Our Power is the Good News that Jesus Christ Brings
Jesus knew that to put sin and Satan to death, He would have to die Himself. The greatest act of love happened over a period of 33 years, culminating in His death, with His success proven by His resurrection. That act of love cost Jesus everything and, in giving everything, He bought the right to cancel sin, death and give new life. Jesus Christ gives justification, forgiveness, and a new life to all who have saving faith in Him. Jesus bought the right to restore the planet to its rightful purpose: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever!
Why So Much Evil?
"We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." The Bible
Humanity lives in a schizophrenia of trying to love itself, and at the same time doing incredibly cruel, evil things to the most vulnerable. The root sin of all of this is rebellion against God. Humanity will serve any master, as long as it isn't God.
The human race does vile things to itself: aborts its babies, commits sexual immorality, manipulates people with religions, abuses, and enslaves or exploits the vulnerable. The whole planet is groaning in the pain that we inflict on ourselves. The root of it all is a refusal to submit to God as our rightful Authority.
Fight Back the Darkness
"For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." The Bible
Our battle is a battle against spiritual forces which wish to hold every human in bondage and darkness. As we bring the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ into the darkness, the evil spirits respond in battle. With our weapons, God both pushes back the spiritual powers and He brings new life to humans planet-wide.
Our main weapons are: Truth, Prayer, Love, and Humility. With these weapons we resist Satanic forces, expose their lies, and bring bondage-breaking salvation to sinners.
Since we live on a battlefield, we sustain deep scars. Evil has no conscience and does not fight with sportsmanship. Evil attacks from within and without. It attacks from the outside through manipulation, temptations, and distractions.It tries to get in through relationships, selfish ambitions, pride, thought patterns, dreams, and burn-out. It uses our sinful natures to attack us emotional and spiritually. That is why we depend on the arm of God to bring love, truth, and justice. With God as our strength and protector and with His word as our thought corrector, we wield the sword of Light!
New Cracks Spread
Through the constant battles, we pick up new cracks in our clay vessels. We could have avoided those cracks by not entering the battle. But, in a strange, humble way, those cracks seem to leak more love, humility and gospel light out, thus spilling more hope into this dark world.
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. " The Bible
Victorious Against the Darkness
We live victorious lives because each time the Holy Spirit lights up another clay pot near us, we gain a brother or sister who will enjoy an eternity of glorifying God and enjoying Him. Jesus has chosen to extend His Kingdom one soul at a time, rescuing each of us from the clutches of the kingdom of darkness. We engage the battle on this groaning planet as the Kingdom of Light spreads to the darkest corners of humanity. This conquest against evil will culminate in the return of Christ! At that time, the universe will be folded up like a used-up jacket and burned. Jesus will create a new universe, one inhabited by all citizens of the Kingdom of Light. There will be no groaning, no rebellion, no slavery, no selfishness, no humanism, no sin or darkness there... Only billions of people living out their purpose in perfection: To glorify God in their lives, talents, and relationships and to enjoy Him forever!
Please Pray for Us
My sister, Sharie, was reading through When Helping Hurts for the 2nd time when I visited her at Christmas. So, I did what every younger brother would do: I immediately ordered the book on Amazon. Can you imagine becoming a missionary and then hurting people?
The goal of helping people in poverty is always the same, regardless of location or culture: To glorify God in their lives, families, communities, and work.
That is the guiding light for all work with people living in poverty. Is what I'm doing putting him/her on a trajectory to reflect the light of Jesus Christ?
Empowering vs. Enabling
Broken community systems, fractured family values, distorted worldviews and twisted religions synthesize with personal sin to break and bankrupt individuals. These individuals are strong but start to feel worthless and fatalism grips their lives. The question is how to help rise individuals and communities from spiritual bankruptcy. The simple answer is empower, don't further enable. The power of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that He gives a new identity, a spiritual life reborn to reflect God's glory, and the strength to live that life. Since the goal is for Christ-followers to glorify God with their lives, work, and talents, the answer is to partner with God in that process.
Although evangelism is a valuable piece, slow and steady discipleship is needed for personal and generational change. Without a heart change, a Biblical worldview, and a lifestyle change, the culture of brokenness will continue to destroy.
