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

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
and….
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
unconditionally.
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.
‪#‎istillbelieve‬

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!

FOR THOSE WHO HURT. WHO GRIEVE. WHO DOUBT. WHO BELIEVE.

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.  

IMG_8275

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.

I am not Religious

I AM NOT RELIGIOUS

I am not religious.                                                                                                                               I AM a Christ-follower.
                                                                                                      There is a difference.

I hope, when you meet me, you will see JOY.                     
                                           Invitation, not condemnation.
                                                                                             Spark, not cynicism.
                                                                                                       Energy, not apathy.                                                                                                          Hope, not despair.
                                                                                                    Confidence.. not ego.                                                                                                  Assurance, not pride.

That being said..                                                                                                                       I am a Sinner.

Imperfect.                                                                                                                        Stained. Hurtful, at times.                                                                                                  Angry. Bitter or Passive-aggressive.                                                                              Insecure. Prideful. Self-destructive.                                                                                        In need of forgiveness.                                                                                                        Yet, at the same time, knowing…                                                                                         I… am… FORGIVEN.

Graced. Given a fresh start.                                                                                                 Each time. Any time. Every time. I ask.

And THIS… enables me… compels me…. directs me … frees me… lifts me…                     to LOVE.

I am not religious.                                                                                                                     I am a Christian.                                                                                                                 There is a difference.

live laugh love

Pastor and Dad Thoughts After Watching “The Bachelor”

Blondie #2 (my younger daughter) and I keep up on The Bachelor together. I know that may sound weird, but it actually provides good Dad/Daughter conversations about dating, guy/girl relationships, etc.
I haven’t spoken to my daughter about this episode yet. And I know she already knows this, so this is more for others in this stage of life. Here is my general thought after watching this evening’s episode and seeing beautiful young women depart in tears, not chosen, and blaming themselves, and saying they wish they knew what it was because if they knew, they would “fix it”. Here is my my pastoral and fatherly word to all young people.. men or women .. who are in that wonderful, delightful, terrifying, exciting, embarrassing, deflating, exhilarating time of life known as “dating”…

Know This:

You do NOT need to “FIX” anything. You are a wonderful, intentionally-brought-into-the-world-by-a-God-who-LOVES-you creation of wonder, intelligence and beauty. You are a marvel… as YOU. NOT as someone else who you may be tempted to think you are supposed to be or need to be.

Dad and C & C

Do NOT let the world (or even another person) define you or your worth, your “beauty” or your value. God created you to be YOU.. .and the more you grow in confidence of who that wonder, YOU, IS… the more your joy and beauty (inner and outer) will radiate to the world. You do not need to be “fixed,” dear people looking for the love of your life. You are already the whole package.

So, be YOU. Develop YOU. Grow in YOU.. and let Christ shine in and through you, and that love.. that RIGHT love.. WILL enter your life… in God’s perfect and purposeful time and place.

You are loved.

+ Pastor Jonathan, Dad, Friend