War

 by Gustave Dore

Years ago, the Lord spoke to me saying, “You are a Joshua.”  This word was confirmed when a Godly mentor heard the Lord call me Joshua a few years later. 

Joshua was the commander of Israel’s army who led the people into the Promised Land.  His mission was to take enemy territory for God.  I believe God has commissioned me specifically for that purpose too.  I am to invade the adversary’s terrain and fight for Jesus to take back the “land” of people’s hearts for God.    

The Lord gave me an evangelist heart that cries out for the lost to be saved.  Because I am a fighting Joshua, I joke that Jesus gives me “the hard cases”.  When I was teaching, God put me in an alternative school called New Beginnings (even the name of the school points to my position in Christ).  My students were those that had been expelled from high school for discipline problems or habitual truancy. I learned how to love “the hard cases” at this school.  Behind the defiance, the foul language, and the swagger were broken souls, orphaned abandoned spirits, and crushed hopes.  I knew when I looked into their beautiful eyes that I too would have behaved just as they did if I hadn’t been rescued by adoption.  My students’ hunger for the things of God was incredible.  There were many days when my kids would beg me to talk about the Bible instead of teach history curriculum, and I spent several lunch hours with students crowded around my desk asking me about my faith.  I didn’t just try to minister to students while at New Beginnings.  I also tried to reach out to a teacher.  My classroom was positioned directly next to Jay Contreras’s, the school’s upperclassman math instructor.  Even though Jay grew up in a very Godly household and many of his relatives were actively involved in ministry (including his own children), Jay was an atheist.  Because I was in my early twenties, I loved spending time with a much older and often wiser “Mr. C.” and chatting with him about spiritual things.  I challenged him gently and asked him hard questions as we munched on our lunch sandwiches and talked about lesson plans.  After I left New Beginnings, I became active in youth prison ministry because my heart broke when a few of my students went to jail.  Although some might guess that juvenile inmates would be tough to reach, I found that they were so desperate for love and grace that when they found it in Christ, they drank it up as a dehydrated man would gulp down water in a desert.  Finally, there are the individual “hard cases” like my neighbor, Amy, that I pray for often.  I carry these precious souls with me every. single. day.  I hope that I’ll see many of these faces I mention here in heaven one day. 

Wherever my foot lands, I see so many who need Jesus.  The more I live I realize that we all, MYSELF INCLUDED, are in a life and death struggle between faith and doubt, life and death, good and evil.  Because of God’s grace, I have been called to be a minister of light.  I belong to Christ, not because of anything I have done, but because of His great mercy.  However, those that do not believe in Jesus belong to the evil one.  Jesus, our Master says in John 17:

“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.  Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You;  for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me.  I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours;  and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.  I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.  While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.”

I could write an entire entry on this prayer alone, but I’ll only highlight a few ideas.  First of all, notice how Jesus makes a distinction between His followers and “the world”.  We learn in this prayer that believers enjoy God’s protection.  The Good Shepherd watches over us and cares for us.  However, anyone who does not believe Christ’s message is part of “the world”.  Unbelievers who have rejected Jesus’s message are under the enemy’s jurisdiction.  Satan and his minions have free access to those still in the world to keep them blind, bound, suffering, and in sin.

It is my goal to carry Christ into Satan’s domain to rescue unbelievers in the Name of Jesus and pull them into the light with His power (Jude 1:23).  However, just like the villains in our legends and stories, the greatest of all adversaries will not go down without a fight.    

Ephesians 6:12 reads:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

Look at that verse again.  Let this teaching sink down into your very marrow.  Practically, what this passage is saying is that:

  • When we have an unbelieving supervisor that seems to “have it out” for us- we aren’t wrestling with our boss, but we are fighting the spirits that guide his/her behavior.
  • When we have a wayward child that lives in continual rebellion- we often need to look past our child and the behavior.  Instead, we must fight against the principalities that try to hinder his/her faith and obedience.
  • When we battle stress, anxiety, depression and other ailments, the enemy is always behind the scenes.
  • When we stumble again and again over the same sin- we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against generational iniquity that controls our behavior.  We must go to Christ and ask Him to break Satan’s power in our lives.
  • When an atheist mocks and ridicules our belief in Christ, we are fighting against the powers that keep him/her bound, blind and deaf.

I’ve mentioned several times now that the Lord has given me the gift of discernment.  Let me be clear before I begin to relay personal experiences that I am in no way giving a thorough teaching on spiritual warfare.  My blog is to simply recount miracles I have witnessed.  So, my purpose here is to simply do just that.  In telling my experience in warfare, I want God to get the glory for all He has done!  I also hope that what I say will validate someone else out there who is having similar experiences.   

From the moment the Spirit baptized me and I saw His fiery image above me in my bedroom (see post called Fire), God has occasionally allowed me to catch glimpses into the spirit realm.  In dreams, I have seen lower level demons of anger, lust, and rebellion/witchcraft.  Hollywood cannot do true evil justice.  Demons are ugly beyond description.  They lack any compassion, empathy, are consumed with evil, and are, for lack of a better word, stupid because they can comprehend nothing but bad. 

When I was active on an online Christian forum, I made an acquaintance with an older gentleman named Larry.  One night I had a dream.  I saw Larry and his wife getting into a backyard swimming in a pool for a leisurely dip.  Suddenly, ravenous crocodiles emerged in the water to destroy them.  The scene changed.  A demon was coming toward me.  The demon morphed into Mick Jagger from the Rolling Stones.  A final scene: I frantically called Larry to warn him about the crocodiles.  Larry’s phone rang, but he did not pick up.  I called and called but could never reach him.

The next day, I knew I was supposed to tell Larry about the dream.  Because I was afraid of offending, I started off slowly by simply asking him about the music he had been listening to lately in a private message on the forum.  Larry wrote me back with a stunning response.  It was something like, “It’s funny you should ask.  For the first time in years, I started listening to some Cat Stevens a couple days ago.  I listened to him when I was younger and really enjoyed hearing some old tunes.  In fact, I was on the computer all night downloading a bunch of oldies songs!”  After reading his private message, I did a bit of research on Cat Stevens.  While his music is peaceful sounding and he is widely known as a philanthropist, Cat is a Muslim.  God warns us to have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11).  Obviously the Lord was not honored by Cat’s music and much of the other “tunes” from the 60’s and 70’s Larry had been listening to. (Incidentally, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, who, if I had to guess, were probably included on Larry’s new playlist, were one of the greatest musical offenders of this era.  For example, Jagger plays the devil in Pleased to Meet You.  Mick literally sings this demonic song as if he were a channel for the enemy to speak to the public.  To the world this kind of activity might seem like a harmless game of pretend.  However, to Jesus and His followers, it should be both heartbreaking and appalling for a man, made in God’s image, to intentionally imitate the adversary even for a moment.)  Obviously, Larry had been swimming in dangerous waters by filling his head with Satan’s music just as I saw in the dream. 

I wrote Larry back with a stern warning.  I told him what I saw in the dream and explained the effect listening to evil music would have – that it literally opened both him and his wife up to attacks from the evil one.  Husbands are to cover and protect their wives, and he had done just the opposite by opening the door for Satan to come into his home.  Unfortunately, Larry would not receive what I was saying.  Just like I couldn’t reach him by phone in my dream, I couldn’t reach him in reality.  Larry refused to believe he was doing anything wrong at all.  I was astounded by his response.  I mean, seriously!  I had no way of knowing in the natural world that he had just spent all night downloading music, yet the Lord told me!  If the situation were reversed, I would have been freaked out.  Pure terror would have moved me to instant obedience!  Every song I had downloaded would have been deleted immediately.  Not so with Larry.  He simply would not listen. 

I want to take a moment to say a few things at this juncture.  There have been a few other instances in my life when Jesus has given me a message of rebuke or warning to deliver to a friend or loved one.  First of all, I don’t enjoy bringing a message of reproof.  It requires great faith to metaphorically read aloud a hidden page from someone’s diary when you have never read that diary!  I proceed with these types of communications with great caution and trembling always praying that I’ve heard Jesus correctly.  Secondly, I am a born encourager, and I want to be the bearer of good news (doesn’t everyone?).  It’s not fun to be a downer for a friend, so a difficult word from God is… well, difficult.  However, I have come to understand that a message of chastisement is just as wonderful as a word of encouragement.  God disciplines those He loves, and when we hear, “Don’t!  Beware! Stop it!” it should be heard as loving words from a Father who has our best interests at heart.  Proverbs 12:1 says it very bluntly, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.”  Secondly, I think God has chosen to ask me to give occasional rebukes because He knows that I will never deliver it from a place of judgment but from a place of love.  Believe me when I say I need more grace than anybody!  Finally, and most importantly, the Lord will almost always confront individuals first before asking me or anyone else to correct them.  If they ignore His rebuke by ignoring the conviction of the Holy Spirit or instructions in His Word, sometimes, in His infinite grace, He will ask one of His servants to deliver the message.  Remember how David sinned greatly by committing adultery with Bathsheba and then murdering her husband, Uriah when she got pregnant?  David knew what he was doing was wrong, but he chose not to listen to the warning bells and alarms going off in his head and heart.  So, God sent the prophet, Nathan, to rebuke David.  David, being the great man of God that he was, received the rebuke and repented in dust and ashes.  Just like in David’s case, I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit was convicting Larry telling him to cease listening to ungodly music.  Larry blazed past those warnings.  It was only then that God spoke to me regarding his situation.  Unfortunately, unlike David, Larry did not listen to me either.  I wish Larry had because I am certain the ramifications of his decision to ignore God’s advice were not good.

God’s Word says that, “Satan masquerades as an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14) Cat Stephens sounds like a peaceful dude, but there are lying deceitful messages hidden in small truths and sweet words.  The devil is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).  He will try and trick us with great deception to ensnare and enslave us.  I once had a dream where I saw a beautiful angel.  He had bright blond hair, brilliant blue eyes, and he stood about nine feet tall.  When I saw him, even though he was absolutely dazzling, I felt in my spirit that something wasn’t right.  So, I tested the spirit as 1 John 4:1 instructs.  As soon as I said the name Jesus, the spirit morphed into an ugly hideous creature.  God’s Word sternly warns us in Galatians 1:8, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!”  Paul gave this warning because he knew, through God’s guidance, that angels would come to deceive many.  Many of the world’s religions were started when a man had a vision of a supernatural being.  For example, Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church, saw an angel named “Moroni”.  Moroni was the guardian of “golden plates” that contained the source material for the Book of Mormon.  Joseph Smith did not test Moroni to see if he came from God.  Moroni did not preach the Jesus Christ revealed in the Bible.  Moroni preached another message!  May Moroni be cursed!  An angel named Gabriel appeared to the prophet Mohammed commanding him to recite verses that would later be included in the Quran.  Mohammed and his followers went on to establish Islam.  The angel that appeared to Mohammed preached a message different than of the Gospel: Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  No man comes to the Father except through Jesus!  (John 14:6)  May Mohammed’s angel be cursed!   

