The Prisoners are Listening

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

Acts 16:25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He wasn’t.

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

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

And hope does not disappoint them, any of them.

set free

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

You are free, rejoice!

No Past Tense

There is no past tense in eternity.

18 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. . . .  23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

Long story short– ‘Okay Jesus, This woman was widowed seven times, at the resurrection snicker, snicker, whose wife will she be?’

24 Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? Mark 12

The Sadducee’s had their own version of the truth, (There is a lot of that going around these days) but Jesus was not about to let them get away with that.

Jesus has just told them in no uncertain terms that their version of truth is wrong. Telling someone they are greatly mistaken may not sound very loving—but letting them continue in their misconceptions is not loving either, because these were very destructive lies they were buying and selling—as Sadducees they believed there was no resurrection—just a long dirt nap in the end.

So he destroys their lies with truth—the truth of who God is and our place in eternity with him.

And all who put their faith and trust in that truth, will always be among the living.

There is no past tense in eternity. We serve an eternal God who created us as eternal beings. The death thing, we brought on ourselves. But he offers us the truth that overcomes that death, restoring our eternal nature. Thus we will never be past tense either.

Remember what God told Moses his name was from that burning bush so long ago? I Am That I AmYahweh in the Hebrew. Not ‘I was but now I’m not’ or ‘I will be that I will.’ Simply—I Am. “Yesterday, today and forever.”

Jesus claimed that eternal nature and name of God for himself when he declared to those arguing with him in the gospel of John about his true nature: “Before Abraham was, I Am.”

So Jesus is arguing here, with those who denied the resurrection of the dead, that there must surely be a resurrection from the dead, that death is not final for those whose hope is in the Lord, that they are not bound by time, and are in fact alive and eternal with the great I Am.

am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’

There is no past tense for those who die in Christ. The Lord would tell us: ‘I am the God of your departed spouse. I am the God of those Christians slaughtered by ISIS. I am the God of that child you never got to hold, or held all too briefly. I am the God of that Mother or Father you said good bye to.

I am the God of the living and not of the dead. And that is truth.

That is the hope that the world needs and is desperate to hear. It is the withholding of that truth, that lack of hope that has the world living in the grip of fear and turmoil, that has allowed the enemy to wreak havoc on our society, our lives, our hearts and our churches.

Jesus only spoke truth, difficult truth, but truth that prepares, strengthens and assures us that we will get through this:

“In the world you will have trouble, but fear not for I have overcome the world.” —“Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” —“I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.” —“Anyone who loves this life more than me is not worthy of me.” —“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God.”

That’s the truth we need to remind ourselves of and the truth that the world needs to hear—from us!

They need to see it in the way we live, the way we react, the way we stand up for what is right and shine the light on what is wrong. They need to hear the truth in the way we love—boldly, fearlessly, and unfailingly.

Love God and your neighbor above all else, and then the people will listen when you speak the truth.

30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Mark 12

Speak as Jesus did

Speak truth, speak in love, speak boldly. The common people will hear you and the powerful will fear you.

We, none of us, fully understands or appreciates fully the power of the weapons we have to affect change, to affect good, to right wrongs and expose the lies that kill and destroy—none of us fully understands the power we have at our disposal if we will simply speak truth, fearlessly, boldly, in love and in season, as the Spirit brings to our remembrance all that he has taught us and gives us the words to speak.

Read his words, know his heart, heed the voice of his Spirit and walk humbly with your God, we are a nation of Kings and Priests to our God. And we cannot be silenced.

And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
10 And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.” Rev 5:9,10

And we shall reign on this earth for and with our King.

Jesus loves you–right now! There is no past tense–or future tense–in his love for you.

In the Valley–Buried Alive

Rise to a new day

Sometimes the greatest changes happen on the heels of the worst nightmares.

Goodbye 2020 Glad to have survived you. . .

I’m not sure how this story relates exactly to all of what this last year was about, but I believe the Lord put this on my heart to share with you for this day. Some of you have already heard the story of how I was buried and nearly killed years ago. I was working at the Conoco refinery in Billings, once again, actually this story happened a few years before the one I shared last week. Again, it’s a wonder I survived all the stuff we used to do, but anyway.

It was November 4th, 1980, I was 19 years old and working in the valley, in a twelve foot deep hole in the middle of the valley, moving a gas pipeline on the edge of the refinery so that another could run under it. The hole was not shored or sloped as per OSHA regulations and I was too inexperienced to know, care or protest.

Towards the end of the day I was working on one side of the pipe, doing the messy job of wrapping the pipe welds after having primed them with a black mastic, the other guys were on the other side of the pipe wrapping up welding leads and picking up tools, when suddenly the very high and steep bank right behind me let loose and hit me from behind like a runaway freight train.

In fact that was my first thought as my face and chest was slammed against the black sticky pipe leaving me completely buried and unable to move a muscle. We were close to the railroad tracks so I thought “A train has fallen into the hole.”

As I realized that my mouth was packed with dirt and everything was black, I knew I had been buried alive. A true nightmare scenario. I had my whole life ahead of me and now it was over. I was not sure that even if they did get me out before I died from lack of air that I even wanted to live because I was sure I was paralyzed.

The weight of the soil on top of me had me pinned so completely that I could not even tell if I had the use of my arms and legs anymore. I could not even expand my lungs to breath or shout. This was as bad and as frightening as it could possibly get. But in those brief moments between life and eternity, where time slowed down to a crawl— I had an encroaching sense of peace.

I knew my Lord, and I knew my Father was with me, and I had no doubt that when I fell asleep in that dark hopeless valley I would wake up in his arms. And I did go to sleep there in that unexpected grave. But when I woke up I was not in the arms of my father, I was being shaken by my boss who was yelling at me to breath.

They had dug me out in time to stop my premature departure, I don’t know how, but I’m glad they did.

A new start

And, this is the reason I think I was supposed to share this today; the next day we had a new president. As I was being buried in that hopeless hole an election was taking place— back in the day when elections took one day and there were no computers to muddy things up— and the next day Ronald Reagan was President elect.

Soon the economy turned around, the fuel crisis was over, the Iranian hostage crisis ended on inauguration day and the days of the Iron curtain and the cold war were rapidly coming to a close. And I bought a house and got married.

The point?

Things can change in a moment, even if the moments you are in seem like the last.

So as we pop our heads up out of what many consider the pit of doom that 2020 was, let’s be hopeful that tomorrow will be a new and better day—more than just hopeful, let’s contend for, believe for and facilitate that being the case.

You are not just a hapless victim, you are a champion for the Kingdom, and God has spared you the death in the valley for a time such as this.   

Pilots Index Peaks Dan Swaningson

The timetable belongs to God, and he will yield to no other.