Saturday, June 9, 2018

Finding Love at the Cross

In Christ's death, we see God's amazing love for us. Let's look at some awesome truths here.

In the next part of our study, Paul is picking a fight with the Corinthians, calling their arrogance "foolishness." And from their perspective, the "power of the cross" is absurd. What do you think? 


Paul says, "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (emphasis mine) He is comparing two different types of "wisdom." He mocks the philosophers in Corinth who claim to be wise, saying God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish in verse 20.


I have thought many over the years times that I was wise, but I was really just being self-centered. My pastor used to joke that a man is smartest at the age of 18 and it's downhill from there. However, he added, age alone does not make us wise. A person could be 80 years-old and still be a fool. This cracked me up. But inside, I knew something was broken. I was a 30 year-old man, and I thought my way was the only way. My friend Ken described one of his teachers who was standing by himself, out in a field (read: "outstanding in his field"). This teacher had a revelation. He realized other people actually thought differently than him! It was like the heavens were opening and angelic choirs were singing. After Ken told me this story, I said something impressive like, "Huh." To me, this was new, and I needed to understand this just as much as Ken's teacher. 


But what about the blood? What's the big deal? Well, just as we know today a body cannot survive without the circulation of blood, even in those days, they believed a person or animal's "life was in the blood." So blood had great meaning to them. Even more than that, they believed it was how to come to God. The book of Hebrews says "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins."

===================

In the cross, we see:

1) God's hatred of sin. He brought the shedding of blood, the original remedy for sin, to a head when Christ was crucified. As Billy Graham wrote, "To gain a clear understanding of God’s attitude toward sin, we only have to consider the purpose of Christ’s death. The Scripture says, 'Without shedding of blood there is no remission' (of sin) (Hebrews 9:22). Here is a positive statement that there can be no forgiveness of sin unless our debt has been paid. God will not tolerate sin. He condemns it and demands payment for it. God could not remain a righteous God and compromise with sin. His holiness and His justice demand the death penalty." The meanings of Christ's sacrifice are amazing. "He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed." Isaiah 53:5 Yes, as the first half of Romans 6:23 states, "the wages of sin is death ..." But don't miss the second part: "... the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

2) Now let's turn a corner and view the cross from a different perspective. You've got to understand this. This wasn't a random occurrence, as if bad people killed Christ. No, He laid down his life. "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us." (1 John 3:16, emphasis mine) It is Christ's love for us that led Him to the cross.

So if He loves us, can we actually trust Him with our stuff? All of it? For me, in various seasons of life, this has been really hard. I have repeatedly not wanted to trust anyone but myself. At times, I have isolated myself and even acted on my fears, hitting the "reality ejection seat," numbing out, trying to escape. Then, when it was too late, I realized there was no parachute and I came crashing into the ground. So I've had to ask hard questions: Does God have my best interests in mind? Yes. Will I trust Him rather than my personal great wisdom? A "yes" may have been the answer in my head, but ... would my actions match my desire to trust him?

===================

In the best circumstances, I have seen my error and turned back to God. What about you? Remember everyone is unique. So this could be whatever way that you come to God: though the Bible, through songs (see below), through a church, other types of gatherings, through a blog or a bunch of other ways. One pastor I knew gave his heart to Jesus while he was sitting in his bathtub. As I said repeatedly before, God is after your heart.


Lastly, consider that it can actually be wise to trust in something you cannot see. This is like when you walk into a dark room and flip the light switch. You expect the light to come on, right? But you did not know this when you were a child. You had to observe others' expectations that light switches actually turn on lights. Later, you tried turning them on yourself, and it actually worked! So when it comes to trusting God, you can view others' faith and choose to believe on your own. Some seekers believe from reading the bible and seeing other's faith there. And you can take small steps or just jump right in - bathtub or no bathtub.

In the end, we trust God in response to his love for us. John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Eternal life through the cross. The wholeness described above in Isaiah 53:5. This is a big plus sign on our horizons, like I tried to show in the photo above. Jesus himself said in John 10:10, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." I hope you can grow in this goodness and be satisfied with God's love today.

- Dave

And here are some of my favorite songs about the cross.

In the Shadow of the Cross - "So let my soul be satisfied." 
At the Cross
You Are My King (Amazing Love) with scriptures, "If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed," and prayer for college students.