I’ll end today’s post by describing how God has used my gift of discernment to do war in the spirit realm.  I am a Joshua when I am awake, and I am a Joshua in my dreams.

When the Lord first began teaching me about spiritual warfare, I fought demons attacking me in my sleep.  Evil entities screamed lies that echoed in my head as I dreamed.  Their main goal was to scare me.  In the beginning it worked!  Even in my sleep I cried out a desperate prayer, “Jesus, help me!”  As my unconscious mind sought God’s help, my physical body floated closer and closer to consciousness.  The demons attacking me did not want me to get fully awake.  They knew that when I was awake, I could speak, pray, and really fight them off.  Proverbs 18:21 says that “life and death are in the power of the tongue”.  If awake, I could send the demons packing with one word: Jesus!  So, as I fought to regain consciousness, the demons fought to keep me asleep.  In really tough battles, I felt evil spirits choking me.  As soon as I finally wrestled myself awake, I prayed.  I turned worship music on very low and tried to relax.  It was hard to not panic even after I was safely conscious!  These experiences were scary!  To try to calm down, I always meditated on scripture.  One that always gave me solace was 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”  I often heard Jesus say through His Word, “Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)  Eventually, as my faith got stronger, the demons got weaker.  When the attacks first began, they came almost nightly.  Eventually, as I gained victory night after night, they stopped bothering me.  Today, the only time they have a window to get to me is if I fall into unrepentant sin.  Demonic scare tactics do not work anymore… I’ll write about this in my next blog post!

Occasionally, I have gone to battle for others in my dreams.  A few years ago, I went to visit my friend Valerie’s house in Oklahoma over spring break.  I met her four gorgeous daughters while I was there.  Her second oldest, Amanda, was clearly struggling with some very personal issues.  I thought of Amanda and prayed for her while I was there and on the plane ride home.  Valerie and I had stayed up late talking and sharing while I was away, and I was exhausted when my plane landed in Indiana.  As soon as I got back to my apartment, I went straight to bed to get some much needed sleep.  My nap was anything but restful.  

The Lord allowed me to have a dream.  I found myself floating in a huge turbulent gray ocean.  Clouds and darkness consumed my vision.  Rain poured down and lightening flashed.  Amanda was next to me in the water, struggling.  She was fighting an unseen force and failing.  Suddenly, I looked up and saw not an ordinary demon, but a higher ranking principality.  This horrifying creature looked like a pterodactyl and had a huge wingspan of maybe 30 feet.  My spirit knew the monster was a spirit of suicide.  I could not fight this principality on my own.  I had to get awake.  I fought harder than I ever have in my life to get awake.  The demonic spirits did not want me to get other people praying as I knew I needed.  Finally, I was able to open my eyes and stumble to the phone to call my friend and prayer partner/warrior Dani living in North Carolina.  I tried to explain in an almost drunk like state that I had been fighting a spirit of suicide and that I desperately needed back up in prayer.  I wasn’t able to stay awake long enough to explain the entire dream because I simply didn’t have the strength.  After I hung up the phone, I said a quick prayer and collapsed again into my bed totally spent.  Mercifully, I slept peacefully when my darling Dani took over.

The next day, Dani called me to say that Amanda had attempted suicide.  Thank God Amanda failed.  The only conclusion that I can draw from the above is that God loved Amanda so much that He moved on His children to pray and thwart the efforts of the enemy. 

Beloved readers, God’s Word is true.  We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but we do indeed fight unseen spirits in the air that work tirelessly to destroy (John 10:10).  This invisible spiritual battle waging around us between light and dark will continue until Christ comes back.  Even though Satan roams around like a roaring lion to persecute and distress us (1 Peter 5:8), ultimately, those that are in Christ have total and resounding victory.  God’s Word ecstatically declares in Romans 8:35-39,

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Folks, God wins!  He wins the big battles, and He wins the small wars.  Even when Satan throws great heartache, pain and suffering our way, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Praise Jesus because the deciding war was already won 2,000 years ago when Jesus declared, “It is finished!” and gave His life as a sacrifice for you and for me (John 19:13). Our conquering King “disarmed the powers and authorities, (and) made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:5) The demons tremble at the Name of Jesus.  When I say His Name, they must flee in terror!  Someday in the future, when God’s people finally see Jesus face to face, we will all be witness to the moment when,

“…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10)

Glory Hallelujah! 

In my next entry, I will continue to talk about spiritual warfare.  I’ll speak about going to battle for one lost soul and the victory that is rightly mine through the power of the cross.

 

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Guided

I am currently teaching a women’s Bible study. The focus of this week’s lesson was on the (often mysterious) Holy Spirit. I was so moved by the study and the group’s discussion on the subject, that I knew I would need to add to the story I had already planned to write in this entry. Consequently, I spent a lot of time teaching today and then end this post by telling a tale about one particular instance when I was led by the Spirit!

Here are some of the verses about the 3rd Person in the Trinity that help to explain His role in the lives of Believers:

• The Spirit teaches us what to say. (Luke 12:11-12)
• He prays for us when we don’t know what to pray. (Romans 8:26-27)
• He gives us power! (Acts 1:8)
• He guides and teaches truth. (John 15:26-27)
• He produces fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-25)
• He advocates for us and helps us. (John 14:15-26)
• After belief in Christ, the Spirit seals us to guarantee our inheritance in God’s Kingdom. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

These are just a few passages (and there are many more!) that describe the absolute vital role the Spirit plays in Believers’ lives. It is clear that in order for Christians to walk in power, we must begin to hear and heed the soft whispering voice of the Spirit.

A question I often get from others when I relay some of my experiences and conversations with Jesus is, “How do you hear the Holy Spirit?” That is a loaded question. Volumes of books have been written on this subject, and I am not on par with great theologians. What I can relay is what I have learned from experience. God has taught me as I searched to know Him more, and I will try my best to explain what I know here.

First of all, there is no magic formula or four step program to guide you in discerning the Voice of God. Also know that we will make mistakes and misunderstand sometimes! Paul says that “we see through a glass dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12), and for this reason, we will hear wrong or misinterpret what is the Lord is trying to say. However, when we hear incorrectly, God still sees our heart and our desire to please Him. He is the Good Shepherd that will gently and firmly redirect us with His shepherd’s staff whenever we get off course. So, don’t let a fear of hearing wrong keep you from stepping out in faith to try to listen!

Secondly, the Spirit speaks differently to each of God’s children. Just like every parent approaches their kids uniquely based on their individual personalities and gifts, the Spirit will speak differently to each one of us. I have a couple of friends that can sit down and study the Bible for hours and hours because the Lord has chosen to gift them with research ability. God speaks to them mightily as they read His Word and logically consider the facts. These friends get joy from looking up the original Hebrew and Greek meanings of individual words, and they cross reference passages for long stretches of time. These friends own Strong’s Concordance and use this resource often, and almost all of the pages in their beloved Bibles are highlighted, notated, and tattered from use. The amount of understanding and wisdom God gives them through their study is amazing, and it is their delight to spend long afternoons mining for nuggets of truth in the Word.

Unlike my friends, I cannot sit for hours studying. It is my prayer that the Lord will help me be more of a student of His Word like my friends, but I know that I will never be a detailed researcher. It is not the way the Lord made me! I approach the Word conversationally. I can almost hear Jesus speaking directly to me when I read scripture. Always as I read, I reply back to my King in both silent and audible words of repentance, wonder, joy and praise. The Lord has also given me the ability to retain information that I hear. When I first gave my life to Christ, God generously afforded me many hours a day to bathe in His truth. I needed to be washed from the wrong thinking and disobedience that had gotten me into great messes! I spent almost all of my free time listening to sermons from great teachers like Ravi Zacharias, James McDonald, Alistair Begg, John MacArther, Charles Stanley, and David Jeremiah. Whenever I traveled in my car, I tuned into Christian radio to hear God’s Word or listen to His music. I soaked up every morsel like a sponge. Many times a sermon would come to speak to me exactly where I was, meeting my needs in God’s perfect timing. The Lord used great Bible orators as His vessels to speak to me and guide me into greater truths. The knowledge I gained from these precious years in His Word is still guiding me today as the Spirit prompts me to remember this learned wisdom on a daily basis. Finally, I often perceive the Spirit’s voice in prayer and in dreams and visions because Jesus, in His perfect will, has chosen to speak to me in this way. Again, God approaches His sons and daughters differently, and the Lord responds to all His children uniquely and always in the perfect love of a Father.

A couple of words of warning: When trying to discern God’s Voice, we must never approach Jesus as if He were a genie in a bottle or a vending machine. God is altogether valuable and worthy, and He deserves our total respect and overwhelming gratitude. He responds to humble hearts that are desperately seeking Him first, instead of the works of His hands. The Lord’s mission statement from the beginning was to restore our broken relationship so that He would be our God, and we would be His people (Jeremiah 31:33). We see over and over in His Word that Father desires a relationship with us, and we would be foolish not to want a relationship with Him above all things! I hope you can clearly see from what I’ve written here that just as we must cultivate our earthly friendships, we must spend time with our Heavenly Father by talking to Him in prayer, learning about Him in His Word, and meditating on His wonderful attributes and creation. As we hang out with Jesus, we begin to recognize His voice (John 10:27). There are no shortcuts to intimacy.

Unfortunately, my last word of caution is to point out that we also have to compete with the enemy’s voice trying to clamor for our attention. The Lord will never… and I mean NEVER… say anything contrary to His Word. It is our duty as Christians, therefore, to know what the Word says and to examine all messages in the light of scripture (Acts 17:11)! If you hear a message, sermon, voice or book saying something different than what the Bible says, run fast and pray harder! Satan is constantly throwing fiery lying arrows at us in his desperate attempt to get us to doubt God and live in fear (Ephesians 6:16). We must be diligent to use the sword of the Word of God and the knowledge of the truth to combat these falsehoods and assaults on our faith (2 Corinthians 10:15).

