A Closer Look at Spiritual Gifts

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The “altar” at Timna Park in Israel, illuminated by the setting sun.

You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people.  You are members of God’s family.  Together, we are His house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets.  And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus Himself.  We are carefully joined together in Him, becoming a Holy Temple for the Lord.  Through Him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by His Spirit, (Ephesians 2:19-22, emphasis mine).

The Bible reveals the gifts of the Holy Spirit in three overlapping lists:

  • Prophecy, Serving, Teaching, Encouragement[1], Giving, Leadership, and Kindness[2], (Romans 12:6–8);
  • Wise Advice, Special Knowledge, Great Faith, Healing, Miracles, Prophecy[3], Discernment, Unknown Languages[4], and Ability to Interpret, (1 Corinthians 12:8-10); and
  • Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, and Teacher, (Ephesians 4:11[5]).

There is another list that overlaps these other lists without adding anything different:

  • Apostle, Prophet, Teacher[6], Miracles, Healing[7], Helps[8], Leadership[9], and Unknown Languages[10], (1 Corinthians 12:28).

Useful as these lists are, there are several gifts that are mentioned in other places:

  • Hospitality[11] (1 Peter 4:9-10);
  • Missionary[12] (Ephesians 3:6-8); and
  • Voluntary Poverty and Martyrdom[13], (1 Corinthians 13:3).

There is also the implied gift of Celibacy:

I wish everyone were single, just as I am.  Yet each person has a special gift from God, of one kind or another.  So I say to those who aren’t married and to widows—it’s better to stay unmarried, just as I am, (1 Corinthians 7:7-8, emphasis mine).

It is a dangerous mistake to force lifelong celibacy on young people.  Of course I believe that sexual intercourse should be reserved for marriage, and thus abstinence should be taught and encouraged.  And it’s important to remember that self-control is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit[14].  The Spiritual Gift of Celibacy—indeed all of the Spiritual Gifts—is only truly present when it is supernaturally empowered by the Holy Spirit.

I have studied the Spiritual Gifts extensively and find it fascinating how God has put the Body of Christ together: uniting so many different people, each with their own unique gifting, for the purpose of reaching the world with the Good News of Salvation in Jesus Christ[15].

For more information about the Spiritual Gifts see Spiritual Gifts List and Definitions.  See also Your Spiritual Gifts can help Your Church Grow by C. Peter Wagner.  If you don’t know what your Spiritual Gifting is, I recommend taking a Spiritual Gifts test.  You will be far more useful to the Kingdom of God if you know and allow God to use your Spiritual Gifts.  But not only that, when you operate in your Spiritual Gift you will find it fun, interesting, and more fulfilling than anything else you’ve ever done.  And chances are that you are already doing some things involving your Spiritual Gift without even knowing it.

But I believe that the above lists are still incomplete because they fail to take into account some of the Old Testament Spiritual Gifts.  The most obvious is one I call Holy Craftsmanship:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.  Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him.  Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent—the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand—and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place.  They are to make them just as I commanded you,” (Exodus 31:1-11, emphasis mine).

Notice that Holy Craftsmanship is not merely being good at one craft, but a broad skillset, empowered supernaturally by the Holy Spirit (as are all of the Spiritual Gifts).

There is also the Spiritual Gift of Holy Warfare, and I have no doubt that this is as much in the physical sense as in the spiritual[16]:

Praise the Lord, who is my Rock.  He trains my hands for war and gives my fingers skill for battle, (Psalm 144:1, emphasis mine).

And then there is the Spiritual Gift that I share with my favorite Christian authors, Mark Buchanan[17] and Mark Batterson[18]; and also with my favorite ancient authors, Isaiah and John: the Spiritual Gift of Holy Writing.  Of course I’m not saying that what I write is worthy of inclusion in the Bible.  I haven’t even achieved enough recognition (as of this writing) to have been published[19].  But God does use my writing to reach people with the Truth, and I know that this Gift is supernaturally empowered because sometimes as I write, I feel like I’m taking dictation.

In my next post I will highlight my favorite Spiritual Gift.  God is good!

[1] Called Exhortation in older English translations.

[2] Called Mercy in many other versions.

[3] Overlaps with the Romans list.

[4] Called Tongues in older English translations.

[5] These five are both gifts and offices, though I believe that many people who occupy the office of Pastor do not have the supernatural gift of Pastor, but rather the Spiritual Gift of Teacher or Leadership.

[6] These first three overlap with the Ephesians list.

[7] Miracles and Healing overlap with the 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 list.

[8] Considered by some to be the same gift as Serving in the Romans list.

[9] Overlaps with the Romans list, also called Administration.

[10] Overlaps with the 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 list.

[11] Implied.

[12] Implied.

[13] I believe that Martyrdom really is a supernaturally-powered Spiritual Gift.  In movies we see and imagine that martyrs suffered for their faith, but the only suffering death ever recorded is Jesus’ death.  Jesus suffered all the pain and humiliation of being nailed naked to a cross because the Father looked away.  But many times it is recorded that martyrs faced their deaths joyfully: Polycarp and Perpetua, for example.

[14] Galatians 5:22-23.  Fruit of the Spirit is different from the Spiritual Gifts because all nine fruits come as a result of living your life dead to sin, but alive in Christ (Romans 6:11).

