All posts by Jon Swanson

About Jon Swanson

Social media chaplain. Author of "Lent For Non-Lent People" and "A Great Work: A Conversation With Nehemiah For People (Who Want To Be) Doing Great Works." Writer of I help people understand. Understand some of the Bible. Understand what Lent can be about. Understand what it means to follow.

A parental blessing.

(Part two of a reflection on Matthew 17 and Luke 9. Here’s part one. )

Peter, John, and James slept through part of the conversation Jesus had with Elijah and Moses. They woke up as it was ending.

IMG_1069.JPGPeter called out, wanting to build three little huts to celebrate the moment. Luke says that Peter didn’t know what he was saying. But seeing Moses may have reminded him of the feast of the tabernacles where people would camp out, like the people in the wilderness, to remember God’s provision for his people.

And the two men were gone. Or at least they weren’t visible anymore. Because there was a cloud which wrapped around all of them. A bright cloud.

As Peter was ending his speech, there was a voice. “This is my Son. I love him. And I’m well pleased with him. Listen to him.”

It was the affirmation every son longs to hear. A father who expresses his love for and his satisfaction with his son.

I think we can’t underestimate the significance of this blessing. For Jesus, this was a time of encouragement. An opportunity to let down his guard, to let him glory through. An opportunity to talk with people who understood him. An opportunity to be affirmed by his dad.

For the disciples, this was too much. The disciples collapsed to the ground. The two, the cloud, the voice. It was awe-full.

There is no precision of time in this story; we don’t know how long they were on the ground.

“Get up,” Jesus said. “Don’t be afraid.” That’s what he always said to them. But there was something besides the words, something about his tone of voice when he said it that made them lift their heads and look around.

The cloud was gone. There was Jesus, looking like he always did.

“Don’t tell anyone what you have seen,” he said. “Until you have seen the Son of Man raised from the dead.”

And for once, they didn’t.


Part three comes tomorrow. Some lessons.

And if you haven’t purchased Lent for Non-Lent People,  it’s available in paperback and for Kindle (for just 99 cents). If you order the paper version, you can get the Kindle version through the match program for free.

Community for Jesus.

(Part one of a reflection on Matthew 17 and Luke 9)

One day, after they had been together for more than a couple years, Jesus told the disciples he was going to die. They were going to go up to Jerusalem and he would be arrested and killed and rise again. This confused the disciples.

This confused the disciples. It didn’t fit with the great success that they had seen. It didn’t fit with the way they saw Jesus. Peter, in particular, resisted this teaching. And Jesus had to cut off his argument.

IMG_1069.JPGA week or so later, in the normal flow of their work together, Jesus invited Peter, John, and James to go with him up a mountain to pray.

They went.

As Jesus was praying, talking with his Father, he began to shine. Not just in reflected light, but internal light. And then two other people were on the mountain with them.

Moses and Elijah. Two people who went up on mountains to see God. Two people who were heroes of the Jewish people. Literally, the law and the prophet.

Luke says that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah had a conversation.

They talked about what was going to happen to Jesus. Luke says they talked about Jesus’ Exodus, leading people out of slavery into freedom.

In complete contrast to the way the disciples had talked, this conversation was comforting.

Although the scholars who write about this gathering talk about what it means metaphorically and allegorically and theologically,  I think that we shouldn’t miss the relationship part.

Jesus was human enough to need encouragement. To need relationship with people who understood who he was in all of his fullness.

So while he was in conversation with his Father, the Father gave him people who could understand. Old friends who knew life and death. Old friends who had, while alive, talked face to face with God. People who he probably saw before, when he was only God, with God.

Moses, who knew about leading people to freedom, about seeing God in a cloud, about glowing from being with God.

Elijah, who understood being chased by a king, who knew about still small voice conversations with God, who had been taken up in  a chariot rather than dying in the usual way.

The Father knew exactly the encouragement his son needed.

And delivered.


Part two comes tomorrow.

And if you haven’t purchased Lent for Non-Lent People,  it’s available in paperback and for Kindle (for just 99 cents). If you order the paper version, you can get the Kindle version through the match program for free.


I’ve been in lots of conversations this week. Here are some bits.