Very recently, I asked the Lord a direct question about the location of misplaced car keys. I prayed this prayer in anger and in a state of unforgiveness as I believed (wrongly as it turned out) that my spouse had lost them. After I prayed, “Where are my keys, Lord?” in heated frustration, I heard a “voice” answer, “They were thrown away.” I believed this lie, and of course the result of this false belief was that my anger at Jason grew even more intense. Days later when the keys were finally found in my yard, it was obvious that the voice I heard was not Jesus’s but Satan’s. Again, I believe the reason our enemy’s voice came through so clearly to confuse and destroy was because I was sinning in my anger. In white hot fury, my tongue cut my beloved husband to the quick, and I said things no Christian should say. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” I obviously gave the enemy an opportunity because of my unbridled temper, and the slimy opportunist took it! Today as I prayed before work, I heard the Lord say that He would not answer my prayers until I sought my husband’s full forgiveness for the unholy way I treated him in my unrighteous selfish anger by verbalizing an apology face-to-face. God said He would not hear me until I did (Matthew 5:21-26). The unresolved conflict felt like an unseen wall between me and my King during our conversation, and I resolved then and there to apologize as the Spirit commanded.

I can rejoice in the above lesson. While the enemy hoped to create lasting division in my relationship with my spouse, the Lord turned this experience around for good. Jason, being more mature in this area than I am, was gentle and kind even after the keys were found and he was vindicated. Because of his self control, we were reunited in love within hours after the blow out. As for me, I learned an absolutely vital lesson about how the enemy plots and schemes, and I will be more wary next time when anger temps me to sin. My faith in my ability to hear God was shaken until I examined scripture in Ephesians 4:26-27. Once I learned more of God’s truth on this particular subject, that faith was restored. In addition, I will be harder to trick next time! Hallelujah and praise Jesus because He “causes all things to work together for the good for those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose!” (Romans 8:28)

Finally, I must be absolutely clear when I say that the Spirit speaks to those who will listen- as in heed His instructions. Many times, Father’s will is obvious without a huge billboard or booming voice because we are mercifully and graciously given instructions for all circumstances in His Word (as the above situation clearly demonstrates). Those that don’t read the Word, therefore, are extremely vulnerable to grave error, for God declares “My people are destroyed by lack of knowledge!” (Hosea 4:6) Don’t be destroyed! Seek God’s will in your life by reading His Word! For instance, God asks us to “not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14). Papa God does not want His child to marry a non-Christian because, as I can personally testify, it causes great heartache and division in the home. Although God is gracious, slow to anger, and merciful, if His child disobeys these explicit instructions in outright rebellion by marrying an unbeliever, then he/she will have a harder time discerning the Voice of God until true repentance takes place. Furthermore, what’s sobering and very scary is that those that continue in this kind of outright rebellion will eventually be given over to a “reprobate” mind (Romans 1:28). Basically, God says that after continual disobedience He will eventually cease speaking to these folks at all! Our Just Judge will leave defiant people to wonder through life without truth because they chose to abandon it. Eventually, these people will spend their lives chasing their own lusts and desires without any conviction by the Spirit because their hearts have turned hard and arrogant. The final result is that they believe improper behavior acceptable and even champion it. This is what has happened to many today in America. People have refused to listen to God’s truth, but instead have created their own value systems based on culture, political correctness, and feelings. The end result of these choices has been and will continue to be great pain, suffering, and finally utter destruction. Isaiah says to the reprobate, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” May this very stern warning cause us to tremble before the Mighty Judge in continual repentance and to seek His will above our own at all costs.

When I first starting seeking God’s will, I timidly began to try to hear His whispers. If I heard the Spirit, I would, like Gideon, almost always ask for a “sign” of confirmation. Jesus would often answer my request for a sign in ways that made it impossible to doubt that I heard Him correctly. Even now the Lord still gives me signs in special circumstances (read my post entitled Beloved written on November 17th, 2013). However, as I continue to mature and obey the Spirit, God’s voice gets louder. As this happens, Abba Father is less willing to give a sign of confirmation when He speaks. Instead he says, “No. No sign this time, Julie. You know My Voice. I’m stretching Your faith.”

An example of this came about a year ago when I got an invitation to attend my neighbors’ Halloween party. Now if you know me at all, you can probably guess that I would not normally attend a Halloween party. First of all, I have studied the dubious history behind this “holiday”, and it seemed hypocritical for a Christian to participate. Secondly, I don’t enjoy parties that are centered on alcohol consumption, and I knew this particular gathering would be. However, because I had been praying for my neighbors and specifically for my neighbor, Amy, I desperately wanted to develop a relationship with her. This seemed like opportunity for me to spend time with her on her turf in a non-confrontational way. So, I prayed about it asking for God’s will. “Should I go, Lord?” I asked. That night, I had a dream. In the dream, I was at my neighbors’ house at the Halloween Party. I was dressed up in a white sweatshirt with a huge red heart in the middle. My “costume” was literally LOVE. When I woke up, I knew the Lord wanted me to attend the party and love on my neighbors while I was there. I was given no additional “sign” of confirmation. I just had to obey. (In case you are curious, no, I did not dress up as “love”. I admit that this was my plan until I started looking for wire headbands with hearts sticking up like antennae. As I began shopping for heart accessories, God stopped me by explaining that I was being too literal and that coming dressed up in actual hearts would be too heavy handed! LOL!)

The day of the party came, and I was understandably nervous. Amy is in an atheist group, and I knew many of her friends from this community would be there. I felt like I would be a sheep among wolves! When I got to my neighbors’ house, however, I was excited to be there. Amy has the gift of hospitality and humor, and I felt welcomed and happy within a few minutes. I had fun catching up with old friends from high school and enjoyed laughing at the different creative costumes. Towards the end of the party, however, something strange happened. Amy came up and hugged me hard. In tears she said, “Why are you so nice to me? Why are you so loving?” In a rush of words, Amy began to refer to a time when she was sick and my kids made her cards and I brought her soup and medicine. Amy said as she hugged me and petted my hair, “My friends weren’t as nice as you were to me when I was sick!” and again she asked, “Why are you so nice to me?” After Amy finally ended the hug, I stood in the middle of the festive atmosphere dumbfounded. A few minutes later, my friend came up to me to hug me again. And then again! Amy hugged me over and over for minutes on end with tears staining her lovely face and smearing her beautifully applied makeup. “I love you,” she would say. All I knew to say in return was, “I love you too.” Every time my arms wrapped around her beautiful frame, I prayed and asked God to remember this precious soul. I asked Him to break through the pain and unbelief in her heart so that Amy would be His child and that she would call Him Daddy.

I believe with all my heart that He will answer my prayers for Amy. And, wouldn’t you know it, the Lord was right! If I had listened to my “church girl” opinion on the matter of attending a Halloween party, I never would have gone. However, I obeyed the Spirit’s leading even though it made no earthly sense. The fruits of that decision are lasting. After the party, Jesus swung open the door to a friendship that is still developing. Amy and I no longer see each other as adversaries but as friends. I love her dearly. Praise God!

Months later, the Lord brought the original dream to memory out of the blue one day. He reminded me of the white sweatshirt with a heart on it. Suddenly, a minor detail hit me like a lightening bolt. The sweatshirt I wore in the dream was the very same sweatshirt I wore when dancing on the sidelines at Indiana University the day I sacrificed my will for God’s so that the Lord would hear my prayers for Amy. (See last post) This realization was the exclamation point and cherry on top! God had seen my love in action as I danced at IU for Amy, and He used that same love to propel me to go the party. Wow. Only the Lord could arrange things so perfectly!

The mysterious, wonderful, magnificent Holy Spirit is what gives us power to impact our world. He tells us what to do, and then gives us power to do it! He teaches us truth, and then brings that truth back to remembrance in times of need. He comforts us, indwells us, and lets us live a life that is truly separate to shine for the world to see.

“Father God, I pray that my readers would have ears to hear what You are trying to say through this broken vessel. Draw them near. Help them to begin to seek and hear your Voice. Fill them daily with Your Spirit so that Your children would be a beacon of hope, truth, and light in this dark world. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.”

Beloved

My life verse is:

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 emphasis added)

Abiding denotes a relationship. If you live together, you know each other. I want to know my Savior. It has been my experience that prayer, like nothing else, allows me to know Him. In prayer, I can, by the power of the Spirit (the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead), think and feel what God thinks and feels. Look at these verses to see this amazing promised confirmed in scripture:

1 Corinthians 2:9-16 says:
However, as it is written:
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—
these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,
“Who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ
.”

I can humbly yet resolutely confirm that God’s mind directs my thoughts and even my feelings. One Sunday quite a few years ago, for example, I was praying during communion when I began to think of my sister-in-law out of the blue. Suddenly, I was completely overcome with grief and sadness. I had a very great burden to pray for her, and my heart ached in my chest as I wept for her unnamed pain. As I drove home with my husband that morning, my eyes continued to ooze tears. In an impassioned plea, I looked over at a confused Jason in the driver’s seat and said, “We need to pray for your sister!” Without revealing too much about a very personal situation, the next day I was to learn why I had felt such grief. My sister-in-law’s long term relationship had ended with painful betrayal the day the Lord asked me to pray for her.

Through this experience, I knew my King because my heart was truly abiding with His for those few moments in church. I discovered with absolute resounding clarity that Jesus is compassionate in ways I had never understood until then. His compassionate heart literally leveled me, and I intuitively knew the feelings I experienced were only glimpses. My weak body could only handle small doses of His infinite oceans of empathy.

Hebrews 4:13-16 “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need
.”

Christ’s mind moved me, His vessel, to grieve and empathize with my sister-in-law’s pain even when my physical mind had no idea about her situation. Then, because of grace, the Spirit began to make intercession through me, a used vessel, as I begged God to show her how lovely, precious, and beautiful she was even in the face of rejection. The Lord refused to leave my sister-in-law alone in her grief. How deep the Father’s love for us! To know His love changes one forever.

