About Jonathan Swenson

Husband, Father, Friend * Actor, Director, Producer * Pastor, Teacher, Shepherd * Graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College in St Peter, MN (B.A. Psychology, Theatre & Music '88) and Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN (Masters of Divinity '94). Jonathan and his wife, Jana have served congregations in MN and IA the past 18 years. He is now the Director of Paraphrase Theatre - a faith-based theater ministry located in Cedar Rapids, IA. Jana and Jonathan are the proud parents of Christina and Caitlyn.. and the long-suffering owners of the beloved but rascally Daisy.. the Beagle.

Valentine’s Day, 2016

On this Valentine’s Day.You Are Loved
You are loved.

You are a child of God, brought into the world intentionally… with a plan and purpose.

God wants you here. You are beloved by your Creator. God delights in you.

Shoot. Hard truth comes now. Crap!
You are lost in sin. Trapped in it.

You do things you don’t want to do. You don’t do things you want to do. You fail to love, fully. To love God. To love others. To love yourself. Reality. For all of us.
Greater truth now. We need to get to this next. Now. Immediately.
Best truth. Game-changer. Life-changer!

Ready? GET THIS. Here it is…

Let’s say it again. At the very moment that sin wants to rush in.. to define you, to tear at you… to rip your self-worth and self-understanding apart… AT THAT VERY MOMENT: GRACE BREAKS IN INSTEAD. And YOU ARE LOVED BY THE INVENTOR, THE AUTHOR OF LOVE. So this truth NOW defines you: You are loved. And you are redeemed, by Jesus, in and through the Cross. And… this changes everything.

This. Changes. Everything.

It changes your self-understanding. Your reason for being here. Your sense of calling. Your grounding. Your direction. Your future. Your eternity.

And so, it changes, too … your motivation to love others. And your ability to receive THEIR love for you. And your ability to love YOURSELF.

It changes your heart.

This changes YOU.

Hear it. Know it. Jesus loves you. You are forgiven. You are free to be the person God brought you into the world to be.

This changes everything.

And, know this, too.. as an added bonus… You are sanctified and kept in faith by the Holy Spirit. You are empowered, called to share that same love with those around you. You get to love people! Not for what they can do for you, but because you know you are loved, and BECAUSE you know this, this love for others flows out of you naturally. It is the Spirit’s work in you. And there is great freedom and joy in this too.

Don’t doubt this truth: You are loved. Jesus loves you.

Don’t doubt it! Don’t ever forget it.
Don’t ever let this reality stop defining you.
God wants you here.
And God is with you.


SURVIVOR STORY – A Powerful, Deeply Moving Presentation for your Church, Retreat or Conference

Jana Swenson is a two-time Breast Cancer Survivor.

She and her husband Jonathan (both ordained ministers) have begun to tell their story of her battle with this terrible disease. In this very moving presentation, “SURVIVOR STORY”, Jana shares portions of her prayer journal, and together the Swensons discuss their fears, questions, doubts and the ways in which God has revealed his Grace in the midst of the storm.

C and C Makeup with Jana During CancerJana and Jonathan share their journey with humor, tears, wisdom and great
honesty in a deeply personal and engaging way that helps listeners identify their own spiritual, emotional and relational needs when in crisis.

The presentation is powerfully relevant to anyone who has been (or is currently IN) a time of pain, loss, fear or grief. It is also helpful for pastors, social workers, health-care professionals, chaplains, educators, volunteer ministers, parents and grandparents (anyone who cares for others intentionally) and anyone who longs to be more deeply aware of God’s presence in situations where it would be easy to think God is absent.  

11822762_10155927879630711_1625316169436860615_nThe Swensons are available for churches, retreats, leadership gatherings,
hospitals, conferences, you name it. As part of this presentation, Jonathan (a trained actor) is also able, depending on time, to bring dramatic monologues and other elements to their sharing to offer variety, humor and interest. They have shared their story at Pastor’s Conferences, Leadership Gatherings, Hospitals and Churches around the country.


