Encouraging my Friend and my Family

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The reason I do this ministry of encouragement to missionaries is because I have the Spiritual Gift of Encouragements.  Sometimes I am thinking about how to encourage a person, but most of the time, the gift works on a supernatural level that I am completely unaware of.  In other words, sometimes I encourage a person without even knowing that I’m doing it.  And that mostly happens when I am simply present—either coming to their celebration (see The Matchless Gift of Presence) or they come to mine, as happened just the other day.

My brother and sister-in-law have gone to her parents’ house to celebrate Christmas, but before they went, they wanted to bring their presents for us (me and Mom).  So we had an early Christmas gift exchange.

That same morning I had gotten a message from Judith, a missionary that had stayed in my house in Milan.  Judith will soon be returning to Italy, and she had wanted to see me while we were both here on American soil.  Between my road trip to Boston (see my last five posts) and her own travels, we were not sure how or even if meeting would be possible.  Through a series of circumstances, Judith’s trip to Atlanta had brought her to Nashville instead.  She was heading to the coast of South Carolina from there, and saw that the route would take her through Asheville.  In fact, Asheville was the halfway point of her journey.

She contacted me, asking if I would be available.  With the family Christmas gift exchange, I was a bit doubtful, but I ran it by them.  Mom’s concern was that I would have to leave and go do some counseling.  I assured her that was not the case.  Judith just wanted to see me briefly.

When Judith arrived, I met her at the front door to the building.  We chatted a bit as I led her to our apartment.  The first family member she met was Prissy, Mom’s Shih Tzu.  Prissy is a Therapy Dog, so she also has a gift for encouragement.  Judith enjoyed her waggy welcome.  Then she met the rest of the family.

Judith only stayed about half an hour, since she needed to get back on the road.  But during that time, she saw a side of me that most of my missionary friends have never seen.  She really enjoyed being in the midst of our loving, laughing family.  My brother, being a salesman, is both charming and down-to-earth.  He easily meets new people.  My sister-in-law is also very open and friendly, having worked with abused children and their families.  Mom is also very friendly and sympathetic.  She welcomes new people to our complex, hating to see how some residents avoid having lunch with someone new.  She takes Prissy to visit people in need of cheering up.  Come to think of it, I guess we’re a family of encouragers.

With a cup of coffee from the 24 hour free coffee bar, we sent Judith on her way.  Each of them loved meeting Judith, and seeing me in action, encouraging a missionary.  But what did I do?  Nothing much.  I simply allowed myself and my family to open ourselves and our home to Judith.  I would say that we got as much encouragement out of her visit as Judith did from visiting us.  Try it sometime.  Open up a little.  You’ll see that it really doesn’t take so much to encourage someone else.  You’ll find yourself encouraged in the process.  God is good!

Checking in with Friends, Part Four

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On this road trip from Asheville to Boston, I met with the praying missionaries that had started and ended their stay in Italy with me.  Today I did the same: I started and ended my trip with them.


I left Boston very early this morning.  When I say early, it’s way earlier than what most people think of as early because I wake up very, very early normally.  What’s very, very early?  Any time between 4 and 5AM.  So very early this morning—about 3:30—I left Boston.  Of course I wanted to miss Boston’s morning rush hour.  And I easily did.  I also wanted to miss New York’s morning rush hour.  But I didn’t.  Nevertheless, the route I had chosen kept me out of the worst of it.

As I drove down I-95 in Connecticut I noticed The Bright Morning Star that I’ve written about gliding above the Long Island Sound just before sunrise.  It felt very familiar, since I saw it all summer from my kitchen window in Milan and also from our apartment window in Jerusalem and over our desert tent at Timna Park in Israel.  Its presence makes the world feel smaller, a more manageable size.

