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

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.

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 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!

Singing in the Rain

Singing in the RaidSinging in the Rain has always been one of my favorite movies.

I have a very distinct childhood memory of staying up late into the wee hours of the morning, with my Mother, watching Gene Kelly, Donal O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds sing and dance their hearts out in this movie during a PBS special broadcast. I was quite young at the time, but it made a permanent impression.. and helped shape my life-long love of musical theater.

Like everyone else who loves this movie, my favorite scene is the actual “Singin’ in the Rain” song and dance by Gene Kelly.  It’s a celebration of life that seems to be universally beloved.

Last night, as I sometimes do, I made a “spontaneous chat” video and posted it on my Facebook wall. Thought I would share it with you here as well.  If you watch it, you’ll see why my appreciation of this iconic scene runs deep. It means a great deal to me.

Hope you are doing some singin’ and dancin’ today yourself… whether in the rain OR the sun. It’s all good. And it’s all a gift.  Enjoy!

Here’s the video clip…

Singin’ in the Rain

The Moment

I think a lot of my non-Christian friends would love Jesus, if they met him. And I think a lot of my Christian friends might be surprised by who He is, when they do meet him, face to face, one day. I will be too. I have no doubt.  10494933_10154349376585711_6881386430041141523_o

I am guessing the whole “meet Jesus in Heaven” moment is going to stun all of us. Whatever box we’ve put God in… and whatever pre- or mis-conceptions we have, Jesus will surprise us all.

I think there might be some fear at first. Who are we to think there would not be? And then there will be a welcome love beyond anything we have ever known here on earth. Even the best of welcomes. A “flood of welcome.”

And more “life-per-second” than anything we have experienced thus far. An overwhelming sensation of being… ALIVE.

Reality and accountability too. An honest look-back at our lives, but with a driving force that looks to the future, not to the past. Accountability bathed in forgiveness. A radiant soul-penetrating forgiveness that does not deny the truth but immediately — after acknowledging — rushes in with an avalanche of grace.

And yes, this too: A transforming love. An “it-all-doesn’t-really-matter-as-much-as-I-thought-it-did-and-in-fact-I-am-not-even-sure-I-need-answers-to-the-most-intesnse-and-bitterness-filled-or-heartbreaking-of-questions-that-I-was-waiting-to-ask-God-when-I-got-to-this-moment” kind of heart-searing love.

What a moment that will be.

A little scary.

Out-of-this-world intense.

A whole lot of awesome.

“Pastor Jonathan” and “Pastor Jana” … 20 Years

Jana and I received cards from Luther Seminary this past week congratulating us (and honestly, reminding us) that June 28 was the 20th anniversary or our ordinations. I remember that night, two decades ago, at Roseville Lutheran, when so many of you joined us for that Holy moment. Thanks to many of you, family and friends…for being there then, and thanks for being there over the past twenty years.339120_10151121457525711_477638853_o

There have been some extreme highs in ministry, where one just sits back and is in awe of being called by God to the role of pastor. To those of you whom we were blessed to have as parishioners in the congregations where we served …. and now, to those of you we meet and do life with at Mount Carmel and through Kairos Consulting and Paraphrase Theatre … (and even, in its own way, those of you we keep up with and share life with here on Facebook) … thanks for inviting us into the moments of incredible joy in your life…. babies born, children and adults baptized, wacky unpredictable children’s messages, high schoolers confirmed, unforgettable retreats and mission trips, sharing the Gospel through spoken word, drama, music, art, and dance …. learning to serve in small groups and using our spiritual gifts. Learning to love and forgive. Weddings, anniversaries, renewed health, prayers for healing answered with a yes from God. What a privilege to be invited in to share those moments with you.

And what an HONOR it has been to be invited in to your darkest moments. Last days in the hospital, broken marriages — some repaired, some not… betrayals, self-doubt, addictions, questions, loss of faith, cancer, and of course… death. What an absolute gift.. hard as it may be at times… to stand beside you and pray as you say goodbye to those you love and lean in to the hope of the Gospel. We have laughed with you, cried with you, rejoiced with you, hurt with you, grown with you.

You have changed us, witnessed to us and made us stronger pastors through your honesty, forgiveness, patience and your faith in the midst of the tears.

And you… so many of you… have held us up in laughter and hugs and meals delivered and babysitting and financial support and sharing of scripture and songs when we could not sing and prayers when we could not pray.. and in private conversations of encouragement and words of affirmation when we could have given up… and oh, the outpouring of support as we walked through three very difficult journeys of serious health scares… first for me and then, twice, for Jana. Unbelievable support that reminded us that there IS a God of love, even when we might have, in our weakness been tempted to doubt. You have been there for us.

And for those who carried us through two very difficult times when fellow Christians and leaders in the church… or in the pew, in their weakness, failed to love well, with the love and faithfulness of Christ… you were there for us then too, and perhaps most powerfully. And you need to know that love and support is still very vivid in our minds and hearts, and we are eternally grateful.

Thanks, too, to my theatre friends.. both in the church and in the community theaters in the areas where we have lived and served. You often kept me balanced and healthy and laughing, when life and this calling could, at times, get heavy. You let me “play” and enjoy community and do the thing I love, with people I love. I am more grateful for that than you may realize. I VALUE our friendships and hope they will continue to grow.

Thanks, too, to Christina and Caitlyn. You have lived through one crazy ride… being a part of these callings, even though you never had a choice in the matter. You have seen your parents at their best and their worst.. using their strongest giftings and nearly giving in to their darker sin or pain. And yet, you have continued to love.. and to forgive and to understand that this is a very unique calling.. and your parents are human and often weak And yet, most amazing, you have kept the faith.. and continued to shine your lights for Christ SO very strongly in the worlds you run in. You have brought us, and SO many around you, more joy than you will ever know. Thanks for being the brightest spot in “Team Swenson” even though you had to grow up too quickly, at times, as a result of being pastor’s kids and as a result of the health struggles our family has endured. You are the greatest joy of our lives and the greatest reminders of God’s JOY and GRACE. Thank-you.

TH Lighthouse20 years. It has been the most joyful and most difficult of callings. We are grateful, still, to be called.. and grateful to share the journey with so many of you.

God’s peace and joy to you good friends. Carry on in Christ.

+ Jonathan