Well, that short answer is obvious, he hates us all, especially those who know the Son of God. But the larger plan and purpose is that he wants to tear down everything that could possibly hinder him from seizing control of the world as a whole. And to destroy the people of God once and for all, Israel and the church.

For the first time on history the entire world is in a position where there could theoretically be one economy, one governing body, one religion, one standard set of laws and regulations. And we have already seen how easy it is to get everyone to comply with what would have previously seemed overreaching and intrusively untenable demands.

I mean, for a season, and still for some, we basically lived under Marshall law dictating our movements, and Sharia law as far as face coverings go, and faced communist style shortages while being policed Nazi style by our own neighbors as everyone was encouraged to report all dissension against the mandates.

And it was all justified, Marxist style, as being for the greater good of course. It all came together nicely in this season of pandemic hysteria and will continue to be pushed in the name of climate emergencies and social justice causes. We traded away all our freedoms for promised security and let fear rule the day.

And that’s why the enemy hates God’s people, there is no fear in perfect love, and perfect love is what we have.

Rolled Over?

We are now supposed to be okay with having our gender neutralized and our skin color being the sole thing that determines whether we are a victim or an oppressor. We rolled over and allowed small private businesses to be destroyed, our churches and schools to be closed, and now our speech, as far as speaking out or questioning any of that is being monitored and regulated. I have no doubt this very blog will be flagged and shadow banned by my various platforms.

And we are all supposed to be okay with all of that? And just submit? I’m sorry but I’m not and I won’t. Because I see it all as a perfect set up for the Anti-Christ to seize power, to just slide right in and declare, ‘Here I am to save the day!

My point is, if we want to have any hope of countering the plans of the enemy, or at the very least to survive as a church and to leave this world with our souls intact and headed for glory, we need to stop rising to the bait and bickering among ourselves. We need to stop worrying about things that in the end will not matter a whit, and keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, and treat one another with love so that all men may know that we are His disciples.

The Titanic is going down and we are complaining about the music the band is playing as she sinks.

Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, Acts 15:19

This is what came of all the arguments, of all the debates and contention and dissention in the early church about the finer points of the law, of those who thought they held the keys to the deeper things of God, the true way to the Father and his favor. Of those who kept troubling those who were deemed to be ignorant of truth and godliness.

The Apostles of Jesus Christ, the brother of Jesus Christ, James—those who had walked with him, lived with him and who were still guided and empowered by him through his Holy Spirit, all got together one day and to settle the issue between grace and religion once and for all—this is what they decided was important and necessary for those who were coming to faith in Jesus Christ and being baptized in his Spirit as a result.

Right at the top of this Supreme Holy Court decision was the admonition to stop troubling the gentiles with all your nonsense about the law and the deeper things of God let them turn to God. Let the know it all’s take notice—shut up and listen to what the Spirit says and open your eyes to see what he is doing among those you deem ignorant.

Stop troubling them. I know so many Christians who have lost their zeal and desire to go forth and plunder the enemy’s territory because some well-meaning, more learned and mature Christian made them feel stupid and ill equipped.

Champion

If you know Jesus as Lord and have been delivered from your bondages to sin and death, if you have the Spirit of the living God residing in your heart, you are a warrior, you are the Lord’s champion, you have a testimony and a name that is above all names, that will overcome the beast, that will set the captives free and will bring many sons and daughters to glory.

Don’t let anyone or anything stop you. Anyone who comes against you and troubles you in that regard is an agent of the devil. As Jesus said-Get behind me Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men!

And strive for holiness.

The Apostle’s provide an astonishingly short list of things the new believers should do to keep on track and not get sucked back into the clutches of the enemy. They all had to do with not opening yourself up to his control and destructive designs for us and the world; abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. 

The debate was over, for a time. People just cannot let go of their pet theologies and traditions, convinced they alone are right.

We need to stop shooting at each other from our favorite theological bunkers. We need to love one another, encourage one another humbly and sincerely as we all struggle to navigate this evil world, as those who are no longer citizens of this world, and start heeding the warnings God is giving us from those who are shutting their mouths long enough to listen to him and to see what the Spirit is doing.

Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul. . . Acts 15:12

We need to stop worrying and arguing about things that in the end will not matter a whit, and keep our eyes on Jesus, we need to just shut up and listen, to stop fighting one another, and to heed those he sends to encourage and warn us.

