The Power of Grace

grace

If the church is to survive, if the gospel is to continue to bring people to a place of recognizing their need for, and access to, a Savior, she must continue on in the truth of the scriptures and in the power of Grace.

Grace is more than just a nice word to describe mercy, it is the power of God, it is the catalyst of freedom, it is the door through which his Spirit moves.

Grace is the spilled blood of Jesus, enlivened and commuted by God’s love to become the portal through which the kingdom of this earth and the Kingdom of Heaven move to mesh and become whole again. Our hearts are that place of meshing which quickens our very souls and becomes an unlimited source of power and life.

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That is something that all the scholars, astrophysicists, mathematicians, psychologists, theologians, philosophers and mystics have been trying to understand and explain for as long as man has drawn breath, and we get to own it simply by claiming it with a childlike faith.

“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” And Jesus is God, so—what else do you need to know?

Stick that in your PHD pipe and smoke it.

The mystery is revealed.

mystery

Still the doubts…

But it’s hard, isn’t it? As time goes by and things don’t always go the way we hope and pray that they will. When people you love are sick and dying, relationships decay, when the enemy seems to pick off those you thought were secure, when doubt and questions start creeping into your mind and seem to be in a constant war with your heart—your heart wants to just give up and give in. That’s where the power of grace comes in.

11 This is a faithful saying:

For if we died with Him,
We shall also live with Him.
12 If we endure,
We shall also reign with Him. 2 Tim 2:11,12

We need to remember the rest of that saying, v 13:

13 If we are faithless,
He remains faithful;
He cannot deny Himself.

 

“If we are faithless, he remains faithful, he cannot deny himself.” So long as we do not deny him, intentionally renounce, speak against and reject Jesus outright, ‘making a shipwreck of our faith’ as Paul wrote to the Hebrews, then we are still covered by grace and if we endure, if we do not deny, if we keep looking for and seeking the Kingdom that our hearts know is there, we will see it. Our doubting mind will have the confirmation it needs to keep on keeping on.

I have been doing my best to follow the Lord for many decades now and have been in ministry of one form or another for many of those years, since 1985 anyway, and I have seen God do miracle after miracle.

I have experienced miracle after miracle. I have seen countless lives transformed and felt the power of God move in and through me in ways that my flesh can barely withstand. Yet, my flesh still wants to convince me that it’s all in vain, that it’s all a fantasy. And when that fails it wants to convince me that I have done my share and it’s time to rest on my Laurels, just go fishing and let someone else carry the load.

I mean, how much can be expected of one man?

That’s where that endurance thing comes in. We only have a few decades to effect eternity for good or bad, every minute is a gift we must use wisely, time does not give us any redos.

We cannot compromise, ‘I’ll go through that door later, I’ll harvest that crop later, I’ll fight that battle later’, when the sun sets on any given day, that day is gone forever.

Hay

Make your hay while the sun shines.

No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, . . .And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops. 2 Tim 2

Our day is coming, we will see the harvest, if we endure.

Farming without compromise. Ministry without compromise; playing by the rules, not getting distracted by the affairs of the world. This game of life is for keeps and it is a marathon, not a sprint, so to make it to the finish line takes discipline. Discipline and diligence lead to endurance and keeps us moving forward even when our faith may falter.

Continue to stand my friends, today is a gift and the sun will come up tomorrow.

That’s the power of grace.

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Contentment

contentment

What is contentment? It’s a freedom from fear, from anxiety, from restlessness, it is a soul satisfaction.

The Apostle Paul, who gave up his position of great honor and potential wealth as a Pharisee, to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth as an itinerant evangelist living in constant danger and often not knowing where his next meal will come from, or if the next beating or stoning he suffers will be his last, reminds Pastor Timothy to not get caught up in the greed that the world lives for. The world clamors for money, comfort, fancy clothing and rich foods and on and on. He cannot be that way.

But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, 1 Tim 5

Godliness and greed cannot co-habitate, Jesus said: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Mat 6:24

Everyone wants something, dreams of something, that if they just had enough money—or credit—to acquire it, ‘then I will be content.’ There’s a country song out that says—”money can’t buy everything . . .but it can buy me a boat.”