The GPS app on the phone wanted to direct me through upper Manhattan and across the George Washington Bridge both on the way up to Boston and again on the return trip.  So both times the thing was actually useless and an annoyance.  I was left to my own dim, coffee-fueled memories of how to get to the Merritt Parkway, the Tappan Zee Bridge, and the New Jersey Turnpike.  I had to laugh at the way that it continued telling me to turn around and go back to the GW Bridge even after I had crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge and no longer needed a bridge to get to the New Jersey side of the Hudson River.  In acting as my own GPS device, I found the Palisades Parkway, and discovered it to be a drive as pretty and pleasant as the Merritt Parkway.

I arrived at my friends’ house about noon, and got to rest up before dinner and going to church for a missions team meeting.  Over dinner we were talking about the way my trip had paralleled their trip to Italy: starting with them, and ending with them, and also, I noticed that, just like in Milan, our first meal together in New Jersey was Italian and our last was Asian.  So we were bookends for our respective visits.  Interesting.

Something I had forgotten to write about that first visit to New Jersey is that I had gone to visit one of the teammates that had come to Italy.  She was facing some personal challenges, so we talked about that.  Then suddenly she asked if I had ever thought about cutting my hair.  I said, “As a matter of fact, I’ve got an appointment for a haircut the day after I get back to Asheville.”  She said, “No, let’s cut it now.”

Most people would be reluctant to let somebody, especially a new friend, cut their hair.  But I figure that even the worst haircut is not fatal.  So she put the long part of my hair into a little ponytail, and then cut it off.  Once that was gone, the rest was pretty easy.  It turns out that she kept my little ponytail.  Since she’s an artist, it could wind up in a piece of art.  Sometimes the most encouraging thing you can do for someone is to let them cut your hair (or do you some other kind of favor).

At church before the missions meeting started I saw one of the teammates from Italy that I hadn’t gotten to see my first time through town: Imma.  She and her husband are Italians who immigrated to the US as children.  Imma had had a dream that she had wanted to tell me about.  When she told it to me, I knew it was a God dream, though I don’t feel that I should share it here since it wasn’t my dream.

I told her about a prophecy that I had gotten a few years back.  The night before, as I was driving back from Cambridge, I was listening to music on my MP3 player.  Listening to music helps me to stay awake while driving at night.  Suddenly I heard my name come out of the speaker: “Alisa!”  Then the person (a well-known prophet) gave me a prophecy.  I hadn’t known that the prophecy was on my MP3 player, so it had shocked me to hear it, and especially starting with my name.  The prophecy had to do with becoming better at relationships, which was definitely a work of God in my life.  I felt like God was telling me: “See how far you’ve come!”  And I really have come a long way in my relational journey.

Then the meeting was starting.  Even though many of their missions do not involve Europe, it was still interesting to sit in on the meeting.  Caring about missions and missionaries was always important to me, so it was good to be in a group of people who care deeply about missionaries.  They talked about upcoming missions trips to Nigeria, Guyana, Israel and Italy (the one I’ve been invited on), Brazil, and Bolivia.  I don’t know how big the church is, but the interest in missions is very encouraging—especially if it’s not a very large church.

The evening didn’t last too late, which was good because I had a long drive back to Asheville the next morning.  An early start would mean that I had a good chance to get back home before dark.

I said my goodbyes and early in the morning (very early!), I started the long drive home.  Though I drove for about thirteen hours, thanks to the early start, I did get home before sunset.  This has been a very enjoyable and productive ministry trip.  God is good!


Rockin my new look!

Checking in with Friends, Part Three


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Like I said, I am on a road trip from Asheville to Boston to meet with missionaries, friends, and my ministry partner, Allegra.  Checking in with friends has been lots of fun, but also important, since they are the core of my prayer team.  Today part three:


I was set to meet with Allegra.  We had missed each other due to lack of internet, changed phones and missing numbers, and other complications.  However, we finally did get to meet.  Since Allegra teaches school during the daytime, she wouldn’t be able to meet me until after school was out.

