Just Keep Swimming

Just-Keep-Swimming
You know those weird people that laugh at funerals? Yeah- that’s me. I have inappropriate reactions to stress. It gets worse than laughing at a funerals though. For example, several years ago, I was selected to serve as a juror in a murder trial. After two days of testimony, arguments, and deliberation, we, the jurors, entered the courtroom to deliver a verdict. As I walked towards my seat in the jury box, I could feel the stares from the friends and families of both the victim and the accused on both sides of the aisle. The tension was palpable. Suddenly, my eyes locked with those of the lead defense attorney. I could tell he was trying to “feel” me out- trying to gauge what decision the jury had reached based on my observable body language. Quickly I turned my gaze away and bit the inside of my cheeks to quell the nervous laughter trying to bubble out. I could actually hear Perry Mason music inside my head, and the whole thing seemed too utterly ridiculous to be real. But it was real.

Although my thoughts were jumbled that day, if I could have verbalized them, they would have gone something like this: “How can this be real? I live in world where lovers actually kill each other?! Someone wake me up from this nightmare, please!”

Often I’ve wondered why I am like this- why I laugh when I should be somber. I guess it’s easier to smile than it is to cry.

When I was four and living in a foster home, I used to stand at the top of the stairs each morning shivering in fear at the prospect of facing another day. Some days my teeth would chatter in terror as I gazed down at the stairway. I used to stand at the top of the stairs for many minutes most days silently willing my right foot to take the first step down. I don’t know how this happened in my four-year-old creative mind, but somehow the stairs became representative of the real enemy that was my loveless, hopeless life. I knew that if I descended the stairs to join the world below, I had to face another day. Thus, going down the stairs became a battle- a daily valley to be traversed. Sometimes, I would take two or three steps downward toward the reality awaiting me, but then I would chicken out and run back to my bunk bed to hide away under the covers for a few more minutes. One time I hid so long upstairs that it was after lunch before I was finally brave enough to come down. Nobody checked on me to see if I was okay in all that time. Such was the nature of my life.

To cope, I built invisible walls inside. Mostly, I detached entirely.

Later on after I was adopted, most who observed me would have called me a happy child. They would have been mostly right. I smiled easily and did well in school. However, the hurts inside were always there lying dormant, just waiting for the right set circumstances to make their appearance.

And appear they did. During my senior year in high school, I finally let someone in- a boy. I loved him so. He made me feel wild and beautiful. But also scared and vulnerable. I clung to him with all I had. When he suddenly moved mid-way through my senior year, my worst fears were realized. I lost him and then most of my mind for a few months. The pain and grief I experienced is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. I still carry the scars.

My mother took me to a therapist around this time. A middle aged professional doggedly asked me questions for an entire hour in a feeble attempt to get me to open up. I smiled mutely, brushed him off, or redirected the conversation throughout the appointment because I refused to let him see who I really was. I walked out of his office towards the elevators feeling smug. Julie 1, Counselor 0. Mom never took me back to that poor guy again.

Why am I writing all this depressed stuff? I hate doing it. I prefer the happy stuff, right? Walls are my MO.

Recently, I got an email from a friend. She is an extremely private person, so I’ll just call her Ann. Ann wrote to let me know that she has cancer and does not have long to live. When I read the news, every cell inside my body ceased moving. I stopped breathing. Then the walls that I work so hard to hold up crumbled. I laid down, hugged my pillow, and cried. Ann is one of the very few people I’ve managed to let in. She is a beautiful Christian lady, so I know I’ll see her in eternity. I also rejoice for her because she is going to meet our King Jesus soon. But… she’s my friend. She’s a guide and mentor. Ann is my lovely, beautiful, wise, quirky, insightful friend. Oh I’m going to miss her.

Grief. How could anyone put good in front of that word? It scrapes at your outsides. It rots your stomach. Brokenhearted isn’t the right word for grief, is it? How can the heart be broken when it is the organ that keeps you alive. Instead, acute grief feels like a vice grip around your heart. When grief is at its maximum intensity, a broken heart would be a mercy over the pain of a very real and pumping restricted heart. Grief is manic panic and sluggish sadness wrapped up into one ball of hell. I have worked my whole life to avoid it.