I have a neighbor that I love dearly. For the sake of privacy I will call her Amy, because Amy means beloved. Amy married one of my brother’s best high school friends. For this reason, I began praying for Amy and her husband long before they serendipitously moved across the street. She is a proud atheist and a beautiful, gregarious, generous person. At first, conversations with her were awkward and confrontational. I worked to convince her that Jesus was real. One day, after responding to Amy in another long-winded admittedly argumentative private message on Facebook, I took a walk with my family to depressurize. As my husband and children strolled ahead on a neighborhood bike path, I fell back a bit to speak to God about our “debate”. My mind was twirling and running in the aftermath of the heated discussion. I wondered aloud to the Lord if anything I had written would get through. Suddenly, my rampant thoughts were interrupted with what I can only describe as the heart of God. For a moment, I saw my neighbor as He saw her. My Father was her Father too. She was His creation. Beautiful. Loved. Treasured. Father’s feelings for Amy, His beloved little girl, hit so hard that I could barely continue to walk. Then I heard the Spirit whisper, “I just want you to love her.” At that moment, I was convinced that arguments would not win her heart, only love would.

And so I love Amy. Not with a fake phony love. But with the supernatural love of the Father in heaven who loves His child even as she denies and mocks Him. Remember my life verse? Jesus said “apart from Me, you can do nothing.” All my defending and apologetic arguments for the Christian faith were in my own strength and flesh. God told me as I walked down that little path that all that talking and debating amounted to nothing. However, if I loved Amy with the love He gave me, she would come home.

I have heard Christians say that unbelievers cannot live happy lives without God. I disagree. What my brothers and sisters in Christ fail to realize is that lost folks don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t understand supernatural joy and peace because they have never experienced it. If someone has never heard the Lord’s whispers or felt the Spirit quicken, then how can I explain it? To atheists, my stories probably sound like utter foolishness. “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

I can only continue to intercede and ask that God draws those precious lost souls I am burdened for to Himself for Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)

Sometimes the burden for the lost literally leaves me breathless. One night as I prepared to go to sleep, I approached the Lord in prayer. I closed my eyes and saw the throne of God. My King sat in light and looked down on me in love. I fell to my knees and cried, “Holy!” Then, after I told Jesus I loved and adored Him, the Spirit began to intercede for the lost though me. I starting calling out for the salvation of my friends, loved ones, and neighbors. After a couple of seconds of speaking names, I knew I would repeat myself or forget important people without some sort of organization.

So, I looked up at God’s face hidden in light and asked Him for something to write on. If I could symbolically write each person’s name down, the process would help me keep track of who I had prayed for and who I still needed to bring to the Lord’s attention. To my surprise, God did not hand me paper, but a rectangular piece of wood about 3 feet wide and six inches long. So instead of writing, I began to carve the names of those I loved into the wood Christ gave me. When I had finished carving the first a name, I sat the piece of wood to the side, and asked for another piece of wood. I continued like this for a long time. I cried and carved and stacked pieces of wood. Eventually I was completely overwhelmed at the enormity of the stack of wood I had built. “There are so many, Lord!” I cried. Finally, when the burden lifted, I fell into an exhausted sleep. I dreamed that night and woke up to the sound of my own voice singing to the Lord.

The next day, I drove to work as usual. My kiddos were quietly reading in the back seat, so it gave me time to think about last night’s prayer time. As I reflected on these events in the light of day, it all seemed so strange! So, I said, “Lord Jesus, I need a sign that it was You directing my thoughts and actions last night. I would love a confirming sign showing me You heard me.” I didn’t know how God would answer my prayer- it was so specific- but I knew He could.

I walked into work and sat down at my desk in the front office of a school office. About five minutes later, I was engrossed in a task when I heard my boss, the principal, say, “Have you seen this, Julie?” I looked up and saw him holding this:

gracepaddle

Apparently the “grace board” had showed up on campus over the weekend, and it was strangely leaning against the building during car line drop off. My boss decided to bring it inside and didn’t quite know what to do with such a strange object.

This was a goose bumps moment. I smiled and shook my head. Astounded. Yep, that was the word. I was astounded. God had obviously heard my cries. The Lord of the universe had heard my prayer, and the Spirit was there guiding me the whole time! But how could I explain this? Would anyone understand?

As I continued to reflect on what the Lord was trying to communicate, I was stunned. The above picture is obviously of a paddle- typically a tool used for punishment. However, because grace is carved into the wood, I knew God was pointing to this:

kingofthejews

The day God’s Son hung from a tree, a sign was posted above Him. Although it was an attempt at mockery, every word written was true. Carved in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, were the words: “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews”.

It should have been my name carved in the wood. I should have died on that tree. All those that I had prayed for that night- they too deserved punishment because they have denied their Creator in unbelief or aloofness. They were among those in the crowd who mocked and laughed at God’s Son that dark day.

However, Jesus, King of the Jews, is unlike any other king in history. Even while He suffered and died at the hands of hateful men, He prayed, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do!” As His blood was spilled to ransom the world, a tool of punishment became the ultimate tool of grace.

We are not on this earth to live moral lives.
We are not here to seek our own happiness.
We are not here to survive and endure.

We are here to abide with Jesus as it was in the beginning before the fall.
We are here to declare the work of the cross so that others might also experience the free gift of grace.
We are here to love as He first loved us.

Beloved, it is my prayer that you would know Him. From my soul I cry out to you and for you. He is Lord! One day soon, His Bride, His beloved, His Amy, will cry out in victory as she sees Jesus coming back for her:

“Listen! My beloved! Behold, he is coming, Climbing on the mountains, Leaping on the hills!” (Song of Solomon 2:8)

Knock and Keep on Knocking

I’m not a naturally patient person.  While today’s fast food, text message, Instagram, I-need-it-now culture hasn’t helped me develop patience, Jesus has.  The fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) take years of walking with Jesus to cultivate.  While I can be patient and kind in my flesh for a short time, only the Holy Spirit can develop a heart that is truly patient and joyful. 

When I started praying for my husband’s salvation, I honestly expected a quick answer because I had been so loved and “spoiled” by my kind Daddy those first few months.  Living with Jesus as a baby Christian felt like living in a holy bubble.  Everything was sweet, colors were bright, and I was always protected.  Most importantly, God was merciful and gracious by answering many of my childlike prayers almost immediately.  When I prayed for my brother’s salvation, for instance, it happened within months!  Many days I would pray for the Lord’s provision because our budget was super tight, and within hours of those prayers, I’d often find an unexpected check in the mail or a surprise gift of food, clothing, or whatever it was that we needed.  One day I prayed that a high fever would leave my daughter.  She was well within ten minutes!  Sometimes my prayers were silly.  “Lord, please give me a good parking spot so I don’t have to walk in the rain!”  He almost always answered.  Eventually, though, I had to stop acting like a baby Christian and grow up a little. (1 Corinthians 13:11)  So, Father began to wean me of immediate answers so I could begin to crawl and then walk in faith.  He also allowed me to face trials and storms that refined and caused me to mature. 

I’m not going to lie.  The transition from baby Christian to toddler was hard!  When I prayed for Jason’s salvation, I was shocked when my prayer wasn’t answered as others had been.  Months and then years passed with no visible change in my husband’s heart.  In response, I’d cry manipulative tears to Jason and yes, even to God.  “Please change him!” I’d beg.  When that didn’t work, I‘d indignantly stomp away from God’s presence and peace to accomplish this important task on my own.  Like a three-year-old, my actions said to my Lord, “I do it by myself!”  I argued with Jason.  I coerced and reasoned.  When that didn’t work, I’d relent and admit it was beyond my power and then go back to praying harder.  I’d anoint his pillow and his shoes and weep into my pillow until it was ruined with tear stains.  Still my prayers for Jason’s salvation were not answered.  As my past entries have clearly demonstrated, God was not silent on my husband’s future salvation.  Jesus gave me words of encouragement and signs to keep me hanging on in faith that my prayer would eventually be answered.  God also stretched my faith further and promised that one day Jason would serve in youth ministry.  In order to see these promises, though, I would have to be patient whether I wanted to be or not!

After three or four years of praying fervently, however, my husband had almost no interest in the things of God.  It was about this time, however, that my prayers began to change.  I realized that the “change him” prayers were wrong.  Instead, I really needed to pray, “Change me.”  I searched the scriptures for much needed advice and decided to at least try to take the first steps to obey Peter’s instructions to unequally yoked spouses: “Wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives…” (1 Peter 3:1)

I’ll talk more about the often volatile topic of submission in another entry.  Today I’ll focus on the second half of Peter’s instruction when he said, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that it was my behavior, not my words, that would do more to win Jason to the Lord. 

Men are creatures of action.  They want to see results.  Advertisers know this, so men’s ads look very different than women’s.  To demonstrate the point, I suggest taking a trip to your local grocery store and meandering through the soap isle.  Look at the descriptions of men’s body washes and compare it to the descriptions of products made for women.  The difference is almost comical!  A man’s body wash might say something like, “Fresh.  Clean.  Triple action formula to remove daily dirt and grime.”  A women’s soap description might read something like, “Rich moisturizing soap that sooths and protects.  Beautifully scented and enriched with chamomile, hibiscus, and Vitamin E.  Relax and rejuvenate as you wash your cares away.”  If you watch TV ads, you’ll notice the same pattern.  Also notice how males spend their free time.  Think about the activities guys choose when spending time with other guys.  Gentlemen fish together, attend a sporting event, or canoe up a river.  Men were created to want to fix, do, take charge, and conquer.  In short, they want results!

In 1 Peter 4:1, the Lord wants wives trying to win their husbands to know their audience!  If we don’t, we can make the mistake of trying to win a guy with what comes naturally to almost every female: words and conversation.  Talking makes sense to us!  While men cultivate relationships with activity, women develop friendships face-to-face.  We meet for coffee or have breakfast together so we can talk, vent, and share!  God’s advice to me regarding winning Jason to Christ was to ignore my girlie instincts that told me to present hubby with lofty arguments for my faith (which he would probably consider nagging), but instead to change my behavior so Jason could see the results of living a life for Christ.  This request was a whole lot harder than giving a speech or well-reasoned argument! 

So, in short, I shut up.  I let the Holy Spirit speak, and I just continued to try to be more like Jesus every day.  I directed all that pent up talking energy at the Lord, kept praying, and never gave up!  I went to church.  I guided my children in the ways of the Lord as best as I could.  I served Him where and when I felt led. 

