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.

 

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.”