Originally published April 2, 2012
Greetings from Milan! After over 30 hours of travel on 4 different flights I finally arrived in Milan on Saturday night. I spent the night at a friend’s house about an hour outside Milan. To her surprise, I made the hour and a half trip to visit my Italian home church for Sunday morning service. I always say that I get 50 kisses before I even reach my seat, and that’s how it was again. It sounds like I should be exhausted, but really I feel great. I slept very long and deeply on the transatlantic flight, and again slept very well Saturday night. No jetlag at all!
Even better than the affectionate welcome I received from my friends at church, was the wonderful welcome from God. Some people say that church shouldn’t be emotional, but when those emotions are love for God, and feeling His love for me, I think emotions are appropriate. How can I not respond when my heart is brimming over with love?
Out of the blue, a friend from my old neighborhood asked if I would like to stay in her apartment while she’s out of town for a week. Immediately I thought that this would be a great opportunity to look for an apartment in the old neighborhood. The idea of returning to the old neighborhood is not just a sentimental thing. When I returned to Milan in 2010 after a three year absence, the only apartment I was able to get into was one in the old neighborhood. I knew then that it wasn’t an accident that I had lived in that neighborhood the first time, either. It’s obvious that God put me there for a purpose.
Therefore, please pray for me as I search for an apartment this week. I need wisdom and discernment, and to find an affordable one with two bathrooms.
Thank you very much! God bless and prosper you!
What a Difference a Year Makes
Originally published April 5, 2012
This time last year I was in St. Peter’s Basilica for the Easter afternoon service. The sermon was all about salvation in Jesus Christ. I was surprised to hear that there was nothing about works or Jesus’ mother (who the Italians love to distraction). Tonight I just returned from a cell group meeting of an historic old church here in Milan. It was one of the most anointed meetings I’ve ever attended. Except for a few Catholic terms (parish, priest, and mass, for example), it was indiscernible from any other cell group meeting. Tonight’s subject: Seeking the Holy Spirit’s Help to Forgive.
I returned to Italy Saturday evening, and like always, I found myself really wanting to settle down again in Milan. My ministry requires a lot of travel, but I really do need a place of my own. My friends have been incredibly supportive: one friend and his family hosted my kitty, Boo-Boo for most of this past year (until her death of cancer). Another friend has let me store most of my things in his garage. Yet another has let me use her apartment as a landing spot between ministry trips. And many other friends always have a couch or bed that I can use for a few nights whenever I come their way. Has anyone ever been more blessed than me? I don’t think so!
This time last year I was packing my things to put them into storage. Now I feel the need for an apartment where I can get to the things I need without having to ask my friend to unlock his garage for me. I would also like to have a place where I can come and go at whatever hour without worrying that I’ll disturb someone. You know how it is. So I am looking for an apartment, but not only for myself. It has been in my heart to open a guesthouse here in Milan where I can host visiting missionaries and pastors. Milan is strategically located for travel throughout the continent, being pretty much central to Western Europe. It’s also super-connected with three airports and many more train stations. The guesthouse would also serve as a House of Prayer for Europe. I would love to share this burden for Europe with those who pass through.
This time last year I was getting ready to go on a Faith Trip because I had gotten ahead of God. Now I’m carefully seeking Him for guidance as I look for an apartment. But I am still flexible enough to be ready to go whenever and wherever He leads.
What a difference a year makes!
Originally published April 10, 2012
Greetings from Biella, Italy! Biella is about 50 miles north of Turin in the beautiful mountains of northern Italy.
Last night I was invited to dinner at the home of friends here. Salvatore was raised in an Evangelical Christian family. So unlike most Italians, he was never Catholic. But like most of us, he nevertheless bears the scars of the world.
He told us about his “lost” years, when he was a wild youth, partying, drinking, and taking foolish risks. Then he spoke about his passion for music, how he had always dreamed of conducting; and how that dream was very nearly quashed by his father’s angry words. He said that he would be playing the drums, dreaming away when he was nine years old. His father would take the drum set and throw them out the window, saying to Salvatore: “You’ll never amount to anything with these drums.” As he spoke, his eyes filled with tears—more than 30 years later, the pain of the memory was still fresh.
He said that he had wanted to go to university for a major in music, but his parents wouldn’t sign the papers because of financial concerns. Then when he had been working a while, he tried again, only to be told he was too old. His shoulders sagged with remembered disappointment.
Now Salvatore is the conductor of the worship team at church. He is a very talented musician. He told about how he had consulted a professional technician about the set up for a concert the church was putting on. The technician had worked for Vasco Rossi, one of the top stars on the Italian music scene. When he looked at how Salvatore had set up the master board, he said the only thing he would do differently would be to label the inputs. He smiled at the confirmation of this professional.
