The Jesus Plague

“…we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” Acts 24:5

You have to wonder where we are in the timeline in light of all that’s happening, and what those stoking the fires of fear really fear.

The Trial

In Acts 24 we find Paul standing trial. He has narrowly escaped with his life from his accusers, the violent mob, the crooked Jewish high court and the band of hungry sworn assassins. He has been secreted off in the night by a detachment of Roman soldiers and taken to the palace of the regional governor, Felix.  Here he will, as is his right as a Roman citizen, be given a hearing to determine what and if the charges against him warrant his being prosecuted according to Roman law

Reading through the chapter of study this week, Acts 24, this verse jumped out at me.

No small wonder since our whole world has been focused on and turned upside down to varying degrees by just that, a plague. Or as we more sophisticated of the 21st century call it, a pandemic. Not just any old pandemic—a global pandemic.

Paul is called a ringleader of that plague, that plague spawned by those called the Nazarenes. Interesting that the New King James, my current translation of choice, uses the word plague here while other popular translations use the word pestilent, which means deadly, lethal or virulent. Either way it is bad news. Paul is being accused of spreading something which causes death. Strong words, carefully chosen by this high power lawyer to besmirch a man for simply worshipping his God the way he believes he should, through Jesus Christ, his Lord.

It would seem to us, in the 21st century, that the words used to label Paul no longer have the sting that they once did, because like so many of the words that our culture latches on to in order to whip up fury or to silence opposition, the words pandemic, or plague, no longer carry the weight they once did because, in reality, the flu that has been unimaginatively labeled COVID, is just not all that lethal. If you get it, there is a more than good chance that you will survive.

And nearly every year for the last couple of decades there has been something else that was going to kill us all. Swine flu, Bird flu, Killer Bees, Aids, West Nile, SARS, Monkey Pox, Zika virus, to name a few. None of them lived up to the hype, so many of us just stopped listening. Like the boy who cried wolf! You can only panic for no good reason so many times before you stop listening, and then when the wolf does come you end up being wolf chow.

Not so with things of the past that were labeled as plagues, pandemics or pestilences. It would conjure up images of sure death preceded by immense suffering leaving the survivors to carry on in a world where corpses outnumber those left to bury them. There was no room for debate or denial. You were either dead or those you loved were all dead, and you just wished you were.

Thank God for the treatments and vaccines we have. I’m old enough to remember the horrors of Polio and we all know the devastation that small pox created among the natives of the Americas.

Death Sect

So, with that notion of what plagues used to mean, Paul here, in the mindset of his day, is being maliciously accused of being the ringleader of a death sect that threatens to destroy civilization itself. That is truly what they are intent on conveying here with their accusations and their arguments as to why Paul must be destroyed and this pestilence wiped out completely. And the High Priest Ananias and his corrupt Sanhedrin are the ringleaders of the effort to stop the Jesus plague.

A little, but relevant aside here; our pandemic seems to have a ringleader or two also and boy are they making hay while the sun shines. I’ll be willing to bet 99% of you had never heard the name Fauci before. Now he is a household name, love him or hate him. He has his own bobble head dolls, action figures, socks. There are even Fauci prayer candles that picture him like he is some sort of patron saint to be worshipped—quite disturbing if you ask me.

I know the plague is real, I know people who have died and many people are still getting sick, but the politicization of it all, and the shameless and thinly vailed leverage of this largely survivable plague has done far more damage to the economy and the psyche of this nation, and the world, than the flu virus, that it is, could have ever done  if simple common sense and traditional rational had been used.

I think this flu is a little more stubborn and certainly more odious than most because it appears to have been manipulated by man via gain of function tweaking, and it appears that effective treatments are being suppressed. The evil of the manipulators behind this is unsurpassed.

This is one nature nor God can be blamed for. This one is all on us. But then, all sickness is on us because sin is what brought and brings sickness and death into God’s perfect creation.

But the Bible does speak of pestilences and famines to come as the end of God’s patience with man’s arrogance and depravity draws near and his wrath is poured out after all have had opportunity to accept or reject his gift of life. The same amazing gift of life that Pauls’ accusers call a plague.

Apocalypse

 But just imagine what it’s going to look like when the real plagues, the one’s that really do kill everyone who gets them, when the bowls of God’s wrath are poured out and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are released.

If you’ve read the book, you’ll know that things get real. And the plagues found in those bowls, and the weapons of the horsemen that will bring the evil and deceived of this earth to their knees begging for an end to their suffering, are many and horrible. And would seem to be much worse than what we see today. But you have to wonder where we are in the timeline in light of all that’s happening.  

Perhaps we’ll get into Revelation next.

I’m not convinced this is not it, that it hasn’t already started. Could a truly deadly plague like the black death or small pox have wreaked any more havoc, cause any more dissension and chaos, created global shortages, shut down business for good, altered election results, closed churches—in many cases for good—created fear and panic in the hearts of billions, driven millions to drugs and even suicide?

Could a truly deadly plague have wreaked more havoc on our medical communities? Made dying people afraid to go in for treatment of their life threatening ailments? Forced a generation of kids to miss out on significant chunks of their education and stolen their identities and individualism with a piece of cloth while giving them nightmares of impending death by disease for them and all they love?

And it is far from over I’m afraid. I don’t really see how the plagues of revelation could ask for more than what we got out of this one. Yeah, this plague, this pandemic might not kill everyone it touches outright, far from it, but the resulting disruptions, unrest and chaos it has and continues to cause, may in the end kill many more than we dare to imagine at this point.

More likely, this pandemic was whipped up by the devil himself for the purpose of destroying our system and recreating it in a way that allows his puppets to come into power. The Beast, the man of lawlessness, the Antichrist, whatever you want to label his chosen man—or woman.