God won’t let me get away with that anymore. Grief is a part of the human experience. My Savior can attest to that.

I edit sermons for radio at home. Predictably, I began editing a sermon series in the book of Job after hearing Ann’s news. Job is not exactly joyous reading. Poor Job. When I read and heard the pastor describe just how much Job went through, I really had no idea how he was able to continue and remain faithful. He did though. I suppose that’s why we keep telling his story. 🙂

I am a good student of the Bible because of my memory. I can retain information fairly well. However, the Lord usually speaks directly to me with quick, simple bursts of truth. It only takes one or two sentences from an entire message to stick to my insides and change my life. I’ve been directed to travel great distances to hear one sentence in an entire message. One sentence is all it takes though. That is the power of the Word.

Do you what sentence changed me in this latest sermon series based in Job? (It is a little embarrassing because it is so cliche´.) It is this: Just keep going.

I’ve learned through Job’s story that grief is something that is universally experienced. Even when we feel alone in our pain, we are not. We live in a fallen world, and as such, we must grieve. We must cope.

What do we do when a wave of unrelenting grief comes crashing down on us? In those moments, we can only cry out to the Lord. This is a recent conversation I had with Jesus just two days ago when one such wave of grief threatened to drown me:

Me: “Lord, I just want to be where You are. I am tired of this pain. I want to be with You!”
Jesus: “I am with you.”
Me: “I know, but You are not right here WITH me. I miss You. How can I miss Someone I’ve never met in Person? But I do!”
Jesus: “I missed my Father too (when I was on earth).”
Me: Silent sobs.

Jesus was gently reminding me that there is no pain that I could ever experience that He has not already walked through. In fact, Christ willingly drank my grief just so He could hold my hand today.

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)

“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

“The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:8)

Jesus is with me.

What I haven’t told you about Ann that I want to tell you now is that God gave me a gentle heads up about her health last summer. One day as I was writing her, the Lord gently whispered that the time with my friend was coming to an end soon. Immediately understanding what the Spirit was saying, I swallowed past the lump in my throat and continued to write. I never mentioned a word of what I heard to anyone, but tucked it away.

When I got Ann’s news, I was immediately comforted. The Lord had told me this was coming. He was with me. He would walk me through it. And somehow, because God is God, I knew I would look more like His Son when I made it past the wave. That’s the only way grief can be good.

I have no choice but to keep going. To descend the stairs and join the real world. To silence the Perry Mason music and face harsh reality. If brother Job could do it, I can do it. I can do it because Christ is with me.

Just keep swimming. Seems like Dory was on to something.

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Love is a Battlefield

loved-graphic

On Black Friday, my children, husband and I sat underneath a string of colored lights in a Mexican restaurant enjoying an unhurried lunch. Happy conversation drifted effortlessly from one topic to another until it landed on family lineage. I remarked that our son, Noah, was the sole person to have any hope of carrying the Hamner name into the next generation.

At this point, my comprehending daughter piped up, “Noah, if your wife doesn’t give birth to a son, you should adopt a boy!”

My husband, Jason, responded, “Yes, but that’s not the same.”

My fork stopped midair, and I gaped at him in shock. Didn’t he remember that I was adopted? How could he be so uncomprehending? Trying to stop him from saying something even more hurtful, I asked, “Are you really saying these words?”

Ignoring the warning in my question and facial expression, Jason blazed onward with an explanation. “The child wouldn’t be a blood relative, so it’s not the same.”

Time slowed down. I turned my face away from the table and stopped breathing. So many ominous gray thoughts began to prickle and congeal, but before I could form a coherent word or react any further, I heard the Spirit whisper, “Adopted into the beloved…”

Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (Ephesians 1:5-6).

Father God, using His Word as a sword, zoomed in to tear down the lie that threatened to take root in my heart right there in the restaurant. This lie was the same falsehood I had worked my whole life to fight. It was the lie that told me I was not accepted, that I was not loved, that I “was not the same” as other children. I thought that I had won this war when I had settled contentedly into the truth of God’s love for me years before. I was wrong.

That was because this time I was hearing the lie come out my husband’s mouth. I was stunned. Slowly panic began to hit, and then I could feel that panic try to give birth to something more crushing: shame. I recoiled.