P.S. There are many more meanings behind this rich symbol we call the cross. Here are two:
1) The cross is empty. Jesus is not still there. His resurrection brings strength and an inheritance.
2) Also, He is not just gone. He gives us His Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 2, we will look at wisdom that comes from God himself

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Idolatry - Where Will You Place Your Crown? - 1 Cor. 1: 12-17

Idolatry can be defined in a few ways. It can be the worship of a physical object, as if that object was a god. It can also be extreme admiration, love, or reverence for something or someone. It is a person exalting something or someone as god in their lives. An extreme example in the bible occurred when Moses was away from the people of Israel and they started worshipping a golden calf. While the idea of bowing before a bronze statue seems unimaginable, there are idols all around us competing for our attention, our loyalty, our affection. Some are overt like money, fame, sex or power. Others sneak in, subtle - our family, a job or independence. And others can be more out of the box: a dream, a hobby ... or a bronze statue. In reality, anything that we give our hearts to, we are putting in a place of authority. And we cannot give these things preeminence. In a sense, we are giving these forces a crown that God deserves. To me, a crown represents authority, and God is to be King of all. This is easier said than done. We must deliberately and choose to put him in that place in our hearts.

In “Counseling the Hard Cases,” Dan Wickert writes, “Just as every sin is the fruit of unbelief, at the heart of every sin is an idol. If I believe a lie about God, then I am not worshipping Him; rather, I am belittling Him, casting Him from the throne of my heart. Man was designed for worship, so if I am not worshipping God, I am worshipping something or someone else.”

Looking at 1 Corinthians, Paul gets specific and asks about our God-ordained leaders. It is true, we can put those we follow on a pedestal where only God should reside. The Corinthian believers were attributing their allegiance to at least four different leaders. One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? … Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

So as we follow our Christian leaders, we need to take this to heart and not blow their roles out of proportion. It is a good thing to have Christian mentors, pastors and other types of leaders. But they are our guides, not our way. Jesus is the way. As a mentor told me recently, "we need to take the crowns off of people and put them on Christ." 

Pulling back, this can also apply to any people we have put on a pedestal in our lives. When we were young, we followed our parents until differentiation caused us to realize we were our own unique person with our unique identity. As a boy, I put my dad on a pedestal and later, leaders and even bosses. This isn't fair to them, and it can be crippling to us. So also, our parents, teachers or any leaders, for that matter, do not deserve our idolatry, whether they are living or not. 

We can even put friends in this place as well. When we do this, we are submitting our souls to them and creating unholy "soul ties." Cherishing friends is awesome; worshipping or putting their approval over God's is not. Friends can let us down. God does not. In Hebrews 13:5, the writer proclaims God's word to us - "I will never leave you or forsake you." And after we change our thinking, we must forget and return to this deception. This error reminds me of Charlie Brown returning to the football field every fall, hoping Lucy will not pull the ball out from under him again and again. 

Surrender this to God. We can look at the elders in Revelation as an illustration of this. They bowed down and cast their crowns onto the ground before Almighty God. Trust Him. He can deal with idols in at least two ways: 
  1. He can wrench them from our hands. For example, if we are clasping onto money as if wealth was our only hope in the world. In this situation, God can shatter our frozen fingers for us to truly be free. Still, his love can melt our stubborn will before it comes to this.
  2. Alternatively, He can allow us to become miserable as we live with a substitute for the good, good Father, who offers us true life, grace and peace.
We need to take the crowns off of people, off of things and put them on Christ. Today, who will you give your crown to?

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Saved, Called and Equipped - 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

God has saved you. He has called you. He has equipped you for fellowship with his Son. We are going to look at 1 Corinthians in the upcoming weeks.

1 Cor. 1:1-9 – (NASB) 1 Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother. To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, 6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you,

Again, we are “sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours” (NASB)
The NIV says we are “sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere …”
The Message paraphrase calls “sanctified” people “believers cleaned up by Jesus and set apart for a God-filled life.”

When our life is “God filled,” a part of that is God’s infilling. He fills us with His Spirit. There is a deposit … in us … of His own essence. So among other things, we are “cleaned up” from the inside out. We want to walk with Him because we want to be in right relationship with Him. That is one meaning of “righteousness,” in the original Greek language. We want to live from the inside out. We want to be authentic, something real, to be sincere, not fake. Contrast this with religious legalism, working from the outside in.

