Scattered

At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Acts 8:1

And so it begins. The enemy now has another target. He has been trying to destroy Israel for centuries. He tried to destroy the Son of God, and now he must destroy the church. It just keeps going from bad to worse for him. But he’s tenacious, even in defeat, because he’s still a master of deceit and he finds a lot of willing accomplices.

But even his greatest efforts at wreaking havoc often end up serving the purposes of the Father who can use whatever the enemy intends for evil, for good. As all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.

It has to be really frustrating to be the devil, perhaps that’s why he so angry all the time—as are his minions.

Speaking of unhappy minions:

Now Saul was consenting to his (Stephen’s) death. . . .

Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest– Acts 8:1 and 9:1

Saul, one of Satan’s best minions, is portrayed as walking around in a state of perpetual anger muttering murderous threats and stirring up hate against the church— until he runs smack into Jesus. Another evil plan backfired. But that’s for next week. For now, he’s serving the purpose of scattering the church like seeds blown on the wind into fertile fields.

 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Acts 8:3-4

I find it funny how blinded and ignorant the hearts of evil men are as to how they are often used by God to accomplish exactly what it is they think they are destroying. I’m sure it was not very funny for the church at the time as they lived in fear of being dragged off and put into prison, but the fruits of their commitment to share the gospel, to sow the seeds, wherever they ended up soon produced much fruit.

It’s interesting to see, and a challenge to discern, what God is doing, and will do, with our current situation as the enemy seems to have found a new boldness and some new weapons for persecuting the church in America today. But rest assured, God can use any challenges we are, or will face, to advance his Kingdom and release his Spirit to work. If we’ll just keep scattering those seeds and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.  For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed.  And there was great joy in that city. Acts 8:5-8

Just as the scattered church thought they had lost everything, they found they really had everything, they had the keys to the kingdom. And this scattered and battered band of Messianic refugees brought great joy to the world, because they brought Jesus.

Keep bringing Jesus!

The Lord’s heart is for you, for your heart, and for your mission. Carry on. HS

We Do Not Belong

Baptized in Fire

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Acts 2:2-4

And so the Holy Spirit makes His grand entrance onto the world stage and reclaims that which was lost so long ago—the hearts of men.

This passage is speaking of the birth of the church, the long awaited day of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit onto the children of God, onto those who seek his face and accept his Son.

It’s easy to get distracted by, and hung up on, the amazing events recorded here with the wind blowing, the fire showing, and the tongues flowing, but we cannot overlook the significance of what is happening here, the significance of this day.

Nothing like this has ever happened before. The Holy Spirit has made some spectacular entrances before, but He has never manifested Himself like this for the purpose of indwelling a group of people.

He makes this grand entrance to come and to not just abide for a while in someone, not just visit, not just anoint—but to take up permanent residence, to empower, enliven and radically change, not just a group of people, but to create a whole new class of people—a people who are alive in him, who are empowered in him, who are in Him period. People who are truly alive, who are more than conquerors.

The church, the bride of Christ, has been born. And she lives and thrives yet today as us—the church. We are the bride, born again, empowered, enlivened—radically changed and ready to be Jesus in a dark and dying world. A world we no longer need to fear, a world we no longer face alone—a world of which we are a part, yet to which we do not belong. We cannot belong to a broken world, because we are now whole.

We do not belong to a world of broken hearts. We do not belong to a world of shattered dreams and broken promises. We do not belong to a world of death and decay, perversion and hate. We are in this world but not of it. We belong to a Kingdom that is not subject to any of that which the world would impose on us, a Kingdom that is not at the mercy of evil. Because we belong to Jesus.

We, who have believed and received, are now one with the Father and filled with His Holy Spirit—Baptized with fire. Fire is cleansing, fire is all consuming, irrepressible, irresistible— fire is power.

And that power comes from a fire that is not like the furnaces of electrical generation plants, not like the fire that propels our trucks and trains and sends rockets to space, it is not like the fire of the sun that gives life and energy to nearly all living things in one form or another.

The fire that gives us life, that empowers us is so much greater than all of that, and in fact created all of that—our fire is the Holy Spirit of the Living God.

And we can be fully immersed, fully filled, fully enlivened, empowered— cleansed, clothed and recreated by that fire, by that Spirit. So that we can say, as Paul did, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me—I am a new creation. Or, we can choose to mock the true power and continue striving to understand and to be understood, to find our way alone and hope it’s all enough. We can accept the power, or we can deny the power.