“…money can’t buy everything. Well maybe so. But it can buy me a boat. To float. Down on the water. With a beer. I hear the Powerball lotto is sitting on a hundred million. Well that’ll buy me a brand new rod and reel. And it could buy me a boat it could buy me a truck to pull it. It could buy me a yeti 110 iced down with some silver bullets.”

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And everyone says, ‘yeah, sounds good to me’, and you have a country hit on your hands.

“If I just had a boat—and a truck and a rod and reel and a Yeti and a lot of beer”—then I will be content.’

Well, maybe, for a good day or so till you wake up the next morning sunburned and hung over. Then you’ll think of the next thing you’ll want to make you happy—a bigger boat, a house on the lake, four wheelers, snowmobiles, a better job with more vacation time, a prettier wife and a fuller head of hair—pick any obsession or passion in this life—hunting, horses, sports, looks, fashion, fitness, technology, fast cars, classic cars, fame, fortune and power—In fact, “you deserve it all!”—and you can chase it until you have caught every bit of it there is to catch—and it will still never be enough.

What if I just win it? Then I’ll be happy. I can dream can’t I? And buy tickets and hope and pray. . .More often than not people who win the big mega million lotteries say that it ruined their lives.

‘I just want to be somebody, I want power and respect.’ People who reach the pinnacle of power are often the most miserable people you ever meet. And they spend most of their time obsessing over how to get more power and how to destroy anyone who might be a hindrance to that happening.

Just look at the happy bunch of clowns we have in Washington DC right now. Most of them look like their heads are about to explode–they are all so angry and miserable. And, with all the power they have amassed, rather than spending their time trying to do something productive that will help bless us, the people they are supposed to work for, at great cost to us I might add, all they want to do is convince us to hate all the same people that they hate. Misery loves company I guess.american-gothic-pelosi-and-schumer.jpg

It’s never enough, we must have more. How many entertainment superstars who have devoted their lives to reaching the pinnacle of success have committed suicide in the height of their fame either outright or by way of overdose on whatever their drug of choice was as they tried desperately to fill the hole inside that they now saw could not be filled by attaining their dreams.

‘Godliness certainly isn’t the answer—is it? Isn’t godliness giving up everything we use to chase contentment?’ I ain’t doing that!

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. John 10:10

The thief of course is the devil and I think one of his best tricks is to set us up with the grand things we think we wanted and then to take them away from us to watch us squirm and blame God for our troubles. The he has stolen, killed and destroyed. First our dreams, then our faith and ultimately our souls.

‘Oh but God wants to bless us, to give us abundant life, to fulfill our hearts’ desires.” I hate to burst your bubbles people, but God is not talking about money, quite the contrary, he wants us to learn to be content with nothing; nothing but a knowledge of his great love for us and in having a relationship with his Son Jesus Christ. In Christ alone is there fullness of joy.

When Jesus said I want you to have life and have it abundantly he was talking about having Him, being full of Him, being one with Him because He is life. It doesn’t get any more abundant then that.

Abundant Life

He alone has immortality and he alone can give us abundant life. All else is but dust in the end, including your flesh, unless you have received that abundant life in Christ. Jesus Christ who is now glorified and dwelling in an unapproachable light, the glory of God which mortal man cannot look upon, that same Jesus is living in us by his Holy Spirit.

And if we can grasp that, if we can tap into that, into him, and trust him for our everything, let go of our own selfish need to control our own destiny, by pursuing everything the flesh demands of us, everything we are convinced our hearts desire to be content or to secure our own tomorrows, if we can only see the light that is in us, and let it shine, then—we will be content. 

Now godliness with contentment is great gainFor we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 1 Tim 6

When we learn to be content with nothing, then we have everything. And anything else that we are blessed with just becomes that much sweeter and much more appreciated–soul satisfying.

Got you

 

Prophetic Praying

(Closed circuit for those who believe the Holy Spirit still moves in us today.)

In 1st Timothy we see a short but telling verse that has been neglected by too many of us.

14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. 1 Timothy 4

A gift given by the laying on of hands and a word of prophecy.

Paul, encouraging Timothy to be the encourager, to keep laboring and bearing reproach from those who would discredit and despise him for his youth is reminding him of the importance of setting a good example and not “neglecting the gift that he was given” supernaturally by both Paul and then the elders who also spoke prophetic words over him as they laid their hands on him.