That was wonderful because it meant that I would have the morning free for my online Hebrew class.  I had wondered if I would have Tuesday morning free or not.  The lesson went very well, despite being in a different place than my room at Mom’s apartment.

Allegra had given me an address to meet her that evening in Cambridge.  The GPS on my phone led me through a lot of construction and highway detours.  She had warned me that parking could be an issue, so I prayed for a parking place.

OK, it may seem frivolous to pray for a parking place.  Some people only ever talk to God when they need something, so they shouldn’t be surprised if He doesn’t put the whole universe on hold to help them find parking.  But I’m both an employee and a daughter.  We talk all the time.  I don’t always pray for a parking place, but simply believe that I will find one when I need one.  It’s all part of my transportation anointing.  Yes, I have a transportation anointing.  I always get to the bus/tram/train stop just in time (without rushing).  The times that I do have to wait, it’s always for a good reason (someone there I need to share Jesus with, need to go back home and get something I had forgotten, or simply a chance to quiet myself).  So because I always expect to find a parking place, I always do.  But this time I thought I probably would need some extra help, so I prayed.  As I prayed, I saw a vision in my mind’s eye of a car pulling out of a parking place just in front of me.

When the GPS announced that my destination was a tenth of a mile away, I started looking, and immediately I found a great parking spot right on the street.  The sign said that there was two hour parking from 8AM to 8PM.  That was perfect!  And just as I shut off the engine, the car parked in front of mine pulled out of its parking spot.  Confirmation!

As I walked to the address Allegra had given me, I noticed that starting in the very next block, the parking was exclusively for residents with permits—even on the side streets.  I sent up another praise and thank You to God for helping me with a parking place.  Meanwhile, Allegra had texted me that she was running late, but that I should go on in.  So I rang the bell and a nice young man came down the stairs and let me in.  He opened the door to the Justice House of Prayer (JHOP), turned on lights for me, and then excused himself, stating that he has a deadline, and dashed back up the stairs.  When Allegra arrived a few minutes later, she said that he’s a web designer in very high demand, and always under a deadline.

We decided to have our mini-corporate meeting over dinner, so we walked a few blocks, turned a few corners, and found the place that she had had in mind.  It was a vegetarian/vegan restaurant, with all the colorful people those places draw.  The food was very good.  Allegra had a veggie burger on a gluten-free bun, while I had a meatless shepherd’s pie.  I suspect that the vegetarian diet may have something to do with the fact that Allegra appears to have lost about twenty pounds.

With a smile, Allegra told me about her plan to lead a mission trip for next summer (2016).  She is planning a month in Europe: two weeks in Italy with an evangelistic ministry and two in Albania with a worship music ministry.  Of course, we also got caught up on each other’s lives.

I love that my ministry partners are all dear friends, women of faith, with whom I can share my life and ministry.  With all that we have in common, they are each very different from the other, which keeps it interesting and fun.  Though Allegra is the youngest of the partners in our ministry (by about thirty years), she has wisdom and maturity beyond her years.  At the same time, her youth brings with it skills, energy, and enthusiasm that make her a valuable asset.

After dinner we returned to JHOP and Allegra got ready to lead the evening’s worship.  One by one others arrived, including Allegra’s co-host for the radio show (Good Word, aired live every Saturday at 3-5PM EST.  Check it out!).  Allegra led us in worship for about twenty minutes.  Then she introduced me, and I spoke briefly about Europe as a mission field.

Honestly, I don’t think my talk went over very well.  It seemed like most of them were disappointed to have the worship time interrupted.  But that’s OK.  I had an early drive the next morning, and couldn’t wait until later in the evening.  I should have spent more time in prayer before speaking, but had taken my Hebrew lesson instead.