 So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?”

others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.” Acts 2:12-13

On the day the Spirit was poured out on the first believers many mocked and derided them as drunk and disorderly—emotional chaos. But in the end they could not deny that what was happening was from God. They could see, hear and even feel the Spirit stirring their hearts.

That’s what happened on that day of Pentecost, at that Feast of Firstfruits. That’s the fire, the power that was turned loose on the earth that day. Because Jesus is Lord, because he was not left in the grave to see corruption and because he was indeed raised up.

 This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. Acts 2:32-33

These were the words of Peter on the day of Pentecost as he preached the first sermon of the church that is about to grow by thousands in a single day—all because the Holy Spirit came and not only got everyone’s attention, but put a fire in Peter that he could not contain and that could not be resisted.

The cornerstone had been laid, Jesus was raised up, and the church was being built. A new spiritual house to which we would belong was taking shape—in a big hurry and in a big way.

The Holy Spirit was poured out in a way that all could see and hear—there was no mistaken. The Apostles may have been born again quietly in a locked room and given new life, (John 20:22) but on this day they would have their whole lives, their whole world, radically changed. There would be no denying or hiding anymore.

Afraid to seek, receive and move in the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the gifts he gives? If you are living for Christ you are going to be mocked and derided in this increasingly hostile world anyway, so why would you stop short of the power?

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8

We do not belong to this world, but this world desperately needs us!

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.

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.

Sow What you Want to Reap

Notice the emphasis on hearing here. We must hear the word, receive the good seed, before we can plant it. The eagerness and seriousness with which we hear and accept the word will determine whether we are entrusted with more, which will give us seed to sow, which will lead to harvest.

26 And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, 27 and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. 28 For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4

I have always found this to be a fascinating and challenging little parable. Perhaps because I love to be in control. I’m the barbarian—if it moves and is not supposed to—kill it. If it does not move and it is supposed to—poke it until it does.

I’m the builder and the fixer—if I need it I’ll build it, if it’s broke I’ll fix it.

I’m the daddy and the pastor—if you’re broke I’ll fix you.

That’s my default M.O.

So, what do you mean just scatter the seeds and go to sleep not knowing how it grows? I want to know, I want to help, I want to do. . . I need to be in control!

And therein lies the problem. I have had to learn how to let go, and that’s what this means. Jesus is essentially saying– Use what I have entrusted you with to plant some seeds that I can bless and use to produce more fruit, so that I can get more seeds and entrust more people to sow. It’s really a simple concept, and a whole lot less stressful.

If you have planted good seeds, you have to let them grow. Only God can do that.

You can’t force a seed to geminate on demand and you can’t hurry the growth along by driving your tractor around in the field everyday just because you have to be doing something. You will end up destroying the crop.

The greatest and hardest example of that—where we all have or are struggled?  If you’ve spoken truth into your kid’s lives, you have to let them grow—and let them go. If you’ve planted good seeds there will one day be a harvest. But first come thunderstorms and days of scorching heat.

That concept of reaping and sowing, and leaving the growth up to God applies to every aspect of our lives. And the big part in the middle, the part between the sowing and the reaping—the very long and patience demanding grow part—that has to be left to God. There is no way around that.

So it is of utmost importance what you are sowing– what you are scattering.

What are you throwing out there?

There’s an old tongue in cheek superstition amongst construction workers in this Montana land of Big Skies and big winds—Don’t say wind.

It’s a beautiful fall day to frame, lay block, roof, set trusses— whatever and someone—usually the new guy— will pipe up with; “Sure hope the wind doesn’t come up—yesterday was miserable!” And before you know it, the wind is blowing, and everyone blames the guy who used the “W” word.

I don’t know if there’s anything to that, but I always seriously wonder—and so does everyone else.

Words have power, words spoken into the hearts of others and words spoken to the heavens have immense power and far reaching ramifications of which we will never fully know.

As believers, created in the image of God and enlivened and empowered by His Spirit—all we do, say and think, ultimately has some effect on what we can harvest when the season comes. Which brings us to the last part of the equation.

Hear the word, sow the word, trust the one who spoke the word—and then harvest.

Harvest

29 But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4

What will you be harvesting? What are you harvesting?

You can only reap what you sow.

In the real world, no matter how fancy your bread or where you bought it—someone had to plant a seed to get the grain that made the flour that made that bread. That applies to everything we eat. Someone had to put the very thing that could be made into the food we eat into the ground to die, in order to produce more of it, so that we could eat tomorrow.

