A Jeremiah Spirit

Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. 1 Cor 14: 4—5 

The world is in dire need of prophets, people who will speak on behalf of the Lord, people who are willing to speak what the Lord puts on their hearts the words he puts on their tongues. The sad thing is, the world is full of prophets, at least it would be if the church truly stepped up and assumed its role as the Ambassadors of Christ we are called to be, if we all embraced and developed the prophetic gifting that is available to all believers, if we would just seek it and believe that we have it.

So the big question is; are you brave enough to pray for a Jeremiah spirit? Are you willing to accept the prophetic role even if it makes you uncomfortable or unpopular? You may have already noticed that seriously following Jesus will take you there anyway, so you might as well embrace it. 

Jeremiah was a prophet in ancient Israel, at least what was left of Israel at the time— Judah. The northern kingdom known as Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians years earlier. Jeremiah was in the southern kingdom of Judah at a time when it was very difficult to be a prophet. Actually anytime was a tough time to be a prophet in Israel, no one liked the prophets when they were around. Prophets are the ones who have the unenviable task of trying to get through to people with a message from the Lord that they usually don’t want to hear.

In Jeremiah’s case he was sent to warn the leaders of Judah that if they didn’t change their ways and turn back to the Lord real soon they were done for. Time was running out, in fact they were out of warnings, they were being told— You’re done.’

Jeremiah was charged with preparing them for their coming judgement and captivity while promising their eventual return to the promised land.  

But the people refused to listen to Jeremiah. There were too many false prophets running around assuring people that they could not fall because they were God’s people. Never mind the fact that they didn’t act like God’s people and had chased after every other god that they could find and every man did what was right in his own eyes— they lived to please the flesh. Not unlike today. . .

But Jeremiah is faithful to keep warning them even though they refuse to hear. And the false prophets of sunshine and roses continued to lull God’s people to sleep.

They have lied about the Lord,
And said, “It is not He.
Neither will evil come upon us,
Nor shall we see sword or famine.
13 And the prophets become wind,
For the word is not in them.
Thus shall it be done to them.”

14 Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts:

“Because you speak this word,
Behold, I will make My words in your mouth fire,
And this people wood,
And it shall devour them

Jeremiah 5:12-14

Jeremiah had a hard row to hoe in his day. But God had a much bigger purpose for him that has continued to encourage and strengthen the people of God to this day. He has certainly influenced me and encouraged me. May my words burn with the fire that Jeremiah’s did for the purpose of exposing the wiles of the enemy and consuming his lies.

Hard time to pastor

This is a hard time to be a pastor. I’m sure pastoring has never been easy but in recent generations, at least in America we— not just pastors but Christians in general— have had it relatively easy as much of the country and our leadership still had a moral compass based on the word of God, the principles espoused by the Lord and the prophets and there was a healthy respect for the Lord and his shepherds. And no one would have imagined arresting a pastor for refusing to shut the doors of his church to Sunday worship.

Perhaps the times we are in seem all the more troubling because we have experienced and remember a time when our culture and our government wasn’t set against us, when being a follower of Jesus and an adherent to the word of God didn’t get you labeled as a hater, a closed minded homophobe, racist, or just plain ignorant. The enemy has  been slinging all kinds of mud at the church lately and he has gotten a lot of it to stick.

That’s what makes it hard to be a pastor— it’s defending and being responsible for equipping you to stand up under the onslaught, that becomes such a burden. How to not live in fear and kowtow to every whim of the enemy.

It would be so much easier to just teach you the beatitudes, tell you all how wonderful you are, how wonderful God is and to go out and have a wonderful life. But, as I have said before the time for fluff is long gone. Spirit led teachers are having to set aside more and more the bumper sticker, song lyric, platitudes and the time tested teaching models as the Lord is stepping up his prophetic outpourings as his people need to be warned and prepared for the evil days to come, and that have already come.

More importantly God is speaking to and through his leaders, those who will listen, to not just prepare the people but to try and avert the judgement to come. In plain English— It’s hard to be a Pastor right now because God wants to use me, he wants to use any Pastor or believer who will obey, to convey the hard message that all is not well. It is no fun to have to warn people against evil when it has become so prevalent that we have reached a tipping point to where, short of a miracle in the form of  great awakening to the Lord, we are finished as a nation, a people and perhaps a world.