As a practical model for this, when a child only lives to obey a parent out of fear of anger or perhaps violence, they obey when the parents are around. When the parents are absent, rebellion arises. If the parent instead has a strong, personal, intimate relationship with the child, the child will want to do what is right, even when the parent is not around. The child has a deposit from the adult and wants to do what will protect that parent’s heart of love. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.


Ultimately, the Holy Spirit is perfect love. God is love, and His Spirit is described as our Helper . So the more honestly we can relate with God, the better off we will be. Often, David got real with God, at times outright raw and brutally exposed before him. And God called him a man after His own heart.

This condemnation of living the fake life is not an original idea. In "Abba’s Child", Brennan Manning calls this outward persona the “Imposter.” Glennon Doyle Melton calls this her ”representative” in her book “Love Warrior: A Memoir.” In “The Cure,” John Lynch calls this living “behind the mask.” Whatever you call it, it is fake. God calls us to honest living. The woman at the well was revealed as a phony when she told Jesus she had no husband. He gently pointed out her troubled past and current compromise. She now had a choice. This challenge could be resisted and avoided or it could utterly revolutionize her life. Note: God will never ask you to do anything that you cannot do. He will give you the power to do what he has called you to do. The woman dropped her water pot and ran back to her city telling everyone about Jesus.

In the book we are looking at, 1 Corinthians, the church has some messy situations. The Lord uses Paul to offer ways to true holiness. Let us come along with these people as they move from being fake to truly living, “enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge.” The Message says of them “You don’t need a thing – you’ve got it all!” They are described in verses seven through nine
as “not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” You already have everything you need for successful and fruitful living. You don’t need a thing. Time is on your side. Some of this new life will be in seed form. Some will be growing into visibility. Other aspects will flourish soon and grow before your very eyes. Jesus came that we might have life to the full (John 10:10).
 Let His Spirit within you nourish you, drawing you closer to Him.

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

Abba's Child by Brennan Manning

The Cure by John Lynch

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Father's Love



God as father? If God has led you into faith in His Son and you've turned from your sin towards Him, then you're saved by grace. God is your Father. John said it this way in 1 John 3:1, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"

Father God is shown in Proverbs as a strong Defender of the fatherless. Proverbs 23:10-11 says "Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless, for their Defender is strong; he will take up his case against you." (Every common translation capitalizes this word, signifying it represents God.) In those times, the boundary stones established people's property lines. Think about it. What hope did an orphan have in those days? They had no family, no inheritance. Their property was their most valuable possession, possibly their only hope for food and/or income. For someone to steal a portion of the orphan's property was a gross injustice in the eyes of God. If someone messes with God's adopted child, this proverb is saying the Father will take up His case against them. 

The Father takes up His case against the enemy. In the new testament, Jesus paid the price for us on the cross. When hell was having a party, Jesus had a plan. He was disarming hell and the grave on your behalf. And His resurrection power enables you to walk away from sin and enter into a relationship with Father God. As I have talked about various homes (Eden, your home and with friends in Blog #1 and secure in Christ in Blog #2), no home compares to being at home with God, abiding in His presence. This is a conscious act and takes time to develop. But it is possible and has been life-changing for countless people for centuries. Prayer, bible study and many other activities can bring you in. Psalm 16:11 says, "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence, there is fullness of joy ..."


There will be a time when your parents or people you look to for guidance or mentorship will begin to pass away. Being with them will suddenly not be home anymore ... because (sorry to be so blunt), they will be gone. I have a relative like this who is currently gradually losing weight. There seems to be no medical reason for this. We are just praying for comfort and a breakthrough.

Where do find comfort in this, or frankly where do I find comfort in any extremely difficult or confusing situation? I propose two helpful answers for your consideration:

1. The promise of God's leadership, love, goodness and presence. You see, I don't think any of us will understand all of the stuff we go through in life. God may not always offer explanations, but He does offer Himself. His comfort results in our consolation. His discipline results in our maturity.
 His love changes us forever.

2. And consider the eternal justice of God. For example, anytime someone questions why a good God would allow someone like Hitler to inflict monstrous pain on others, I want to point out the possible disastrous condition of their souls. Only God knows people's eternal condition, but an eternity in hell is nothing to take lightly. 