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A model the church, at least the part of the church that still embraces and welcomes the Holy Spirit, still uses today. I have had many people lay hands on me as they prayed and spoke words from the Lord over me on various occasions and they have set me on the course to who and where I am today.

I hope you have been so blessed as well. If you have you may not have even realized it was the Holy Spirit speaking to you at the time but if they were words that hit home and stuck with you, challenging you, encouraging you, making you sit up and take notice, then it was probably a prophetic word and not just your pastor or elder speaking. Honestly, when I prophetically pray for someone I don’t always know when it is no longer I speaking, and when it is the Lord.

If you do not neglect the gifts in you, and are not shy about moving in them and use them often, they come so naturally to you that you sometimes just lapse right into them without realizing it or making a concerted effort. Just like any other natural gift that we have, music, art, writing—the more you practice the more naturally it comes and the less obstructed by clumsiness it will be.

Your own spiritual gifts were given you by the Holy Spirit, most likely, when someone somewhere laid hands and prayed a propheticor Spirit led if you prefer—prayer over you. That is perhaps a better way to put it into terms that make it less intimidating. A Spirit led prayer. It’s just asking the Lord for wisdom as you are praying so that you are praying His will and not the will of the one seeking prayer, or even your own. If you want to pray prophetically you must keep an ear open to the Spirit.

Prophetic prayer—In practice that usually involves The Spirit putting the words or an idea into our heads and leaving it up to us to speak it. At first we might even think it was just us talking until we see the impact it has and realize that we are not that clever or insightful on our own. It may even be something we could have had no way of knowing.

Sometimes, whether you are praying or being prayed for, that means you have to shut up and listen I don’t need long explanations of your problems and just the right things to pray for you. If you have it all figured out you can pray that yourself, you don’t need a prophet. If you come to a Pastor or an elder for prayer and you truly want God’s will to be done and his purpose to be accomplished then you need to largely trust the Holy Spirit to lead the prayer.

Got your attention don’t I. . .

Let’s back up a bit here to the 1st paragraph of 1 Tim 4:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, 1 Tim 4:1,2

We are in this ironic season of humanity, at least in Western culture, where we are quick to believe in, and seek the supernatural in nearly any form except for when it comes to the only supernatural that is not counterfeit and meant to deceive and destroy.

That’s because the enemy does not want us to move in the power of the Lord because he knows that when we do the pathetic nature of his tricks becomes evident.

I think the 1st paragraph has been happening—Deceits and hypocrisy abounding— because we have been neglecting the last paragraph. We are falling for the Devil’s tricks because we neglect the gifts we have from the Holy Spirit.

Hands

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Paul admonishes Timothy to not neglect the gift given him by prophecy with the laying on of hands of the elders in the church. And then later, Paul reminds Timothy to stir up the gift of God that was given him when he, Paul, laid hands on him.

Now, for those who might be new to all this, the laying on of hands as used in scriptures both Old and New is a way of conveying a gift from God through a person who is willing and qualified by God to do so. Generally it is anyone who feels compelled by the Holy Spirit to do so, or one who is in a position of authority in the body of Christ.

Basically it’s just putting your hands on someone and praying. It might be for conveying a gift, a healing, a deliverance or an anointing, which also determines where you lay your hands.

Paul is telling Tim that he needs to stir those gifts up, to not let them sit dormant out of fear or apathy as so many do.

Given that Timothy is a Pastor I would guess that those gifts include teaching, prophecy, evangelism and of course the main gift that everyone we see in scripture receiving the baptism of the Spirit receives, a prayer language.  Or as it is more succinctly called in scripture—tongues.

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Anointed

So Timothy, having been instructed in the things of the Lord by his mother and grandmother, having been prayed for to receive the baptism of the Spirit by the apostle Paul himself, as evidenced in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, is later prayed for again as elders in the Ephesus church lay their hands on him to pray for him either as an anointing to ordain him as the Pastor of this body giving him prophetic words as to the kind of leader he will be, affirming his leadership or releasing more gifts in him by speaking the words God wants him to hear as he is anointed for service.

Or it may be that the Spiritually gifted of the church felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to lay hands on Timothy and while praying received a word from the Lord that the elder spoke out prophetically in his prayer and thus released another gift in Timothy.