[15] Ephesians 2:19-22.

[16] And thank God for the warriors who put their lives on the line for our country and for the Kingdom of God.

[17] Author of Your God is Too Safe.

[18] Author of Wild Goose Chase.

[19] Though I have self-published nine books so far.

 

Moving into The Secret Place

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I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that I, the Lord, Who calls you by your name, Am the God of Israel, (Isaiah 45:3, NKJV, emphasis mine).

For the past several months I have been praying for more of God.  Specifically, I have asked God for more of Him and that I should never be satisfied that I have enough of Him: Holy Dissatisfaction[1], I call it.

And I think this prayer for Holy Dissatisfaction is the reason why God is calling me back out of my comfort zone and into greater service as His Secret Weapon[2] (see An Invitation to Adventure).

The problem is that a Secret Weapon isn’t secret if the enemy knows all about it (even a defeated enemy).  So this morning as I read Psalm 91 again, it struck me afresh:

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty, (Psalm 91:1, NKJV, emphasis mine).

I realized that I need to move into The Secret Place, under God Almighty’s Shadow, if I am going to truly fly under the defeated enemy’s radar, as prophesied this past summer:

God has chosen you to make you His Secret Weapon.  You are a Secret Weapon because the forces of the defeated enemy won’t believe that you could possibly be a threat to his kingdom.  Thus, you will fly under the radar of the defeated enemy’s forces, and they will never see you coming.

You will do real damage to the defeated enemy’s kingdom and set back his plans in many places.  Do not fear, though He leads you into some scary places.  God will be with you all the way, leading you, showing you where to go and teaching you how to pray.

I understood that will need invisibility in order to go and pray in stronghold places where the defeated enemy’s forces are all around.  Happily, I have already experienced that protective invisibility[3], so I was led to pray:

Lord, thank You for granting me protective invisibility.  Thank You, also, for inviting me to dwell in Your Secret Place and abide under Your Mighty Shadow.  As I enter into this next season of travel and Secret Weapon assignments, please keep me and all of my communications hidden from the defeated enemy and all of his minions.  And please give me greater discernment to know who to talk to and who not to talk to.  In the Mighty Name of Jesus, Amen.

As I continued reading Psalm 91, I was also struck afresh by all the protections promised to those who dwell in The Secret Place:

  • He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler. . . (verse 3),

For among my people there are wicked men, who, like fowlers, lie in wait and set traps to catch their fellow human beings, (Jeremiah 5:26, CJB).

The defeated enemy’s human minions are like fowlers, trapping unsuspecting people like birds.

  • . . . and from the perilous pestilence, (verse 3),

After this summer and having a potentially deadly bout of pneumonia[4], I know that I need this protection.

  • You shall not be afraid of the terror by night. . . (verse 5),

Having recently suffered this attack[5], too, I’m also glad for this protection.

  • . . . nor of the arrow that flies by day. . . (verse 5),

Recently I was crossing the street at a crosswalk, and there was a car about half a block away.  When I was about a third of the way across, the driver suddenly stepped on the gas, as though to run me over.  I ran on across the street.  It wasn’t until later that I realized that the driver wasn’t just your ordinary crazy.  He was probably in league with the defeated enemy and looking to take me out.

  • . . . nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness. . . (verse 6),

I don’t mind being doubly protected from pestilence.

  • . . . nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday, (verse 6),
  • No evil shall befall you. . . (verse 10),

Being invisible to the defeated enemy and his minions will be important.

  • . . . nor shall any plague come near your dwelling. . . (verse 10),

Triple protection against illness!

  • For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone, (verses 11 & 12),

Angelic body guards—I’m going to need them.

  • You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra (verse 13).

See?  This is all about being God’s Secret Weapon.

So as I move into this next season as God’s Secret Weapon, traveling and doing the prophetic prayer work that He assigns, I will take Psalm 91 as my prayer and promise of divine protection.  All of this would be very frightening indeed without the promise of divine protection.  But having the promise of divine protection and protective invisibility, I face this new season of my life with a sense of excitement as an adventure.  What adventure is God calling you to?  God is good!

[1] See Hungry and My Heart’s Cry.

[2] See God’s Secret Weapon.

[3] See Invisibility—it’s quite an interesting story.

[4] See Barking Hell.

[5] See The Terror that Stalks at Midnight.

Parting Gift

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View of the Cathedral from the roof

This time of year what looms large upon my personal horizon is the knowledge that soon I will return to the US for my annual Thanksgiving and Christmas visit with family.  Since this visit is usually three or four months long, it means getting ready to make My Annual Move.  This year, just beyond that horizon is another: making my move out of the apartment and into my mission field, Europe.

Friends in Milan have expressed sorrow at the idea of losing me.  But I know that Milan is a place where God will keep bringing me back.  God hasn’t said as much to me, but I feel it in my heart.  I love Europe, but most of all, I love Milan.

Today God gave me a parting gift.  On Facebook a few days ago I had seen pictures that friends of mine took.  They showed a view of Milan that I had never seen before: from the roof of the Galleria.  I asked for details about how to get to the roof of the Galleria because I hadn’t even known that it was possible to go up there.

So today Tim and I went up there.  And here are the pictures that I took of that experience—my parting gift from God.  God is good!

