Get a Grip Festus (part two)

Plan and scheme all you want, in the end God’s plans will not be thwarted.

No, not that Festus!

Nature abhors a vacuum and when God is missing from a heart, anger, stress and even hatred will move in at the first opening. We sure see that happening here in Acts 25 as the religious and powerful all conspire and scheme to destroy one man.

No matter how many rules and verses may be in the mouth, or the head, if Jesus is not in the heart and the Holy Spirit allowed his place as counselor and guide in your life, the corrupt flesh will have you doing things you never dreamed you would be capable of.

I imagine these highfaluting men in their expensive robes and even priestly garments, laying in the ditch along a road with knives clutched in their squishy businessmen’s hands, waiting for this one itinerant evangelist to come by so they can jump on him and stab him to death in a bloody fury of blows.

Then what? Are they going to kill or outrun the Roman guards that are escorting him? Their hatred has blinded them and driven them mad. But they don’t care, They have lost control and they will do anything to get it back. They are frustrated beyond rational thought. They pretend it’s for God but surely they could care less anymore. This is all about their pride and power.

What a sad place for them to be in. All they would have to do is open their eyes and allow the Lord to reveal the truth that is right before their eyes in the very scriptures they profess to defend, and listen to the man, one of their brethren and peers, who once was more hate filled then all of them—until Jesus showed up and knocked him on his butt.

Then picking him up and setting him on a new path. One with no hatred, malice or anxiety, only assurances of a reward at the end and a life of meaning and purpose in the meantime. The reward being eternal life and the purpose being sharing that with the world—that’s all.

Paul knows this and it is why he is fearless and largely unflappable.

Unlike his antagonists who are being used like cannon fodder against him by the enemy of their souls. But God has a plan for Paul and these Bozos are not going to stop him, in fact, they will advance the plan, giving Paul reason to appeal to Rome. Where Jesus has told him he would witness for him.

The Scripture

“But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged before me concerning these things?”

So Paul said, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know. For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Acts 25:9-12

 Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, “You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!”

There’s my out! thinks Festus. But Festus has a problem, he needs to have a crime to charge Paul with, and a coherent case to present to Caesar. He can’t just charge and condemn a man because he is unpopular. Much to the chagrin of the mob.

“King Agrippa!”

Verse 22

“Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.”

“Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.”

 So the next day, when Agrippa and Bernice had come with great pomp, and had entered the auditorium with the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at Festus’ command Paul was brought in.  And Festus said: “King Agrippa and all the men who are here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole assembly of the Jews petitioned me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying out that he was not fit to live any longer.  But when I found that he had committed nothing deserving of death, and that he himself had appealed to Augustus, I decided to send him.  I have nothing certain to write to my lord concerning him. Therefore I have brought him out before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the examination has taken place I may have something to write. For it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner and not to specify the charges against him.” Acts 25:22-27

The Sideshow

As much trouble as he was, Paul is becoming somewhat of a sideshow in the minds of the Romans by now. An entertaining if not brilliant oddity that provoked thought and debate, something the open-minded Hellenistic Romans thrived on. It made them feel smart and sophisticated.

But the best part about Paul was that he drove the pesky Jews crazy. These close-minded arrogant priests, Pharisees and rabbis, whatever they all chose to label themselves, had no tolerance for new ideas and had no respect whatsoever for other gods or those who worshipped them.

Then along comes this Paul proclaiming simply that a Son of their God had walked among them, had been killed at their insistence, and then—here’s the crazy part—came back to life.

Now that part, as thot provoking and entertaining as the notion is, is embarrassing to the Romans because it was under their watch that the Nazarene’s corpse had disappeared, giving them leeway to spread this wild story.

To the Jews, Paul is a major obstacle to their tenuous hold on the nation of Israel. ‘If we don’t have the full devotion of the people to the temple worship and sacrificial system then Israel is no longer separate and, holy and blessed.’ And their power and source of wealth is gone, as is the nation, in their eyes.

“We have already lost the throne and our sovereignty, we can’t lose our religion too. We have to hold out until God sends the Messiah to rescue us from our enemies and restore the kingdom to the greatness of David and Solomon!”

“This Jesus was not it, he didn’t save us from anyone or retore anything! Oh how wrong they are, but their arrogance the  unwillingness to admit they may have missed it has driven them mad with hatred and rage—they have totally lost it.

King Agrippa and the lovely Bernice think they are pretty big stuff, all pomp and circumstance, but this Paul and Festus come along and makes them feel foolish and empty with false flattery implying that they should know and understand all this Messiah and resurrection stuff because they are the King and Queen of the Jews.

Therefore I have brought him out before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the examination has taken place I may have something to write. Acts 25

Fakers

Everyone in this story is a faker, except for Paul. And they know it. Which is why Paul drives them mad.

In their hearts, Agrippa and Bernice know that they are but puppets of the Romans and have no true power, that they have little real knowledge of the law or the prophets of God because they just never cared all that much.