  1. “I need 300 words,” I said to Nancy as we were on our walk. “There’s one,” she said, gesturing in front of us. “And there’s another.” It’s been a long week.
  2. “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” Paul wrote these words to a church that was picking on each other. I’ve been thinking about them every morning this week. Freedom to serve. I can’t shake it. But I don’t understand it well enough to write about it yet, only to point to it. 
  3. “We always hear about best practices,” a VP from Habitat for Humanity said at a breakfast on Thursday. “But we often learn from worst practices, from the stories people tell us about what didn’t work, about what wasn’t effective.”
  4. “You can downloaIMG_2720.JPGd good preaching. You can’t download thoughtful mentoring.” That’s what Kara Powell said at a workshop on her book Growing Young. It’s a research report on churches that are effective with 15-29 year-olds.
  5. Tomorrow, February 25, Andrew leaves that age group. Which means Nancy and I have been looking at him for three decades now. Happy Birthday.
  6.  I got to spend about 8 hours on Thursday recording podcast conversations for my friend Terry Linhart’s newest book for leaders. The Self-Aware Leader helps leaders look into our blind spots and take practical steps to make changes. It’s a good and hard book.
  7. Lent starts on March 1, Ash Wednesday. If you live close to me, I have some copies of Lent For Non-Lent People for $5. Let me know if you’d like one.


Emotional triage

Some chaplain days have no space. The pager calls you to the emergency department three times in fifteen minutes. The pager calls you to three deaths in three hours. The pager calls you to two patient rooms for conversations in the same fifteen minutes and the same three hours.

On those days, I’m learning about emotional triage.

IMG_1607.JPGTriage is what happens in the waiting area outside the Emergency Department. People arrive with needs. All are serious enough to cause someone to come to the hospital, but not all are equally risky to the health of those who arrive.

Inside the doors of the Emergency Department are beds and staff to start treating those needs, but not enough to treat everyone simultaneously.

And what most people in the triage area don’t see is the other doors. Some lead to the rest of the hospital, where people with serious needs are sent. Another brings people in ambulances, with needs that are usually more life-threatening than the needs that walk in.

The nurse at the triage desk has to listen to the people who arrive, discern the life-threat of the situation, and send people back to the waiting beds and staff in an orderly and ordered manner.

First come is not first served. Although a heart-attack and a sprained ankle may have comparable pain, they do not have comparable life-threat. An upset stomach may be more vocal than a stroke, but may have to wait longer.

On really hectic days I’m learning to stop and evaluate the demands in front of me. I cannot arrive at all pages simultaneously and I cannot handle the emotional impact of each simultaneously, so I do triage. What must happen now, what can wait ten minutes, what can wait two hours? What can be handled with a phone call, with a text, with a short visit, with a long presence.

Today your life, your work, your family, your heart may be fully ordered. You may not need to think about intentionally stopping and sorting through the emotional burdens.

But sometime you may.

Good rain on not good people by a good God.

(This is part two of a series on Matthew 5:38-48)

And then Jesus gets tougher.

peaceYou have heard it said, “love your neighbor.” That’s in the law. The hate your enemy? That’s not in the law, but it could very well be in the culture. Because it’s a human thing.

We try to create lines between friends and foes. And if someone is an enemy, we label them. And we dump hate on them.

Jesus says that God dumps rain on them.

Jesus says that his people are to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecute them.  Jesus says that’s how to know that you belong to God, if you are loving your enemies and praying for them.

Because, Jesus says, that’s what God does. He continues to give them air. He continues to give them rain. Unlike the assumption that bad people are punished by bad storms, the experience is that bad people get nice rains just as much as good people, and that bad people get just as much sunshine as good people. Because God loves those who are enemies of his, and those who persecute his people.

This sun and rain distribution doesn’t mean that evil doesn’t have consequences. But they are not up to us to distribute.

We can understand a little better what it means when we look at Jesus.

Love your enemies, he says, and pray for those who persecute you. In a few weeks, we will read the story of Good Friday. And we will read that Jesus will be hanging on a cross. With enemies and people who persecuted him to death.

And as he is hanging on the cross, he says, “Father, forgive them.” He prays for those who persecuted him.

I talk to people. They tell me, “that person at work is trying to make my life miserable.” And I say, “How are you praying for them?” And they say, “I don’t know. That they get fired?” And I say, “talk to Jesus about it. Tell him what’s happening. Ask him to improve the attitude of the other, to alleviate whatever the insecurity is that is causing the meanness.”

What I’m really saying is, “talk to the one person I know who fully understands what it’s like to be so misunderstood that you are killed for it, to be completely blameless.”

We are living after centuries of people trying to explain and excuse and exploit what Jesus says. People have been abused BY this teaching, where people in authority taught “respect authority” and then abused it.

But the way people abuse his words doesn’t remove them. We are still called in the million situations that we have in our daily lives, most of us, to love those who are against us, and to pray for them.