Many of us approach people in poverty with money, food, and building materials. In emergency situations, these are empowering. In long-term poverty situations, these can be enabling. There are several reasons for this: 1. The giver becomes a patron and paternalism ensues. 2. The receiver's feelings of worthless, inadequacy are reinforced. 3. The local community is disempowered. 4. A wet wipe is being used to clean a wound that is gangrene.
This is because relief is not needed by many people in poverty. Instead, they need rehabilitation or development. In this case rehabilitation means to get back to the level they were at before the tragedy struck. Development means to take a person or community to the next step.
When Helping Hurts has advice for how to give relief and how to rehabilitate and develop people in poverty and communities. Read the book for those ideas. My take-away from this book is:
1. Mulit-generational change takes a slow and steady approach of building relationships.
2. The answer is life-on-life discipleship and Biblical education that impacts daily life choices.
3. Without repenting of our sins, we'll continue to be broken and paternalism results. We all only have one Patron: Jesus Christ.
4. Empower and equip those we came to serve. In essence work ourselves out of a mission. They must replace us.
5. Local communities must make investment in all development projects, either financial or sweat equity.
6. This is impossible without the strength, vision, and support of Jesus Christ and his world-wide body of followers.
How much of your internal identity is created through your relationship to your dad and mom? Inside, we all crave a strong, doting dad and loving, caring mom. God has created us to grow up in a nurturing family. When one of those pieces is missing, absent, or broken, children can grow up in dysfunction. Can kids grow up in challenging situations and thrive? Yes, but I don't think that is the usual.
God created the family to disciple and grow children into healthy adults who love God and love others. The primary job that God gives parents is to teach their children God's commandments and how to apply those in their daily lives.
Training a child to understand the world through God's eyes and apply God's truths to each life situation is a full time responsibility. When one piece is missing, the child suffers. When Dad isn't providing and leading, the child suffers. When Mom isn't nurturing and teaching, the child suffers. There is a constant tension because parents are sinners who struggle to live Biblically.
In the picture above, I'm reading to children, some of whom do not have parents in their lives to train and nurture them. Their parents have made the choices to leave them to aunts, cousins, and grandma to raise, and they have physically left to find work in far away places. Many do this so their kids can eat consistent meals and go to good schools, hopefully to escape the poverty cycle. What happens to many children is that they grow up with fractured identities and feel disconnected. They grow up in need of parents who teach them God's ways and impart a healthy identity. They grow up in need of fathers who lead them and mothers who nurture them.
Parenting priorities... In the above graphic, I'm trying to illustrate a Biblical approach to making parenting decisions. Of course, providing for our families is as important as teaching them spiritually, partly because it is in our providing that we model Christ's provision. But, when we replace #2 with #3, that is when the kids will start to suffer.
"I pray to God every day and nothing happens." Al told me on Tuesday morning. He had just described to me how his family is destitute on another island and he hadn't sent money home for over a month. One of his wives wanted a divorce and another had left the children at a sister-in-law's house and not returned. I listened to his story and heard the hopelessness, as I sat on the sand talking with this beach vendor. What could I say? I said, "Jesus is the only One that I know who can help you. Jesus is the only one who can handle a problem that big."
The truth is that all seven billion humans on this planet are impoverished and spiritually broken. It's easy for those who have financial resources to feel strong and secure. The truth is that all of us are born into spiritual poverty and need the hope of Jesus Christ. We all need Jesus Christ as our mediator, to remove our sins and mediate our prayers to God the Father.
Physical poverty exposes the truth of spiritual poverty. When you look into the eyes of a woman who chooses prostitution to put food on the table. Or, see the hopelessness in the face of a young boy who is shaking a water bottle on your windshield to try to clean it for a few pesos. When you sit with a broken husband who can't provide for his family. Poverty separates mothers from their children. Poverty sends husbands away from their homes in search of a meager income. Poverty breaks children and adults alike. Why? Because all humans are designed to use their lives, talents, skills, and relationships to glorify God. Broken, impoverished people can't glorify God with their lives and work, whether physically rich or poor. That is the message of the gospel.