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Putting our Heads Together

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As missionaries, it’s important to stay connected.

Stephanie is a new missionary, staying with me for a bit before she goes out to explore the rest of her mission field in Europe.  She arrived first in Barcelona and got a SIM chip for her phone.  But she was unable to unblock the phone to use it.  I had an old flip phone that had always worked well for me, and I gave it to her.  She was glad to get it, but the chip wouldn’t work in that phone, either.

We came up with some theories why it wouldn’t work:

  • It’s a 4G SIM in a 3G phone
  • It is actually only good in Spain (though they told her it was for international use)
  • My phone may have stopped functioning

Whatever the issue, it became clear that we needed to seek professional help to figure this out because Stephanie needed to be able to call in case she got lost or something.  So we went to a phone store.  The first one had an unfriendly salesperson who quickly sent us away, saying that they would only sell a phone and / or SIM with a contract.  The second one also had an unfriendly salesperson who said that they didn’t know how to solve our problem and sent us away.

The third one had a very friendly salesperson who was sure that she had the solution for us: she would sell Stephanie an Italian SIM chip for €20, which included unlimited calls and text for a month in Italy, and 200 gigabytes of data that she could use inside or outside of Italy.  Her friendliness and positive attitude regarding Stephanie’s problem made the offer very tempting.  But I excused us, saying that we would return after considering it over a coffee (I could do this since I was translating their conversation).

As we walked out of the store, I confided to Stephanie how the salesperson’s friendliness had tempted me to accept her offer.  But I wasn’t convinced that this was the ideal solution to her problem.  So we went and got a gelato and talked things over.

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Stephanie’s phone was blocked for calls or using other SIM chips, but she was able to use it for internet at my house, using my Wi-Fi.  So I asked her: “Do you need internet while you’re away from the house?  You can always find a café or other free internet point.”

She said that the only reason to have internet outside of the house would be for a map app.  But she pointed out that she had downloaded a map app that doesn’t need internet because it uses the phone’s GPS.

So I suggested that rather than get services that she doesn’t need, why doesn’t she buy a regular phone SIM for about €5 that will work in Italy.  Then when she goes on to her other destinations she can do the same in those countries.  Stephanie agreed, thrilled to have come to a workable solution.  Then she said: “You know, I think the Spanish SIM was probably only internet and no calls.”

So we went to a phone store that we hadn’t visited before.  I told the salesperson that we wanted to buy a prepaid SIM chip for the flip phone.  She sold it to Stephanie without any problem, and an hour later, it was connected and working perfectly.

As missionaries, we need to be careful about how we spend our money, and examining a problem like Stephanie’s over a coffee (or a gelato) is a great way to find the right solution.  I was glad that my time as a traveling missionary helped Stephanie as she steps into her own traveling ministry.

Helping Stephanie through this problem made me realize that God will likewise provide someone to help me through these kinds of challenges.  I have a lot of excitement and hope for the future, traveling again through my mission field.  Will I miss my apartment?  Probably.  But Peter said:

Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls, (1 Peter 2:11, emphasis mine).

I have moved so much in my life that I am well aware that I am a temporary resident wherever I am.  And here in Italy, I have never stopped being a foreigner.  In fact with each passing year I feel more and more foreign in the US, too.  But this is not a reason for sadness.  It’s just a reminder that Heaven is my only true home.  God is good!

The Fear that Stalks at Midnight

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Someone had posted this quote on Facebook just the other day

Last night I slept like a baby: up every two hours.  At one point, I woke up with a powerful feeling of fear.  The pounding of my heart woke me and all sorts of worries about the future suddenly rushed at me there in the dark.  Sweat broke out so badly that my hair, pajamas, sheets, and pillowcase were suddenly soaked.

Immediately I recognized that this fear and worry was not coming from my own mind.  I have had experience with troubling thoughts that were not mine.  And this morning as I turned on my computer, I realized that this kind of demonic attack is probably not unusual for God’s people.  But perhaps not all recognize that these emotions had not been born in their own hearts.  So here is a teaching moment.

I remember the day when I realized that I didn’t have to react in anger whenever someone said (or screamed) angry words to me.  Their angry words continued to stir up angry feelings in me, but it was freeing to know that I didn’t have to give in to the emotion—and cause myself more trouble.  Instead, I could walk away and calmly assess what would be a better response—and there was always a better response.

I didn’t know it then, but now I realize: in those times when an angry word would set me off into a tirade, what was really going on was that a demon was behind the scenes pushing my buttons and pulling my strings like an invisible puppet master, laughing at the chaos that I was making of my life, and hoping to ultimately destroy me.

I used to struggle a lot with depression.  Once I suffered almost a year in such a deep depression that I began to have suicidal hallucinations.  These were not fantasies, but genuine hallucinations.  The two suicides I hallucinated both involved the big kitchen knife.  In one slit my throat from ear to ear.  In the other I plunged the knife into my heart.  I would be performing the most mundane household mom tasks (putting sheets in the dryer, getting the mail, or bathing the baby) and suddenly I had the knife in my hand.  I could feel the cold, sharp edge of the blade, but no pain.  Then the warm, velvety gush of blood and the copper-salty smell of it.  When the hallucinations were happening, I didn’t know that they weren’t really happening.