Gifts from the gifted

The Spiritually gifted being used by God to release Spiritual gifts in others. That’s all this is, this laying on of hands business. It is not the person praying imparting the gift, it is God. The one praying is just being obedient. And the one receiving the gift must be obedient to heeding the words that are imparting the gift and to stir up, and not neglect, the gift that is given—transferred to them if you will—by the laying on of hands.

Every believer wants to believe that when we are saved, born again as Jesus put it, that we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us, rejuvenating our own souls which were dead by virtue of sin. And we do. They believe that the Holy Spirit is God, the third person of the Trinity that is God, yet they struggle to believe that he can actually do something other than just go along for the ride. Quietly residing within us until we die so that he can get us to heaven.

That is a far cry from the Holy Spirit we see in the scriptures. The Holy Spirit is alive and well and wants to equip us, to encourage us, to empower us to be the representatives of Jesus Christ here on this earth—to love in his power, to boldly go where he sends us, do what he asks us to do and say what he asks us to say. He is God inside of us, why would he not speak to us?

We all like to say—”I don’t have a religion I have a relationship.” What kind of relationship is it if only one of you are talking and the other remains silent? Pretty one sided.

‘But, we have the word of God!’ —You may counter. Yes we do, and that’s the other part of Paul’s admonition.

13 Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. 14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. 1 Tim 4

‘Keep reading the scriptures, listen to the teaching of the apostles and hang on to sound doctrine.’ Paul tells us, then in the very next breath, he says do not neglect the gift that was given you prophetically. In other words; it was spoken. A specific message just for Timothy from God through someone who prophesied whilst laying hands on him.

These two things together, God’s written word guiding and leading us, keeping us from being deceived, and God’s Spirit within us speaking to us in a very personal and intimate way, his thoughts meshing with our own if we’ll allow and desire it and even giving us words to bless others, what an awesome gift we have in both God’s written word and in the Counselor that resides within.

Do not neglect the gift—move in his power.Spirit baptism

Teach Truth

Disclaimer up front here—at some point in this blog you may be offended, I may have even offended myself.

But seriously, if you have a preacher who never offends you, you need a new preacher. (I am a preacher by the way) And an offense is just a challenge taken the wrong way.

Teach Truth

Paul warned Timothy of this issue long ago, this ‘do not offend me because I’m voting with my feet’ issue that would overtake the church one day. And as the time goes by and we are racing towards the final showdown between good and evil, pastors, teachers and leaders are become more and more afraid of the people to whom they minister, and less and less afraid of the God whom they serve.

Most pastors today will trade a full church for a full gospel any day. “Just preach the feel good stuff pastor so I can invite all my friends and show them what a progressive and cutting edge church we have. Otherwise, I’m outa here.”— “Oh, and you had better have top notch entertainment also, you know, drama and professional musicians and stage effects.”

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth… 2 Timothy 4:3—4

I’m going to spend the next few weeks looking at Paul’s letters to Timothy, a young pastor. Because I think the church, has gotten to a place where people are not answering the call any more. Those who have not just flat fallen away from the church and the faith, as many have in this age as we see church numbers dwindle across the board, are just not answering the call, they are not stepping up and they are not desirous of truly living a life worthy of their call even if they did have an inkling to do so.

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There is this weird paradigm happening where people can claim to be, and even truly be, madly in love with Jesus but not willing to live according to, or denying the truth and relevance of his word and his ways, they are in fact, unwittingly and in some cases, denying truth in favor of experience, emotion and cultural norms.

History shows that cultural norms are a dependable basis for determining God’s truth—no wait, that never works.

Right is wrong

I can hardly even keep up anymore as to what’s acceptable and what’s not in public discourse and cultural acceptance, not that I want to.

It would be downright comical—if it were not so frightening in its implications—watching the myriad of presidential candidates trip all over each other trying to outdo one another in embracing and doubling down on whatever absurd notion the other candidates happened to get attention with even if it is a total contradiction to what they claimed to believe and support just last week.

The spirit of delusion seems to have fallen on the whole lot of them as wrong becomes right and everything we have believed in becomes yesterday’s ignorance, as they all sit in their political and media circles and cheer each other on while the rest of us go,—’what? Who are you people, am I trapped in a bad episode of the Twilight Zone?  Or is this all just a bad dream’— no, it’s just the enemy playing with his puppets to destroy all that is good, the little that is left anyway.