But who knows?  Perhaps one of those young people listening heard just what they needed to hear in order to step out of their comfort zone and into ministry in Europe (or some other mission field).  This is another thing that I love about what I do, because even if I wasn’t at my best, talking about the ministry, it’s not about me or how eloquently I speak.  Even if I stumble and bumble, and ungracefully flail my way through a presentation before an audience that doesn’t really want to listen to what I have to say.  It only takes one that has been touched by the same God who touched me.  It’s not about me and my ability, but it is all about God and His ability to touch and change lives.  He can do it even when I’m not at my best.

Tomorrow, my return trip home via those wonderful friends in New Jersey.  God is good!

Checking in with Friends, Part Two



I am on a road trip from Asheville to Boston to meet with missionaries, friends, and one of my ministry partners, Allegra.  Checking in with friends has been lots of fun, but also important for ministry, since they are the core of my prayer team.  Today part two:

Sunday and Monday

I left Boston very early Sunday morning because I wanted to arrive in Killingworth, Connecticut in time for mass.  My friend and former writing partner, Miriam, would be singing at the early mass.  Killingworth was one of my very favorite places to live.  I love the town, I love my friends, and I had a beautiful house here.  When I moved away from Killingworth, I would have been very sad except that my dream was finally coming true: I was moving to Italy.

Miriam and I have stayed very close over the years.  Miriam is a Charismatic Catholic, an incredibly talented poet, and a dear friend.  Miriam and I were introduced by our mutual friend, Katie.  I lived two houses up from Katie, and the day she took me to meet her friend, Miriam’s mouth dropped open.  She said, “You’re a writer?  I was driving by your house about a year ago, and the Lord told me that a writer lives there.”  Miriam and I collaborated on a couple of writing projects—plays for my son’s elementary school.  Miriam helped me with that most difficult task, writing dialogue.

Miriam warmed up her voice as we drove from her house to the church.  The sun slowly rose, chasing away the low fog.  The leafless trees slumbered peacefully while the evergreens stood watching the golden dawn as the rest of the sleepy world slowly woke to a new day.  The church building is modern, with stained glass windows of simple birds: a cardinal in this one, a blue jay in that one.  A small crucifix is behind the altar, with a much larger cross and triumphant, resurrected Christ above it.  I like that.  The reminder of His suffering, but the more important, larger reminder of His victory over sin and death.

The priest and deacon were the only men serving at mass.  The two acolytes were girls, the reader was a girl and the cantor and organist were women.  Yet there were probably an equal number of men as women in the congregation.  Miriam and the rest of the choir sang O Come, O Come Emmanuel, which for me is one of my goosebumpy favorite Christmas songs.  The reading was from Philippians 4.  The fourth verse is that famous: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice![1]”  The deacon told us in his sermon that the song is actually not a Christmas song, but an Advent song.  He also said that this, the third week of Advent, is a week of joy because of the nearness of the Messiah’s birth, and the promise of redemption in Him.  And under the solemnity of the Eucharistic service, I did detect joy.

Then Miriam and I went to meet Katie for breakfast at a family-owned local restaurant.  It was as packed as the breakfast diner in Boston the day before.  We laughed and talked over breakfast until it was almost time for the lunch crowd to arrive.  We said goodbye to Katie and headed back to Miriam’s house.

Miriam changed clothes for the Christmas concert she would soon be doing at church.  Yes, back to church.  But this time, because it was a Christmas concert, there were many more people.  The children’s choir was there, the adult choir, a quartet, and a concert pianist, in addition to the organist and priest, who also played organ.  Miriam’s adorable granddaughter sang in the children’s choir, and it was nice to see so many families there together.  The audience was encouraged to participate by singing a few songs, too.

The program was followed by cookies in the narthex.  There, over cookies, I became reacquainted with another friend who had been a part of my Moms in Touch group.  Talking with Joan, and getting caught up on each other’s lives, gave Miriam a chance to do some friendly counseling with a younger woman from the church who was having trouble in her family.  Joan asked me if I was going to be in town for a few days.  Unfortunately not.  The next day I needed to return to Boston to meet with Allegra.