And when I snapped out of it again to find my baby splashing happily in the bathtub, it really frightened me.  I would ask my husband or older son to watch the baby, and I would go hide in the closet.  Something about being in the closet felt safe.  It was dark, all the sounds of the house were muffled and distant, and I could calm myself as I breathed there among the clothing that smelled like us.

This was during the years that I was so disappointed with God that I considered myself an atheist.  I didn’t believe in God, so by default I didn’t believe in the devil, either.  But one afternoon there in the closet, I suddenly realized that these hallucinations were not coming from my mind.  That meant that they had to be coming from outside of me.  I knew it because I knew that as bad as things were, I didn’t want to kill myself.  I would never leave my sons that kind of legacy no matter how bad things got.  But if I ever did want to kill myself, it would never, ever involve a knife and blood.

Understanding that this was coming from outside of me scared me even more.  But it also helped in a crazy way because I knew that I was still ultimately in control of my actions.  Since I didn’t want to kill myself, I wouldn’t kill myself.  If this entity wanted to kill me, it would just do it, right?  If it could kill me without my cooperation, it would have already done so, right?  So I began to understand that maybe I could fight this thing.

I went to a counselor (not a psychiatrist because I didn’t want to be medicated) and I talked things out.  I had the idea that if talking about the pain would make it go away, then that is what I would talk about.  So I went in week after week, skipping the small talk and going straight to the heart of the pain.  It was hard!  It was like emotionally disemboweling myself week after week.  And it go so that I couldn’t function for two days leading up to my appointment, so I asked for two appointments a week.  And I stuck with my plan of talking the pain out.

After two unbelievably difficult months, the depression suddenly lifted and I quit going to counseling.  Several months later, Jesus reclaimed me.  Yes, He left the 99 to come looking for this little lost sheep.  And of course, when I journaled all of this later, I realized the source of those suicidal hallucinations—and of my destructive angry responses.

We need to understand that we live in a battlefield, and there are invisible fiery darts whizzing past our heads all the time.  The defeated enemy is defeated, but he doesn’t appear to know it.  He and his minions whisper discouragement and negativity into our ears all the time.  God is also speaking to us all the time: words of encouragement and strength and love.

When we have a thought, it can only have one of three possible sources: God, the defeated enemy, or our own mind.  We need to learn to listen better to God’s voice.  God will speak to you, often in a particular way that you know your own mind doesn’t work.  For example, I am a word person.  I do not think in pictures at all.  So when I get a picture thought, it’s almost always from God.

Another way that I know a God thought from my own is this: if it’s a great idea (one that benefits His Kingdom) that I am resisting, that’s from God.  I never resist my own great ideas (and often they turn out not to be so great after all).  And if God gives you a great idea, overcome your resistance and do it.  You’ll find that obedience really is better than sacrifice—in so many ways.

So what is God telling you today?  Do it!  What are you waiting for?  God is good!

P.S. You might be wondering what I did last night, trembling and drenched in sweat.  I rebuked the spirit of fear.  Then I got up, praising God, and went to the bathroom to wash my face in cold water.  Then I sat in my prayer chair and softly sang: Look what the Lord has done! to myself.  Then I went back to bed (all fear and worry completely gone) and slept very deeply until seven—for me this is like sleeping until noon.

An Answer to Prayer Arrives at my Door

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Praying for healing in Prague.

During my trip to Texas last year I was invited to lunch by Silvia and her daughter, Stephanie.  I had stayed at Silvia’s house two years previously, and she wanted me to meet Stephanie—or rather, she had wanted Stephanie to meet me.  The reason became clear immediately: Stephanie is very interested in becoming a missionary.  She wanted to know specifically about fundraising.

I told her: “If God is calling you to missions, then He will provide the funding.  All you have to do is get ready to go and don’t worry about the money.  It will come right on time.”  The thing that trips up lots of would-be missionaries is that they respond to God’s call by looking at their bank balance.  Wrong!  Of course your bank balance is not going to be enough!  God will provide in one of two ways:

  1. Supernaturally by touching the hearts of people to give you money or by making the money appear when you need it. God might want to grow your faith in this way.  Or
  2. God will instruct you to start fundraising, and how to go about doing that. By asking people to help you financially, you’re actually giving them the opportunity to share in your blessing as a missionary.  Fundraising can actually be a way to bless people.

Stephanie felt encouraged and excited to launch into the mission field.  But then I didn’t hear from her for several months.  Then this summer she contacted me, saying that she’s booking her flight to Milan to come stay with me, and asking if her flight date was good for me.

At first I wanted to say no.  What am I going to do with this girl?  But then I realized that she’s one of the answers to my daily prayer for more missionaries to Europe.  If God’s sending her here, then He has a purpose for that.  So I told her to come on.  This is what I had been encouraging her to do back in December last year—I just hadn’t expected her to come to me.

So after much communication, walking her through issues that she hadn’t known about, like only being allowed in the Schengen Zone for 90 days out of every six months.  Stephanie finally got her tickets and came.  Her first flight was delayed and it made her miss her second flight.  She spent the night in the Barcelona airport and flew to Milan yesterday.

