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.

Darkness Overcome

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

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

Photo by Mitja Juraja on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 And they sang a new song, saying:

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

Chosen Vessels

Have you said yes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop kicking against the goads.

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

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

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

Paul would say yes Lord.

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

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

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

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

Labels

Only God knows your heart, the real you.

We all know of the blessed Apostle Paul, But how about the murderous and feared Pharisee Saul?

“Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. . . . 

And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. Acts 9: 13, 26

Paul had had a serious change of heart, but Ananias and later, the church in Jerusalem, were loath to trust this hot shot Pharisee. They thought they knew Saul. They knew what kind of a man he was, the hatred and evil he harbored. He had been certified dangerous and  labeled accordingly. And no one was too keen on welcoming him in to their confidence, let alone their presence.  

But Jesus had other ideas. He was changing the game, altering the narrative, and he knew exactly who was needed to accomplish this so that all might hear the gospel despite the seeming hopelessness of the cause.

He had used Saul’s bitterness to scatter the church, to begin the spreading of the word, and now he is going to wrestle him back from the enemy and use him to ultimately plant the gospel so deeply into the consciousness of the nations that it would never be removed—exactly the opposite of what Saul had in mind as his life was devoted to this point to eradicating all traces of the memory of this convicted blasphemer, Jesus of Nazareth, from the face of the earth.

But Saul had something in him God could use, something the rest of the church only saw as a bad thing. He had a zealousness for the things of God, a zealousness that had blinded him to truth, but one that the God he yearned for could turn in the right direction, once he let go of his bitterness.

And he had a vast knowledge of the Law and the prophets that God would use to help others see how Jesus had fulfilled the law and the prophets, and to set them free from the condemnation of the very law they used as a club to destroy those that God wanted to save.

No one else saw any of this, they only saw a religious fanatic who refused to listen to anything that might challenge his perfect and complete understanding of God’s word. He knew it all and you had better not question nor challenge him.  

Unless of course, you are the Son of God himself. The Lord had waylaid on the waylaid Saul as he was set out to destroy his church, appearing to him in blinding glory.

Acts 9

And he (Saul) said, “Who are You, Lord?”

Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”

Immediately, Saul shows that he had the right stuff inside. He didn’t argue like Moses at the burning bush, or try to convince Jesus that he had made a mistake in choosing him like Peter in the boat, he just asked for direction. “Lord, what do You want me to do?”

Right answer. Jesus had chosen the right man, despite the labels that had been slapped on him by others.

Labels

The world is very good at attaching labels to everyone. It seems to be a favorite tactic of the enemy these days especially as he uses politicians and the media to put everyone into neat little groups that are labeled in such a way as to be  unable to intermix or abide by those who wear another label. We are all set against one another based on political leanings, religion, income, color, sex, health—you name it, class warfare is at a fever pitch.

At least that’s what they want us to believe. I don’t see it in the real world as much as we would be led to believe by the media and policy makers, but it’s there and getting worse.

Sadly, it’s just basic human nature being played against us on a grand scale—and we fall for it. But when you take God out of the picture, that’s all that is left, basic human nature. We seem to have this need to categorize everything and everyone and don’t you dare leave your pigeonhole.

It starts early. As kids we are labeled by others with labels we might be wearing for our entire lives either in the minds of others or in our own minds. Some we can never overcome and some we grow weary of trying to live up to. But those labels are often far from accurate.

The heart and soul of a person is virtually indiscernible without spending a lot of time and energy to discover it. And few people in our lives do that, and we often don’t even know ourselves that well. Some vessels are stopped up tighter than others.

You just never know do you, what might be inside that vessel, the labels on the outside or the condition of the container can be very deceptive. What do you see when you look into the mirror? Do you see the labels slapped on you by others? The dirt and scratches you acquired on the journey? Or do you see what Jesus sees?  

We are really clueless it seems. Preconceptions cloud our vision also.

We all have a notion or an image in our minds of the kind of person God would call to represent him before many varied and powerful people, those he would entrust with great wisdom and insight to share in such a way that people receive it. And we all have a notion of who might not be qualified.

