Traveling Mercies

Ohrid balconyThis is the view from my balcony!

Greetings from Ohrid, Macedonia!

Yesterday I had what could have been an extremely stressful day of travel.  But it wasn’t stressful because I made the decision not to worry about anything.  And through this experience, I learned what real traveling mercies look like.

I had arrived home at about 7:30 in the evening from a two day visit with missionaries in Tuscany.  That gave me exactly ten hours in which to unpack, do two loads of laundry, pack for this trip (just over two weeks, traveling and ministering in the Balkans), catch up on computer work (bookkeeping, emailing, etc.), and get some sleep.

I got up at 3:30 yesterday morning and did some last minute stuff before leaving the house—later than I had intended!—to get the bus to the train station.  The electronic bus arrival sign indicated that the bus would be there in twenty minutes.  Thus started my day of travel with the first thing that could have stressed me out.  But I decided not to let it stress me.  Often the bus arrives sooner than predicted, which was what I prayed for.  But no!  The bus took every bit of twenty minutes to get there.

When the bus came it was packed with early morning foreign workers and homeless people who use the bus as a place to sleep.  At the first stop another woman with a suitcase boarded.  The train station is where you catch a bus to the airport.  As we approached the train station, the woman became agitated because I was between her and the door.  And when the door opened, she shot past me, running to an airport bus.  When I got there, I saw that she was on the same bus I was taking, but the bus didn’t leave until immediately after my bag was loaded and I got onto the bus.

On the bus ride, I started praying that I wouldn’t miss the flight because of being late.  But, having prayed, I decided to leave the issue with God, who could fix things in any number of ways, including stopping time at the airport, if He decided to do so.

When we got to the airport, my bag, being last loaded was first unloaded, and I went in, looking at the board for my flight’s check in area.  I had to do that because my stay in the Balkans is over two weeks, so I couldn’t travel with only carry on.  The bus had parked in front of a different door, which happened to be the door right in front of my flight’s check in area.  There was no line, and no problem getting checked in.  I also went through security with hardly a line at all.

Seeing that I had some time, I got some breakfast and a bottle of water to take onto the plane.  Since my flight was with Austrian Airlines, we changed in Vienna.  One strange thing that I noticed on this plane was that the information screens all deployed just fine except for one at about row seventeen on the left, as you looked from the back of the plane.  That screen opened and shut and opened and shut continuously for the whole duration of the flight, which was odd.  Otherwise it was an uneventful flight, and we arrived in Vienna a little ahead of schedule.  The plane was parked way out on the tarmac, and we had to take a bus to the terminal.

At the terminal, I had about an hour and a half to make my connection, but as it was in a different terminal, I had to actually exit the security area and walk for at least half an hour before I got to my terminal.  Then I had to go through security again, and I was a little annoyed at having to throw out half a bottle of water, which meant that if I had time I would have to buy another.  And because I was traveling to a non-Schengen country (Macedonia), I had to also go through passport control.  As flight time ticked away, I could have gotten stressed out over all this, but again, I prayed and gave the situation to God.

Once through security and passport control, and buying a new bottle of water, I saw that our gate was one where a bus takes you out to the plane.  Usually in this situation, with assigned seats, I prefer to wait until most of the rest of the passengers are already on the bus.  Why hurry, just to stand on a bus as people slowly trickle on?  As often happens, being last on, I was first off and onto the plane.

I found my seat at the back of the plane, and just before takeoff, I noticed something strange: the information screen several rows in front of me was opening and shutting, opening and shutting.  I was on the very same aircraft!  At that realization, I laughed out loud, startling the people around me.  Just think of the 30 minute walk, out of security, across the whole airport, back through security and passport control, just to wind up back on the very same airplane—and only a few seats away from my original seat.  I knew that God had a hand in all this just to make me laugh.  If I had been stressed and worrying, I might not ever have noticed the information screen, or might not have noticed it a second time.  But my relaxed mood had me calmly looking around and noticing strange things like that.

In Skopje, I got my bag and pulled out the information paper that told us where to meet.  We were supposed to meet for the bus to Ohrid at 1:00 PM, sharp.  So I read, and it said to meet at the Post Office under the train station—in downtown Skopje!  I had only 40 minutes to get there from the airport, and I still needed to change money because although you can change all sorts of money in Italy, you can’t buy Macedonian Dinar there.