I couldn’t go meet her flight, so Tim offered to meet her for me.  I had an appointment at the police station to get my Permit to Live in Italy.  It turned out that it was not granted, but it was also not denied.  I need to return in February with a more current tax return, showing proof of my income.  This is all going to be interesting for my future homeless state in Europe.  I may be the one who has to exit the Schengen Zone every three out six months of the year.  We’ll see.

When I returned to the house she was here.  Stephanie’s first official day as a missionary was very low-key.  We went to lunch at my local pizza place and then went on the walking tour of Milan that I show visitors.  She enjoyed seeing the cathedral, the castle, and chocolate shoes at La Rinascente department store the best.

This gave us the chance to get to know each other better.  Stephanie told me about some of her health challenges.  She has faith for healing, but has not seen it manifested in her body yet.  Healing is one of those issues that really seems to divide Christians.  Most of us profess to have faith for healing, yet we deny it with our own mouths by the things we say.  When I pointed out something that Stephanie said as an example of something to quit saying about herself, she immediately agreed.  We talked about strategies for expressing a present truth without making a negative confession: “I suffer from . . .” instead of “I have . . .” is a good example.  She agreed to the strategy.

I also shared something I heard in a sermon about how God provides for those whom He has called: “God’s will, God’s bill!”  Stephanie laughed, agreeing with the idea.

Because she had slept in the airport, Stephanie had slept very little—and that after a long day of travel over nine time zones.  And since I had kept her walking much of the day, when we returned to the house, she was exhausted and enjoyed an early bedtime.

Early this morning, Stephanie came to me for prayer, saying that she hadn’t slept well, feeling like she is under a spiritual attack.  This neither surprised nor alarmed me.  But I prayed for her, proclaiming God’s perfect shalom over her body and mind.  She slept like a baby after that.

Today Stephanie starts her first day of ministry.  Please pray for her to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit today and all the rest of her life and ministry.  And thank God, too, for this living, breathing answer to my daily prayer: a missionary who has faithfully answered God’s call to Europe.  Bless her!  God is good!

Unfriendly Fire

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Well, it’s happened again.  It seems that every year as we approach halloween[1], I come across and read articles on why Christians shouldn’t celebrate halloween[2].  And when I post the link to said article on Facebook, there are always Christian friends who disagree with me.  That’s fine, I don’t agree with all of my friends on everything.

Some will invariably suggest Trunk or Treat or Harvest Festivals at Church in place of halloween.  I respectfully disagree, responding that God already has fall festivals: Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles.  God also already has a costumed holiday: Purim.  These holidays do not glorify the defeated enemy in any way.  Nor do they risk offending God, since they are His holidays and nobody else’s.

I understand Christians wanting some alternative way for their children to celebrate so that they won’t feel left out and weird.  But we are called to be different.  Different people stand out.  Different people are weird.  We are told:

And do not be conformed to this world [any longer with its superficial values and customs], but be transformed and progressively changed [as you mature spiritually] by the renewing of your mind [focusing on godly values and ethical attitudes], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His plan and purpose for you], (Romans 12:2, AMP, emphasis mine).

A conformed person floats along through life, going with the flow.  It’s an easy, effortless life that eventually drops like a little paper boat down into the dark storm drain, never to return.

A transformed person swims upstream, against the flow, occasionally bumping into the floaters.  Opposition, even from other Christians, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going the wrong way.  Are the floaters saved?  They may be.  The Bible clearly says that some will get to Heaven despite the fact that all their works are burned up[3].  I think these Christianized satanic celebrations are an example of works that are going to be burned up.

Like I said, it’s not unusual for me to disagree with my friends on various issues.  But about halloween, there always seems to be one person who decides to hold a public debate about halloween, saying that there’s nothing wrong or sinful about a Christian with pure motives celebrating this holiday that’s long been divorced from its origins.

Of course there’s nothing sinful about a person dressing up or handing out candy.  But why do they absolutely have to do it on October 31?  halloween is not long divorced from its origins.  There are many satanists, witches, and occultists that celebrate halloween.  It is a high holy[4] day that they take very seriously.  Just because we think it’s a lot of harmless fun doesn’t take away any of the satanic involvement.  So when you dress your child, even as a princess or a bunny, you’re celebrating a satanic high holy day—whether you believe it or not, because you’ve strayed into enemy territory.  That truck bearing down on you is going to seriously mess you up, whether you believe it or not, because you’ve strayed onto the highway.  The seriousness that satanists have regarding halloween should cause any true Christian to really stop and think this through.

Under the original name, samhain, halloween is similar in every little detail to modern halloween.  Check it out:

samhain halloween
Celebrated from sundown on October 31 through November 1 halloween and All-Saints Day celebrated October 31 through November 1
Dressing up to fool evil spirits Dressing up to fool friends
Dressing up as ghosts to get food or money from frightened neighbors Dressing up to go trick-or-treating for candy or money
Food and sweets left outside the door as offerings to the spirits Going door-to-door for sweets
Ancient Celts would prophesy all night about the coming year Telling ghost stories long into the night on halloween
Bonfires lit to offer sacrifices to the spirits Bonfires lit for nighttime parties
Fairies are said to roam the night Trick-or-treaters roam the streets
Spirits said to perform pranks Trick-or-treaters perform pranks
Ancient Romans celebrated pomona on this date by putting out apples Apple-bobbing comes from the pomona celebration
Ancient Celts carved turnips and lit them with burning embers to keep spirits away Carving and lighting jack-o-lanterns

The timing of the halloween celebration is because during these days the veil between the material world and the spirit world is said to be thinner than at any other time.  In fact, if you investigate you’ll find that occultists have very definitive beliefs about what is and isn’t possible on certain dates.