One of the ways that I chose to serve was in a ministry called Kairos Torch Prison Ministry.  For those that are familiar with fourth day movements like Walk to Emmaus and Great Banquet, Torch basically ministered in a similar way except inside prison walls to juvenile inmates.  Team members conducted three day weekend retreats on a biannual basis.  (To learn about 4th Day movements, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_day_movement .)  Torch team members then followed up weekend retreats with hour long mentoring sessions once a week for the next year (or until the inmate was released) to make sure boys were cared for, loved, taught, and discipled long after life changing weekends. 

During my very first weekend retreat inside the prison, a man from another Torch chapter in a different state came to observe our new team and give notes for improvement.  As I prepared to leave the facility after a long, exhausting, and exhilarating time with precious boys, the observer came up to me specifically and asked if I had ever attended a 4th day event like Great Banquet on the “outside”.  I hadn’t and in fact didn’t even know what he meant or that Walk to Emmaus or Great Banquet existed.  He suggested that I attend a weekend on the outside as soon as I had the opportunity. 

The very next day, I attended a Bible study with my mother that was being held at a local Christian radio station through Moody Bible Institute Broadcasting.  During that study, a woman I had never met approached me and said, “Can I sponsor you at a ladies’ Great Banquet event?”  Obviously, I knew immediately that this was a God moment, so I said, “Of course!”  Although I was in another city for the Bible study, the Banquet was to be held at my home church, and it was scheduled for that very weekend!  For a girl who doesn’t have a lot of patience, this kind of timing was AWESOME!  I knew I would find out what the Lord had in store for me in a few days!  I could not have been more excited.

As expected, my Great Banquet weekend was life changing.  I have never felt more loved by God’s people- the Church- than during those few days.  I won’t ruin the surprise for any reader who may be prompted to seek out and attend a 4th day weekend in your area by sharing many details about the weekend.  However, something happened that particular October ladies’ Banquet that is critical to my husband’s salvation story.

On Saturday evening, the women at Banquet prepared to go to dinner.  I waited in line to enter into Fellowship Hall where tables were set up and food was being served.  When I entered the room, a very polite volunteer greeted me kindly and offered to escort me to my table.  I took his arm, and we began to walk. 

Suddenly the Lord spoke, “Ask him his name.” 

Um… okay.  “What’s your name?” I asked in obedience.  The young man replied, “My name is Jason.”  I started to cry almost immediately because I knew what the Lord was saying.  Because I had spent years walking with Jesus, I knew His character enough to know by now that this was another sign that He was going to save my husband.  When Jason saw my tears, he began to fill the dead air with more conversation.  “I attended the men’s Great Banquet two weeks ago.  It changed my life.  I gave my life to the Jesus and now I’m here to serve as I was served.”  Wow.  It just got better and better!

I immediately had a new mission: GET MY HUSBAND TO THE NEXT MEN’S BANQUET!!!  How was I supposed to do that, though, without nagging (something the Lord specifically warned me against in 1 Peter)?  I went home from my weekend and immediately asked both Jason and my brother to go to the next men’s Banquet scheduled for January.  (I had to wait 3 months for the next event!  Ahhhh!)  I thought it would make Jason more comfortable if he had a friend to go with him and thus make it more likely that he would agree to attend.  Of course my brother, an “all in” believer, was willing to attend. My husband’s answer was, “I’ll think about it.”  What a frustrating response!  I couldn’t push him on it though.  I had to be patient and believe that he would somehow make it to the weekend in January.

Finally, the month of January came and Jason finally agreed to go.  I was bursting with excitement because I just knew that all those years of tears and waiting were almost over.  My prayers were about to be answered!  A few days before it was time to drop Jason off at the church for Banquet, we went out for a dinner date.  After years of reserved silence on the issue of his salvation, I finally spoke.  I know that I wasn’t 100% loving and patient as we chomped our burgers and chewed over this most important of all issues.  I could and still can be a bulldog when it comes to apologetics and matters of faith.  However, I knew the Lord led me to point out something painfully obvious that evening. I told Jason quite frankly that he couldn’t spend his life living on the fence or just ignoring Jesus.  In so doing, he was really saying no to Jesus’s offer of grace.  I said, “Indecision is no.”  Jason got angry and clamed up as usual as I began to push- so I dropped the subject and moved on to safer topics.  I sighed inwardly knowing that I had done everything I could do- it was up to the Lord and His timing.

When I went to Jason’s Great Banquet closing ceremony, I found that the Lord did indeed answer my prayer to save Jason.  My husband went up to speak to the crowd gathered, and because he was choked up, he could only manage to get out, “I’m on a new path.”  I cried.  Others sitting with me in the audience who knew my story rejoiced with me and held my hand.  I no longer had to walk the faith walk alone in my marriage- Jason would be walking with me and my King.  I would learn later that Jason had been moved and forever changed by the true agape love and transparent fellowship of other believing men.  The brotherly love that he felt in that vulnerable, tough, broken, and rugged group had chipped away at any remaining doubts leading to final surrender at the cross.  Praise Jesus!

Because of my experience with Jason, I have come to believe that many churches have missed the mark in ministering to men.  Again, it’s clear that men want and are moved by action.  How much “do” can they experience on Sunday mornings when they are expected to sit, listen, and take notes for an hour and fifteen minutes?  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for teaching, expository preaching, and studying the Word of God.  However, I am of the opinion that it might be a good idea to pair solid Biblical teaching with outreach events beyond the walls of our church buildings so they our men can experience the love and grace of God first hand while “doing”.

Through the years, I’ve also come to the conclusion that men need other men. I spent so many years talking about Jesus with no change in Jason’s heart. However, Jason spent one weekend with “the guys” and that did it! While I rejoiced in Jason’s rebirth, there was a teenie part of me that was indignant. I thought, “One weekend? SERIOUSLY? Why would he listen to them and not to me?” But then I noticed with cursory glance at my Bible that Jason was no different than other men in scritpture. Moses needed Joshua.  David needed Jonathan.  Timothy needed Paul.  The disciples needed each other.  Even Jesus needed Peter, James, and John!   It’s clear that men desperately need other men to grow! For this reason, I began to pray shortly after Jason’s Banquet that he would get a spiritual mentor. The answer came a couple of years later when the Lord sent a man named John to pour into my husband’s life. The friendships that he has developed with other Godly men have done more to help him in his walk than I can express here. God is so good!

A year to the month after Jason’s Banquet, he was baptized.  He is currently serving every Sunday as a teacher in the youth ministry at our church and hopes to serve Jesus in full time ministry one day soon as God has willed and promised. 

The difference this time is that we can (hopefully) patiently wait together for this particular promise to be fulfilled.

Luke 11:19 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

Gifts

When I got married, I was far away from God. Then, in His great mercy, Jesus called me to Himself. Although I rejoiced in my rebirth, the longer I walked with God, the more I could see that there was a problem. A BIG problem. I was living unequally yoked with my husband (2 Corinthians 6:14). Simply put, Jason and I were not walking on the same narrow path that leads to Christ. In fact, we weren’t even going in the same direction. Jason was heading south. I was heading north. God never intended His children to live this way because it is painful, annoying, frustrating, and divisive all at the same time.

As I reflect on this time, I am aware perhaps for the first time of how difficult my transformation had to have been for Jason. In the span of a few short months, almost everything that connected us when we had first dated dissolved away. I was no longer interested in the same movies, TV shows, or songs, I had no interest in partying or attending shallow gatherings where conversation was blurred by alcohol, and I had very different ideas about how to raise our baby girl.

At first, my priority was to “get Jason saved”. In my zealous desire to see his salvation, I did absolutely everything wrong. I remember one day in particular. I stood in our bedroom crying like an idiot sobbing into his chest, “I don’t want you to go to hell!” I lamented. Poor guy! I would give anything to have a video of this encounter so I could see the look on his face. It must have been a mix of amusement and annoyance. How did he ever endure my dramatics?

While my heart was in the right place, I was trying to do the work that only the Spirit can do. Instead of taking my fear for Jason’s soul to the only Person that could do something about it, I tried to win him for Christ using my own efforts. I anointed his pillow with oil, his shoes, his coat, and his car seat. I lectured often, probably making him feel guilty and put off, instead of feeling loved and drawn to the light.

Slowly, when I saw that my manipulations were clearly having no effect on Jason, I began to retreat emotionally. I stopped trying so hard. Instead, I directed my energies outside my home. I sought solace and fellowship with Christ, with my parents and brother, and with a Christian friend that I met at work. I poured out my heart to my friend instead of to my husband. I dreamed of serving the Lord in many ways, but never really included Jason in any of those visions and plans.

The end result of this was obvious: my heart became almost completely detached. I went to church by myself. I prayed and worshiped by myself. I even traveled without Jason or my kids. After a few years, because I had not invested my time and heart into my marriage, I no longer cared about my marriage. I just wanted out! “He doesn’t understand me!” I complained to God! “He’s difficult. He’s stubborn. He doesn’t love me like Christ loved the church, nor does he have any interest in trying!” I felt trapped and hopeless many days.

The lowest point came when I sold my wedding ring so I could afford to rental truck to move closer to my parents. I wanted to be nearer to the support system that I felt I needed to survive, and I no longer cared about Jason’s opinion on the matter. The ring and our marriage had little or no value.

Looking back at this time, I can see how selfish I was. Don’t get me wrong. Jason wasn’t blameless. But my heart was steeped in self pity and entitlement. God, in His patience and loving kindness, endured my tantrums and toddler like maturity. Hindsight allows me to stand in awe at the Lord. He was doing work in me to prepare me to be a partner instead of an island, and as always refining me in the process. Praise Him Who is altogether holy and Who knows me better than I know myself!