Glad tidings of Hope: Jesus Christ came to earth and perfectly glorified God in every aspect of His life. He purchased the right to replace death with life, spiritual poverty with spiritual wealth, and brokenness with healing. Jesus Christ purchased the right to forgive Al for his sins. With His life, Jesus purchased the right to mediate Al's prayers so that God will hear and answer his prayers. Jesus Christ purchased the right to credit to Al's account His own perfect record of glorifying God in His life, work, and relationships. Jesus Christ purchased the right to begin healing Al inside, so that Al can begin to live a life that reflects the characteristics of His Creator: Love, Joy, Justice, Peace, Faithfulness. That's the hope of the gospel. "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Jesus Christ.
"The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them." Isaiah 9:2
Evangelism and discipleship are the answer. It is through evangelism that Al can hear the good news. It is through discipleship that Al can learn how to build a life that brings glory to God in his family, life, and work.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely Iam with you always, to the very end of the age.”
I'm willing to move where ever God wants us to." Gina said the other evening, as we were discussing our lives here in the Philippines.
Submission to God for an unknown future is a difficult lifestyle of trust in action. Last year, I asked my family to leave our predictable, safe, and comfortable life in Oregon. I asked them to leave friends, ladies' Bible studies, children's church, AWANAs, their pets, Foster Lake, bike rides as a family, the BMX park, their library, homeschool coop, their Fossil Distance Learning teacher, and their church. And, you know what? By God's grace, they did.
God has a calling on our lives. We've followed that calling, first as a married couple and then as a family, for almost 18 years. God has always, always provided for us financially, emotionally, and spiritually. The calling of Jesus in our lives has always been to reach the lost, and disciple believers.
We're in a vulnerable place now in our timeline of following God's calling because we've given up the safety net of family, friends, and employment. In a few years, we'll probably be in a more predictable season. For now, we walk by faith.
Like in the States, there are amazing times, as well as stressful experiences. Unlike in the States, these experiences seem to dig deeper emotionally. This requires us to sink our roots deeper into the word of God, and into the character of Jesus Christ. Walking into the unknown requires faith in our known, yet unseen God.
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. 1 Peter 1:8
Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails. Proverbs 19:21
Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. Psalm 126:5-6
The Christian life requires us to crucify ourselves in order to live out life that Christ has given us. For most of us, this is a slow death to self as we walk our path, holding the hand of the Holy Spirit tightly. Our move to the mission field magnified this reality for the moment, making us more aware of the need to crucify our own desires.
Where ever you are in your timeline of grace, dig deep into your relationship with Jesus Christ. As you build your experiential trust in and faith in God, you'll move forward in living out the life of service to Christ. Put on your armor of light and bring hope to those who live in darkness.
We're at war with Satan and his evil forces of darkness. Everywhere you look, people are living in spiritual darkness, trapped by choices, diseases, devices, their past, vices, and empty religions. The kingdom of Satan spread across the planet when the light went out in mankind's spiritual heart 6000 years ago. Every human since has been born into this kingdom of darkness, doomed to pursue humanism instead of God. The kingdom of Satan is held back temporally by the common grace of God here on earth, or all of the Earth would be a chaos of rape, killing, slavery, and theft.
The kingdom of Satan is being replaced by the kingdom of Jesus Christ. 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ showed up and crushed the legal right of Satan to rule. After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the kingdom of Jesus Christ became a world-wide war for the hearts and souls of humanity. The kingdom of Jesus transcends political boundaries and finds its way into the darkest corners of humanity. Every time a soul springs alive to produce faith in Christ and a life of worship, the kingdom of Satan loses ground.
"For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against persons without bodies—the evil rulers of the unseen world, those mighty satanic beings and great evil princes of darkness who rule this world; and against huge numbers of wicked spirits in the spirit world." Ephesians 6:12
If you go to battle, you will be wounded. Christians throughout the ages have known this. As a general rule, if you ignore the battle, you'll be left alone. But, that is not the calling for citizens of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. In fact, our calling is to go to the ends of the Earth and make disciples. As we carry the Holy-Spirit empowered gospel into the darkness, as we battle the forces of Satan, we see souls eternally transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light!