Let us return to God's Fathering heart. Do you know why I love my children? Why do you love your children or possibly those you have influence over? I love my kids because they're mine. Not for their achievements or personalities. I do not dislike them when they make mistakes (partly because of poor choices I too have made over the years). I simply love them because they are mine. They are my sons and my daughter. Nothing can change that.

If now is your time, and God is drawing you to him, I offer a prayer for you to pray. It is not so important the exact words you pray. What matters is the attitude of your heart. A friend of mine often started out his prayers with "Dad." Here's the prayer I invite you to share with me:

Father, I do not know you as much as I would like. Open up the word and my heart to receive you. I turn from the sins of my past, and I trust you in a new way now. Lead me into a healthy new life with you. Amen.

Lastly, here are a few songs that I hope will bless you. I wrote "I Trust In You" when I was processing my own view of God as Father.

I Trust in You  https://youtu.be/_R7QxMeuC4c
Faithful Father by Brian Doerksen  https://youtu.be/QHISaL2b2nw
Home by Brian Johnson https://youtu.be/JYSQsww-iAI

God bless you in your relationship with the Father.
Dave

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Jesus Brings Life

There is hope in a harvest. Seeds are planted. Expectation rises. The same is true with your heart. Jesus causes your heart to come alive, and as you grow new life abounds. He said, "the thief's purpose is to steal, kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life." John 10:10 Jesus satisfies.

But the first part of a seed's life is hidden. It is under the surface, in the ground. Or like a lotus flower, hidden under the water, waiting. In the bible, they likened this stage to dying and being reborn, a drastic transformation. Christ described His own journey in these terms. "… unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." He told Nicodemus, "unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God … unless one is born of water and the spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."

So Jesus speaks and breathes life into us through His Spirit. We are born again. 1 Peter 1:23, "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God." Romans 8:15-16 says we did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but we have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. Jesus brings new birth into enduring new life. Let us all come alive today.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Secure In Christ

I cannot talk about the Father heart of God without talking about His Son. Jesus lived approximately 33 years, His last three years comprising of His public ministry. Every Easter we acknowledge His death and resurrection. On New Year's, we celebrate the anniversary of His impact on the earth. At Christmas, we celebrate His birth. The copyright on your favorite music dates back to His life and death. There can be no denying that Jesus walked the earth.

But what impact does this have on our lives? Acknowledging Jesus lived among the men and women is not enough. We have to come to grips with Jesus as the Christ. You see, Jesus was His name, but Christ was His title. "Christ" is another word for Messiah, or "anointed" one, literally "smeared." Jesus had a mission. He was set apart for a specific task. He was after your heart.

We can see His heart for people from different angles. When His friend Lazarus died, Jesus wept and called him out of the tomb with grave clothes and all. For a woman who had bled for years, He ministered healing. At the temple, His passion burned as He overturned the moneychangers' defilement of His Father's house of prayer. For a paralytic, He stopped the meeting, healed him and forgave his sins. For you, He stands at the door and knocks, waiting for you to invite Him in. You can rest assured of this. He is after your heart.

If He was such a great man, why did they crucify him? Because he had a unique relationship with God. He was God’s Son. You may say, "Waitaminute. You had me with the historical Jesus, but Jesus as God's flesh and blood? I just don't know." Well, Jesus knew. He said in John 10:30, "I and the Father are one." And He had a hope, an anchor. His foundation was found in His relationship with His Father. When His Father asked Him to lay down His life for the salvation of mankind, His prayers were so intense, He was sweating blood. And He prayed, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” After all, He was after your heart.

In John 5:19-20, Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all that He himself is doing. And greater works than these will He show Him, so that you may marvel.” Col. 1:15 says Jesus “is the image of the invisible God.” Hebrews 1:3 says “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature.”

And what happened when Phillip asked for a greater revelation from Christ himself in John 14:8-12? Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” If you’ve seen the Son, you’ve see the Father.

I remember the first time I went into a worship service where people were lifting their hands as they sang their songs. I thought, “What is with these people?” It turned out their security was not being afraid of what others thought about them. It was in Christ. He had revolutionized their lives and made them passionate for Him. So where do we stand? Is our security primarily in Christ? This is not the three little pigs picking the correct material to keep the wolf out. This is abiding in the shadow of the cross, the empty tomb, the risen Christ and His very Spirit.