You can’t grind your seed crop into flour. Even if you have to go hungry today, it may be necessary to ensure tomorrow, for you and many others.

Bottom line—If you want something you need to be willing to give it up.

What does that mean?

If you need healing? Be a healer. Need courage? Be an encourager. Need prayer? Be a prayer warrior. Need mercy? Be merciful. Need money? Give what you have.

You get the point.

How does any of that make sense? It only makes sense in the kingdom of God, but that is where you live—if you dare. It’s called faith.

Jesus has so much in store for you, if you’ll just trust him. If today is to be the day of your blessing, be a blessing.

Nothing that we cling to in this life compares to the riches to come.

Leadman

As a good leader you know that everything that happens under your watch is your responsibility.

Years ago I was working on a project at Rocky Mountain College in Billings. It was an addition on the Student Union building. I showed up shortly after it started to help form the walls for the foundation and quickly realized that the guys who were doing the work did not have all the stuff they needed, namely whaler brackets, and they did not really know what they were doing —the hundred foot of wall they were forming was as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.

The foreman was off getting some parts at the yard so I made a phone call to the shop to try and catch him because the guys had told me what he was after and I knew it was not what we needed.

I was no expert but I had been on a couple of big concrete jobs by then and had learned from the best. This was long before everyone carried cell phones so the best I could do was call the office and hope someone could run out to the yard and give him the message.

I missed the foreman, he had come and gone, but somehow I ended up talking to the big boss and I explained to him what was going on and he agreed that ‘yeah, you need some whaler brackets to straighten that wall— why don’t they have any?’  

We soon had some whaler brackets. Of course then I was worried that the foreman would be angry that I had seemingly gone over his head to get the right parts. Instead he was grateful that I had set the wall and the crew straight—he admitted that he was not very experienced in doing concrete foundations. I had to admire his humility anyway.

As the job progressed it wasn’t long before the crew was looking to me for guidance on how to form the walls that got higher and more complicated as we worked around the building. I was just a carpenter, same as everyone else, but one day the foreman came to me and asked, “Dan, I would like you to run the concrete crew.”

I said, “That would be fine but if you want me to push these guys I need to get paid to make it worth the push back.” (Actually I said it in more blunt construction terms; “If I’m going to be an asshole, I need asshole pay”) He said he would talk to the big boss and see what he says.

A day or two later the big boss came out to take a look at the job and he came over to where I was working and looked at a corner in the twelve foot tall foundation wall we were forming. He saw some bracing he thought was inadequate and said, “You know the hydraulic pressure of that much concrete is probably going to blow out that corner the way it’s done there.”

I looked at it and said, “Well, yeah, you’re probably right. I didn’t form this corner, Randy and Monty did.” At this —and I’ll never forget this—he turned and looked me in the eye and said; “A foreman has to take responsibility for everything his crew does.”

I looked at him for a moment and simply replied; “I’ll make sure it gets taken care of.”

That was his way of telling me that I was now the official leadman and I did get an extra dollar an hour on my paycheck. And a couple years later I got promoted to foreman.

We all have those moments when something changes the way you think and set’s you on a better course that leads to favor and blessing—if we’ll humble ourselves and listen.

I remember that day well, standing there in that hole on a hot summer day some 25 years ago, covered in form oil, dust and sweat, and it was a lesson I never forgot. And I still live by that rule to this day, as a Job superintendent and as a leader in the church. With authority comes great responsibility and everything that happens under your watch is your responsibility. And you cannot throw people under the buss to make yourself look faultless.

In the end that only makes you look small, and the people you lead will stop respecting you and the quality of the work will suffer greatly. Carrying the load of others’ mistakes or failures is never easy but that is what those who would lead, whether in business or in the church, are called to do.

It’s not just taking the responsibility, it’s striving to help others avoid those mistakes going forward and to recover and recoup from the mistakes already made.

Heavy is the Head

There’s an old saying that was popularized by William Shakespeare in Henry the IV; “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.”

Everyone wants to be in charge, until they are. True leaders know that they are servants who get others to follow by showing them the way, not just telling—carrying the burdens with them, not just demanding that they be carried. True leaders have been there and done that which they are now expecting of others while knowing that if the job is not done he will likely have to do or fix it himself.

Am I talking about construction or ministry? —both. Heavy is the head that wears the crown whether it’s a white hard hat or the anointing oil of ordination. And the older you get, and the more you understand the significance and the reasons why, the greater the burden becomes and the more valuable your leadership.