I will speak

The point is—truth changes daily—you want to base your standing with the Lord on that? People don’t even know where to turn anymore, which statues we are tearing down this week, what heroes are no longer heroes, what history can no longer be taught or acknowledged; ‘Can I use a straw in my organic, sustainably grown coffee mixed with milk voluntarily given up by free range cows even if it’s offered to me by a transvestite barista? Or is this just a test to see if I really care about mother earth and all her multi gendered children?’

And that had all better be okay with you or you will have a milk shake thrown on you just before we beat you for being a hater.

What is acceptable, what is right, what is truth?

People are willing to go bonkers defending and promoting their political agendas and the latest scheme to save the planet from evil humanity but won’t give a moment’s thought to the one who created it all or bother to open the instruction manual he gave us, the Bible.

‘Maybe we can get truth from music?’ Yeah, that always works well. We went from drugs sex and rock and roll, to; I kissed a girl and I liked it, to whatever foul and perverse thing I can get to fall out of my mouth with something we call music behind it.

Thank goodness we have Christian radio—yeah, right. Let’s get our truth, our theology, from skinny jean wearing, young, rad worship leaders who got their theology from watching faded Levi wearing young cool worship leaders who got there theology from watching big haired, bell bottom wearing, key board banging worship leaders who got their theology from the young hip bearded bible study leader who showed up on campus one day with a Living Bible—“Cool man, finally a bible I can understand!”

You see where I’m going here? We need to keep grounded in truth. We cannot keep walking in ignorance. If you are going to endeavor to teach, or to be taught, you have to stay in, believe in, be submersed in, God’s word. You need to know the doctrine of grace and love found in the New Testament and the Law that preceded it and showed us the need for the grace in the first place.

sound doctrine

Because if all we are doing is presuming on grace and not caring a whit about how much of God’s law we are flaunting in our new found freedom, we are going to be in trouble, we are not carrying the torch that lights the way for all to see, the torch that keeps us from being swallowed by darkness as we await the sunrise of a new day in the Kingdom of our God.

Don’t get me wrong, there is some great Christian music out there, but that is what it is, music—an alternative to the garbage the world throws up. We cannot heed it as though it is gospel and every catchy tune with a clever chorus is not a word from God. The same goes for the beloved hymns. Even the oldest hymn was written many hundreds of years after the Bible was canonized and the word completed.

We can be inspired, blessed and encouraged by music from Christian artists, I certainly am, but we cannot stand on it. The only thing we can solidly stand on is the word of God.

We are entering a new season of the church, the great falling away is coming to an end and those who are still standing are being called back to holiness and will see the power and grace of God move in and through them like they never imagined possible.

Be that warrior, you are God’s chosen.

Eph 6 memeBarbarians in the Kingdom by Dan Swaningson

 

The Wall

Dividing wall

Some of you might be old enough to remember the Cold War—a war that was never officially declared, it just kind of happened—so it never had an official end, yet it did have an end for all intents and purposes. It ended, with great fanfare and celebration actually such as Europe and the world had rarely seen, at the fall of a wall, a dividing wall. It was a wall made of concrete but built as a wall of hostility.

When that wall came down there was little doubt that a war had indeed ended, freedom and opportunity had won, and oppression and fear had lost. At the end of WW II Europe was basically split up between the Allies, at least as far as political influence went, the Soviet Union getting control of Eastern Europe and the Western powers comprised chiefly of the US and Britain, gained control over western Europe.

It soon became apparent that the East and the West had very different ideas of how things were done, with the Soviets imposing Communism and all the government control that went with that over the eastern nations of Europe, and the West encouraging democracy and capitalism in the west. Germany, the primary provocateur of the 2nd World War that had shaken the world to the core was herself split between the powers, the capital city of Berlin included.

During the time of division and turmoil the opposing powers developed immense stock piles of Nuclear weapons and pointed them at each other, both sides convinced that their side was right and their ways superior. But as time wore on it became apparent that the Communists ideology of government control over everything was a recipe for hardship and starvation so people began to flock to the west where freedom afforded people opportunity to shape their own destiny and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

The Wall

How do you keep people from leaving your little evil Empire? You build a wall. One night, August 13 1961, 10 days after I was born, Berliners woke up to discover that not only were the border crossings between East and West Germany closed, there was now a heavily guarded concertina wire fence separating them from family and friends, a fence of wire, bullets and German Shepherds that was soon to become a wall of concrete which would stand for thirty years.