We need to stop being the Pharisees and be the Jeremiahs, (A Jeremiah Spirit) and we need to hear the Jeremiahs. I said it the very first week this Pandemic business hit the fan last year, and it still holds true today, The Lord does nothing but that he doesn’t tell his servants.

Fire

I worked with a guy for several years who had a propensity to argue, in fact, I argued with him a lot. He was pretty stubborn and always wanted to act like he knew it all, or at least take credit for it all. When it was my work he was taking credit for, I had a problem with that.

Anyway, he also had a fondness for the beer and cigarettes, and one day the combination got him in trouble. I first heard the story on the news, and then later from him. He was sitting in his recliner one evening after having drank several beers, smoking a cigarette, and he fell asleep— or more like passed out.

He told me he remembers waking up and thinking it was really hot so he decided to go to bed. The next thing he knew someone was trying to drag him out of bed so he was trying to fight him off until he realized that his room was full of smoke and the guy who was wrestling him out of bed was a firefighter.

What happened was he had fallen asleep with a cigarette, the cigarette had started his recliner on fire, which woke him up, so instead of trying to figure out why his chair was so hot, he just went to bed.

A neighbor saw the smoke pouring out of his living room window and called 911. And of course the firemen searched the house for people as they put the fire out. They rescued him despite his fighting against them and even saved his house.

Did he learn? No, a few years later he was found dead in his bathroom of a heart attack, in his mid-forties, after years of heavy drinking and smoking. Despite the many warnings his body and his friends were giving him, he refused to even go to the doctor, he thought he knew better.

Things are heating up, maybe instead of going back to sleep, or fighting with those who are trying to save us, we should pay attention to why things are getting hot.

It’s not because our neighbors need us to straighten them out, we need to start by looking at ourselves. –Humility

Get some.

A Jeremiah Spirit

Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. 1 Cor 14: 4—5 

The world is in dire need of prophets, people who will speak on behalf of the Lord, people who are willing to speak what the Lord puts on their hearts the words he puts on their tongues. The sad thing is, the world is full of prophets, at least it would be if the church truly stepped up and assumed its role as the Ambassadors of Christ we are called to be, if we all embraced and developed the prophetic gifting that is available to all believers, if we would just seek it and believe that we have it.

So the big question is; are you brave enough to pray for a Jeremiah spirit? Are you willing to accept the prophetic role even if it makes you uncomfortable or unpopular? You may have already noticed that seriously following Jesus will take you there anyway, so you might as well embrace it. 

Jeremiah was a prophet in ancient Israel, at least what was left of Israel at the time— Judah. The northern kingdom known as Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians years earlier. Jeremiah was in the southern kingdom of Judah at a time when it was very difficult to be a prophet. Actually anytime was a tough time to be a prophet in Israel, no one liked the prophets when they were around. Prophets are the ones who have the unenviable task of trying to get through to people with a message from the Lord that they usually don’t want to hear.

In Jeremiah’s case he was sent to warn the leaders of Judah that if they didn’t change their ways and turn back to the Lord real soon they were done for. Time was running out, in fact they were out of warnings, they were being told— You’re done.’

Jeremiah was charged with preparing them for their coming judgement and captivity while promising their eventual return to the promised land.  

But the people refused to listen to Jeremiah. There were too many false prophets running around assuring people that they could not fall because they were God’s people. Never mind the fact that they didn’t act like God’s people and had chased after every other god that they could find and every man did what was right in his own eyes— they lived to please the flesh. Not unlike today. . .

But Jeremiah is faithful to keep warning them even though they refuse to hear. And the false prophets of sunshine and roses continued to lull God’s people to sleep.

They have lied about the Lord,
And said, “It is not He.
Neither will evil come upon us,
Nor shall we see sword or famine.
13 And the prophets become wind,
For the word is not in them.
Thus shall it be done to them.”

14 Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts:

“Because you speak this word,
Behold, I will make My words in your mouth fire,
And this people wood,
And it shall devour them

Jeremiah 5:12-14

Jeremiah had a hard row to hoe in his day. But God had a much bigger purpose for him that has continued to encourage and strengthen the people of God to this day. He has certainly influenced me and encouraged me. May my words burn with the fire that Jeremiah’s did for the purpose of exposing the wiles of the enemy and consuming his lies.