Many would even put themselves in that category of—Who me? A chosen vessel to bear his name before Gentiles, kings and Israelites? I seriously doubt it. Well, guess what, You do not get to decide if you are called or not, you only get to decide if you will answer the call. Only the Lord knows what your label truly reads, and not even you will know what that label says until the day you stand before him.

But in the meantime he will help you overcome the false labels the world, and yourself, have slapped on yourself.

To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” ’

Rev 2:17

Regardless of what the world may call you, the Father calls you child.

Rolling Away the Stone

“I felt like I was trapped in a tomb. . . All I had in there with me was a bag of weed, a bottle of whiskey and a bunch of good time friends to help me consume it.

“Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large. 

Mark 16:3-4

How often do we focus on the stone, beat our heads against it, rail at it, pray about it. And finally just camp out on it because—well, it’s not going anywhere.

The Marys and Salome knew that there was death behind that stone—but they didn’t believe they could do anything about it so they just focused on the stone. ‘Stupid rock! If only we could have done this the other day, before they sealed the tomb, we wouldn’t have to come back and worry about it now.’

If only Jesus hadn’t come back to Jerusalem, if only the Priests had listened to Jesus, if only he had been nicer to them, played their games. If only. . .  there is always an if only isn’t there? But we cannot go back in time, what is done is done. So now all we can do is worry about this big rock that is blocking the way.

Am I talking about the ladies or us? Both.

I can’t really get to my Lord because this stone is in my way.

‘I have to deal with it, or, I guess, just live on this side of it. Scared, alone and hopeless. Just as well, the situation is all hopeless anyway, there’s nothing on the other side but decay.’

That is just a lie, a distraction to keep you from even going to the tomb. At least the women had the faith to go to Jesus, even expecting little when they got there—’all we need is the stone removed—please?!’

Their mustard seed of faith was rewarded, and they realized that their stone, just like the ones Jesus had rolled away from their hearts when he was here, was gone.

Your stone can be drugs, eating, money worries or money clutching. It can be gambling, emotional scars, drugs, alcohol, pornography, physical pain and sickness, family issues, job issues, the cares of the world, the love of the world, fear, anxiety, depression—all of them huge stones that we push and push on to no avail—they are just there, keeping us from our Lord. And true life.

My biggest stone was being stoned. I spent years running around, running my own life, seeking everything that I thought my flesh needed and wanted, but got farther and farther away from my Lord until I felt like I was trapped in a tomb with no escape. All I had in there with me was a bag of weed, a bottle of whiskey and a bunch of good time friends to help me consume it.

But I was seeing and feeling more and more that I was dead and empty inside, and no amount of dope—not weed, not mushrooms, not cocaine, not acid, not speed—whiskey, beer or Tequila could cover it any more. And all the parties always seemed to end in heartache leaving me more lonely and empty than ever. Even the good money I was making in the welding trade that I had worked so hard to excel at was not rewarding in the least.

Then I started to hear the Lord call from the other side of the rock—’I’m here, waiting for you.’ I began to hear preachers preaching about a plan that the Lord had for me. I could no longer stand it—I had to get past that rock. But who will roll the stone away? I tried doing it myself. I tried quitting the drugs.

No smoking, no drinking, no snorting— nothing for a month! I declared. I am pushing that stoned stone aside.

Hah, it didn’t hardly budge an inch. I didn’t make it until the end of the first day and I was not only not moving that stone any farther, it was rolling back over the top of me.

I cried out “Lord, I do not want to be this way! I want to follow you, I want to really know you! I will do whatever it takes, go wherever you ask, I’ll read and study, pray and preach, I’ll make a fool of myself, go to the deepest darkest jungles—whatever—just roll away this stone—I can’t even breath anymore, I can’t stand to live this way!”

 ‘Out of my distress I called on the Lord, he answered me and set me free.’” The words of Psalm 118 that jumped out at me that night of my desperation from the old bible I hadn’t opened in years.