Anyone who tried to escape East Germany, and many tried, were shot on site and the ground on the eastern side of the wall cried out with the blood of many hundreds slain while seeking freedom, the freedom we take for granted because of the blood shed around the world and even on our own soil for our freedom. Freedom from oppression at the hands of our own government and freedom from the tyranny of other nations and ideologies that would destroy us and our way of life.

We had an ingenious group of founders who ensured with documents and arms that we would have the right to live free to pursue life, liberty and happiness and that we would have means to defend those rights and ourselves against overreaching government, and foreign invaders. And we have the world’s most powerful army of volunteer citizen soldiers, free men and women, who have kept our borders secure for generations. Sadly, many of those European nations have succumbed to the seductions of socialism and are losing those freedoms, and the churches who were freed when the Iron curtain fell are now empty again, and even burning.

By the way, kids, socialism is just a small step away from communism, it is in fact the total implementation of socialism. No one owns anything and all things belong to the state, including you, for the good of the whole. All of it managed by a government that has total power, and has your best interests at heart of course. By the way, Nazis are socialists, that is what the word means, it is an acronym for the National Socialist Party, as was USSR, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

So yeah, I lived through the cold war as one socialist government replaced another in Europe, Nazism for Communism, and brought pain and misery, imprisonment and execution to millions and caused the free world to live in terror as these benevolent dictators pointed their weapons at us and called us the capitalist oppressors as they crushed the church under their boots. Christianity was declared a threat to their greater society, the state was their God and God’s word was too dangerous for common people to read.

So no, you won’t find me cheering on any politician in our upcoming elections who espouses socialism or anything like it, as being good for our country.

Socialism is evil disguised as compassion.

Free nations don’t have to put up walls to keep people in and they don’t take away their guns for their own safety. I’m sorry if that’s too political for some of you but our fathers, grandfathers, uncles sons and daughters did not, and are not, fighting, bleeding and dying to strengthen a government over the people. All those people whose white crosses filling graveyards around the world and those bones lying forgotten where they fell died for a “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

“There is no greater love then that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Freedom isn’t free. Which is why our Lord laid down his life for us.

God Bless America

Jesus didn’t lay down his life to take away our freedoms for our own good, he laid down his life to free us from those laws that separated us from God and caused division amongst us and to bring peace.

15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. Eph 2:15—16

Happy Memorial day my Friends!

And may God continue to bless America!

The Substance of Faith

“nothing has never spawned something by the power of no one”

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     Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Heb 11

Faith. We all struggle with faith at times don’t we? Of course that can be a pretty broad statement, “I struggle with faith.” That can mean anything from struggling to believe that God will fulfill a specific promise to you, to believing that he hears your prayers, to believing that he even exists. Faith is always difficult if we think we have to muster it all up on our own—we really don’t, depending on what you are trying to have faith in or for anyway.

Faith is an interesting and even puzzling thing. The simple definition of faith is that it is a belief in something or someone. It helps of course to have evidence for our faith, like; I have faith politicians in Washington will be adamantly opposed to whatever someone from the opposite party comes up with because they always are—that’s a pretty sure bet.

I have faith that the sun will come up tomorrow and that winters in Montana will be cold—and way too long. Faith—it’s not complicated, usually, unless you are talking about faith that comes from the heart instead of the head because the head always wants to mess it up.

Yet, here we are, many of us, Sunday after Sunday, gathered together for one reason—faith. Faith in a resurrection that we didn’t witness, faith in a God that we have never seen and faith in a promise that we will one day be resurrected also. But why would we believe in something that we cannot see or feel? Why would we waste our time and mental energy dwelling on and clinging to something that we believe just because?

Because the faith we enjoy as children of God, as those who believe that God so loved the world that “He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”—is more than just a belief, it’s more then just a hope, it’s a gift from the God in whom we have put our faith.

When we take that small step toward God saying; “Lord I want to believe, I want to know you, I want to be have that hope of salvation, even resurrection kind of faith that knows that it knows”— he gives it to us.