The real issue is that celebrating the defeated enemy’s high holy day opens the door to allow him to interfere in your life.  This is not a punishment from God or a curse from God.  God doesn’t work that way.  But when we stray into the defeated enemy’s territory, we shouldn’t be surprised if he attacks us.  Would you go into your neighbor’s yard, knowing he has a fierce pit bull there?  Would you let your child?  But what if your neighbor has some really fun playground equipment and a pool?  The dog’s probably sleeping, right?  Do you see how silly these rationalizations are in the face of real risk?

And besides the risk of disease or danger, there’s another risk associated with celebrating the defeated enemy’s holy day: alienating God.  I wrote about this last year, see A Halloween Story.

Here are some more thoughts on halloween that I invite you to consider:

  • Wiccans (the religion of witchcraft) celebrate halloween as a religious holiday. Why would Christians celebrate the holiday of any other religion[5]?  In the passage below, the comparison is meant to reveal the gravity of the sin of rebellion.

Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols, (1 Samuel 15:23, emphasis mine).

Witchcraft is exceedingly evil in God’s eyes.

  • As Christians, we worship the Lord of Life. The focus of halloween is death.  People decorate their yards with ghosts, zombies, vampires, graveyards, effigies, etc.  And the celebration is mostly done after sunset.  Even if we don’t personally embrace the death aspect of halloween, the rest of the world certainly does.  What kind of message are we sending?
  • God calls witchcraft detestable[6]. Why do you want to celebrate something that God hates?  Or participate in it as if you do celebrate it?
  • God told us to put away deeds of darkness[7]. I believe that it’s dangerous to even look like we’re participating with darkness.  God said that light has nothing in common with darkness[8].  Again, this doesn’t seem like something a Child of the Light should be participating in.
  • Even if you don’t dress your kids like devils, witches, ghosts, zombies, or vampires, other people are. The Bible says that we need to be wise about good and innocent of evil[9].  If you allow your children to participate in halloween, even while dressed as something innocent, you’re sending them mixed messages.
  • The Bible says:

Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord.  Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you, (2 Corinthians 6:17, emphasis mine).

We are called to be set apart from the world and from sin and evil, not go with the flow.

  • Some of your family and friends will think it’s ridiculous not to allow your children to dress up for Halloween. I, personally, have gotten a lot of pushback on this subject.  My perspective is this: while I love and respect them, God’s opinion is the only one that matters to me.
  • The first clue was that slight doubt in my heart about halloween. Why should I go against that still, small voice that tells me halloween is wrong?
  • Nothing about halloween brings glory to God.

God’s Word says:

Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them, (Ephesians 5:11).

You can’t get any clearer than that.

Instead of trying to Christianize halloween by escaping to church for a harvest festival until all the trick-or-treaters have gone home, let’s take the opportunity to share our faith:

  • Don’t decorate your door, or if you do, decorate only for autumn.
  • Turn on the lights for the safety of all visitors.
  • Buy candy to hand out—good candy even if it tempts you.
  • Buy some Christian tracts[10].
  • Hand out both candy and tracts together when the kids come to the door.
  • Be kind and friendly to all of your visitors.
  • Take all leftovers (both candy and tracts) to work the next day and leave them together in the breakroom for your co-workers.

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This way you can share your faith while maintaining the integrity of your beliefs and not compromising.

There are 364 other days that you can have a costume party.  This is the only day when you really shouldn’t.  God is good!

[1] A word I refuse to dignify by capitalizing.

[2] Here are a few articles you might find interesting:

Former satan Worshipper: “I’m Shocked Christians Celebrate halloween”

Why Christians Absolutely Should Not Celebrate halloween

Should Christians Celebrate halloween?

[3] 1 Corinthians 3:11-15.

[4] Holy means set apart.  Obviously a satanic holy day is not the same as a God-ordained holy day.

[5] Especially one that is specifically forbidden by God (see Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 19:26 & 31; Deuteronomy 18:10-14; 1 Samuel 15:23; 2 Kings 9:22, 17:17, & 21:6; 2 Chronicles 33:6; Isaiah 2:6, 47:9, & 57:3; Jeremiah 14:14; Ezekiel 12:24, 13:6-9, 23, 21:21-29, & 22:28; Micah 3:6 & 5:12; Nahum 3:4; Acts 8:9-11, 16:16, & 19:19; Galatians 5:20; Revelation 9:21, 18:23, & 21:8).

[6] Deuteronomy 18:10-14.

[7] Romans13:12.

[8] 2 Corinthians 6:14.

[9] Romans 16:19.

[10] Here’s one that’s made for the occasion: Halloween Million Dollar Bill.

Encouraging Ministries in Milan

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Closer to home the missions team from Asheville joined me in encouraging a couple of ministries here in Milan: Remar and MiHOP.