NO. This was not happening. I could not let this happen!

Before saying another word, I got up from the table, walked to the bathroom, locked myself in a stall, and howled. All my shell-shocked spirit could do was pray for help. In complete desperation I pled, “Jesus!” over and over. I had faith that Father God would fight the fiery arrow trying to burrow its way into my mind just as He had always done.

In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:16)

He would keep his promise that nothing could separate me from His love. If He didn’t, I would be ruined.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

After a few minutes of ugly tears, I found the strength to imagine grasping the fiery lie and the crippling shame with both hands, gathering it together to create a tight ball, and throwing the ugly mass to the eternal throne where my King continually sits interceding on my behalf.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Slowly…slowly with each breath I took, the hurt and panic ebbed away. Calm and peace took their place. God’s Word was stronger than the lie and my riotous reactions. Satan had no power over me.

Steeling myself with another silent heavenward plea, I exited the stall and washed my hands and face. Then I left the quietness of the bathroom for the hustle and bustle of the restaurant. The Mexican décor no longer had a joyous effect, but instead the colors and blaring foreign music left me dizzy and off balance. I wanted to escape- to take cleansing shower in a dark room without any other stimulus to push on my already overwhelmed body.

But I had to rejoin my family. They were probably worried about me, and I didn’t want to ruin their lunch entirely.

Jason held out his hand to take mine as I sat down at the table. As he stumbled through a sincere apology, I looked into Jason’s agonized blue eyes and realized I wasn’t even angry with him. There was nothing to forgive. By the grace of God, I understood that the whole experience was a spiritual attack to which Jason was only a bystander. God would not waste the opportunity to point me to higher understanding.

It is January now, a couple of months removed from the rawness of that day. I know without a shadow of a doubt that this little incident will serve as a marker in time. A war was waged, and I won. And you know what? It really wasn’t a fair contest.

I will win all battles, both big and small, when I apply the truth of God’s Word.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

Truthful Beauty

My brother Scott and I walked down the main drag one summer evening in a cute little part of town in Indianapolis called Broadripple. Quaint little window displays entertained my artistic leanings, and independent restaurants serving eclectic cuisines made for adventurous foodie fare. Because of the late hour, college students from nearby Butler University romped up and down the sidewalk ready for a night of partying. They made for a raucous crowd.

When I noticed many attractive young girls wearing smoky cat eye makeup and sparkly tight clubbing clothes, I knew my red blooded brother noticed them as well (understatement!). The abundance of beautiful girls made me, a late twenty-something mother, feel self-conscious in the crowd. Oh how I wished I could be that young and vibrant again! Scott seemed to read my thoughts. He rescued me from my inward comparisons and turmoil by saying something like, “Sin tries to masquerade as beautiful, but in the end it is only pedestrian and cliché. True beauty is rare and always unique.” I knew what he said was profoundly true even before I could ruminate on the implications.

A few years have passed since that night in Broadripple, and I agree with my brother’s observation even more. We live in a culture that holds both beauty and ascetics in high esteem, but our very definition of beauty has been corrupted so much so that the profane and vile can now be called “art”.

To illustrate my point, I randomly picked a song on the today’s Billboard Top Ten. Consider the lyrics of the chorus of Maroon 5’s Animals:

Baby, I’m preying on you tonight
Hunt you down eat you alive
Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals

When we read these words in black and white away from catchy beats and the cute pop star, they are seen for what they really are: ugly. Without thinking, millions sing along to a song about a man who sees women as something to be stalked, preyed upon, and conquered. He’s a common beast driven by instinct without reason or sense.

YUCK!

And what of our books, our magazines, our TV shows? They are no better!

Just this past weekend, I flipped through the channels stumbling upon show after reality show depicting the lives of perfectly manicured mostly rich men and women. Ladies draped themselves in diamonds and silk and kept house in high rent districts. Dudes drove fast cars and sported Armani suits and Rolex watches. To the casual observer, they seemed to have it all. They need only open their mouths, however, to reveal the darkness ruling their lives. (“Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34) Bitter rivalries, jealous forked tongues, and immature pettiness painted these grimly colored worlds.