There are two things that kept me clinging to hope and to my marriage vows throughout these years. The first and all encompassing reason was my love for Jesus. I loved my Lord (Lord = King and Master) more than my own desire for happiness. So, I chose to die to myself and lay down my desire for temporal happiness as a sacrifice to my King. I knew from all the hours I had spent studying scripture that God hates divorce. He hates divorce because He is in the business of restoration and reconciliation. In fact, all God’s efforts throughout the history of man have been to restore our relationship with the Father that had been severed in the Garden. How could I not then continue to try to maintain the connection with Jason? I was self aware enough to know that giving up would be because of my own hard heart and selfishness. I also knew others were watching my walk with God- many many others. I prayed for these precious souls almost nightly. They needed salvation just like I did. What would it say to them if I simply walked away from my marriage? What would divorce say to my kids? If I could stand firm and hold fast, I knew that our home would serve as a much better launching pad for their future service and ministry in God’s Kingdom. I had stay married if only for them! Finally, Jesus hates divorce because marriage is the only earthly relationship and institution that echoes Christ’s relationship with the Bride, the Church. This is a great mystery, and I wanted to uncover that mystery! I’ll admit this daily death to self was hard. Hard doesn’t begin to describe it really. It was gut wrenching and heart clinching- especially when Jason failed me. When he hurt me. The worst pain I endured was when he was aloof to the efforts I made to try and build upon our crumbling relationship. Throughout it all I continued with Jason because I loved Jesus. When I was weak willed, He was strong. His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

The second reason I stuck it out had to do with a promise. In my communion and conversations with God in prayer, Jesus said that Jason was called to youth ministry. He promised that one day Jason and I would plow side by side, equally yoked, in God’s service. This promise was confirmed by a precious few (including the mysterious woman who wrote me the encouraging letter described in my last post). The promise was given before Jason was saved, and it took faith to believe. I may have lacked discipline at this point in my walk. I may have been selfish. The one thing the Lord has always given me in abundance is faith. So, I clung to this promise with all my might during the really really tough days.

As I clung to this promise, the Lord would often remind me of the reasons I fell in love with Jason. Back in the summer before we married in a hurried frenzy, we worked together at a YMCA summer camp. He was one of the associate directors of the camp, and I was a lowly camp counselor. Growing up, I had a reputation for being observant. I had always watched and observed others closely, and Jason was no exception. I spent many days that summer with my probing eyes on Jason. As I watched him work, my respect for him grew. The kids at the camp absolutely adored him. He was brash, cocky, and could handle both the campers and parents in an unfamiliar inner-city population with ease. His brutal honesty was something that I wasn’t used to, but I loved it nonetheless. I knew exactly where I stood after a conversation with Jason. I also recognized and valued Jason for his strengh. There were many days that summer when I struggled to control my assigned group of campers. Because I had had such a sheltered suburban upbringing, I had no idea how to handle the problems and disrespect that urban kids can throw at authority figures. So, when I was failing, Jason would come and literally rescue me. At first, it wasn’t preferential treatment. He rescued all counselors who struggled because he just had a way with the students. Then, after we started dating, he became my knight in shining armor whenever I faltered or was overwhelmed. I felt protected, cared for, and loved just knowing that he was in the same building. Years later, God would constantly remind me of these qualities, and would further promise that all of Jason’s Godly characteristics would be put to use for His glory… someday. So, I hoped, prayed, and believed the word spoken over my husband.

After that low day I used my wedding ring to pay for a moving truck, things started to change. God really began to work on my isolated detached heart. It was during this time that Jesus stripped almost all material things away. The only thing I had left to focus on was my own selfish ways. Eventually, I understood that I had gotten it wrong when I had spent all those hours serving as only a single person should! In typical Julie style, I had run ahead of God hoping to do “big things” for Him. All my ambitions, dreams, and desires to participate in great missions seemed like good ideas. However, the root of those plans was selfish. They were my dreams and really had nothing to do with God’s will for my life. The Lord had to use the hook on His Shepherd’s staff to pull me back to Him and His heart and will. I had to repent of my ways and behave differently! Again, I had to lay down my dreams and die to myself. My desire to “go” and “do” for the Kingdom would have to be put on the back burner for a time while I concentrated on far more pressing matters: loving my husband and children. Jesus beautifully and kindly taught me that being a good mother and wife was just as important to Him as feeding orphans and visiting prisoners.

One evening during this season, I was spending some time walking around the local town square with my twin brother. We were chatting like we always do when my best friend and I get together and looking for some place tasty to have dinner. As we walked passed little boutiques and shops, I saw an advertisement for a beautiful wedding band set. I frowned down at my naked ring finger and prayed a silent repentant prayer, “Lord, I would really like to have a wedding ring.” God responded with one of those goosebump raising replies that indicate He is indeed sovereign and the examiner of all hearts. He said, “You will get a ring when you are ready.” Wow. How much had been said and implied in that one small kiss of a sentence? He knew I was working on changing the direction of my heart- and recognized my effort. Jesus also had said with only a few words that I hadn’t arrived yet. Finally, enclosed in those words was a promise: I would get a ring when my heart had matured and was spiritually ready to be married. “OK, Lord. I’ll wait on Your timing,” I replied.

A few months passed. At first, I impatiently waited for a ring to mysteriously fall from the sky and drop into my lap. That never happened. The daily grind and monotonous tone of my life continued to try to wear down my resolve to stay faithful to my vows and persuade me to wave a white flag of defeat. Throughout this time as always, I sought strength and encouragement to continue in the Body of Christ. Because I loved writing, I found solace and kindred spirits in an online Christian forum. I met so many beautiful people from across the country and around the word during the days I was active in this online thriving community. I established life long intimate connections with a few precious saints including a friend that lives in North Carolina, one in Illinois, one in Washington, and still another in Oklahoma.

One day on the forum, a beautiful artistic lady living on the east coast named Laurel wrote an open message to members describing a dream she had had the night before. Laurel knew she was to paint a picture of two children dressed in black, and that the children were connected to the forum. After reading the description of her dream, I knew that the picture she was describing was a recent photo of my children! When I sent her this particular photograph, she quickly wrote an ecstatic reply confirming that, yes, these were indeed the children she saw in her dream! Laurel promised to begin working on painting my beloveds and to send the painting to me when she was finished. I was flabbergasted! Laurel knew that I was dabbling in painting myself. What she didn’t know was that I had given all my creations away. I thanked God. We do reap exactly what we sow (Galatians 6:7).

During spring break 2008, my daughter and I made a trip to Oklahoma to visit one of my forum friends, Valerie. It was a great time in the Lord! Valerie has four daughters, so Zoe played and connected with her kids while Valerie and I prayed, laughed and fellowshipped. The whole time I was gone, however, I missed my family. In fact, the theme of the entire trip was family. I knew that God was honored and served by how His beautiful daughter and my friend served her husband, daughters, and parents. She was a model of womanhood, and I wanted to be as beautiful as she was! As I drove back home after my few days in Oklahoma, the closer I got to Indiana, the longer the miles became. I was so excited to see my husband and son! I couldn’t wait to get home, throw my arms around Jason, and begin to love him as I had seen Valerie love.

I pulled into my apartment complex and lugged my bags up the stairs. I remember that I was completely alone, so I must have dropped off my daughter to see her grandparents as she had probably missed them terribly while she was in Oklahoma. When I got to my door with my keys in hand, I saw that a big, square, brown paper wrapped package was sitting there waiting for me. I knew instantly from the package’s shape that it was the painting Laurel had made me. When I opened it, I cried. Here is the painting:

kids

Of course the first thing I wanted to do after opening the painting was to write Laurel a gushing thank you note. How could I convey how much her gift meant to me? I sat down at my computer and quickly logged into the online forum with shaky fingers.

Suddenly, Jason burst through the door. He was home early from work. “I have something for you,” he said. His eyes were excited and my heart fluttered. As he walked towards me with purposed steps, he reached into his pocket. To my utter shock, he pulled out a wedding ring. Not just any wedding ring. I recognized it immediately as my grandmother’s wedding ring that had been on her hand for 45 years.

That did it. I SCREAMED with shock and joy at the overwhelming grace of God.

I knew exactly what the Father was saying in giving me these two precious presents on the same day. The fact that the painting and ring had arrived within minutes of each other was… well even now words fail. Jesus was saying that my heart had indeed moved back home towards my husband and children. My heart… HAD CHANGED! I shook. I cried. I worshipped. Only the Lord could have orchestrated such magnificent gifts in His glorious, extravagant, endless love and perfect timing.

I called my mother immediately to thank her for giving me Grandma’s ring. When my mother didn’t answer her cell phone, I left a tearful message of thanks. My throat was thick as I struggled to form coherent but inadequate words. (My mother saved particular voicemail message and I believe still has it in her saved messages today.) What I didn’t know that afternoon but learned in a later conversation was that while I was in Oklahoma, God had spoken directly to my mother instructing her to give me the ring. Of course He had! I’m so glad she obeyed. Only later was I able to tell Mom the whole story and explain why the gift had meant so much to me.

I can’t lie. Things didn’t magically get better with Jason and I after this day. I didn’t find myself at the end of a some fairytale living out the words “happily ever after”. In some ways, things got tougher. However, change and progress is slow but as steady and faithful as the sunrise. Jesus promises to finish the work He begins (Philippians 1:16).

I will end this entry on a very happy note: God did keep his promise to save Jason. When I stopped “trying” and began to love, Jason became curious. (More on this later!) Today, he is currently serving in youth ministry and hopes to work as a full time youth pastor soon. God’s Word and His promises are true (2 Corinthians 1:20).

I have seen miracles, and they are precious and fabulous to behold.

Mysterious Letter

When I gave my life to Christ, I experienced rebirth, a new joy, and contentment I had never known. However, just as scripture promises, God began to refine me in fire. (1 Peter 4: 12:19) In a slow, loving, relentless burn, The Lord began to rest His finger on dark areas in my heart. I prayed, “Lord, make me like you.” He answered by illuminating sinful areas, and I was changed and sanctified. Holy is His Name.

One dark heart area was a love of money and material things. My husband, Jason, and I had made poor financial choices out of both ignorance and selfishness (wanting to live beyond our means). God was displeased by my material focus. So, in the span of a year, I lost my teaching job when my school rifted every employee that had been with the district three years or less, I foreclosed on a house, my car was repossessed, and I declared bankruptcy. All my “stuff” was burned away so the Lord could show me this: I could not serve God and the world at the same time.

After this season of purging, I could honestly say that material things meant nothing. The lesson stuck because they still mean squat. Jesus was and is all I need!

Another area that God began to work on was my marriage. I could write a whole novel about this subject, but for now I’ll just focus on the fact that I went into marriage with a totally wrong attitude. I foolishly believed the lies of culture and bought the idea that a husband would make me happy. When the lovey-dovey butterflies flew away and the daily grind hit, I was too spoiled to want to do the work true intimacy requires and put Jason first.