Hillsong Worship recorded an updated version of the classic hymn “On Christ the Solid Rock.” One of the writers, Reuben Morgan explains that "When the earth shakes, we look to our feet and wonder what it is that we are standing on? When darkness seems to hide His face; In every high and stormy gale; Through the storm; My anchor holds". See it here.

Again, Revelation 3:20 says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with Me.” If you have met the Son, you have met the Father. He is after your heart. Open it, and welcome Him in. 

God bless you.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Home


Hello. I am Dave Swensen. In this blog, I will not pretend to know all of the answers along the way. I have made some huge mistakes during my journey. But I may be further down the road than some of you. I hope you will be blessed and check in from time to time.

So let's begin. Are you unsettled or lonely? Do you have a place to call home? Is it where you grew up? Where you live now? Your workplace? Your work truck, gym, church, school? Maya Angelou said, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”


A few years ago I was feeling quite unsettled. We were in the midst of moving our family of seven (plus three cats and a dog) from one city to another. We had stayed in that previous house for longer than we had been anywhere. To make matters worse, the rental house we stayed in, between homes, was foreclosed upon while we were living there. Upon arriving in this new town, we wondered if this really could be home. None of us were fully convinced. Just because you are living somewhere, does that necessarily make it your home? 


I was meditating on this concept of "home," and I went to our church's annual Men's Retreat. During some free time, I was playing piano in the main meeting area. My friend Tony was playing electric guitar, Joseph was on base and Ken was standing watch and listening. Memories of years playing on our worship team and serving the youth came flooding in. As tears filled my eyes, I thought, "This is the only home I've got." I was with old friends who were doing what they did. And it felt like home.


So our home can be with others. Take some time today to reflect on those you value on earth and consider if you feel "at home" around them. Genesis 1 shows God creating the world in phases. Many times He saw that his creations were "good" (Gen. 1:4,10,12,18,21, and 25) When Adam was alone in the garden, God said for the first time it was "not good" that Adam was alone. Then God added Eve to Adam's world (perhaps saving what was truly best for last ;) ) He called this union "very good." God did not want Adam to be alone. And he doesn't want you to be alone either. The love of a friend can be worth more than all of the possessions in the world. Song of Solomon 8:7 says it this way, "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised." This kind of intimacy cannot be bought. It is invaluable. Proverbs 17:17 says it this way. "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." Is this simple? Yes. Is it easy? No. It will require risk. To be intimate requires vulnerability, but it is necessary for life in your relationships. Otherwise, we are just living instead of thriving. One way to look at intimacy is allowing others to see the real you. A play in words says: Intimacy requires into-me-see or see-into-me.


I was not really close with another person as a child. My siblings were seven or more years older than me. So I remember spending a lot of my time alone. I remember building forts for two opposing armies and having pretend battles in the woods back behind our house. I found joy in comic books and horror fiction. But there was not much relational "intimacy" until I hit college. I got real with a few of my friends and I met regularly with a staff member from Campus Crusade for Christ. Our meetings were simple. He asked me what I was learning, and he told me what he was learning. A simple exercise that led to some pretty awesome conversations. These new relationships laid a pretty good foundation that led me into a marriage with pretty healthy communication habits.


Again in Genesis, when disobedience entered the picture, one of the consequences was that Adam and Eve lost their garden. They were cast out of the only home they had known until then. They not only lost their home, but their relationship with God was forever changed as well. But we can look at that in a blog yet to come.


So, how are you? My prayer is that you are blessed with healthy relationships. When I talk along these lines, perhaps no one comes to your mind. You draw a blank. Or maybe you have just ended a long relationship and you feel bitter or jaded when I bring up the idea of forging a new friendship (or friendships). Possibly you have been trying to numb your personal pain, hitting the "reality ejection seat" with a buzz, an outright high or various sexual exploits. Well ... that proverbial hole in your heart will not be filled by anyone except God. No matter what despondent situation you are in, lift up your eyes. God can. He is faithful. He is in the redeeming business.


Consider seeking out a church family or other healthy Christian friendships and be real with them. Allow them to be honest and real with you as well. "You've got to be a friend to make a friend." God bless you as you search out new healthy relationships or solidify the ones you’ve got.