If others will listen. It’s the fool who despises the words of their elders.

Which is why we are told to submit.

People who have earned their authority didn’t get there by being lazy or foolish.

It is not for naught that Jesus gives certain persons the gift of leadership and then has them earn their crown—pay their dues so to speak. Those who don’t are more likely to fall, or more likely be knocked off their high horses.

Grace and favor come to the humble.

Our humility today, our humble and faithful service, will gain us the crown of glory. We do not get to lord over anyone today as if we have already been glorified and all must look up to us. We have our greatest example of that, of course in Jesus. Jesus set aside his glory and became a servant, a suffering servant.

Exaltation through Humility. Jesus literally took the blame for everything mankind has ever done, he bore all our sins on that cross, exemplified love, grace and selflessness and is now wearing the crown of the king of glory over all the universe.

Certainly, his was a heavy head as it was crowned with thorns. But he did it because he knew that the end result was worth it, the end result being the redemption of those he loved.

The same thing that should motivate us.

Trading In Fear

“…the more things you fear the more respected and with it you are. You are woke.

Photo by Swaningson “Weeping rock”

“…do not be frightened.”  Now there’s something we need to hear!

We live in a time of fear —don’t we? It seems that is the currency of the day. We are told to fear, we collect fears, and the more things you fear the more respected and with it you are. You are woke. If you don’t fear you don’t care, and if you don’t care you must be a hater and if you are a hater, ‘Well… we can abuse you however we see fit!’

That’s the culture and the mindset that is being pushed on us by a very loud and influential minority who somehow acquired way too much power over us.

Fears

But no one ideology or group has the monopoly on fear. There is plenty to go around on all sides, and we play right into it.

We are hounded constantly with things to fear. You are supposed to fear a virus. You are supposed to be afraid to go out and live a normal life because of that virus. You are supposed to fear the authorities who suddenly seem to have way too much power and use fear to justify their actions and threaten and belittle you if you do not accept the premise of fear.

You are supposed to fear being found out as a racist, a bigot, a homophobe—whatever—and we now need to fear having our businesses and neighborhoods burned and looted, being dragged from a car and beaten, having our kids snatched by traffickers.

We are supposed to fear what will happen if the wrong person gets elected depending on which side of ever widening political chasm you are on. You are supposed to fear China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Sharia, space aliens and ghosts. Fear the demons that cause every malady known to man who run roughshod over weak Christians who are afraid to take authority over them.

Fear the vaccines and the evil agendas behind them, the medications and doctors who cannot agree on anything concerning this supposed pandemic. Fear the coming of the Antichrist, micro-chips, Antifa, George Soros, Bill Gates, the latest NIV revisions, the governors of liberal states, and most of all—fear each other and stay away from one another.

Just bury your heads in your phones and live your whole existence online from the safety of your homes.

At least until the looters come and you can’t defend yourselves because you are supposed to be afraid to own a gun and you can’t call the police because now we are afraid of them. So—I guess we are all just . . . screwed.

This would all be hilariously absurd if it wasn’t all true and just the tip of the iceberg of the fears that are being shoved down our throats by the insane and evil world we live in. A world that yes, does have plenty to fear—life has always had challenges, and has since Adam and Eve met that fun loving serpent in the garden of Eden, but would probably not seem nearly so scary if all of this was not being propagated and encouraged by a news media, and every living and breathing soul with a Facebook or Twitter account, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

So, we are all trading in fear. At least if we succumb to those fears, contrary to the often repeated words of our God not to.

Refuse

Swaningson Glacier Park

So, for those of us who refuse to live in fear, who refuse to accept any new normal that includes fear and intimidation as a motivator, who are not afraid of death or even suffering in the flesh as a result of just living, or for doing what is good and right in the eyes of the Lord no matter how out of step it may be with the on-line trolls or the sign carrying snarling people in the streets, we need to be ready—ready to give an answer as to why.

‘Why are you not afraid? Why are you not pandering and kowtowing to our demands? Why are you not stressed and frenzied, angry or vengeful? Why? What is the hope that is in you that gives you such strength and peace?’

Do you have the answer? Would anyone even ask you that, or are you living in a state of fear and anxiety just like we are expected to do? A state where we can be controlled and manipulated and ready to compromise what we know to be true and right?

Does the light shine from your eyes? Do you have a clear conscience and a solid place to stand? Are you standing on the rock? That is your answer right there. The answer to the hope that is in us is Jesus Christ, the stone the builders rejected and the rock that makes them fall.  