All People are Worth the Fight and the Battle Scars
Wounds that never heal will plague the soldier and eventually put him/her on the sidelines. There are several ways that the soldier can heal after the battle... and sometimes during the battle.
How to Heal:
1. Focus on Jesus Christ: Taking our eyes off of ourselves and our own rights and forcing ourselves to think about Jesus and His rights is a powerful antidote to Satan's chemical warfare. Listen to sermons and do personal Bible study about the person, work and jobs of Christ.
2. Living in the Word: Satan wages an information war in our heads and he pumps up the drama around us, targeting us through manipulative relationships and betrayals. We have to take every thought captive and vet it with the truth of the Bible. Dismantle humanistic philosophies that live inside of your mind and replace the with Christ-centered philosophies. If Satan attacks you with self or other-destructive thoughts, reject those and pray them out of your mind.
3. Daily Forgiving and Living in Love: Love covers a multitude of sins against us. We have to give God the right to judge, correct, or forgive the wrongs done to us. Living in the dark abyss of grudges will spawn emotional gangrene. Pray the hard prayers to forgive. Say no to the drama and memories that stir up anger and hurt. Instead, pray for those who have wrongfully hurt you.
4. Remember Who You Are: You were born a rebel against God. You still sin against God hourly. You deserve eternal Hell. But God, because of His great mercy and love for you, made you alive in Christ. Now, YOU have the identity of a child of God.
5. Rest and Relaxation: Create a space for rest and relaxation in your house. Create a drama-free zone where you protect your family from the Satanic attacks through others. Make an extra effort to do family days where your family can experience fun, peace, and a reprieve from the battle.
6. Remember Your Calling: All born-again Christians are soldiers who are called to fight our way into the kingdom of Satan, bringing the good news of freedom and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. This is not a special calling for only some. Soldiers sacrifice comforts to live military life. Remember this and give yourself permission not to pamper yourself. Give yourself permission to sustain injuries. Most of those injuries will not be life-threatening. Put some Duct Tape of the word of God on it, rub some forgiveness into it, and drink a cup of Hope. Arm yourself with the weapons of light and head back in to battle the darkness.
The night is almost over, the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and arm ourselves with the weapons of light. Romans 13:12
This puppy was covered with parasites and had lost a lot of his hair. He was used to being avoided because of he was so nasty. Then, I decided to do something about it. Although I hate parasites and really didn't want to touch him, my daughter and I gave him a bath. It was as simple as that. Cover his mangy coat with pet shampoo, rub it in with our hands, and rinse him off. The problem? We had to touch him. We had to caress the eggs, fleas and ticks swarming his skin. It was gross! I mean really gross! One of the black ticks jumped. But, the flat brown bugs were soggy and creepy.
We have the answer for getting rid of spiritual parasites. But, it requires us to come in contact with people who may not be used to being touched, paid attention to, or loved unconditionally. It requires us to enter into relationships with people who are a sometimes teeming with spiritual ticks. Why? Because it is by making disciples that we rub the shampoo of the gospel of Jesus Christ into the souls of those who are plagued by spiritual parasites.
When we arrived in the Philippines, we lived at a discipleship house and were immersed in ministry 24/7. We were taking on the forces of darkness with our throttle wide open! We saw the hand of God vividly and celebrated His work of hope in the lives of the kids we were working with.
With the birth of 2017, the Master Mechanic told us to book some garage time, where He'd be making a few modifications, not a full rebuild, just some adjustments for a sustainable journey, which included learning Filipino culture, history, and language.
Garage time is punctuated by the reward of exploring the neighborhoods and riding the highways of ministry. As we learn Tagalog and culture, we hit the road to try out our new skills. At times, we open up the throttle on the open road of discipleship, and other times, we test drive Tagalog with neighbors and students. The keys to taking on the kingdom of darkness full throttle with the gospel are language, culture, prayer, and a servant's heart. Something to remember is that time spent with the Mechanic working on modifcations is ministry and is equally important as the time spent on the winding mountain roads of discipleship and evangelism.
Garage time is great for building relationships!