But this is what I love about what I do, because visiting friends (even if only briefly), talking about my ministry and life, hearing about their lives, praying together—all of this is ministry, and all of this is not so very different from what I do in Europe.  I’ve said many times that this doesn’t feel like work at all, even though these had been a very busy and full five days.  I have the best job in the world.  I’m living the life of my dreams.  My Boss treats me like a princess and a daughter.  What could possibly be better?

Tomorrow, my meeting with Allegra.  God is good!


[1] Philippians 4:4, NIV.

Checking in with Friends

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As I said in my last post (see Welcome!), I am on a road trip to Boston to meet with missionaries, friends, and Allegra, one of my ministry partners.  The only problem with a road trip is that by definition it means spending a lot of time in the car, which is exhausting and leaves little time for writing.  However, the good thing about it is my subject for today: checking in with friends.

Friday and Saturday

The first of the friends I checked in with was Hannah, my roommate on my first trip to Israel.  I still haven’t written about that trip because on the tour our days were so full that I simply found no time or energy for writing.  But I’ll introduce Hannah to you now: Hannah is a Messianic Jew—the only one on our tour.  We hit it off like gangbusters, and have been close friends ever since.  Hannah became one of my prayer partners, so that gave me a double incentive to see her while I’m in Boston.

I left New Jersey very early in the morning with the idea of doing my best to miss the morning rush hour as I skirted New York to the north.  This strategy got me into Boston by late morning.  I am staying at an affiliate of Bella Vista, our residence in North Carolina, and it’s a pretty sweet deal because I can stay for free.  Not only that, but the former managers of Bella Vista had been transferred to Boston—and they are also part of my prayer team.  So first I checked in at the Boston residence, called Colonial Gardens.  Bob and Stella were not there because it was their day off, so I checked in, called Hannah, and met her for lunch.

Hannah took me to lunch at a Jewish delicatessen/restaurant in Brookline, which is a Jewish neighborhood of Boston.  After a lunch of Israeli couscous (more tender and delicious than regular middle-eastern couscous), we went to the Israeli bookstore.  I got Genesis and Exodus illustrated in Hebrew—beautiful!—a Hebrew calendar, and a Torah scroll.  When Hannah showed me the scroll, the Holy Spirit came on me so strong that I couldn’t move.  I just stood there for a minute or so breathing and feeling the emotion of holding that handwritten scroll of God’s Word.  I also picked up a copy of the Bedside Torah, which my friend, Myra, had recommended to me just before coming to Boston.

The bookstore was closing because of the Sabbath, so we went back to Hannah’s house, where she has an office out back.  Her office is filled with books, mostly Bibles, Torah, and Jewish writings.  She had put up shelves over her desk and put out a Christmas village on it, complete with streetlights, Christmas lights, Christmas trees, and dancers.  Hannah has made her office very homey, brimming with equal parts beauty and comfort.

Still high on holding that Torah scroll, Hannah took me to dinner at her favorite place.  She said the same thing she had said at lunch: “Everything here is good.”  And it was.

The next morning, I saw Bob and Stella and had coffee with them.  But of course, they were busy, being on duty.  And I had a breakfast appointment with Hannah, who wanted me to enjoy her favorite local diner.

The diner was small and packed, so Hannah and I sat at the counter.  Vivian, the diner’s owner, was a small woman in constant motion.  Practically everyone there knew Hannah, and seeing her greet all her friends was a bittersweet reminder of relationships sacrificed by moving so much in my life.  Perhaps if I had remained rooted in one place, I might never have found either the boldness or the desire to move to Italy as a missionary.  The cost of ministry keeps coming back to family and friends.  At the same time, God has compensated me by allowing me to visit and reconnect with friends, as I’ve been doing on this road trip.  Also, the immediacy of email and skype has shrunken the world so that Italy doesn’t feel quite so far away.