Swaningson Glacier Park

He is the foundation upon which my life is built and I am secure in him. I have nothing to fear and my hope is infallible–because my Lord is.

Eyes open

Am I aware of and careful of all those things we have had foisted on us to fear? Yes, I most certainly am, and of much more than that. But I refuse to trade in the currency of the day, I refuse to live in fear. I refuse to be a sheep being led to slaughter by the Judas goats of the enemy. All of my days are numbered in the Lord’s book, he is my shepherd and I shall not fear—I fear God and God alone. And so long as I obey his commands and heed his voice, as long as I revere Christ as Lord,  (1 Peter 3:14) I do not fear finding myself in his presence whether at my going to him or him coming to us.

For I am loved, forgiven and redeemed. And all the suffering this world can and will throw at me is but a minor irritation in the light of what I have in him. Even walking through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil. When did we all become so afraid of death that we became afraid to live?

My eyes are wide open and I keep praying for spiritual discernment because to really see what’s going on in all this fear peddling takes the eyes of the Spirit and ears to hear because the spiritual battle that is being waged in and around all of this, is much fiercer and consequential than anything our eyes of flesh can see today.

But we are on the side that wins. We have read the end of the book and seen the victories to come. So today, stand firm, ready to give an answer for our fearlessness and hope, in the humility of one who knows that what we have is a gift—a gift of unparalleled mercy and grace from a God who holds our hearts and keeps it safe.

It is not blissful ignorance, it is the power and the wisdom of the God of Creation, and in knowing the answers because we have a book that gives all of them. It’s called the Bible. Read it. If we don’t it may very well be taken away from us by those who twist it to use it against those who cannot give the right answers even though they claim it’s promises of redemption.

Biblical illiteracy is exactly what is wrong with this nation.

So, what is the reason for the hope that is in you? -Jesus is the answer, he has conquered death and set you free. So trade in your fear for hope.

Swaningson Glacier Park Hope in you

Really? Rahab the Harlot?

“…her words and her actions bore witness to a God given, front loaded, heart of faith.

In the second chapter of James we are given two examples of those who proved that their faith was real by their actions. Abraham and “Rahab the Harlot”.

Unarguably, Abraham’s actions as found in Genesis were a testament to his faith and a fitting seal of a long life of faithfulness and nearly everyone knows who he is still today.

But then, there is Rahab. She is just dropped into the picture out of the blue, a woman with no known history of faithfulness and no long recorded history of interactions with God for us to marvel at. Yet she ends up with a lead role in the story of the making of Israel.

Rahab

You have to wonder, of all the people in the Hebrew scriptures— Noah, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, King David, Elijah, Ruth, Solomon, Jeremiah, Esther—great heroes, prophets and examples of integrity and tenacity—of all the possible examples, to put on par with Abraham as examples of those justified by faith in action, James uses Rahab the harlot.

Really? Rahab the harlot?

Obviously her last name wasn’t harlot but that was her designation, a title actually. Like Builder Bob or Sam the butcher. James makes it clear in that way just to whom he is referring, there is no mistaking—but still, Rahab the Harlot?

You all know that means she’s a prostitute right? Not exactly a career choice that a woman who wants to become a beacon of light and an example of faith in the Kingdom of God, should draw to—let alone even go and stay with, as the spies that Joshua sent to her hometown of Jericho to check out did. Really guys, you went straight to a prostitutes house to find sanctuary?  

I just love the realness and grittiness of the bible. God uses real people to do his greatest works, and he doesn’t gloss over their flaws. It gives me hope.

So, why Rahab? Why would God lead the spies there and why would James use her to make his point?

Easy—She was able to show them the money. She probably didn’t talk a lot of bible speak or come across as a religious person, she was, after all, a harlot in a pagan city. But when it came down to it, she was able to show the fruits of her faith in the one true God by her actions.

In that regard I think James was quite ingenious in using her as an example of what he is telling us here when he says that we are to show our faith by our works. There was nothing else about her,at least not that we are aware of, that would have merited her a place in the family of God, as a recipient of what was apparently a saving faith totally apart from the law and any religious expression in regard to Yahweh.

There is nothing about her, no moral witnesses, no history of her talking the right talk, saying the right words, praying the right prayers, no self-proclaimed rights to righteousness, seemingly nothing to merit her becoming listed as an ancestor to King David and thus to the Messiah, Jesus himself—she was not even Jewish! Let alone a worshipper of their God.

Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David the king. Mat 1

But when called upon to fulfill her destiny, to become a key player in the fulfillment of God’s promise to his people that he would deliver them from slavery and give them the land of Canaan, she acted with a courage that would set her apart as someone who truly had a faith in the God whose mighty acts she had only heard about. She had a faith in this unknown God who had apparently been whispering to her heart— that he was indeed real and loved her.

How do I know that? How do I know that God had been whispering to her heart? Because God does it all the time, and he has done it to me. And because her words and her actions bore witness to that God given, front loaded heart of faith.

Spies

Do you all know the story? From the book of Joshua?

The children of Israel had been miraculously delivered from slavery in Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, lived in the desert for forty years eating manna from heaven and were now finally ready to enter in and take the promised land under the leadership of Joshua.

But first, they have to get past Jericho. The fortress city that dominates the first region of the country the Lord is giving them as their new homeland, the very land he had promised hundreds of years earlier to Abraham, where he would become a great nation.

So Joshua, as any good military leader would, sends of a couple of spies to do some reconnaissance.  The spies make it into the city of Jericho largely unnoticed but word soon gets around that they are not just ordinary nomads coming to trade goat milk for pottery.

They are part of that very large group of former slaves from Egypt known as the Hebrews who have just crossed the Jordan river and are wreaking havoc on anyone who tries to stop them, and many have. So the spies seek out a place to hide, preferably someone who can give them a little insight as well, and somehow or other, I have to wonder at the thinking that led them there, but they end up in the home of a local prostitute named Rahab.

But, it turns out, little goes unnoticed in this town and word gets back to the King himself that there are enemy spies staying at Rahab’s house on top of the wall. So he sends troops to arrest them. But Rahab gets word that they are on their way so she takes the Israelites up on her roof where she has flax laid out in the sun to cure, and hides them underneath it. When the king’s men show up she tells them that the spies have already left and that if they hurry they might be able to catch them, so off they go.

After a time Rahab has the spies come out from hiding and tells them that she can lower them over the wall from her window, as her house is on the massive wall that surrounds the city, with a rope so that no one will see them leave and that they can then go in a different direction, avoiding those who are pursuing them.

But first she wants a promise. She has helped them at great risk to herself. But she realized that they were on the winning side, because she believed in an unseen God, heard the stories of his power to deliver those who serve him, and she fears him more than she fears the soldiers banging on her door.

She believes that the Israelites will indeed take the city she dwells in and that all their enemies will be destroyed. So she asks them to remember how she helped them and to spare her and her family when they return to take the city.

The spies tell her to tie a scarlet cord in her window as a sign and a reminder to the Israelite army that they are to spare her and all in her house. And indeed that is what happens. When the Israelites return and do their now famous seven day march around the city walls and blow them to smithereens with nothing but a shout and a trumpet blast, Rahab and her family are spared and become a part of the nation of Israel.

Now, thinking about this story, it seems that her part in the big picture conquest of the promised land was pretty small. I mean, Jericho probably would have been taken regardless of the spies eluding capture, but that is not the point.

The point of the story, the point of God’s favor and blessing on Rahab, and the point that James is making, is that it is not the significance or standing in man’s eyes, it is not the outward appearance or having a clean record of holiness and purity—it’s what are you doing today, it’s who are you when the chips are down, how do you respond when your hour comes and God is giving you an opportunity for action, calling you to fulfill your purpose, to make a real difference, to bless and help someone in a real tangible way.

Rahab literally saved the lives of two men and endangered her and her family in the process; two men she had never met before from a strange people she had only heard horror stories about—the Hebrew refugees from Egypt who are mowing down everyone who gets in their way. But, they have this God. . .

And what this God saw in Rahab the Harlot was a heart that wanted to do what was right, that said yes to him when it mattered the most, and when it was probably the hardest to say yes.

God said ‘show me the fruit Rahab’, and she did. And her faith saved her.

A faith lived out is a faith lived in. A faith walked out is a faith that will carry you home.

Test the Spirits

Funny how scriptures take on a new sense of relevance and urgency when the world as you know it is being challenged—don’t they?

False Prophets

The Apostle John tells us to test the spirits. Pay attention church!

We all want desperately to hear from God right now, to be encouraged, to be let in on what He’s doing and to know that he is indeed still in control and hasn’t forgotten about us. This can lead to a lot of deception and bad information as everyone wants to hear from God and many want to speak for God, or at least appear to be speaking for God.