Hard time to pastor

This is a hard time to be a pastor. I’m sure pastoring has never been easy but in recent generations, at least in America we— not just pastors but Christians in general— have had it relatively easy as much of the country and our leadership still had a moral compass based on the word of God, the principles espoused by the Lord and the prophets and there was a healthy respect for the Lord and his shepherds. And no one would have imagined arresting a pastor for refusing to shut the doors of his church to Sunday worship.

Perhaps the times we are in seem all the more troubling because we have experienced and remember a time when our culture and our government wasn’t set against us, when being a follower of Jesus and an adherent to the word of God didn’t get you labeled as a hater, a closed minded homophobe, racist, or just plain ignorant. The enemy has  been slinging all kinds of mud at the church lately and he has gotten a lot of it to stick.

That’s what makes it hard to be a pastor— it’s defending and being responsible for equipping you to stand up under the onslaught, that becomes such a burden. How to not live in fear and kowtow to every whim of the enemy.

It would be so much easier to just teach you the beatitudes, tell you all how wonderful you are, how wonderful God is and to go out and have a wonderful life. But, as I have said before the time for fluff is long gone. Spirit led teachers are having to set aside more and more the bumper sticker, song lyric, platitudes and the time tested teaching models as the Lord is stepping up his prophetic outpourings as his people need to be warned and prepared for the evil days to come, and that have already come.

More importantly God is speaking to and through his leaders, those who will listen, to not just prepare the people but to try and avert the judgement to come. In plain English— It’s hard to be a Pastor right now because God wants to use me, he wants to use any Pastor or believer who will obey, to convey the hard message that all is not well. It is no fun to have to warn people against evil when it has become so prevalent that we have reached a tipping point to where, short of a miracle in the form of  great awakening to the Lord, we are finished as a nation, a people and perhaps a world.

Don’t be afraid to speak out what the Lord puts on your heart. You may be saving someone else’s soul; you may be saving our very nation.

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

Withstanding God

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

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

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

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

Bible memes Swaningson

Resistance is futile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we standing against evil, or withstanding God?

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

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

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

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

What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ 

Bible memes Swaningson

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

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

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

Darkness Overcome

I love studying and pondering history, the paths that mankind has walked over the centuries as groups and nations have formed, reformed, and sought to survive in whatever environment they found themselves.

One of the things that always becomes obvious is how far and how fast nations and tribes moved away from the knowledge and ways of the creator and became consumed with darkness and superstition as demons and fleshly lusts filled the vacuums left in the hearts and lives of those who wondered away from God.

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They truly did end up in horrible and terrifying darkness. A darkness that left one to fear the dark, to fear the forests, to fear the sea, to fear the heavens and to look for omens above and below to dictate and foretell their fate, omens that were seldom good.

People paid homage to trees and rocks, animals and birds, told tales of strange creatures and spirits that would consume their flesh and enslave their souls. They lived in fear and paid dearly for the favor of those who claimed to have the ability to hear and manipulate those unseen powers—the shamans, the druids, the priests and the witches or whatever labels they claimed.

No doubt many of the tales our ancestors told of trolls and ogres, ghosts and goblins, curses and spells, witches and sorcerers, and on and on, were based on truth. Because the enemy was allowed—and even encouraged by we who were supposed to rule and subdue the earth—to run unabated and unleash whatever unholy terror he wanted on the crown of God’s creation, mankind, because we had turned our hearts away from him and given up our authority and protection.

But God never gave up on us, he had preserved a people, and a handful within that people, who kept clinging to the promises that one day the promised one would come and restore that which we threw away in the garden of Eden and had shunned ever since—a real relationship with the Creator, with our Father.

But now it has happened, the Son of God has come, a great light.

I don’t know about you, but I am real glad I am not trying to earn or fight my way into some ethereal beer hall, living in fear of the ghosts lurking in the dark corners and wondering what the sick twisted purpose of it all is as I draw ever closer to taking a dirt nap. The worst darkness of all has been chased away, the darkness in the heart. And we must never forget that; be grateful for that, and be passionate about sharing that.

Jesus is Lord of all and he is passionate about every person from every tribe, nation and tongue.

 And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
 And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.” Rev 5
:9-10

The Chosen People

Hard Lessons Learned

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

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

Jesus is Lord of all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He would later do the same to Judah with Babylon.

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

Isolationists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chosen Vessels

Have you said yes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop kicking against the goads.

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

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

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

Paul would say yes Lord.

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

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

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

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