Vivian took our order and refilled our coffee cups, which had not gotten even half empty.  I watched as Vivian greeted people that came through the door.  Every child was greeted with a hug.  After finishing, each child was allowed to go behind the counter for a lollypop to take with them.  One woman came in and sat beside Hannah.  They talked a bit in low tones, and Hannah put her arm around the woman.  The sadness on her face touched my heart.

After breakfast Hannah took me to meet her friend, Darlene.  The sad woman, she explained, was Polly.  She was the only daughter in a family of five brothers.  Polly had been left to stay in their parents’ house and care for their aging mother.  The mother and brothers all treat Polly very badly, and speak harshly to her.  As the mother’s health has deteriorated, so has her treatment of Polly.  When her mother dies, Polly knows that she will be forced to move out.  Since she has devoted herself to caring for her mother, Polly has no job, no money, and no place else to go.  Meanwhile, Polly is no longer young, herself.  As Hannah spoke, I began to pray.

Then we arrived at Darlene’s house.  Darlene’s daughter lives next door, so her daughter, her grandson, and another daughter came through the living room where we were visiting.  It was a lively house, brimming with love and activity.  Darlene’s grandson, Tyler, greeted us with hugs—a gesture so sweet and rare for a boy of ten.  Hannah knew that Darlene and I would become instant friends, and she was right.  There’s something about other women of prayer that makes the person familiar enough to be a sister, even in the absence of any blood relationship.

We went to lunch at a diner near Darlene’s house, and afterwards we prayed together for each other and for Polly.  When Darlene prayed, her supernatural gift of intercession became instantly obvious.  And not only that, but her gift empowered my prayers and Hannah’s as well.  That is something I’ve noticed about the gift of intercession.  I love praying with people who have that gift.  As we said our goodbyes, I knew that God would keep us in each other’s lives from now on, both here on earth and in Heaven forever.

More tomorrow.  God is good!



Last summer I had hosted a large prayer team from the US (see Three, Four, Five Sheets and More to the Wind!).  On the morning of their arrival the Holy Spirit had told me that they would be arriving tired and hungry.  So I had gone shopping for fruits, olives, and cheeses, setting out an Italian-style snack.

So now I am on a ministry trip to Boston to see Allegra (one of my ministry partners) and various prayer partners in the northeastern US.  The prayer team mentioned above had invited me to come visit them at their home in New Jersey.  Usually invitations are divinely inspired, and New Jersey makes a good halfway point to break up the long drive to Boston from North Carolina.

I arrived last night just before dinner.  They had invited the whole team to bring a dish to share.  There was a centerpiece of fresh flowers (red roses, freesia, and white mums) on the table.  After the spread that I had put out for them last summer, they were anxious to do the same for me.  I loved being on the receiving-end of such a thoughtful and delicious welcome.


They asked about the drive, which had taken longer than expected because of a detour through downtown Washington, D.C.  I had missed an exit that would have skirted the city.  I simply hadn’t been able to get into the right lane due to heavy traffic.  I hadn’t even realized that I was headed into the heart of the city until the Washington Monument came looming up out of the fog, and in front of it was the Jefferson Memorial.  That was when I realized that I was on that pretty stone bridge that you see in the movies.  It was a beautiful drive, and although there was heavy traffic, it kept moving, so it wasn’t too terrible that I had detoured through D.C.  However, it had added over an hour to the trip.

After dinner we looked at pictures from their trip to Italy.  I realized with a shock that in just a couple of weeks, they had seen more of Italy than I’ve seen in my fifteen years of living there.  They had met with Sally (one of my ministry partners) and some other missionaries—prayer people in various parts of Italy.  I had put them in contact with those people, who had turned out to be important connections for them.  Together with some people they already knew, they had places to go pray all over Italy.