In short, that can lead to a lot of false prophets. False prophets are generally motivated by one of two things; the desire to be heard and get attention, or the more sinister desire to deceive and thwart God’s true plans.

If you read carefully the 4th chapter of 1 John  you’ll see that those who, speak fake news in the name of God to use a term from the current vernacular— are being used by the devil to mislead and distract from what God really wants us to know. “Speak oh great and mighty Wizard of Oz… hey wait, who is that behind the curtain?”

Spirit of the Antichrist

What I have discovered is that many who think they are prophets, or put themselves forth to be, are not. And many who are, do not know it. God can only use the willing, and he does, but the humble are usually the ones God prefers to use. That humility can prevent them from speaking any more than they feel absolutely compelled and certain of. That’s why I always put a lot of stock in those of few words when they believe they have a word from the Lord.

And there are those few who speak boldly and often for the Lord, yet they do speak truth, but only because He has taught them that fear of speaking out is not an excuse, and humility cannot be a cover for disobedience. They have learned that to not speak God’s truth is, as Jeremiah learned, is like trying to contain a burning fire within the heart and shut up within the bones, that one grows weary from trying to hold it in, and in the end they cannot.

The fire within

If God has truly pegged you to speak for him you have that desire in your heart and it will not give your head any peace until you obey. Trust me, I know. Those who answer the call must not be afraid to play with fire.

The Faithful

I believe we are in a season where God will be culling the herd. That those who have been speaking only what they believe itching ears want to hear for the sake of filling seats and coffers will suddenly find themselves irrelevant, while the called who have been laboring in obscurity and wondering why they seemly travail to no avail, they will be the ones God uses to bring in the harvest.

Those who have been speaking truth, preaching the word of God, standing firm against the winds of perversity and cultural pressure to compromise, those who have been listening to the Spirit of God, they will not have to play catch up, and they will not have to fear being blown away with the chaff as the Lord continues his threshing.

Those who have been faithfully planting seeds of truth and praying for the rain of the Spirit to fall will see the fruits of their labor being brought in to the master’s granaries. Those who have been storing their treasures in heaven will be the ones who see the return on those treasures tomorrow even while many are watching the enemy steal away their treasures.

What is your calling?

God calls to all of us, and those who turn their eyes to him are given gifts that suit the plan he has for them and calls them to do things in ways and places that no one but you can. Too many false prophets and wishy washy preachers have risen to prominence because the called are sitting on their hands and because the faithful are not practicing discernment—they are not testing the spirits.

Discern

There are many gifts and callings and many ways to preach the gospel with words and actions. But our title verse here Test the Spirits, is talking specifically about those who deign to speak on the Lord’s behalf.

(If you are totally lost here you need to find a preacher who is not afraid to teach on the Baptism  of the Holy Spirit, because you are living in the love but not the power)

Like anything we do or don’t do for Jesus, obedience is key. If God tells you to speak, speak, if he does not reveal to you a message to deliver, than don’t. But, ultimately, the truth and the source of the message, that has to be determined by the hearer.

That’s what John is  largely about in this section of scripture (1 John 4:1-11) discerning truth from useless fluff or outright lies.

Trust me I would rather preach fluff, fluff is fun and doesn’t offend anyone, it doesn’t get you in trouble, at least not with man. But, then again, as I have told you before, I am just a barbarian with a bible and barbarians just don’t do fluff.

I tell you truth

The Holy Spirit will give you the ability to discern between spirits and between what’s just feel good stuff and what is if the Lord. But you have to choose to want to know the difference. You have to choose who you are going to listen to, and what you hear.

The onus of truth is on the hearer. People either hear what they want to hear, or they hear what they need to hear, the choice is up to them. And in the case of determining whether a teacher, preacher or  prophet, often all one in the same, is speaking truth, that responsibility falls back on the hearer.

My mother used to ask us kids on occasion if it was clear we weren’t paying attention to her; “Are your ears painted on?” In other words; ‘I can see you seem to have ears there, but they don’t seem to be functioning properly, because surely you are not just choosing to ignore what I say.’

When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Luke 8:8

Servants the prophetsStay awake church, choose you this day whom you shall serve.

No Hitting, No Spitting…

“Mom she’s touching me! She stuck her tongue out at me.” “Ow! She hit me! Well she spit on me!”

Boffalo abide

My wife Donna and I went to Yellowstone Park last weekend to celebrate our 32nd anniversary.

We love the park, winter or summer, and have been there many times, from our honeymoon on. It’s our backyard after all–just over a few mountains.

Too bad we have to share it with the rest of the world.