It becomes real, it becomes tangible, it becomes a part of us—literally, because it is more than just a thought pattern, it is a Spiritual renovation that affects every fiber of our being. Jesus called it being born again. It’s a fresh start, a rebirth, a resurrection in it’s own right. A resurrection of the heart, a resurrection of the dead spirit that was killed off by sin and darkness, fear, doubt and rebellion—that spirit now replaced by the Holy Spirit of the Living God. You have to want faith to have it, “Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief!”  at that point faith becomes real.

Real

My faith is just as real to me, just as tangible to me, just as undeniable as my own flesh and blood—even more so. I sometimes look at myself in the mirror and think, are you for real? How can you be so stupid, so weak, so easily angered, fooled and tempted? And how can you be so old all of a sudden—seriously—who are you?

My flesh and blood lets me down quite regularly but my Jesus never does. Jesus is real, his Spirit within me is real and he sees the real me that wants, that yearns to be with  him, to live in his will and ways knowing that in him my flesh will be and is overcome. As long as I cling to Jesus, keep the faith, his peace and joy is always within reach. And I can look in the mirror and even like what I see—because I see someone who is loved, just as I am.

I can look into the eyes staring at me from the mirror and see the life behind them that is Jesus.

For now I see but a reflection of Jesus as though in a mirror, dimly. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. (1 Cor 13:12) But I can rest assured that I will one day see him face to face. Because our faith is real, our faith is alive, our faith is Jesus.

Evidence

Substance

I believe because my faith has substance. It has manifest itself in my life countless times. And my faith is my evidence, even in and of itself. Aside from all that just the wonder of this world, that there even is a world, is evidence. The one I have faith in created all that we can see. It only makes sense that it all had to come from somewhere—nothing has never spawned something by the power of no one—so it only makes sense that there had to be a beginning somewhere at which point nothing became everything at the word of someone.

Only God can speak substance into a vacuum and wind up with an entire universe, and only God can speak life into the vacuum of your heart and create hope. Our hope is found in Jesus, the Son of God, Son of Man.

Jesus gave his life to give you yours, claim your hope, claim Jesus as your own-he wants nothing more than to claim you.

Luke 4

You are Loved, just as you are.

Fooled ’em for Another Week

“that all too familiar fear of failure and judgement hit the pit of my stomach.”

14 how much more shall the blood of Christ,… cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? Hebrews 9:14

How’s your conscience? Now there’s a loaded question. “What? What do you mean? What do you know, who told you…?” We all have secrets, insecurities and guilt over something or other—don’t we?. It’s like the joke I’ve heard at work a few times and have even said myself, usually on pay day; “Well, fooled ‘em for another week!”

The inference being that if the people you work for knew just how unqualified, insecure and hapless you are they would get rid of you immediately. Of course it’s meant to be a joke but like any good joke, especially the ones based in sarcasm, my specialty, there is always a nugget of underlying truth that makes it funny in the first place. The reality is, most of us are a little insecure in our jobs, relationships, positions or what have you, and feel like if people really knew the real you, the secret battles that go on in your head and heart they would be aghast and ask you to hit the road Jack.

I know I find myself often lately in rooms full of people with engineering degrees, architectural degrees, PHD’s or whatever, owners of big companies and CEO’s and I think, what am I doing here?

IMG_3945

Especially when they are looking to me for input on how to make things happen on their big construction projects, like I’m the expert on every aspect of the project. Sometimes I just want to say; ‘I’m just a carpenter, don’t ask me’, but I can’t say that so I silently pray Lord help me not to make a fool of myself and I say what comes to mind.

Sometimes that leaves people a bit astounded, like, did you really just say that? Because I’ll tell you what, if you’re leaning on the Holy Spirit to guide you, combined with experience, truth comes out and it’s not always comfortable—yet it always gets the desired results and I walk away respected. Which, I suppose, is why I keep finding myself in those circles. But I’m always a bit insecure.

Or I’ll find myself surrounded by tradesmen, business owners and craftsmen asking me how they are supposed to make things work according to the plans that I am supposed to know every aspect of, and have or know where to get all the answers—and I think, How in the world did I get into this position? I just set out to be a hard working craftsman, to build things efficiently and with pride, and now I’m the Superintendent responsible for all this? Yikes!

The other day my boss called just on the heels of working through issues with the electrician, drywallers and plumbers back to back to back, and asked how it was going and I replied, “Well, I’m just solving all the problems of the world one subcontractor at a time.” Which it seemed to me at the time was exactly what I was doing, and he replied “sweet!”