I had originally been invited to come along with them on their prayer trip, and normally I would have gone.  But before getting their invitation, I had a Word from the Lord that I was to stay home and concentrate on hospitality.  So I had declined their invitation.  Now they have invited me to come along with them on a prayer trip to Israel—a trip which will end with some time in Milan before returning to New Jersey.

They want to return to Milan because they had been unable to do much praying there because of exhaustion and lack of time.  We’ll see how these plans shape up.

Meanwhile, during my stay here, they want me to speak to a group at their local House of Prayer about missions in Europe.  This is an invitation I always welcome whenever I’m in the US.  Sadly, after the Paris attacks, I believe that Europe may be more attractive (or at least credible) as a mission field.  I hope so.  I want to see more people answer that call as missionaries to Europe.  God is good!


The Victorious Learn to Surrender

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I have spent—no wasted!—most of my life living in fear.  I was afraid to live fully for God.  I knew that there would be a cost for my family, and being a housewife/stay-at-home mom, my family was everything to me.  Then, when my kids were grown and gone, and my marriage had fallen apart irreparably—when I had lost everything, including my very identity—then I did what I should have done many, many years before: I surrendered.

I made that leap of faith—the great cosmic trust-fall—right into the arms of my Savior.  And that’s when I began to truly live.  At the age of 55, newly divorced, and looking for work, the world told me that I had no marketable skills.  In reality, I do have marketable skills, but I believe that my age may have made employers reluctant to hire me.  More than that, I believe that God simply had something else in mind for me, and working as a secretary was not what He wanted for my life.

So at age 55, while the world was telling me that I was done, God gave me a total life makeover and sent me into the mission field.

I knew that I was called as a missionary when I was in high school.  But in my ignorance, I thought of mission work as being in some snake- and bug-infested jungle, suffering from dysentery, while teaching Sunday school.  Like Jonah, I ran the other direction.

A man with two sons told the older boy, “Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.”  The son answered, “No, I won’t go,” but later he changed his mind and went anyway.  Then the father told the other son, “You go,” and he said, “Yes, sir, I will.” But he didn’t go.  Which of the two obeyed his father?

They replied, “The first,” (Matthew 21:28-31).

I am like that older son.  I had told God no, but then I did go later—much, much later.

What I’ve learned from my experience is that it’s not about your intent, and it’s not about how well you started.  The only thing that matters is how well you finish.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize?  So run to win!  All athletes are disciplined in their training.  They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.  So I run with purpose in every step.  I am not just shadowboxing.  I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should.  Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified, (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, emphasis mine).

Keep your goal in mind: Heaven and your Eternal Reward.  Following Jesus is a daily decision.  Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow Me, (Luke 9:23, emphasis mine).

Persecutions are coming.  If you are a true follower of Jesus Christ, then the defeated one has you in his sights.  He has no mercy (not even for his own people), and he will do everything he can to influence the people around you, to turn them against you.  Yes, even your family, even Christians.  This is why you need to make a firm decision now.  Make a firm decision to be radical for Jesus now.  When persecution comes, it will be very hard to stand firm unless you’ve already made the decision.  Like those Christians targeted in the Oregon shootings in October, or like the Columbine shootings, which also targeted Christians: when you’re looking down the barrel of a gun, do you really believe that you will be able to stand firm in that moment?

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death, (Revelation 21:8, NIV, emphasis mine).

Take a look at who leads the pack of people that are going to hell: cowards!  Followed by the unbelieving (in other versions, translated as faithless).  I had been one of those faithless cowards, while still calling myself a Christian.  I was too afraid to live my faith openly, and I didn’t believe that God could or would protect me or my family from the consequences of living my faith openly.  Had Judgment Day come while I was living in cowardly unbelief, I would have lead the hell-bound pack.

Yes, persecutions and hard times are coming.  We’ve got to make that decision now, all-in, no turning back.  Make it your decision today and every day.  God is not going to make that decision for you, but He will help you to stand firm, once you’ve made the decision.  God is good!