But, then again, that’s part of what makes it so unique. I always love seeing people experience it for the first time, we can start to take it for granted so it’s good to see it through the eyes of others sometimes.

Snow Coach resize

We took a snowcoach into Old Faithful and there was a young couple in our coach who had a couple of kids—8 year old twins; a boy and a girl. They were very well behaved but they were still kids and kept their parents on their toes, especially walking around the geyser basins where you have to stay on the boardwalks, out of the boiling water and away from the buffalo.

Of course this reminded Donna and I of the many times we took our girls to the park. Keeping three little girls from getting lost, gored, boiled or eaten was always a challenge, as was keeping them from killing each other after too many hours in the car.

At one point last weekend as Donna was laughing to herself at the antics of our 8 year old companions she said, just loud enough for me to hear; “No hitting, no spitting, no fighting no biting.”  She was quoting the Swaningson family rule that our girls now know well. This rule was actually born on one our trips to the Park when the girls were young, no doubt after the umpteenth squeal of “Mom she’s touching me! She stuck her tongue out at me.” “Ow! She hit me! Well she spit on me!”

If you’ve ever been a road trip with more than one child in the car you know what I mean, right? Finally in exasperation, somewhere between Canyon Village and Yellowstone Lake I declared, in what Donna refers to as my scary dad voice, which always became the final answer— “No hitting no spitting, no fighting no biting!”

It’s that simple. Follow that rule and we’ll all get along and have a great trip, and life for that matter.

I don’t think I had intended it to be a rhyme but it turned out that way and turned out it pretty much covered all the basics and was fun to say, so it eventually turned into a joke, a joke with meaning, because I meant it and more importantly, it was not a suggestion, it was the law. If you are a part of this family, those things will not be tolerated. And what’s left? Respect, kindness, patience, gentleness—love.

It’s quite simple, abide in the rules, abide in Daddy’s word, and you will continue to abide in this family as a happy camper.Geyser basin resize

Now, I would be tempted to say here of this family rule, that it was—Abide by the rules—’No hitting, no spitting, no fighting, no biting.’, And you can continue to abide in this family!”—but that’s not entirely true. Nor is it true of the Family of God. We are not children of God, we are not brothers and sisters, by virtue of having kept all the rules. We are family by blood, and love–the blood of Jesus and the love of the Father.

My girls know now, and they knew then, that they will always be a part of the family, the Swaningson family. ‘This is the family that gave you your name and your genetic makeup. The family abides in you, it’s in your blood, it’s in your DNA and you carry the name.’

‘You cannot make me stop loving you, and you cannot make me stop caring for you, but if you want to be at peace in this family, if you want to be trusted and enjoy the blessings of a real relationship with me, and others in this family, you need to abide by the rule.’

The rules make the family a safe place. A place where we can abide in love.

Keep my commands water fall

Our family rules were condensed into one easy to remember principle. So is the word of God—all the rules handed down from generation to generation, as revealed in great specificity to make sure we had no excuses to do harm to one another, were boiled down and condensed into one easy to remember all encompassing rule, a new command that could only be given by the Word of God become flesh, the only Son of the one true God and that is “love one another as I have loved you.”

Do that and you will be abiding in my word, my word abiding in you and you will have my joy abiding, remaining, in you.

What a promise; just, love.

Here’s what the Holy Spirit told me as I was working on this message:

Abide in me as I abide in you, and your love will never fail. Do not grow weary, just love, keep on loving, never stop loving.

annointing buffalo

When in doubt, love. When in doubt, receive love.

Abide in love. Let the Holy Spirit bear witness to your Spirit that you are loved. That’s what that anointing that John talks about is, (“But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.” 1 john 2:10) it’s the Holy Spirit telling us that he is in us, that Jesus is Lord and that he loves us. It is our salvation and our joy, our hope and our strength. The Holy Spirit is our guarantee.

Real Love Fire Hole River

Which brings us once again to the key verse of my recent blogs, and the core principle behind the Apostle John’s writings, the one thing he desires more than anything for us to do, as those who love and are loved by the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.

1 John 3:18

No hitting no spitting, no fighting, no biting. Wouldn’t the church be a wonderful place if we all abided by this?

little children love 1 John

And if you look deep inside where the Holy Spirit resides, (If you have invited him to do so) you’ll know that it is true that you are loved— Jesus loves me…. And you cannot make him stop loving you.

Lord I believe, help me in my  unbelief !

book cover

Claim your place in Christ!