Here’s What People Are Saying…     “Jonathan and Jana shared their story at our annual Psychosocial Cancer Care Conference at the Nassif Community Cancer Center. This conference is for all types of providers involved in cancer care. Physicians, midlevel’s, nurses, social workers, etc. I am so grateful they shared their journey with us, and so were the over 60 people in the room that day. It was powerful, personal, informative and eye opening, but above all, it had God’s hands all over it. The raw pain, emotion and even humor that came through them as they told the story was not only instructive, but inspiring. It gave a real life, fresh perspective in how cancer affects both the patient and the caregiver and how faith in God can make a difficult journey bearable. Anyone going through a difficult time needs to hear this story, caregivers of any kind would benefit greatly from their story. More than anything though, seeing God’s love and grace at the forefront of their entire journey is what makes their story so special, touching and a message that NEEDS to be shared!”

Emi J Chapman RN
Development Manager/Cancer Services, Unity Point- St. Luke’s Foundation
Nassif Community Cancer CenterCedar Rapids, IA 52402

“The Swensons are wise, capable and kingdom-minded leaders in the church. I’ve had the privilege of working alongside of them in a number of settings through the years, and count them among some of the best people I have ever worked with anywhere. They will be a blessing for your event.”

Dr. Bill Donahue
Associate Professor, Trinity Int’l University; Formerly Director of Group Life and Leader Development, Willow Creek Church & Association, Barrington, IL

For more information about bringing Jana and Jonathan to your church, retreat, or event, please contact Jonathan at jonathan@paraphrasetheatre.com or call 319-431-9934.


Philippians (Getting Started) — JOY in the Midst of the “Where ARE you in this, God?” Moments of Life

I am experimenting with journaling my way through Philippians.  I know myself well enough to know that I am not going to write every day. Maybe not every week. But I am going to write.

IMG_9998It may be just a little. It may be more some days. I may cover a whole section on Monday, and the next Thursday we may only cover one verse.
I’m not going to set any specifics. I am just going to commit to sharing my thoughts as I go… partly as a way to keep myself accountable in my Bible reading… and partly to encourage you.
This will not be a scholarly journal. It is unlikely to be very academic or in-depth.  It will be intentionally simple and straight-forward, and… hopefully… brief. I will just tell you the first thoughts that come to mind in my own heart and refections as I read the text. And I will trust that God will use that for something for YOU too.

If this is good for you, great!  If not, don’t follow along. Just seems like it may be a God prompting for 2016. So… for what it is worth…  here we go.

A BRIEF word of Intro, today, to get us started. Philippians is a book of Joy. It is one that I hold close because it reminds me of my mother.. who loved the concept of JOY and exemplified it, without trying, in her life.  Always.

Paul writes these letters from a prison cell. Things are not going well for him.

Did I mention the book is about JOY?

So… does it ever feel to you like your life is stuck? Or going south? Or you are locked-in to a fate, an outcome, a relationship, a job, a future.. that is NOT what you had planned and dreamed for yourself?  Yeah?  Do you sometimes just stop in your track
s and say, “God, what is the deal? Where ARE you in this?”

Yeah?  Me too.

So.. I am thinking this book will probably have a few things to say to us. I am looking forward to jumping in with you.

See you tomorrow… or next Thursday… or whenever the Spirit moves…

+ Jonathan

www.mountcarmelministries.com   www.paraphrasetheatre.com

Postgame Analysis

I woke up to thoughts of disappointment about the Vikings’ play-off loss.

Not surprising. As a life-long fan it truly is unbelievable how many ways we have lost these games when we thought we had it wrapped up. Photo on 1-10-16 at 12.36 PM

Then I reflected for a bit, on how “not-funny” some of the comments and posts I have received from Packer fans and other fans have been. It is not their fault. I have sent several similar posts and comments to them when the tables were turned. I am rethinking that approach to “gamesmanship” now. I don’t want to be that person anymore. Part of it is funny, and part of it is cruel. I don’t think the funny is worth the cruel anymore.

Then, I let some things that I was wrestling with all afternoon and evening after the loss sink a little deeper into my conscious thought.

Why is it that this can bother me this much? As a friend and fellow-Vikings fan wrote, “These are certainly first-world problems.”

I have dear friends who are dying of cancer. Or their spouse or other loved ones are. In the past year alone, I have had three different sets of friends lose a child in tragic ways. I speak at my events and bookings about the reality of children dying every day of hunger. Terrorism is on the rise. The list goes on and is known too well.