My comment was this: “Salvatore, obviously you have a Master’s Degree from God’s University of Music. What more could a human university do for you?” As he reflected upon my words, he agreed that God had done more for him than any piece of paper from a university.
I think we parents must be very careful about the things we say to our children. Salvatore had been so wounded by his parents’ words and actions that he was unable to see God’s stamp of approval upon him. And I doubt he would have wandered into that dark underworld of alcohol abuse and risky behavior if he had gotten the approval and support of his parents.
Jesus said that we will be called to account for every idle word we speak (Matthew 12:35-37). Perhaps his father was just having a bad day, which he’s no doubt forgotten about now. But look at the hurt inflicted. Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” For good or evil, our words have power. Listen to how you speak to your children and others that you love. Make your words sweet, empowering, and full of love. The future is not in your hands, it’s in your mouth.
Laboring for a God-Given Dream
Originally published April 23, 2012
“Many, many Christians are pregnant, but never give birth.” Bella’s eyes held me as she gripped her middle. This little African woman could easily fool you into thinking that she’s weak. The truth, I was discovering, is that she’s a fierce warrior—a prayer warrior.
“They are pregnant with a dream that God has given them, but at the first sign of resistance, they give up.”
“Buy why?” I wanted to know, “Why on earth would they give up on a God-given dream?”
She shrugged, “Who knows? Laziness? They take their eyes off of Jesus? They get tired of praying?” She shrugged again.
Despite the late hour, I felt like somebody had plugged me into the electricity. My spirit told me: “This is important!”
Bella had just finished telling me about how she had come to possess the House of Prayer in her city. The house had been a church, but one in which the leadership had clearly gotten off on the wrong track. Frankly, I don’t remember the details, but when Bella began telling me about the pastor’s pharaoh-like resistance to her efforts to use the house weekly as a House of Prayer, I began to be really interested.
From a purely human perspective, he seemed to be so stubbornly-entrenched that Bella would never be able to use the house, not even for an hour. But that’s when Bella strapped on her armor and went to war—on her knees. Each time she talked to the pastor, he dug-in even tighter, and Bella prayed ever-harder. After several weeks, the pastor abandoned the house, and the rental agent called Bella to ask if she was still interested in renting the house. Bella didn’t know how she would pay the rent, but she knew that God had given her the house, so He would also provide the rent money. The church continues to meet there, but with a different pastor. The rest of the time, it is a dedicated House of Prayer.
Here’s the thing: when it’s a God-given dream, we need to be willing to pray it through to victory. The think we often don’t realize that victory is certain. When we partner with God, what can possibly stop us? Finances? People? The devil? Nothing! Nothing can stop us when we are praying for a God-given dream.
So why do we have to labor in prayer? I’ve wondered this, myself. In large part, I believe it’s because enemy resistance slows the manifestation of the God-given dream, as in when the angel appeared to Daniel:
Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.” Daniel 10:12-13
Enemy resistance slows, but cannot stop God’s answer to our prayers. And we need to understand that our prayers are helping the angels do battle in the heavenlies on our behalf. But make no mistake about it: God’s perfect timing will prevail. If the dream is delayed, rest assured that it will never be late.
The only way the enemy can possibly win is if we give up. So he throws obstacles into our path and whispers discouragement into our ears—many times through the lips of those we love and trust. Unfortunately, this is often enough to stop Christians. As Bella said, they are pregnant with a God-given dream, but never deliver.
Is your dream a God-given dream? Here’s how you will know: a God-given dream will always be something that saves souls. II Peter 3:8-9 explains waiting on a God-given dream:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
A God-given dream will always result in people being saved. That is God’s chief desire, and when your desire matches His, nothing can possibly stop you. Don’t waste your time praying for something that is for your flesh, some temporary want—a fancy car, a plasma screen TV, that particular man or woman you want to marry (God will never make someone love you or want to marry you). “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures,” (James 4:3).
Likewise, don’t waste your time laboring in prayer for God to give you what is already yours. All the things promised to God’s children: health, provision, patience, etc. Those are already yours. Instead, begin to ask God what is preventing you from receiving those things. Often it is just a matter of having weak faith (sorry, but it’s true). Faith is a muscle that must be exercised. And faith comes from having the Word of God inside you. Shut off the world (TV, radio, internet, and unchristian books) and get into the Bible—get the Bible into you. On your daily commute instead of listening to secular music on the radio, listen to the Bible on CD or a Bible-based Christian teaching. As you get the Word of God inside you, your faith can’t help but grow, and with it an understanding of your rights and privileges a child of God.