When we visited Remar last year they were in a temporary facility near Centrale train station.  At that time they were hoping to stay there in that building because its proximity to the train station gave the refugees something to do: beg for money at a place where they were likely to have the most success.  Of course they don’t condone or promote begging as a lifestyle, but because these men can’t legally work, they have no other means of obtaining money.  Begging is better than stealing.  Another difficulty with that facility was that they were not able to keep the doors open all day.  In fact, the doors were only open about an hour in the morning and the men were all required to leave.  The doors were opened again in the evening just before the dinner hour, then locked at nine.  Anyone who didn’t get there in time had to sleep outside.  Because of the brief and strict hours, there was little opportunity for language or job training.

This year we visited Remar at their new facility at the edge of Milan.  The new facility is much better than the other.  For one thing, it is much bigger.  So instead of housing 20 men, they can now house 50.  And since this new building has been provided to them by the city, they are no longer under the old restrictions.  They can stay open all day, which allows them much more time for language classes and training the men for various jobs.

We were thrilled to have the opportunity this year to meet with Pastor Andres, the head of Remar in Italy.  He told us about the organization, which originated in Spain.  The word remar means to row a boat.  The idea being “let’s row together.”  Remar has many facilities throughout southern Europe, including Switzerland, Croatia, Greece, and Albania.  And several others in Italy.  We were very pleased to be able to pray for their new building and for Pastor Andres and his team of professionals and volunteers.

Then we toured the facility and went to meet with the men.  Many of them speak English, being from various English-speaking African countries.  It encouraged them so much to see outsiders come in and be willing to talk with them.  Besides the staff, they have had little positive interaction with others here in Italy.

In the evening we went to MiHOP, the Milan House of Prayer, based on the Kansas City HOP model.  Again, last year’s experience here was improved upon, though the facility remains the same.  This year we were able to meet with the founders of MiHOP and pray for them.  We spent time in prayer and worship, enjoying God’s presence together.

The ministry that we were unable to reconnect with this year was Missione REM.  We had met them at their bus in Turin last year[1].  This year they also have a new facility at the edge of town, but our tight schedule and transportation issues prevented a visit.  Still, it was really good to reconnect with these ministries.  And just by a simple visit, they were greatly encouraged.  God is good!

[1] See Fashionably Early.

Prayer Walking in Rome

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The Colosseum, where we lost and found our focus again.

Our prayer walk in Rome started at the Spanish Steps, known as a trafficking and prostitution center in Rome.  We prayed, some at the bottom of the steps, some at the top, and some in the middle.

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I prayed about human trafficking at the bottom of the Spanish Steps.

From there we hopped back onto the crowded subway to go to Circus Maximus.  People think that the Christians were martyred at the Colosseum, and it’s possible that some were.  But the vast majority of Christians martyred in Rome were killed at Circus Maximus.  And there was a strategic reason to kill Christians at Circus Maximus: it’s much, much bigger than the Colosseum.  The Colosseum could hold 50,000 people, while Circus Maximus could hold 250,000.  Plus, the Colosseum was for the upper crust of Roman society, while Circus Maximus was for the commoners.  So the whole idea behind killing Christians at Circus Maximus was for maximum impact: to warn the masses against joining this sect.

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On the bottom right you can see what the original Circus Maximus looked like.

The fact that Christianity survived under such severe persecution proves the supernatural aspect of the Christian life.  If Christianity were a mere human religion, it wouldn’t have survived its leader’s crucifixion and death, much less the gory deaths of thousands of its followers.

In looking at the death of Jesus versus the deaths of His followers, there is an interesting difference.  Jesus was deeply troubled and suffering in the hour leading up to His arrest.  He even sweat blood, which is a biological fact that happens to people who are severely stressed.  It’s called hematidrosis[1].  Meanwhile, the martyrs faced their deaths calmly and even joyfully.  For example, Hugh Latimer told his friend, Nicholas Ridley, as they were about to be burned as heretics: “We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”  The reason for this stark difference in suffering is because God looked away as Jesus hung on the cross.  It was the only time that Jesus had experienced such separation.  Besides the physical suffering, this caused Jesus severe emotional pain.  Whereas the martyrs were comforted by the Holy Spirit, who never left them.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants, (Psalm 116:15, NIV).

Although I don’t personally believe that I will be martyred, still this gives me comfort, knowing that if I am killed for my faith, I know that God of all Comfort[2] will be right there with me, comforting me through it all.

Before setting out that morning, the Lord instructed me to go to the grocery store and buy a bottle of red wine.  I did.  When we got to Circus Maximus, I opened the wine and poured it all out on the killing ground, praying for the ground to be cleansed of innocent blood.  Everyone went their separate ways around the enormous grounds.  One person went to the stairs in the middle of one side.  There she found lots of discarded drug paraphernalia, and prayed into the obvious drug problem in modern Rome.

When we neared the far side of the field, one person observed a cloud that looked like a giant hand.  We felt like God had heard and was pleased with our prayers.  And spontaneously, we began to sing a joyful song: Victory!  Indeed, it was a moment in which we felt that a victory had been won.

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We could see the hand of God at work that day.

Continuing on we walked past the Forum to the Arch of Titus, which depicts the conquest and sacking of Jerusalem.  To get in to see the arch, we would have to stand in a long line and pay a fee.  We didn’t see the point in doing that.  So we prayed outside the fence.