Don’t be afraid to speak out what the Lord puts on your heart. You may be saving someone else’s soul; you may be saving our very nation.

The Freedom of Trust

Real freedom comes from a heart of trust, we earn God’s trust by trusting in him. And that is a whole other level of freedom.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah had without question, a tough job. He was tasked with warning the Kingdom of Judah of imminent judgement unless they repented and turned back to the God of their Fathers, Yahweh. Long story short, they did not listen and Jeremiah found himself imprisoned by his fellow Jews while Jerusalem found themselves besieged by Babylon. The overthrow of the city was upon them and Jeremiah’s condition could only go from bad to wore on the day the city fell, or so he thought.

I will rescue you on that day… because you trust in me,  declares the Lord. Jer 39:18

The Lord keeps his promise to Jeremiah and he is later released from a Babylonian concentration camp on the orders of Nebuchadnezzar himself, after a short time in captivity. He is set free with an invitation by the captain of the guard to go anywhere he wants, “See, you have the whole country before you.” He even gets an invitation to live in Babylon as an honored and well appointed guest of this same captain. He choses to stay in Judah and minister to his own beleaguered people.

But that is his choice. Something he had not experienced for quite some time-the freedom to choose, within God’s plan for him.

This is a freedom that is hard to teach because it really has to be experienced, it is a spiritual state, not a physical one. A freedom that comes from grace, and, as a result of claiming it for ourselves— claiming it and defending it. Because others will not want us to keep it.

The freedom to follow our heart’s desires from a heart that has become one with our Lord, a heart set free from the impurities that would pervert and cloud our judgment.

Not Puppets

That freedom from God is a far cry from religion, but it’s also a far cry from the notion many Spirit filled Christians have that their every move has to be directly guided by the Spirit like they are just a marionette on a set of strings. God never wanted puppets, and he still doesn’t. He guides us and often needs to adjust our course as we still have to struggle to keep the flesh at bay. But more often, in the life of the believer, he trusts us and allows us to make our own decisions.

I know a lot of Christians who struggle with this notion, they don’t believe they have a choice. That everything they do has to be out of obedience to a direct command from God, or from someone representing God.

Do you believe in the freedom to choose, the freedom in Christ, to choose? Jeremiah got to a place where God trusted him, God trusted him to make his own choices knowing that Jeremiah would make a wise choice because Jeremiah knew the heart of his God, he now had that same heart.

God doesn’t just invite us to follow him, he invites us to walk with him. At first that sounds like a very insignificant difference. And it may be one that occurs over time in the life of a believer. And in reality, it was the difference between the Prophets of old, and those like Peter who knew the Lord.

 If, as in the case of Jeremiah here, we have been faithful to follow the Lord, to seek his will and obey his voice, eventually, especially now that the Holy Spirit is available to dwell within us and radically change the way we see the world, we will get to the point where we can know the heart of the Lord, where we can be his hands and feet, literally walk beside him keeping step because we know his heart—we share his heart.

The freedom of trust

Real freedom comes from a heart of trust. When we get to the place where we truly trust the Lord, our hearts are free, free from fear, from hopelessness, from worry- so many things, because we know we are cared for, we know that no matter what happens, it’s going to be all right in the end.

At this point we are truly free. At this point we are not only trusting God, God is trusting us. This is a good place to be. It is not easy to get there, but if we are faithful, if we continue to hold on to hope, believing the promises, you will get there, God wants you there. He wants to call you a friend -not a servant. He wants to truly set you free.

Freedom is the basis of our entire being and relationship to God. When we trust Jesus for our salvation we are freed from many things, primarily we are freed from the penalty of sin. We are free from the fear of death, born into new life, life that cannot end because it is a gift from the author of life. Then we are offered freedom from the things we have been forgiven for, freed from the power of sin to ensnare us.

We are freed to fulfill the plan that God has for our lives- a promise God gives us in part through the prophet Jeremiah himself—the famous Jeremiah 29:11 promise. “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord. . . “

We are freed from the curse, from the law, from fear, condemnation, and we can be freed from sickness and addictions, despair and anxiety- if we truly trust the Lord, not just for our salvation, but as our Lord, as one who truly loves and cares about us, who seeks only our good.