Those words became the messenger from God—the angel—that crashed to the earth like lighting in my soul and shoved that stone away like it was made of paper mâché. It turns out the stone wasn’t the issue.

The stone, the drugs and drink,  were hiding the death inside that was caused by my distrust in the Lord and my desire to maintain control. My real issue, the real stone, was the emptiness that came from running from God, from living for the flesh. I was worrying about the stone of addiction being rolled away when inside I was a rotting corpse.

When I decided to take that walk to the garden where I had last seen my Lord, to express my deep and unwavering love and devotion to him, when I declared that I would trust him, if he only rolled that stone away—that stone was obliterated.

When the words of that Psalm opened my eyes to see that I needed to trust Jesus and stop worrying about satisfying the desires of a never satisfied flesh, that I needed to stop worrying about what all my good time party friends thought of me, to see that I would never be free unless I cried out to Jesus—I knew I had to trust him, Trust him with my life, my heart and my soul. And he came crashing out of that tomb I had locked him in, in the dark recesses of my heart, and set me free.

The love and freedom I felt, the peace and the joy I felt, all of this came in an instant that night as I was kneeling on my living room floor with withdrawal cravings wracking my brain and body. On a cold January night the resurrection power of Jesus who walked out of that tomb and embraced me, set me free.

And I have never looked back.

And I have never regretted it for a minute. I have a freedom a purpose and the power of God Almighty backing me up. Because I finally believed—really believed. When I finally gave in and quit running from Jesus, decided to trust him with my heart and my life, the desire to dull my senses with dope disappeared. I did not want to miss a thing.

The stone was rolled away, and it was glorious.

I had been focusing on the stone, wanting it to be removed, but it was the death inside that needed addressed. But overcoming that was more than I could hope for–until I did. The miracle I got that evening was more than I could ever hope for, more than I expected. But we serve a God who overcame death–the stones are easy.

Turns out, Jesus didn’t want my promises of sacrifice and devotion–He just wanted my heart.

On the Mountain part 2

And now, here we are, on the doorstep of another year—wondering, praying and hoping that the new year is better then the old, forgetting that we can only live one day at a time anyway and that every one of those days is a gift from our creator until the day when we step into eternity, where a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day. Where we will be reunited with those who have gone before us, as has been the way of man since the beginning— pandemic or no pandemic.

So, since we insist on looking at individual years as somehow being a cohesive and cosmically manipulative unit—what do suppose the new one holds for us? I can just about guarantee you it will have plenty of both—mountaintops and valleys. The real question is; what are you going to do in those valleys?

We have all echoed the cry of the frightened father as he helplessly watches his son being tormented by evil—“Lord, I don’t know how you can fix this but I want to believe that you can! Have mercy!”

Yellowstone Park Dan Swaningson

We all believe. But when the valleys seem darkest, it’s hard sometimes to feel like you have enough faith to get out. And that’s when we can count of the faithfulness of our God.

I have prayed that prayer many times for myself—”Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief!” and the valleys are suddenly not so dark.

But you know, there are no true valleys for those who believe because Jesus is with us no matter the elevation or the obstacles in the path. Some places are just more challenging than others. Each day is what you make it. And if you pay attention, sometimes the valleys are the places where the real learning happens, where you truly see God at work.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the valleys, the low swampy parts of the valleys it would seem, and I have to be honest—2020 was not a valley for me, compared to some. And because I spent the year or two previously, fighting my way through some pretty dark valleys, seeing the enemy wreak havoc and attack my family and my church—if you think you know me—I can guarantee you, you do not know even a half of it. 2020 was a victory dance in comparison.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But the lessons I learned and the bonds that were forged in those fires are priceless, indestructible—and eternal.

49 “For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.” Mark 9

And I am stronger and more appreciative of every day the sun rises and I am still walking with my Lord no matter what happens, because my God has proven himself faithful and present time and again. And that’s all I really need—Jesus.

Anything and everything else good in my life is just a bonus that I am immensely grateful for. Even the scars and aches are just reminders of battles I’ve survived.