God sent us to the Philippines with a purpose and a plan. He knows the travel itinerary, the routes, tolls to be paid, sights to be seen, tune-ups, travel companions, and destinations. With the Bible as our GPS, and the Holy Spirit as our Navigator, we humbly anticipate God's plans for Swanson Mission here in the Philippines. Strap on the helmet of salvation. Turn on the high-beam of the gospel, we're heading out for a midnight ride... full throttle.
The kingdom of God that most of us are familiar with is the spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ that extends across our spiritually dark planet one converted soul at a time. These souls are hard won because kingdoms are never extended without blood, sweat, and tears being shed. Valiant men and women give their lives to extend kingdoms. Some give their lives in a conflict, and many give their lives by fighting and sacrificing one day at a time.
The unique aspect of the kingdom of Jesus Christ is that the citizens all used to be autonomous from the King. They all used to be rebels, in pursuit of their own power. Then, they have a saving, heart-changing encounter with King Jesus and are changed from the inside out. In a moment, a new citizen is born into the kingdom of light. That citizen begins to live out the priorities of the King: faith, repentance, love for Jesus, love for others, forgiveness, kindness, submission to authority, gentleness, love for justice, mercy, self-control, diligence, patience, and holiness.
This spiritual kingdom isn't one that replaces political powers. Rather, these citizens are commanded by their King to submit to earthly authorities, as long as it does not cause them to sin against the moral character of God. Actually, Christians are commanded to pray for their governments. Many Christians work to bring peace, justice, and morality to their communities. The top-down directive from our King is to Love God, and Love others! That's why we fight for the plight of the widows, orphans, sexually trafficked, abused, and of those in danger of death by abortion. That's why we educate, counsel, coach, and extend helping hands.
When a Christian prays, "Thy kingdom com, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven," he or she is asking God to bring millions more into the kingdom of God through a saving, life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. He/she is asking God to bring justice, peace and mercy into the lives of billions of people across the planet spiritually and physically.
Missions used to be for a few people who went to Bible school, went through a rigorous process with an agency, and eventually made it to a foreign country. Today, missions has become the privilege of every Christian. Everyone has a part to play, no matter his/her confidence, calling, or education.
There are four basic parts:
Sending: These people send missionaries by supporting them in prayer, funds, encouragement, and by validating them. Missionaries need people who believe in them and believe in the mission. They need cheerleaders, financiers, and a team of prayer warriors. Missionaries are vulnerable to physical, spiritual, and emotional attacks, so they need a team of senders who have their backs. A sender feels the weight of the lost. He or she thinks about missions and prays for friends who are missionaries. A sender likes to hear missionaries report at church. Senders usually have pictures of kids and missionaries plastered on their refrigerators. Where will you find a sender? At work carving out a paycheck, so he/she can send a child in Uganda to school and a missionary to the Philippines. Senders are usually making up an Operation Shoebox in October. Some senders pray throughout the day. Others, spend time in the war room. Who are senders? People from all walks of life who support, pray, and encourage.
Welcoming: A welcomer is always looking for opportunities to develop relationships with foreigners and immigrants. These could be overseas foreign workers, students, teachers, illegal immigrants, legal immigrants or tourists. (It's easy to get snared into immigration debates, albeit there is a place for those. We must always remember that our first allegiance is to Christ's kingdom.) A welcomer is a Christian who invites students into his/her home for meals, or befriends a family that owns an ethnic restaurant. Businessmen who relationally evangelize foreign colleagues are welcomers. A welcomer meets an immigrant family at the airport and spends a year helping them acclimate to US society. You may be a welcomer if you befriend an overseas foreign worker and invite them to your house for a birthday party. 62 million immigrants live in the United States and over one million international students study in the US. A welcomer takes advantage of those statistics and makes friends with others.
Going: These are the people who go, either long-term or short-term. They are ordinary people who decide to use their career-potential to live out the gospel as a guest in another community. Many missionaries aren't the smartest or most talented. They are the people who are willing to give up the homeland for a little taste of future glory. The people who go sometimes experience an inward call from the Holy Spirit. Others who go don't have any call. They simply submit to the fact that people in other parts of the world need to hear, so they go. I've met both types on the mission field. How do you know if you should go? One way is to meditate on the command to go.
In the World Today There are 5.5 Million Christian Workers
We're a family on mission to bring the good news of Jesus to the Philippines.