When we get to that place where we truly trust the Lord, not only are we able to truly live free, but we are now trusted by the Lord.

But you know what? Most Christians fear that freedom. They don’t want to be free, they don’t want to have choices, they don’t want the whole country before them to go anywhere they choose- they want to be told where to go. They want the spiritual equivalent of the magic eight ball. Throw out the brains and the wisdom and just shake the ball and watch for the answer in the little window.

“Lord, show me your will, what is your plan for me?- give me a sign!” I cannot tell you how many people I know who agonize over this, who are rendered almost useless and immobile because they are afraid to move within the freedom they are offered.

So what happens? They find themselves back in chains, chains of fear, chains of submission to another’s calling, another’s agenda, or chains of a feeling of unworthiness. All of these can be crippling.

Yes the Spirit will guide you, yes he will put people in your life to help guide you as well, but sometimes he gives you a choice- trusting your heart, that you will make a good choice.

Here’s a thought; maybe, just maybe, the things on your heart are planted there by God, maybe your hopes and dreams did come from him— maybe it’s okay to trust a heart that is filled with the Holy Spirit! Maybe you can make wise choices.

There’s also this little thing called character. We know God is concerned with our character. Why would he be so concerned with our character, the kind of person we are, spending so much time teaching us, orchestrating our lives to build our character, if he wasn’t going to allow us to live our lives based on the paths we chose out of a character honed and strengthened by him?

 We have to always be seeking the Lord, but never frozen immobilebecause we are afraid to move, we have to trust that God will guide the paths of the righteous.

He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Psalm 22:3

Withstanding God

“Before the Holy Spirit moved in, the flesh just ran the show. Ahhh the good old days. . . “

In Acts 11 the Apostle Peter has just returned to his home church in Jerusalem after sharing the word of God with a Roman centurion named Cornelius. As a result Cornelius and his entire household, dreaded gentiles, were saved and baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Peter is met back home with scorn and confrontation for this, him having cavorted with the filthy pagans. Peter shuts up these religious busybodies by explaining to them exactly what happened. Acts 11:16-17

Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” Who was I that I could withstand God?

Bible memes Swaningson

Resistance is futile

Now there’s a fight I know way too much about; wrestling with the Holy Spirit. If you are serious about following the Lord, and especially if you have been baptized with the Holy Spirit, be prepared for a lot of inner turmoil as the flesh will nearly always be at odds with the spirit. Before the Holy Spirit moved in, the flesh just ran the show.

Ahh— the good old days. . . Just kidding, those days were marked by emptiness and anxiety. Allowing the Holy Spirit to come in and give me new life through Jesus Christ, and then the power to overcome my flesh, just changed the nature of the struggle, but it put me on the winning side.

And still I ask, as does our title verse, who am I that I can withstand God?

An echo of the words of Peter as he relates his dramatic testimony of what he saw the Holy Spirit do amongst the gentiles as he preached the word of God to them.

Reminds me of something I read just recently a few chapters back in Acts, something that jumped out at me then and has continued to be in the back of my mind as I struggle with ‘What Lord, am I to do? Am I doing what you will for my life? Am I where I am supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing? Am I on the right road or did I miss a turn somewhere, or just wander off aimlessly?’

That saying I’m referring to comes from the words of Jesus to Paul as he waylays him on the road to Damascus to change his path. And that is: “It’s hard to kick against the goads.”

When everything seems to be difficult, or more of a challenge than it should be and it seems you are just getting bruised and bloodied for your troubles, it certainly makes you wonder if you are kicking against the goads.

We all struggle with that from time to time in our walk with the Lord, at least if you care enough about following the Lord to keeping pushing on in pursuit of him and working to advance his Kingdom with or through his bride, the church—the church who can either hurt or hinder you depending on who is prevailing in their struggle, the flesh or the Spirit.

A big part of the challenge is knowing who is holding the goad. Is it the enemy and the world, the weakness of the flesh, who is poking at you with that sharp metal tipped oxen poker to prevent you from following? Or is it Jesus urgently trying to get you to change course and head in the right direction?

Are we standing against evil, or withstanding God?