I was also unequally yoked. Again, I will write more about this later to hopefully encourage those out there living this reality. Life as a mid-twenties married Jesus girl whose husband wasn’t remotely interested in the things of God was tough. The hardest part of being unequally yoked was not being understood. Jason was supposed to be my best friend. Instead, there were many days I felt like he looked at me with a puzzled expression as if I were an alien. I do not want to dishonor Jason. He was always supportive and never once tried to hinder my walk with Christ (God knew what I could handle). His apathy, however, was agonizing.

During this time, I was also a mother of two children under six-years-old. God says that women are saved by childbearing (1 Timothy 2:15). When women nurture, we pour our lives into another human so that they can flourish and grow. As I loved my kids, I began to understand true love. It’s selfless. It’s raw. The act of loving can be exhausting. God’s fire burned hot and bright as I parented my children. I discovered, to my dismay, that I had a temper! I was not a naturally patient person. Worse, some days I didn’t want to be a mother! I wanted to have my weekends free to do whatever it was that my will desired. However, day after day, as I loved and served my family despite my selfish desires and wishes, the light inside me grew brighter and dark spots were swallowed up by God’s glory.

It was through these and many other trials that Father made me more like His Son. Some days I felt strong in battle. However, there were many days I felt overwhelmed and weary. Instead of running the faith race with purpose and joy, I wanted to sit down on the curb in defeat.

There was one day in particular in this season that I was completely spent. In typical dramatic Julie fashion, I sat under my kitchen table sobbing. I was literally like a child wanting to hide from the scary world outside. Pain laced through my heart. How could I continue in my marriage when I didn’t felt loved or understood? Why did God have to take my car too? Noah wouldn’t sleep through the night and I was exhausted. How would I sit through my son’s cries at 3 AM another night? “Oh, Father, I can’t go on!” I silently cried. “I just cannot go on!”

Eventually I crawled out from under the table… probably to go hide under my covers in my bed. I know I called in sick at work that day because I couldn’t face a classroom of alternative students (many of my kids had probation officers, had no real parent at home, and were always high maintenance). All my reserves had been exhausted, and I needed God to intervene.

The next day, I drove to work on a sunny morning. I watched a happy sunrise with sarcasm and brooded over the fact that the day did not reflect my mood. I knew in a few minutes I would have put a smile on my face and be present and available to students who were needier than my own children. “How am I going to make it through this day, Lord?” I wondered.

When I sat down at my desk, I opened a green planner to read the notes the sub had left the day before. To my complete shock, a stranger had written a letter. It had absolutely nothing to do with lesson plans or my students’ behavior.

As I read my substitute’s words, the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. She acknowledged that Jesus knew my life was overwhelming. She encouraged me to continue on in my marriage, and promised that God would use my husband and I for His glory. She compared us to two different fruits. Jesus had put us in a blender. She said, “The blending of the two fruits would be loud and fast. Afterwards, you, as one, will be offered as a pleasing drink.”

I was speechless. All I could think was, “!!!

The last line of her letter read: “God sees and loves your #worship.” How… did… she… know? The simple sentence caused me to weep.

What this beautiful stranger didn’t know but the Holy Spirit did was that I spent hours a day praising God. I danced, sang, and loved Jesus passionately as a bride adores a groom. Christ had captivated my heart and I adored Him. Many days I walked into work with water stains on my top because of all grateful tears I had shed during the commute. After awhile, my daughter stopped asking, “What’s wrong, Mommy?” when she saw my puffy swollen eyes. She knew my tears were for Jesus.

The fact that Christ saw my worship and loved me back was enough to keep me going. The letter’s last line alone filled my tank for weeks. No… that’s wrong. Years.

The words about my marriage I didn’t fully understand. I did know that I should and could hang on to my vows. God had made a great promise in this letter, but it required me be strong and ignore my flesh when it told me to run. “Oh Jesus, I can do that. For You, Lord, I can do that!”

I wanted to call and thank the woman who had been there to sub for me the day before. I wanted to tell this prophet of God how much her obedience in writing had meant. I knew that in order to hear the Lord as she obviously did, it took great personal sacrifice and prayer. I frantically called my district’s sub office to get her name, email, number… anything! There was no record of her. No one knew anything about her! My coworkers had never seen her before, and she never came back to sub at my school again.

I don’t know why I didn’t save the letter. I could kick myself for not saving it. If I still had it, I would frame it. What this servant of God did in writing those words was to encourage a sister in Christ who was failing.

The letter also taught me an undeniable truth: that Jesus is El Roi- God Who sees (Genesis 16:13). Christ knew exactly where I was spiritually. He saw that I was hurting and weak. God did not leave me that way, because I am His daughter! Jesus sent His servant, a complete stranger, to both give me a day off of work and write words that still encourage me to this day.

Oh Lord God, you are so merciful and loving. I pray that those that read this story, will also know You, El Roi. We all crave to be known and understood. You, Jesus, SEE! You know us better than we know ourselves, and Your love shines and strengthens all.

All glory and honor to His Name.

Fire

My move towards Jesus didn’t happen over night. Surrender was a slow progression over many months. God called out to me through songs, His people, and in a quiet but ever present pull. Eventually, as I began to read His word at first sporadically and then night after night, the Truth became too bright to ignore. After a small uneventful confession of both my sins and Jesus’s Lordship one day (and to be truthful, I don’t even remember a specific day that I prayed that fateful prayer of faith), I really began to seek out God’s will for my life.

When I read Scripture in those early days around my twenty-third year, the pages seemed to be alive. I would weep with deep gratitude at God’s love. I would shout with happiness at His forgiveness. I imagined myself walking in sandals next to Jesus listening to the Master speak as I poured over the red words. One night after reading the book of James for the first time, I was so convicted that I wouldn’t touch those chapters again for months. Gratitude poured out of me like an overflowing cup. One summer evening in the back yard I danced for Christ in the darkness, and Jesus sent shooting stars to light up the sky to say, “I love you too, Julie”! Oh there was so much joy in the spring season of my walk.

I discovered that the #Bible was not a dusty old book. His Word was ALIVE! I also found that I had developed some false thinking and misconceptions in my many years going to Sunday school. The thing that stuck out the most was that the God described in Scripture was powerful and that the church I knew looked nothing like the early days in Acts. I was so in awe of God’s might that praying was difficult, not because I was fearful of sounding silly, but because I knew I was speaking to the awesome omnipotent Creator of everything. When I approached the throne, I knew I was speaking to Jesus: Victor, Champion, Healer, Restorer, Author of Life, The One True God! I trembled at His authority.

But even while I trembled, I ached to experience Jesus in all His fullness. So, although I was only a little child, I began to take tiny baby steps in faith. Many days movement forward looked like this: “Oh, Jesus, I love you. Show me how You love me today.” I quickly discovered that my prayers were answered. Often times the answers left my mouth on the floor.

One morning I began reading the Book of Acts and about the Upper Room:

Acts 2:2-4 “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”

As I read those words, I thought, “I need the Spirit too, and Jesus promised that He would send The Helper!” (John 14:16) Later that day, I was in the shower again thinking about these verses. As I lathered my hair with shampoo, I prayed (I pray a lot in the shower!), “Lord, please give me the gift of the Holy Spirit like You did for Your followers in the Upper Room.” I paused a beat as the water poured down, waiting for something mysterious or miraculous to happen. Nothing did. So, I just accepted that God had heard my simple prayer of faith and answered because my request was according to the promises in His Word.

Something miraculous would happen a couple weeks later.

I was dead asleep one night when suddenly my “spirit” became aware of a Presence in my bedroom. Although my physical body was unconscious, my inner man was awoken. I wish I could describe the experience better, but words fail. One moment I was lying on my tummy sleeping, and then suddenly I was awake. More awake than I had ever been in my life. I felt two hands rest softly on my back. When they did, I felt a surge of energy and heat burst out from my middle to my extremities. I tingled with electricity everywhere. I obviously wanted to see who was in the room, so I rolled over and looked up. What I saw was the single most amazing, indescribable, life changing sight I have ever seen. A Being hovered above me, near the ceiling. Again, there are no words. The Spirit looked like an Angel on FIRE. The eyes were absolutely holy, and absolutely terrifying. I knew I was in the presence of power. As soon as my spiritual eyes saw the Spirit, I instantly jerked to fully physically conscious. I was still lying on my stomach. However, the energy that had been imparted was still coursing through me. I lay panting, but very still. I was too scared to move a muscle for many minutes.

Finally I got enough courage to look over at my husband sleeping beside me. Had he noticed anything? Nope… he was still sleeping soundly. “How could he not have noticed!?” I thought. After a long time, I bravely turned over to my back to sheepishly gaze up at the ceiling where I had seen the fiery Being. Of course I could not see Him with my physical eyes. I knew He was there, though, living inside me. The Spirit had been given as a down payment on my soul. I would never be alone again (2 Corinthians 1:22).

I am retelling this event more than a decade later, but the image is still burned into my memory. I was a life forever changed. My walk with Jesus took on new power after that night. I was filled with faith. I also believe that God gave me spiritual gifts that day- one of which would be the gift of discernment (1 Corinthians 14:1). Occasionally the Lord has pulled back the curtain allowing me to see into the spirit realm in dreams as He did that first day.

Father God is so generous, holding nothing back from His children (Luke 11:11-13). He wants to hear from us! We should pray simply, with faith and always within His will (Matthew 7:7). We have not because we ask not (James 4:3).

I would challenge you, beloved, to approach the throne of Grace boldly, and to ask for His Spirit to fill and lead you this and every day (Hebrews 4:16). Amen.

The Beginning

I suppose the best way to start my blog about miracles is to begin with the the most impactful miracles I have witnessed: my adoptions!  Twice in my life I have been invited into another family and given a new name. I was spiritually adopted when Abba Father called me His daughter in my early twenties. I will write about that wonderful day in my next story. However, today I will expound upon my first earthly adoption and explain how it forshadowed the second.

I’m two years old.  It’s the middle of the night and I wake up cold and in need of another blanket.  I sit up in my crib and look around a big dark room.  Other cribs are situated around the perimeter of the room – each one containing another sleeping child.  I strain to see in the dark.  Where is my twin brother?  I cannot find him here.  I have no mom.  I have no dad.  It would be pointless to cry… no one would answer me.  After a few seconds, I lay back down, pull my knees to my chest, and fall back into a fitful sleep.