And now Festus is expecting some great legal insight that he can use to present his case to Rome against this rogue Pharisee who claims to talk to a dead carpenter. A dead carpenter who claims to be the true king of Israel.

This is all just a little too much for Agrippa, and he can hardly keep his composure or contain his distain, yet he feels like a fool and a faker at the same time, I think I need a drink! Let’s get this charade over so we can get to the feasting part.’

The high priest and the Jewish religious thugs have lost it and are looking to Felix. Felix has lost it and is looking to Agrippa. Agrippa never had it and is just trying to find it, Bernice is just along for the ride hoping she can keep living in luxury, and they are all just trying to save their behinds and cover their own ineptness so they can keep the fragile status quo.

The only one in this story who hasn’t lost it nor is he anywhere losing it, losing his grip on sanity, reality and peace. The only one who is not in turmoil over what to do and how to facilitate their agenda is the one who seems to have no control, who seems to be the madman and would appear to be totally at the mercy of others— and that is the accused prisoner, Saul of Tarsus, now known as Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ. He is the only one who still has a grip—who has a handle on reality.

Why? Why is the one being persecuted, ridiculed, accused and abused the one who seems to have it all together, who seems to be the adult in this story and is unflappable? Because he does not have to wonder what truth really is, he does not have to worry that someone else’s truth will supersede or displace his, and his truth has a name and lives in his heart. Jesus Christ.

His fate and his mission are totally in his Lord’s hands and he is totally sold out and trusting in his Savior. Thus he has no fear whatsoever.

And he can reflect back at the end of each day and marvel at how God orchestrated yet another attempt by the enemy to destroy him into another opportunity to proclaim the gospel.

Now Paul is not a passivist nor a drone here just going along for the ride. Paul has a passion, he feels the fire in his belly and he desires nothing more than to be out there sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, defending the church against false teachers and warning them of hard days to come.

He is not afraid to call evil to its face and challenge those who would come against him and the gospel. But his passion is far different from the pride driven frenzy of his detractors.

Paul knows that he is on the right side, that he is where he is supposed to be and that his words are not his alone, he speaks for Jesus and his Spirit is ever faithful.

He is in God’s hands, and that is a fine place to be. He doesn’t need to worry about hanging on, God is hanging on to him.  


          Paul has found his happy place. It is in his heart, it is wherever he is—with Jesus.

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.

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.

Healing

One of the things that I have come to realize from having been  in the ministry for many years, and just being involved and engaged in the world in general, is that nearly everyone carries a wound. Some have deeper wounds than others, and some have more than others, but everyone carries something inside that colors how they see the world, usually for the worse.

It might be a wound that can be poked by someone without them having any idea that it’s even there, or worse, aggravated by the person or people who created it in the first place. 

I know that as a Spirit filled believer I am often able to see the wounds that many people miss, because the Holy Spirit is aware of everyone’s hurts and scars—he sees the heart, and if I’m paying attention he reveals them to me, not always in detail, just a sense that the wounds are there and the nature of them.

I was told years ago in my preparation to become a pastor, after a extensive gifting test, that one of my spiritual gifts, alongside of the prophetic gift, is encouragement, and it is a gift that I cherish. I want to be a healer. What good does it do to prophetically discern hurt if you cannot do anything about it?

But we all have that ability and we all have that call— to encourage one another. The scripture tells us to “Encourage one another daily for as long as it is called today.” (Heb 3:13)God has given me in my ministry role as a pastor, the specific assignment of creating a place of healing; primarily emotional and spiritual healing—to me one and the same, though we have seen a number of physical healings as well— it seems to me that it is the emotional healings that really have an impact for the kingdom. Because they get the healedto a place where they can be used to help others find healing.

Physical healings make a great testimony of God’s power and love but a story of emotional healing, of overcoming hopelessness─ that’s one that makes people say; “How can I get that?” People will listen to someone who has been where they desperately no longer want to be.

It takes empathy, it takes someone who really understands the healing and sustaining power of Jesus to be able to bring it to others, to share it. Because I’ll tell you what, if you start listening to people, just giving them a little bit of an inkling that you care and that you may have some experience or a bit of wisdom in what they’re struggling with—the thing that keeps them awake at night, that eats away at their souls and plagues their dreams—they are going to spill their guts to you.

Now you may be thinking: ‘I don’t want to hear people’s problems. Why would I want that? Good question, but guess what, it’s not about you. If Jesus has called you, healed you, delivered you—given you a hope and set you on a course to fulfilling your destiny, the plan he has for you—God’s plan for you will always involve you helping others, because we are the hands and feet of Jesus and he is using your mouth to speak healing.

He’s using your eyes and your ears to hear and to see what the Holy Spirit wants you to discern, and then using you to speak what he wants you to speak. And there is nothing more healing, nothing more rewarding, nothing that brings peace to your soul when you lay down your weary head at the end of the day than knowing that you made a difference, that you helped someone find hope, find release, find healing. That’s what Jesus was, and is, all about. He is calling you to be healed, and to be a healer—through and in him.

Give of what you have been given.

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.