It can be hard to know at times. Whenever I feel like there needs to be a change of course, an attitude or perception adjustment, I am careful to not move too quickly, unless it is a clear and imminent word or prompting from the Holy Spirit, because there are ways to know. And sometimes it just means you need a rest, a reminder or a refreshing. Either way, patience usually pays a big role.

But whatever the season or the answer, In the end we must stand, we must not be silent.

That’s the thing about being baptized–filled, with the Holy Spirit–he will not leave you alone. Which is a good thing, because alone, I am very bad for my self and not much good to others. And who am I to withstand God?

I’ll let God have the last word, his words to Peter:

What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ 

Bible memes Swaningson

You are anything but common. Do not let them tell you, you tell them. 

The enemy wants nothing more than to silence us, but we, if we remember God’s word, always have the last word, we have the power to stop the argument, to silence the voices of accusation and slander. We are Christian.

Please pray for me my friends, I’m a little weary, as I know we all are. . .

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

The Chosen People

Hard Lessons Learned

After a crazy vision of a sheet being let down from heaven full of “unclean” animals with a command from God to eat, the apostle Peter is led to go to the house of a Roman centurion, to share the gospel. Normally, being a good Jewish boy, Peter would have flat out refused, but the sheet thing has him expanding his horizons a bit. He goes, the Holy Spirit falls on the whole house full of Romans and they all start speaking in tongues and praising God, leaving Peter to proclaim; Acts chapter 10-

Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.  But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all—Acts 10:34-36

Jesus is Lord of all.

We have see over and over again throughout the gospels and through much of Acts—example after example of Jesus wanting this message of the Father’s love, and the Spirit’s desire to heal and deliver, being for all persons regardless of nationality, gender or status. Jesus’ last words before he ascended back to heaven were that the Apostles were to go and make disciples of all nations.

We have seen the early church scattered and the message being brought to other nations and peoples by the persecuted church such as to the Samaritans and the Ethiopians. We have seen Paul being appointed by the Lord as a chosen vessel to carry the gospel to the gentiles.

Yet for all this, in the first years of the church there is still a deep seated and unshakable bigotry on the part of the Jewish believers, particularly on the ones who should know better, the Apostles.

They just can’t get over this notion that has been taught them since childhood, not just them, but countless generations of Israelites, that they are chosen by God, at the exclusion of all others, by virtue of their linage as descendants of Abraham to whom the promise was first made, that they would be a chosen people through whom many nations would be blessed. And that they are not to mingle, to be intermarried, have fellowship with or eat with anyone who does not worship the Lord their God lest they become unclean.

This notion originates in the law and the prophets. But it was meant to protect and preserve them from their own weaknesses, not from other people. And it was never meant to engender a hatred for anyone. The prophet Jonah learned that when he refused to go to the hated Ninevites with a message of warning and opportunity for the Assyrians, and ended up in the belly of the great fish thinking about how, apparently to God, all lives matter—even Assyrian.

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Although Jonah finally went and preached to the Assyrians in their capital city of Nineveh, in the end, the Assyrians would become a larger influence on Israel than Israel ever was on Assyria, because Assyria was more than happy to share their gods with Israel. And, as a result, God would use Assyria to mete out his Judgement on Israel for their adulteries.

He would later do the same to Judah with Babylon.

But, instead of learning the importance of being a light to the Gentiles, they doubled down on separating themselves once they were allowed to return from exile. They were the chosen people and no one else in the world had any right to oppress them or had a share in their inheritance.

Isolationists

So now, in Peter’s day, this notion of superiority and separation has been taken to the extreme by the post exilic Jews who are determined to not get led astray again by foreign Gods and carried off once again by foreigners as punishment for their unfaithfulness.

Sounds like a good policy, but they have taken it to the extreme at the urging of their rabbi’s, priests and pharisees who see total isolation from all things non Jewish as the equivalent of holiness. When in reality this isolationist theology is preventing them from being the light to the world God had always intended for them to be.

And it was preventing them from thinking they had any personal responsibility in it all—they were children of Abraham, what else do you need to know? Even Jesus had pointed out the problem with this notion on more than one occasion. Yes they were chosen and set apart, but not because they were somehow a superior race that would just skate into God’s graces by virtue of their heritage.

