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.

Doing what you can.

For those of us who have read the parables often, this promised to be a familiar story.  The pastor took us to Luke 19, a story about a successful businessman who gives several employees small stock portfolios to manage while he goes on an extended trip. When he returns he asks each about their return on investment. One earned 1000% return. One earned 500%. And one wrapped the money in a cloth for fear of failing.

“We all have abilities,” the pastor said, pointing out that each person in this part of the story was given something.

“Our abilities create opportunities,” the pastor said, pointing out that having the money gave the employees an opportunity to do what they otherwise couldn’t do.

opportunity“Opportunity comes with responsibility,” the pastor said. And stopped. Because near the front of the room, a woman gasped and fainted. It was a blood-sugar issue, and things were fine. Later. At the moment, however, there was sudden stillness in the room of 500 people.

And then people began to move. The three nurses sitting within 10 chairs. The three doctors sitting within 10 rows. The EMT, the security staff, the closest friends.

As if it was a scripted sermon illustration, the rest of us watched what happens when those who have developed their abilities to care for people in health crises were given the opportunity and acted responsibly.  At that moment, it was clear that the most significant spiritual action in the room wasn’t the preaching. At that moment it was the caring. And some of us, trained for different kinds of crises, gifted with different skills, stayed out of the way.

My friend, one of the doctors, said that that phrase echoed in his head after he sat down. “Opportunity comes with responsibility.”

It’s been echoing in my heart all week.


First published September 26, 2013

Weekend conversation starters.

judeMay I offer you some questions today, for conversations you may have this weekend?

“I ask him what made him laugh today.” 

I was talking with a friend whose husband teaches in middle school. She said that over dinner she asks him about his day, but with that focus on laughter. For that couple, it’s a brilliant question.

“How is your heart?”

I saw a friend for the first time in five years. We are both pastors. We worked closely for a few years. We’ve been apart. In the conversation in the aisle at Target, after the talk of family and location, he asked the important question, the integrity question.

“What are the most emotionally-charged tasks on my to-do list?”

I asked that of myself the other day, and then made those items be the top 5 things on the list. I was much less stressed by noon.

“What would it be like to talk to people like Zacchaeus the way Jesus did? 

I’m asking that of several people right now. Zacchaeus was a tax-collector who climbed up in a tree to see Jesus. He climbed, Luke says, because he was too short to see over the crowd. He could have run in front, I’m guessing, but the judgment of the crowd would have been obnoxious. I’m curious about planting trees with low branches that would let curious people who want to see Jesus avoid the crowds and criticism.

“How do we explain the basics even better?”

Whatever you are doing, there are things that people just don’t understand. They are simple, to you. They are basic,
to you. But we need to be clearer, more thoughtful, more consistent.

“What are you hiding? Why?”

I’m asking myself that more often thanks to Brene Brown who talks about vulnerability and shame and courage.


First published September 25, 2013.

One thing that’s working.

(First published July 6, 2015.)

Sometimes I ask people a simple question: “What’s working?” Sometimes I say, “Talk about a time when things worked.” Sometimes, when people are in the middle of confessing the sins of others, I say, “What’s good about them?”

Often when I do that, the mood shifts. People that were stuck on one side of the story begin to see the other. People who are irretrievably negative usually walk away.

I don’t ask these questions often (enough), mind you. But sometimes.

Whoever wrote Psalm 96 was all about asking those questions about God. After inviting “all the earth” to “sing a new song” to God, the songwriter invites people to talk about what God has done.

Think about the times that God has rescued you. Talk amongst yourselves. Think about the times that God has shown his hand, or left traces. Think about the sheer glory of God.

That’s how the song begins.

But some of the people I know say, “But what about the exceptions? What about the pain? What about the times that rescue never came, that no traces were evident, that glory was diluted?”

I understand.

But I think that Psalm 96 isn’t a conversation or an argument or a defense. I think it’s an anthem.

It’s theps96 kind of song that you put on repeat while you are trying to get your heart caught up from disappointment. It’s the kind of song you play during third shift when you are looking sunrise. It’s the kind of song you play when you need to remember the framework that gives you support.

It’s the kind of song you sing to yourself.

And it’s the kind of song that needs to be heard, not read. On paper, it’s repetitious. It needs to be edited.

But out loud, in the middle of the night, it’s courage.


Small practical steps.

(First published February 21, 2014)

I was talking with a friend about how often we know more about how to live than we actual live out. I’ve been trying to understand how I can be more practical, more focused in my counsel.

After we talked, I decided to try bite-sized studies: a short list of activities designed to address a specific challenge.

For example, what if your challenge is this: When my schedule blows up, how do I remember to talk to God?

Read through this list. For the next week, do these actions.

1. On Sunday night, set the alarm on your phone to sound at 9:28 pm. Have it sound for 6 nights. (If you are watching TV, this is commercial time). When it sounds each night, say to God, “This was a wild day. I almost forgot you. Thanks for the reminder.”

2. Take a 3×5 card. On it, write out Psalm 130 (here are three versions. Pick one). The last thing before you climb into bed every night, stand in front of the bathroom mirror. Read the first half talking to God. Read the second half looking at the mirror.

have mercy3. Find a business card. It can be your own or one from a friend. On it write, “You are my God; Have mercy on me, Lord, for I call to you all day long.” It’s from Psalm 86. Many people say, “Have mercy on me, God.” When you eat lunch, pull it out and read it. You don’t have to read it out loud, but you do have to read it.

4. After three days of the previous activities, send me an email. (Jon at socialmediachaplain dot com) Ask me a question that starts with, “Hi Jon. How can I remember to talk to God when ….” and then fill in your own situation.

5. Write out answers to these questions: When my life gets swamped, what do I say? What do you eat? What do you stop doing? Who do you talk to? What kinds of lists do you make?

Try it for a week.

How to do that one thing.

I wrote the title for this post back in April.

I never wrote a post.

I have no idea what the one thing was that I wanted to teach us how to do. I got distracted. I got disconnected. I got scared that I wouldn’t be able to figure out exactly the four steps or the six or the two.

It may have been amazing, that list. The strategies may have helped us change the world.

In the meantime, we’ve missed three months of magic. The world has been left unchanged.

The crises we have faced in the last three months are all my fault because cause I wrote the headline and never wrote the list.

You’re laughing at me. You’re saying, “one post couldn’t change the world, Jon.” You’re saying, “You worry too much.” You’re telling me that I am too much of a perfectionist or a procrastinator.

I know. But so are some of the people I run into.

The other day, I talked with a person having to make huge decisions. She knew she’d made bad decisions in the past. She wanted to measure up now, to do this right. She wanted to depend on God completely.

“You’re braver than you think,” I said as we walked down a hall. She looked at me curiously. “I want to be,” she said.

“You already are,” I said. “When I asked you what you were afraid of, you told us your story back in that room. You spoke your fears and failures to the people who had watched them and could attack you for them now. But you said them out loud. And that was brave.”

I saw her a few hours later. The decision was made. The crisis was passed. She was braver than she knew.

But I’m still praying for her. And you.

Because that one thing is still there, waiting.