Likewise we walked past the Arch of Constantine.  In a sense, what Constantine did to Christianity was every bit as damaging as what Titus did to Jerusalem.  The Edict of Milan, legalizing Christianity, was strictly a political move.  On a personal level, if Constantine legalized Christianity, then he wouldn’t have to kill his mother, who had become a convert.  Plus, after 300 years of severe persecution, it was clear that Christianity was not going away.  So he joined the Christians by taking over and forming a central leadership over the church.  Immediately, Constantine announced that the Sabbath would be celebrated on Sunday—which was the current pagan day of worship.  The main reason to do this was to expel the Messianic Jews from Christianity—or at least to make them less Jewish.  I have done a lot of prayer on the subject of Constantine[3].

We continued walking to Mamertine Prison, where the Apostle Paul was imprisoned until his execution.  By this time I was very tired, and opted to sit on a low wall outside the prison.  Other members of the group went inside.  I prayed for Paul’s words and legacy to continue and even to strengthen in these last days before Jesus’ return.

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We might not have most of the New Testament if Paul hadn’t been imprisoned.

Then we approached the Colosseum.  Coming at it from this angle (slightly down hill) made it clear to me why we use the word colossal to mean huge.  It looms quite large from below like this.  As we approached, one member of our group had us stop.  She said that she felt like we had lost our focus.  And she was not alone in that feeling, because I had been feeling the same, though I hadn’t found the words to describe the feeling.  So we prayed right there for a renewal of our focus and purpose in this place.  I began to feel the fuzz of confusion lift immediately.

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The Colosseum is colossal from this angle.

With the return of our focus, we headed to Trastevere where the Ministry of Education is headquartered.  We had promised Michele that we would pray there on behalf of his ministry to children.  With all that finished by midday, we found a trattoria and had some lunch.

After lunch we went to the Pantheon, originally dedicated as a temple to the pantheon of Roman gods.  I had wanted to pray at this church because of its pagan origins.  It is another example of the mixing of Christianity and paganism.

Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers.  How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness?  How can light live with darkness?  What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil?  How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:14-15).

It was a long day, but a good one.  The next day we headed back to Milan—me together with His other Secret Weapons.  Someday we will understand the good that our prayers did that day.  Until then, we just have to take it on faith.  God is good!

[1] “Hematidrosis is a condition in which capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat glands rupture, causing them to exude blood, occurring under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress,” (Wikipedia).

[2] 2 Corinthians 1:3.

[3] See The Edict of Milan.

Encouragement in Action

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Missionary life isn’t always smooth sailing!

With the missions team from Asheville here in Milan, there were some ministries and people that we wanted to follow up with from last year’s visit.  I also wanted to introduce them to some new people: missionaries in need of encouragement.

One missionary we met up with was going through a marital crisis.  I hadn’t had any idea how much trouble the couple were going through because each has spoken very little to me about it.  Honestly, I had thought that our meeting was to learn more about their ministries.  But that quickly turned into a counseling session.  Of course what we heard was only one side of the problem, since the spouse wasn’t present to respond.  The most troubling aspect was learning that they had separated.

Missionaries are not immune from marital difficulties[1].  Marriage is hard enough without the added pressures of ministry, living in a foreign culture, and in many cases not having a spiritual mentor available.  These things can drive a wedge between spouses and expose any weaknesses in the relationship.  Add to that the fact that no two people are on the exact same level spiritually.  One is always more spiritually mature than the other.  Unfortunately, I’ve known a few missionary couples whose marriage didn’t survive the mission field.

We did our best to encourage the missionary to continue marital counseling and to not give up.  Although the situation looks dire, with the words “I’m done” repeated no less than eight times, I was reminded that God is the God of resurrection.  He resurrected Lazarus, Jesus, and countless prophets days or even years after their deaths.  He can resurrect dead feelings and a dead relationship, too.

On another day we visited with a missionary couple going through a different set of difficulties.  Their problems are both financial and familial.  And on top of that, they have been ministering in the same town for several years now with no discernable results.  Europe, and especially Italy, can be a very difficult and discouraging mission field.  The challenge of ministering in a post-Christian environment is that most people feel that they know all about Christianity, and it didn’t work for them.  Of course, what didn’t work is institutionalized religion.  And when that institutionalized religion’s leader has pronounced evangelical Christianity as a “sect” and a personal relationship with Jesus as “dangerous,” that makes it even harder to break through with the truth.

Our friends told us of their grown kids’ struggles in their marriages, struggles with adulting, and struggles as new parents of triplets.  The mother wants to chuck the mission field and return home to help with her new grandchildren—very understandable.  However, she admits that she knows her help will only be partly accepted.  She is also aware that the financial difficulties will be multiplied if they go back home, when they are no longer doing ministry.  They both admitted that being in God’s will is more important than their personal desires.

So we prayed for them and blessed them to hear God’s voice clearly on this issue.  I left feeling more certain of a good outcome for this couple, and for their children.

Sometimes an encouragement ministry looks like a triage ward: bandaging the wounds with words of comfort and prayer.  I don’t know how either of these couples will fare.  I can only place them into the hands of the One who holds their future.  He will surely care for them no matter how things go.  God is good!

[1] See Husbands used by the Defeated Enemy.