That’s what I do most of the day, run around in circles and answer questions and solve problems all the while thinking; I could really mess things up here if I’m not paying attention or if I give answers that are beyond my authority or understanding to give. So, I’m still employed as of Friday—fooled ‘em for another week. And every day I continue to pray, “Lord give me wisdom to do my job well and bless my ministry as well, make sure I have plenty left for my church and family.”

Grandpa n Quiny

I often go home at the end of the day and wonder, and even cringe sometimes, thinking about some of my interactions with people throughout the day—I’ll tell you what, I don’t always feel very ‘pastorly’ when I’m pushing a big job and having to be the driving force behind a whole bunch of often difficult personalities all trying to work around, over, and with one another all day every day with the shared goal of meeting a deadline that always seems way too close.

Buttons

Buttons sometimes get pushed, and some people’s button are much easier to push. It takes a lot to push my buttons anymore to bring out the—“you don’t want to mess with me or you’ll be out of here in a heartbeat”—old school—“I don’t give a rip who you think you are” —foreman in me. But he’s in there and he serves a purpose. But I try to live by the old proverb that ‘a soft answer turns away wrath’ first and foremost because a hard answer invites push back that does indeed force your hand to play the hard ass card, and when that happens then I go home thinking, “Lord, did I totally just blow any chance of ever witnessing to that person?”

Are they now thinking, if they even know, ‘what kind of  pastor is he?’ What would the people I pastor think? ‘What do you think Lord?’ ‘Oh, man I’ve blown it again.’ —Here comes the accusations, the guilt and the temptations to just give up and give in.

Funny, I got home the other day and grabbed the mail. I noticed that I had a letter addressed to me from Foursquare, the big headquarters office in LA. That’s not unusual, but this one, this one made me uneasy right off the bat and I first didn’t realize why. I looked at it again and it was addressed to Dan Swaningson, yeah so? Well, most everything I get from Foursquare is addressed to Rev, Dan Swaningson. So you know the first thing that came into my mind? ‘Am I fired?’ Foursquare finally figured out that I am not qualified or worthy to pastor and they are stripping me of my title?

mountain preacher

I knew that wasn’t the case but isn’t that the way our minds work?-instant guilt, instant fear. My mind instantly flashed back to something I had written on a monthly report a couple months ago about the tight winter we had here—instant guilt and conviction. They’re going to replace me with a charismatic millennial in skinny jeans and a Prius rocking a man bun, and… Birkenstocks? —I don’t know, I’m not even hip enough to know what millennials wear, if it doesn’t say Wrangler, Stetson or Carhart on it I wouldn’t know if it came from the Dollar Store or from 5th Avenue, nor would I care.

So, I’m getting a it off track here, my point is, I panicked just a bit as that all too familiar fear of failure and judgement hit the pit of my stomach.

We are always a little afraid of getting into trouble, of maybe being found out like we have to hide who we really are, what we really think and probably some things we say or do, maybe I’m worse than most because of my codependent tendencies, but overall I think this is just human nature and part of our spiritual makeup. As we talked about last week, that’s the conscience pricking us, something it’s really good at.

Some of that may be the accuser whispering in our ears that we are miserable failures doomed to fail and to be cast aside by everyone who matters and by our God. And some of it is the legitimate feeling of guilt we have by virtue of having God’s laws and ways written in our minds and on our hearts.

10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Heb 8

We who know the law better than most because we care to read it and study it from our Bibles, often experience that guilt, fear and panic more than most. But that’s not the way it should be. We need to remember who we are, loved children of the Living God washed and guiltless before our Father by the blood of the Lamb of God—Jesus.

So, anyway, I didn’t get my ordination revoked so my church is stuck with this old redneck, cowboy shirt wearing preacher for now with no tattoos, an Ironworker vocabulary that I work hard to suppress every day, and a Pickup truck powered by Ford.

Turns out that letter was just a notice of some changes to my 401k and was from the financial dept at Foursquare, and their services being available to all paid staff across the board they don’t necessarily know or care who’s ordained and who’s not.

So, I’m fooled ‘em for another day. I’m still credentialed and okay to preach on Sunday—whew!

Barbarian meme