We are a fragile people living in a fragile system and any ripple, if allowed to, can build in waves of fear and panic bringing it all crashing down around us. We are all surrounded by what we think are wonderful people until they get hungry. Then your neighbors become a hungry mob trying to take your food.

And then along comes a hero to save the day. And we all worship the new savior and take his mark—whatever that will be it will add up to 666, and life will be good again.

We can buy and sell, be part of society, participate in schools and commerce and not fear the authorities who only have our best interests at heart. Just show your hand or scan your forehead and there will be no problems here.

Brothers and sisters, stay awake, stay alert and keep praying! If our Jesus was not powerful and able to deliver, they would not fear his name, and they do!

Whitewashed Fools

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curses, Foiled Again!

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

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

Intrigue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 54:17

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

Scene one

Setting the stage;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swaningson bible memes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Jesus is all over this.

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

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

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

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

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

Rebels?

The world, our leaders, our culture, is in rebellion against everything good that is from God and the feel good Christianity of yesterday will not survive in a world that no longer feels good.

Like it or not, we are in a war.

 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship… 2 Thess 2:3—4

You must trust the Lord you know, you must be equipped and you must be determined—knowing that the victory is ours only too claim, but claim them we must.

We must give those standing on the side of the man of lawlessness a run for his money like he never expected. The true church must not go quietly into the night never to be seen again, we must fight until the last trumpet sounds.

The enemy is awakening a sleeping giant and he is being warned; Don’t tread on me.

Because we are citizens of no mean city.

Revolution

“Don’t tread on me.”That expression comes from the revolutionary war that birthed this nation. I have been thinking a lot about that Revolution in the last couple of years.

One of the benefits of having grown up in a day when they still taught history is that I know a lot about the founding of this great and blessed nation, having instilled in me as a child a realization and an awe of how unique and extraordinary this country truly is. And I am an avid history buffI know the good the bad and the ugly. The good always prevails in the end, which is what makes us so.

I know that this nation is and has been extremely blessed. And I believe it is because it was founded on Godly principles, principles that are spelled out in our founding and governing documents as unalterable and undeniable truths. All of them based on and premised with the simple yet radical notion, as far as governance is concerned,  that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The Constitution codifies those rights and the bill of rights enumerates those rights. All of them based on God’s laws and principles, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

But this didn’t just happen. Our founding fathers did not just wake up one day in a vacuum, free of all outside restrictions and regulations and say “Hey, let’s start a country where everyone is free to be who they want to be, to worship God when and where they choose and benefit from the fruit of their own labors free from fear and oppression.

No, they had to fight, to shed blood—they had to rebel against their own government. A notion which terrifies any tyrannical government and why they must disarm, disband and dishearten any people who may have such a notion.

This is why they must control any religion that teaches and propagates such notions.

Our founders knew this which is why the Whitehouse was open to all, the right to bear arms and to assemble were codified into our laws, and why our first president refused to serve for more than 8 years and citizens chose people from among themselves to represent us in this republic of free men, to serve and answer to those people, lest anyone think of themselves as any better than anyone else.

How far we have fallen. The Whitehouse is a militarized zone, we seem to have a ruling class who never goes away and despises the laws which hinder them from controlling us.

At what point is enough enough, and we stand up on our hind legs and say no more, don’t tread on me!? As those brave men and women did, not so long ago as the history of nations go, and whom we once held as heroes but now whose names and statues we watch being torn down.

I’m not advocating a bloody revolution, I’m just pondering the mindset of a God fearing people who saw fit to stop submitting to what they deemed an ungodly and oppressive rulership and threw off the reigns of oppression, and were blessed as a result—blessed immensely.

And how far we have fallen as a people from those ideals, from godly principles, and from a government who cherished and respected those principles, our founding documents, and why we have allowed it to happen. And I wonder how much longer we will remain in God’s favor.

We have blood on our hands, the blood of those we have failed, and those who gave their lives for that which we now snub.

Gadsden Flag

Early on in that struggle which birthed our nation, we had several different flags to represent a people who struggled to break free of the tyranny of a King who had little regard or respect for the hicks on the other side of the ocean.

One of those was what is known as the Gadsden Flag. A flag which expressed the heart of those who longed to be left alone to live their lives and raise their families in peace, and to pursue the dreams the Lord put on their hearts.

When Benjamin Franklin saw the flag that the Continental Army’s fledgling Navy had adopted as their battle flag he was duly impressed. He would tell his friend General Gadsden, speaking of the of the Rattle Snake, a uniquely American animal that he deemed perfect to represent the Americans:

“She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.”…”but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal:—Conscious of this, she never wounds til she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of stepping on her.—Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?” —Benjamin Franklin

Does this still hold true? What kind of a nation are we? I may be an idealist, but I face my family and my God and proudly say, I am an American and a God fearing man, and the America I stand for and have known is one that must stand, and will only stand, so long as her God is the Lord.

I will not relent

And right now we are standing on shaky legs, but we still stand, we must stand.

Don’t Tread On Me

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

No weapon formed against you shall prosper…” Is 54

One Nation Under God -Swaningson

Citizen Rights

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

He said, “Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seems that’s where we are.

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

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

The goal being the death of the church.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bound by the Spirit

The Will of The Lord

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

Swaningson Bible memes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Um, maybe we should read that again;

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember When?

Remember When?

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

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

Simpler Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Bruised Reed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compelling

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

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

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

Swaningson Bible Memes

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

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

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

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

Swaningson Bible Memes

The intimate God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come to Him, his arms are open wide.

Annoying Spirits

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

Acts 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discernment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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