The world is hurting. And I am lost in the “pain” of losing a game.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not “beating myself up” over this. I realize there is a disappointment that is okay. This is an escape.. a get-away… and when you follow a team so closely and get so committed it is a legitimate disappointment. And that’s okay to name it as such. So, no follow-up comments needed along that line.

But disappointment, like pain, is relative. And I do want to process this all in the context of what really matters as I consider how I invest in life.

So, this morning, as I relive this relatively small disappointment in life, each time I feel the tinge of Purple Sadness, I am going to try to turn those thoughts to a prayer for those who are TRULY hurting. A prayer that they would remember that there is a God who walks with them in the very real, the very INTENSE… and yes, the TRULY PAINFUL… pain. And I will try to turn from my self-focused obsession with a football team, to things that actually matter. That people who need to know that they are not alone would feel comforted. That people who are hungry would eat. That people who are dying would know that you are on the other side, waiting for them, Lord.

Thanks for the fun and entertainment of professional and college sports, God. It is fun… and it is painful… and that is okay. But help me to keep it in perspective. And to turn the TV off when I need to, to instead focus on you.

Here’s to next year, when I will again sing the praise of the Purple.

Help me to not be obnoxious to other fans. And help me keep it in perspective .. the losses and the wins.
You are in every aspect of LIFE, Lord.
Help me keep YOU at the center.
To see the things that matter most.

What It Is


The thing is, it’s not about being good. Or good enough. Or better than.IMG_9998
It’s really not about a book of rules or a list of regulations, though so many think it is.
And the thing is, it’s not about dressing up, or posing or pretending to be something that you know you are not.

And it’s not about separating yourself from those who are seen as less than.
It’s not about avoiding the world.
(It’s also not about avoiding responsibility.)

And get this…It’s really not about “not being drunk” and “not cursing” and not “not doing” anything. (Though many of us think we were told that. Or were.)

And actually, and this is important: it is also not about “anything goes” or “it’s all relative.” Truth does matter. (Love is really love, not when it is blind, but when eyes are wide open.. and they see… and they love anyway.)

So, please know this: It’s not about condemning those who WE feel don’t get it. It is not about judgement. (That’s not our job.)
At the same time, it’s also not about ignoring sin. Or pretending there is no such thing. Or that sin doesn’t matter either. (It does. It kills us. And it kills our connection to each other. But notice, it does NOT kill our connection to God.)

It’s not about weakness or lifelessness or lack of joy (or fun, for that matter).
It’s not about perfect people or people trying to be perfect.
And it’s not about boredom, or lack of backbone or excuses to face reality.
That being said, it’s not about not having doubts.

The FACT is…
it is the most REAL relationship of truth you will ever experience.
And it is humbling and hard and exhilarating and challenging and joy-filled and frustrating and life-giving.

It is about getting over ourselves and giving it all away.

And it will take your heart, and mold it and refine it in the fire and turn you into a new person…
and you will die, a little… again and again and again.. through the course of your life.

And in this dying, God will…
forgive you
claim you
reshape you
mold you
and grow you.

God will grow you.

God will grow you into…
more love
more thought of others
more giving
less you.

More of HIM.

This is LIFE.

That’s what Christ is about.

That’s what Jesus is.

Additional Christian Speakers, Musicians and Entertainers for your Consideration

Friends, I am beginning to promote some other Christian speakers and artists, assisting in helping them find bookings where they can share their message and use their God-given talents to share Jesus. Along the lines of what I do with Paraphrase, but in their own way. If you are looking for a good speaker or artist for a church event, retreat, conference, etc… I encourage you to check out these gifted people. I will list them here, and then post links to their websites below, in the individual comments section. I will soon be adding them to my Paraphrase website and will list additional information there as well.

JANA SWENSON2015-08-02 19.46.39Yep.. my wife. I am kind of partial to this one. We are beginning to share the story of Jana’s battle with cancer and our journey as two pastors.. and two people of faith… as we took that journey, twice now. We share openly and candidly about the fears, joys, struggles, doubts and how God has carried us through.