America has chosen to be entertained by this lot of worldly characters to her shame. We value glamor and fame over sacrifice and hard work and focus on outward appearances more than the heart. Yesterday we cared more about Kim Kardashian’s pornographic picture in Paper Magazine than the stunning photographs captured from a probe named Philae that Europeans managed to land on a comet. Seriously… what is wrong with us?

The answer to this question is simple but profound: we don’t know truth, so we don’t recognize true beauty. Christian philosopher and apologist Ravi Zacharias observes, “God’s Word commands us to, ‘worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’ (Psalm 96:9). Beauty must be bounded by the very character and nature of God.”

If we want to know what beauty really is, we must look to God’s Word and His character for a truthful definition. Here are just some of God’s Names. I fell in love with Jesus even more when I began to explore His Names because they reveal His character:

Author of Peace (1 Corinthians 4:33)
The Crown of Beauty (Isaiah 28:5)
Comforter (John 14:26)
Consuming Fire (Deuteronomy 4:24)
Counselor (Isaiah 9:6)
Disciplinarian (Hebrews 12:6)
Excellent (Psalm 148:13)
Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11)
Father (Matthew 6:9)
Friend (Matthew 11:19)
Good (John 10:11)
Helper (Hebrews 13:6)
Light of the World (John 8:12)
Love (1 John 4:8)
Merciful (Jeremiah 3:12)
Purifier (Malachi 3:3)
Refuge (Jeremiah 16:19)
Righteous (Malachi 4:2)
Servant (Isaiah 42:1)
Teacher (John 20:16)
Truth (John 14:6)
Wise (1 Corinthians 1:24)
Wonderful (Isaiah 9:6)

Because God is Love, we know that unloving things and actions cannot be beautiful. However, we also understand through examination of the Scriptures that love must also be truthful, because God is Truth. It is therefore ugly, for example, to withhold a truthful correction to spare another’s feelings. God Himself disciplines us because it is in His very nature to be a Good Father.

True beauty is at its very heart holy, or set apart. Beauty is not seen in something as cliché as batting eye lashes or syrupy sweet flattering words. Real beauty is demonstrated when God’s character is put on display.

The sleep deprived mother who comforts her sick child is beautiful. Outwardly this woman may not look beautiful. She probably has bed hair and may even carry an extra fifteen pounds more than she’d like, but inside her brilliant heart is more precious than rubies (Proverbs 31:10).

The husband that loves his wife, serves her, and gets dirty wading through the trenches of her heart is beautiful. God’s Word says that when a husband loves his wife unconditionally, he purifies her as Jesus purifies His Bride (Ephesians 5:25-26). As a husband reflects God’s attributes in his daily life, God receives glory.

When we see Christ, we see beauty incarnate. However, even those that don’t know the Name of Jesus can learn of God’s character by simply observing His creation. “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they (those that have never heard of the Name of Jesus) are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

When we stand agape at the vastness of the stars, we get a glimpse of God’s magnificence and power. The Psalmist joyfully declares, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament the work of His hands!” (Psalm 19:1)
stars
When we watch the sunset over ocean waters
sunset

or gaze out over mountain peeks
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or stare amazed at the perfectly knit together body of a newborn
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we intuitively understand that there is a Being greater than us at work. The lessons of creation teach us that God is wise, powerful, intelligent, and interested in both grand displays and the smallest details.
But let’s not forget God’s other less recognizable displays of beauty.

Jesus wept with others when they grieved.
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He championed the cause of the oppressed and the broken.

He gave up His glory for this:
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Out of great love Jesus died. He was mocked, scorned, rejected and humiliated. Men did not recognize the beauty of the man they tortured. The prophet Isaiah, seeing 700 years into the future, describes Jesus in agonizing detail, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)

Do we see that God’s definition of beauty is infinitely more rich, true, and GORGEOUS than the world’s pathetic counterfeits?

Michael Card said, “A hunger for beauty is at its heart a hunger for God.” Mr. Card is right! May we be like King David and say, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” (Psalm 42:1) The Apostle Paul, writing from a damp dark prison cell, said with great fervor and joy, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”

Jesus Christ is altogether beautiful. May we seek to discover and know Christ in all His loveliness and forsake all else.

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.

 

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)