It was God keeping a promise to Abraham, and being determined to bless the world as a result.

I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” Gen 26:3-5

God had chosen Israel as a people set apart as keepers of his covenant and his word. Not so that no one else would have access to it, but so that it would be preserved and passed down for all to know.

And we will forever owe a debt of gratitude to the chosen people, the descendants of Abraham, for preserving that word for us. And, for ultimately fulfilling the promises given through them that all would be blessed and that we would see a great light to lead us from the darkness, in that our Savior, the Messiah, came to us from the lineage of David, a descendant of Abraham.

And that even that message, the gospel of Jesus Christ, was shared, written and preserved for all the world by the Jewish—very Jewish— Apostles of Jesus of Nazareth.

Continue to pray that more and more of the Jewish people will come to the Messiah for salvation and for the peace of Israel.

And let the God of Abraham, fill you, let him open your eyes, let him set you free—free at last. Through His son and by His Spirit. Amen

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.

No Mere Servants

In the eighth chapter of Acts we meet Philip. Phillip is one of those, as was Stephen, who was appointed and anointed to distribute the groceries to the widows of the church. A mere servant, yet one like Stephen, who will be used to do powerful things and make great strides in advancing the Kingdom of Heaven.

It would seem there are no mere servants in the church of Jesus Christ. Perhaps because servants go where they are asked to go. And Philip is about to do exactly that, even as the Apostles, who had received the command known as the great commission from Jesus, remain in Jerusalem. Probably feeling obligated to stay and care for the flock who was unable for whatever reason to flee the persecution.

So Phillip goes on to have some real adventures starting in Samaria, the hated land of the cross bred remnant of the northern tribes of old Israel.  They even make celebrities out of sorcerers. In Acts 8 we read:

But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great,  to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.”  And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.  But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. Acts 8:8-12

The Samaritan’s are used to grand shows but they have never seen anything like what this religious refugee  from Jerusalem is bringing. Philip is making causing no small stir in Samaria, even the famous Simon is astonished by his Spirit filled acts and preaching.

Remember, Philip was nobody in the eyes of the world, and perhaps much of the church. As one of those from what was called the Hellenists, a Greek speaker in a church full of diehard Hebrews, there were likely those who looked down their noses at him.

That’s important to note. Because it seems to me that we are entering a time in our day where the obscure, unknown and even often scorned servants of the Lord will be the ones God uses to bring on the next revival and outpouring of the Holy Spirit we so desperately need right now, as big churches struggle and high profile leaders seem to be falling left and right.

It’s time for the scattered to pay attention. Because those who are paying attention know that their scatter matters. God is not on vacation, or wringing his hands perplexed, he is always at work.

 To be honest with you, I always read this in the past thinking that Philip was an apostle. This book is called, the Acts of the Apostles after all. But so far, we are seeing ordinary disciples, if there is such a thing, making some pretty big waves here. And, in my defense, there is an apostle named Philip. But  this Philip is just another servant disciple who is determined to keep serving his Lord.

You would think that after the stoning death of his good friend and brother Stephen that he might want to keep a low profile. But, and you may have noticed this, being filled with the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ is not real conducive to keeping a low profile.

You are going to be noticed, and you will either be targeted or drawn to, either way you will be noticed. A light on a hill in the dark of night will be seen, unless hidden under a bushel basket.

If that’s the case the Spirit will just move on and work with someone who will shine. When the big production spotlights go dim the smaller flickers of the faithful who kept their lamps full of oil seem much brighter—and genuine.

And that’s what Philip is doing; being a light of truth that all are drawn to.

Keep shining on my brothers and sisters–God sees you, and so will the world.

The heart of the Lord is for you, for your heart and for your mission. —Carry on.

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.

Tradition or Truth?

13 making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” Mark 7

You ever hear something so much that you stop hearing it? Do something so many times that you forgot you just did it? Or don’t remember why you even do it that way? In the Kingdom of God that’s called empty religion. In Jesus’ dealing with the religious of his day, he called it your tradition.

That little word your being the telling and convicting word there. Not because tradition is bad, but because it had replaced, truth–even replaced God.

“Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, Why do your disciples eat with unwashed hands? Why don’t you respect the tradition of the elders?” Mark 7:5

In Mark 7 we see Jesus getting frustrated yet again at the blindness of those who were supposed to know better; with the teachers and scholars of the day who had taken the word of God, the law and the promises, the warnings and the blessings and managed to totally remove God from them. They added to and twisted them to serve their own purposes. They made the words more important than the people they were meant to serve, and the God they were meant to point to.

The Scribes and Pharisees had turned the word of God into something to be worshipped, rather than a means through which to worship. The law was turned into something to serve rather than something serving us. It no longer pointed to a righteous and loving God, it only served, in the hands of the Pharisees and those they deceived, to subjugate and condemn people.

Jesus came saying, ‘No, the word of God sets people free and restores and rebuilds people—that was the intent and that’s why I came—to show, provide, and be the way, the truth and the life that you failed to grasp and attain through the written and spoken word.

The word is not of no effect —because I Am the Word.’

And that’s what all of this–Church, blogging, worship, living for Jesus– is about. That is why we celebrate Christmas, and every Sunday, and every other day that we draw breath, knowing that one day we will draw breath in a new heaven and a new earth from a resurrected and perfect body.

But back to Jesus and the religious know-it-alls.

The word become flesh

Jesus accused the religious scholars of making the word of God of no effect—but we know that the word of God never goes forth but that it accomplishes that for which it was spoken. It never returns void, it is never of no effect—if it is spoken in the Spirit of which it was given—Love. God is love and all he does and says is motivated and grounded in his inexpressible and unstoppable love for his children—for us.

The word of God was and is of effect, because the word is Jesus, and he is among us. He is Emmanuel.

The promise was fulfilled.  The thing mankind and all of creation had waited for, groaned for, believed for. The wait was over, even if some failed to see.

Summer Vacation

Have you ever really looked forward to something?  Like Christmas; the year 2020 to be over… How about the best summer vacation ever? 

When I was ten years old my mom and my step dad moved us from Cloquet Minnesota to Albuquerque NM. Imagine the culture shock -unfortunately my dad still lived in Minnesota.  But my sister and I were going to spend a month with him in the summer—  a whole month!

When I first found out I was so excited to go I could hardly stand it.  Not only were we going to get to see our dad, we were going to get to fly on a big Jet for the first time. He promised us all kinds of fun, camping and fishing, and the best part of all— we were actually going to take a trip to Niagara Falls!  On the way there we were going to stay for a couple days in Detroit where one of my aunt and uncles lived and we would all go together from there.  What an adventure.  It was more than I could fathom. 

As the school year ended and the time got closer and closer for us to go, I began to worry that I would mess it up, maybe get grounded for doing something stupid and not be allowed to go.

But my biggest fear was that I would die before I got to go see my Dad, or that some tragic accident or sickness would prevent us from getting to do all those amazing things together. I was living with irrational fear, but hey, I was only a kid, that’s what they do. We’re supposed to know better now—right?

 Anyway, the night before we left, we had the plane tickets and we were still alive and well. I don’t think my sister and I slept a wink, we were just too anxious, it was actually going to happen! And it did. We flew to Minnesota, got airsick and lost our luggage—but hey, we had a great time anyway.

The wait was worth it.

Now, this is a small thing compared to waiting for the Savior to come. But it’s the sense of anticipation, the longing to see your father who seems so far away, the never ending night, clinging to the promise that it was indeed going to happen and fearing that somehow you were going to mess it up, even be hindered by death-—that is what the world, all the world who had put their hope in the One true God, the Father— experienced and lived with for thousands of years.

If we truly love God and believe the promises we are living for the day when we would get to go see the father. But God didn’t just send a plane ticket and wait, he actually came in the flesh so that we could see him, hear him, look into his eyes and know that we were loved. And then he laid down his life to pay for the ticket that would bring us home.  The word became flesh.

Jesus didn’t need religion, and he still doesn’t.  He didn’t need to perform the rituals that symbolized purity and the forgiveness of grace- he was the embodiment of purity, he was forgiveness and grace, he was the very word of God. And in fulfillment of that word, he makes us pure and whole as well. He opened the way to the Father—making Him approachable, just like he was as that baby lying in  a manger so long ago, on a night that changed everything.

That’s a promise straight from God’s word, and God always keeps his promises.

Merry Christmas Family!