DEBBIE GRIFFITH –   Debbie Events Photo                 Maybe you have heard her on the radio, with her ministry, “Everyday Matters”. Debbie is a spunky, creative and down-to-earth truth-speaker who blends dramatic characters into her talks. She would love to come to your event! Debbie was recently the keynote speaker for our fall women’s retreat here at Mount Carmel, and people loved her. Her positive, fun-loving message of the Gospel will grab your heart and refresh your spirit. www.debbiegriffith.com

CURT CLONINGER – This is the amazing artist who has been the backbone behind my ability to launch Paraphrase Theatre. The playwright of Witnesses and Celebrate the Child, Curt is nationally and internationally know. He has several other pieces he performs beyond the two you may know through what I do. Curt is a legend in the Christian Drama Ministry world. Why would you not bring him to your church or event? www.curtcloninger.com

THEATER OFF THE CUFF12226879_10153330396923160_1470790187_nThese guys are hilarious. They are a dynamic duo of Christian entertainment. They travel throughout the country appearing at churches and cooperate events alike faith-based… get this… musical theater improv. Check out their website. If you are looking for some fun for your event that has depth to it as well, this might be who you want to bring in. Good, clean fun served up by two men who love the Lord.  www.theateroffthecuff.com

JESSY VERA  – Jessy is a gifted Christian artists and worship leader. I hired him at the church I was serving several years ago, and he is rock solid both in his hard work and integrity and with his worship leading giftedness. He is most often committed to his work at the church, but now and then may be able to join you for a special retreat, event or conference where you need a guest worship leader and/or speaker. www.jessyvera.com

The Lord is using these folks for good things. I know they would be a blessing to you. Send me a message at jonathan@paraphrasetheatre.com if you are interested in connecting with them.

And, by the way, I am still available to come to your event too. I trust God will get us all to the right places and events to serve His purposes at the right time!

+ Jonathan

The Heart of God and Being a MN Vikings Fan

Nothing has taught me more about the patient, passionate love of Christ than…
1. Being a Parent – I better understand what it means to love
2. Being Married – I better understand my need for forgiveness and
to forgive.
3. Being a Vikings Fan – I understand what it means to suffer.

Christmas Show Live Performance DVD’s ARE HERE!

“Celebrate the Child” DVD’s Are Here!

Hot off the press, you can now order your own copy of “Celebrate the Child”… the Christmas drama I perform each year during the Advent and Christmas seasons. Written by Curt Cloninger and performed with his permission, this delightful and touching drama blends a variety of characters and carols for a deeply meaningful sharing of the Christmas story.  CtC Covers and DVD

I’ve added a bit of additional content and a message to this wonderful piece written by my friend and theatrical mentor, Curt. In the latter part of the program I speak about the reality of Jesus coming into our lives as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace” and I encourage those listening to bring the gift of the Christ-child home with us to live in our hearts and lives throughout the year.

If you would like more information to consider bringing this production to your church, retreat or other event this year, please see the “TOURING PRODUCTIONS” page on this website and click on “Celebrate the Child”.

Thanks to all who came to the live performance this past December. It was a wonderful evening and I was so grateful to see so many friends and supporters there. You are a great gift and your encouragement and support is extremely appreciated.  DVD Front Cover

ORDER YOUR OWN COPY! If you would like to order your own copy of the DVD (or if you already ordered a DVD on the night of filming and have not yet received it!) please write to me at jonathan@paraphrasetheatre.com or call me at 319-431-9934 and we will get one to you immediately! The cost is $20 which includes postage. If you would like 2 or more, please lt me know and I will share discounts for multiple purchases. Some folks are already buying copies to give as Christmas presents next year. Fun idea.. and, of course, this helps to keep Paraphrase Theatre up and running. I appreciate your support, my fiends. Enjoy the DVD and Celebrate the Child!


Life is full. God is good.
Life is hard. God is good.

Sometimes, God shows up in powerful and obvious ways.

God is good.

Sometimes, though, I wonder where God is.

God seems unresponsive. Or uncaring. Or uninvolved … at least in the ways I would like Him to be.

In those moments, I need help believing… or trusting… that God is good.  


And yet, I DO believe this to be true.

Even when God seems absent.

So, Lord… I believe. Help my unbelief.

For you ARE …  Good.

This I believe to be true, even when I do not. And this, too, is your gift.

And so… even as I wrestle with faith…
Even when the questions and the void seem bigger than the answers
or my definition of proof…. even then….  I know…  by your Spirit…    I KNOW…    that You …   are good.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. For you are good.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. For you are good.

You are good. You are Good.

You are …  Good.