 This is a snapshot of my story.  But let me back up a few years to explain.  See, I was born into a tumultuous family.  My biological father met my biological mother in high school.  After many years of dating, affairs, and on again off again relationship, they finally got married.  After only a few months, the couple was pregnant with a baby girl named Candy Rose.  About a year or so later, the couple had twins- Scott and me.  One day at a family outing full of strollers and amusement park rides, it became obvious that Candy Rose was sick.  A trip to the doctor followed.  Then radiation.  Then chemotherapy.  After months of struggle, Candy died of leukemia at Riley Hospital For Children.  She was only three years old.  After the loss of her daughter, my biological mother went AWOL.  I don’t know if this is because of the immense grief she was experiencing.  I don’t know if she took off for another man- because I do know there were many men in her life.  Maybe it was both of these reasons.  But what I do know is that she abandoned her husband, my brother, and me.  My biological father, having lost his job after spending so much time at the hospital caring for my sister, was unable to cope.  He’d lost his daughter, his wife, and he did not have the financial or emotional reserves that were required to take care of toddler twins.  So, one sunny day that is permanently etched into my memory, Scott and I were dropped off at a children’s home for orphaned kids.  The children’s home was a lonely place, especially in the middle of the night when you are cold and in need of a mother.

 Fast forward a few months.  I’m out of the children’s home.  Things are a bit better.  Scott and I have been placed in our first foster home.  An elderly preacher and his wife take care of Scott and me.  I remember the sanctuary of their church.  I remember the Easter Bunny and ice cream.  I remember playing outside with Scott- and being terrified when Scott was stung by a bee.  But most of all, what I remember from this time is Jesus and His love.  It was during this time at this Godly home that I heard the Name of Jesus for the first time.  I was only three years old.  Sadly, things didn’t stay better for long.

 Another snapshot.  Scott and I are four.  You see, the state doesn’t like foster children to stay too long in one home because they don’t want the kids to become too attached to the foster parents.  So we move to another foster home.  It is a tiny house in a small town Indiana full of other orphaned children.  Sandy, my foster mother, is screaming at one of my foster brothers named Mikie.  Mikie is just six-years-old.  Sandy has a 2X4 in her hand and all of us kids are shaking with fear because of her unbridled anger. 

 Another snapshot.  Again I’m five.  I’m in a bedroom.  Lisa, my fourteen-year-old foster sister, clearly in pain herself, closes the bedroom door and locks it.  I beg her “not again”.  She makes me promise not to tell.  Once again, another piece of my innocence is robbed.

 A final picture.  A big white and red Chevy van picks my brother and me up.  God has granted us parents.  Not biological parents.  Parents born in love and grace.  We have been adopted.  We have a family.

 It’s hard to sum up the first five years of my life in a few minutes.  The experiences of that time permanently shaped my life.  For instance, one of my first requests in my new family was to attend church.  I wanted to know more about Jesus.  And I hadn’t heard His Name spoken in years- I had only been three years old when the good preacher and his wife taught me about Him.  There is something about that Name.     

 But of course- the residue from my early years wasn’t all good.  Having been robbed of my innocence and having fears of being alone, I spent my teen years chasing and clinging to boys.  I didn’t feel whole unless I was in a relationship.  I ran away from God and His goodness in exchange for things that can never truly satisfy.  Maybe you have done that too.  Maybe you’ve chased girls.  Drugs.  Material things.  Power or control.  These things will never truly satisfy, but instead they leave you searching for more or at worst leave you empty and completely out of control.

 I was a liar.  You could not believe a word out of my mouth.  During the years in foster care, lying became a habit.  I lied in my mind to escape the reality that I faced daily.  

I lied to get out of trouble.  I lied to get attention.  Stories I told had to leave the listener captivated… so I’d add a little “innocent” extra detail here and there to make my stories more interesting.  Maybe you have done that too.

 Some of my rebellion against God was purely my sinfulness.  I wanted to run this show.  I wanted to direct the course of my life.  I … I … I.  Whenever I made my own decisions regardless of the rules, wisdom, or sound advice, it usually didn’t work out so well for me in the end.  You see, sin has a season.  It’s fun, you feel in control, sometimes you get what you want.  But then… oh but then. The Bible says that “there is a way that seems right to man.  But in the end it leads to destruction.” 

 One day, September 11, 2001, I suddenly realized I was on this very road to destruction.  After living my life for myself for the majority of my twenty-one years, I had married a man that I didn’t really know (under two months of dating before the courthouse), I had dropped out of college, and I had alienated my brother and my parents because of hurtful choices I had made while directing my life.  

 As the terrible horrors of 911 flashed across the screen, words like terrorist and hijackers flooded the airwaves.  All day as I watched the events unfold, I looked down at my baby girl and then back up at the screen.  It suddenly dawned on me that my child’s destiny literally lay in my hands.  I thought, “How does one go from an innocent baby to a terrorist willing to kill thousands of people?”  I saw for the first time how powerful my position as a parent was!  My beautiful innocent six-week-old daughter needed a real mother- not someone who lived a life for herself.  Surely parents are a child’s first line of defense against evil.  On that day and over the next few months, it slowly began to dawn on me that I had a responsibility to my daughter’s soul- her eternity!  But how could I protect her and show her the good way if I continued living a life for myself?  I was humbled by this realization.  I had to fight for her!  For those of you who don’t have a mom or a dad fighting for you, I have good news.  There is a Father in Heaven who fought and continues to fight for you and your eternity.  He fought so hard that He was willing to send His only Son to die so that you would be able to be free from evil and free from a life lived on the path of destruction.

 Something else hit home on that day.  Almost every great story has a good guy v. a bad guy.  Superman v. Lex Luther.  Cinderella v. The Evil Step Mother.  William Wallace, or Braveheart v. a corrupt English empire.  This universal theme of good v. evil is so prevalent in our stories because I believe we are in a real battle between good v. evil!  On 911, I wondered how my story would go.  How would my daughter’s story end?  I had to pick a side!  I knew I wanted to be on the winning team- the good team.  And I also wanted to know the Captain of that team: His Name is Jesus Christ.  It was evil that caused me to be physically and emotionally abused as a child.  It was because of the selfish and sinful choices (evil choices) of my mother that my brother and I were abandoned.  Don’t worry, I have totally forgiven my biological mother.  But her sin, our own ability to make selfish evil choices, must be called what it is: sin.  911 showed us all just how low evil can stoop.  But, I also knew that September morning that good exists because just as I had seen and lived through the effects of evil, I too had tasted and seen the effects of the good in my life!  My brother and I were given a mom and a dad who were willing to take in and adopt two five-year-olds and love them as though they had come from their own bodies.  But I think this earthly adoption was just a foreshadowing, only a glimpse, into another adoption that I would experience in my life: when the Loving, All Knowing, All Powerful God of the Universe adopted me as His daughter.

And this good news of adoption continues now as I tell you something marvelous: you too can experience the loving embrace of a new family.  God wants to adopt you!  Once we are in God’s family, we are called God’s children- sons and daughters of the Most High.  Princes and Princesses in Christ the King’s Kingdom- no Evil Step Mothers allowed in Jesus’ house.  What does it mean to be God’s child?  It means that we are loved and embraced.  We are welcome to come into His kitchen, open the fridge, and get daily food to live on.  We are invited with open arms into a relationship with Our Abba Father, our Daddy!  WOW!  But guess what?  It gets even better. 

 Let’s look to an example on earth to fully understand what it means to be adopted by God the Father.   Most of us know that when a father dies on earth- all of his possessions are usually given to the father’s children.  The children are called “heirs” to the estate because they inherit everything that was the father’s.  Do you know that Bible says that we, God’s children, are heirs to the Father’s Eternal Kingdom- His “Estate”?  The Bible says that God’s children are co-heirs with Christ, the Son of God!  The moment we believe and trust in the Son Jesus, we partake in the divine nature of God because we are legally HEIRS to His Kingdom!  Look at the following astounding verse:

 Romans 8:17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

 Isn’t that amazing?  CO-HEIRS with JESUS- God’s Son- because you see, we are also God’s sons and daughters!  That’s why Jesus says to us that whatever you ask for in my Name according to God’s will, it will be given. (John 15:16) WOW!  BEING ADOPTED IS GOOD!  Here’s another earthly example to illustrate the point even further: when I was living at home, if I went to my dad and asked him to get me McDonald’s French fries even as late as 10 o’clock at night, guess what?  He did it!  Why?  Because my dad loved me!  How much more will our Father in heaven give us good gifts when we ask!

 The last part of that verse in Romans 8:18: “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” sounds a little scary.  But let me “unpack” that a little so that maybe you’ll understand what Paul is saying. 

 At the beginning of this story, I shared details about a time in my life when I was alone in the middle of the night in a children’s home.  That scene always haunted me until one day Jesus showed me this verse:
Jeremiah 18: 1-4 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD : “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

 You see, I am clay on the Potter’s wheel.  The Potter is God.  I was marred in the Potter’s hands.  Marred means to disfigure or spoil.  So going back to that lonely moment in the crib- do you see that God was there?  Shaping me.  Molding me.  Always ALWAYS in HIS hands.  It wasn’t God who caused the pain of my early childhood- that was because of the poor choices and sinfulness of others.  Of my biological mother.  Of Sandy.  Of Lisa.  But, the pain I experienced wasn’t wasted.  I was being marred in God’s hands.  What happens in this verse after the clay is marred?  It says that the Lord “formed [me] into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”  God, my Daddy, is shaping me into a pot that He can use for His purposes, will, and glory.  Because of my experiences, I am more compassionate.  I know what it’s like to feel alone.  I know what it’s like to feel forgotten.  Because He is remaking me, I reach out to tell others about the Good News of Jesus.  I love to tell people that they too can be forgiven and loved and welcomed into the Father’s House.  God does not forget us.  His eyes miss nothing- He numbers the hairs on our heads- that’s paying very close attention!  He sees all of us.  He knows our hurts.  He understands our pain- because He suffered as you and I have suffered.  Let’s read that verse in Romans again:

 Romans 8:18 “Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

 I suffered and was marred so I could be remade into another pot.  As this new pot, I share in His GLORY!  After the suffering, the pain, and the loneliness, God takes that pain and uses it to advance His kingdom.  That’s how we share in His glory!  We are adopted sons and daughters in His Kingdom.  There is NO better place to be than in the palm of His hand. 

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”