Have you ever looked at the moon and “held” it between your thumb and forefinger? The moon is huge, but it’s far enough away to look very small. The closer you are to the moon, the bigger it will become in your sight, until finally it’s big enough to stand on. It’s the same with God. If the problem seems bigger than God, it’s because you’re closer to the problem than you are to God.
Back to the moon: seen in scale, the moon is tiny next to the earth; and the earth is tiny next to the sun. The sun is a mere speck on the outer arm of our galaxy, and there are literally billions of galaxies, each containing billions of stars. And God holds it all in His hand. How big is your God? Maybe you just need to get closer to Him. Bella has an enormous God, and I want to have her kind of faith.
Life & Death in Switzerland
Originally published May 19, 2012
I think Switzerland is the most beautiful spot on earth. Perhaps that has something to do with being born in one of the flattest, driest, most featureless landscapes imaginable: the panhandle of Texas. The first time I saw a picture of a high mountain meadow, I was in love. How can anyone doubt the Artist’s existence when they see the work of His hands?
From Milan, Switzerland sits enticingly close—just about an hour away. Often when the summer in Milan leaves me feeling crushed with the heat, humidity, and shortened tempers, my thoughts turn to Switzerland, and I dream of refuge. My strength doesn’t come from the mountains, but God put me close enough to the mountains to go get some much-needed relief from the heat of a Milan summer. “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?” (Psalm 121:1). I’ve lived in Milan off and on since the summer of 2001. Switzerland has been my favorite summer destination for the past 11 years now. In fact, I even wrote about the beauty of Switzerland’s summer meadows in an article for The American Magazine (http://www.theamericanmag.com/article.php?feature=travel&column=70&article=1552&button=+).
So, being May, with summer swiftly coming upon us, when my friend, Anastasia, told me that she’s going to Switzerland, my ears perked up. She’s meeting a friend from Russia who is going to Switzerland for in vitro fertilization. Anastasia asked me to pray for her friend to become pregnant, and of course, I said that I would.
Then I remembered something I had read: that Switzerland is the world’s number one suicide tourist destination. The reason for this is that in 1941 Swiss voters determined that ending one’s life is a human right. Therefore, one doesn’t have to prove a terminal diagnosis in order to legally end their life in Switzerland. And there is an organization that will help foreign visitors end their lives. There are active pro-euthanasia groups in Italy, but between the political dominance of the Catholic Church and the proximity of Switzerland, it is extremely doubtful that Italy would embrace assisted suicide. Every year about 200 foreigners legally commit suicide in Switzerland.
I thought about the contrast of going to Switzerland because of the hope for life when so many go there seeking release from a life they consider hopeless. I do fervently pray that Anastasia’s friend will become pregnant.
“I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains,” (Psalm 121:1-2, The Message). God is a god of life and hope.
I say to Switzerland: Choose life!
Moving In and Moving On
Originally published June 4, 2012
Change is an exhilarating, often uncomfortable thing, but with change comes growth. Growth is what I see in the future: Growth for the ministry and growth for my faith. Change and the resulting growth are part of the law of the Kingdom. God is doing a new thing!
- Debbie has left the organization to follow God’s call on her life. Thanks, Debbie, for all your help, and all the best for the future.
- Laurie has volunteered to take over as the interim (hopefully permanent!) Secretary/Treasurer on our Board of Directors. Laurie and I have been friends for almost 35 years. She is a woman of big faith and a fierce prayer warrior wrapped in a cute little package. Welcome, Laurie! I look forward to a fruitful collaboration.
- With the change in personnel, also comes a change of name. Barnabas European Ministries will change its name to European Faith Missions. Our 501(c)3 tax exempt status with the IRS remains intact, so all donations are still tax-deductible.
- I have just acquired the apartment in Milan that God indicated to me back in the beginning of April. This means the end of living out of a suitcase—after 13 months, I was ready!—a very welcome change, indeed! But it also means the beginning of several other challenges:
- The apartment is empty and needs everything, including the kitchen sink (really!).
- When the apartment is furnished, I will open it up as a missionary guesthouse—the first ever in Milan.
- The apartment will also serve as a House of Prayer for Europe—the first anywhere specifically to pray for Europe.
- In pursuit of the apartment, I’ve had to cease my travels. But now I have a pretty busy travel schedule coming up.
- With such a busy travel schedule, I will need a caretaker for the apartment once it is opened for guests.
The Kingdom is always advancing! God is good!