I found a taxi stand, and it said that a ride to Skopje costs €20.  I asked if I could pay with a credit card.  The driver said no, but he would accept Euros.  So I got in, praying that we would make it on time.  When I told him where to go, he said, “There is a Post Office just inside the airport.”  I said, “No, I need to go to the one at the train station.”  He kept arguing with me, insisting that I didn’t have to go to that Post Office when there is one just inside the airport.  Really?  Was he trying to argue himself out of a fare?  Anyway, I finally was able to convince him to take me to the train station.  Again, I prayed on the drive that we would get there in time, and didn’t stress or worry about it.  I had done my best, and now it was up to God.

We actually got there with a few minutes to spare.  Right away I found others who were waiting for the bus.  Waiting turned out to be some pretty good networking time.  The bus ride to Ohrid took about two hours, and on the way, I slept—at least until we got to the winding mountain roads.

The conference got off to a great start, and I look for more good things today.  But the most important thing is that I arrived relaxed and feeling good.  I hadn’t had a chance to get lunch, but skipping lunch is not the worst thing that could happen to a person, especially in light of all the good things that happened on the journey.  God turned what could have been a very stressful day of travel into a good day of travel, even enjoyable.  God is good!

God’s Sadness

This morning as I prayed, I felt God’s great sadness for the fact that many Christians believe this lie of the enemy: that God has some higher purpose for their suffering and/or death.  And God said to me: “Which do you think brings Me more glory in the eyes of unbelievers: the suffering and death of My saints or the healing and victory over the enemy that will likewise bring healing and salvation to them?”

Then I remembered something that I had heard in a sermon recently: that the Bride of Christ (the Church) is not coming home bruised, bleeding, and battle-weary, but glorious and victorious.

So why is it that we all know Christians who suffer or who have suffered and died despite having great faith?  And the Lord showed me the reasons:

  1. Unconfessed Sin – Any unconfessed sin in our lives opens us up to attacks from the enemy.  Most often it is idolatry that most people don’t even realize is idolatry: food, money (and often jobs), technology (specifically computer games and movies or TV), their family, children, spouse, or parent.  Anything that becomes more important—even briefly—than God is idolatry.  He showed me that even a person’s ministry can become idolatry.  We must soberly judge ourselves before God, asking His Holy Spirit to reveal any unconfessed sin in our lives.

The unconfessed sin can also be in our ancestry.  If any ancestor has ever been involved in witchcraft, tarot card reading or fortune-telling, freemasonry, or any other occult activity, we must repent and break that curse off our family tree.  If you don’t know of any such activity, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal it to you, repent on behalf of your ancestors, and break that curse in the Name of Jesus.

  1. Unforgiveness or Bitterness – Hatred, unforgiveness, bitterness, and unresolved anger all run through the veins like a poison.  And when poison runs continually through the veins, it will eventually have some kind of physical effect upon the body.  I believe this is why Paul urged us not to let anger continue to rage overnight (Ephesians 4:26).
  2. Fear and Stress – Fear, dread, and stress are likewise poisons that run through the veins.  Fear is not just an emotion.  There is a spirit of fear (named in 2 Timothy 1:7).  And if left to run through the veins, it will also have a physical effect upon the body.  Since fear may be caused by a spirit (this takes discernment!), it can be cast out of the person’s life.
  3. The Desire to Die – The honest truth is that some people, for whatever reason, just want to die.  If they are believers, the idea of Heaven and resting forever in the arms of Jesus may be much more attractive than staying and continuing to fight earth’s battles.  Even Elijah felt this way, so there is no shame in having these thoughts.  But we must always turn to God, who is the Lord of Life, as our Source.

It’s true that earth is a battlefield.  There is an enemy army here that want nothing more than to steal, kill, and destroy us.  One becomes tired of constantly fighting, fighting, fighting.  But here’s hope: there is another army that outnumbers the enemy by at least two-to-one.  If we remain plugged into the power of the Holy Spirit, He will reveal to us how to fight.  Often our weapons of warfare don’t make sense to our tiny human brains.  They are the Sword of the Spirit, which is the spoken Word of God.  That is how Jesus fought the devil while on earth.  This is also how we can fight.  But sometimes the Holy Spirit will indicate other things like praying in tongues, worship in song and/or dance, a Jericho March and Shout, or even simple declarations based on the Word of God.  If Spiritual Warfare is taking too much energy, then your flesh is probably more involved than it should be.  Let God and His Armies fight your battle for you.  Ask for Heaven’s help, and you will get it.

  1. Failure to Discern (or Mishandling) the Lord’s Supper – Paul told the Corinthian church that this is why many believers had gotten sick and died, (1 Corinthians 11:28-30).
  2. Lack of Faith – I’m sorry!  I know that many of you may have lost good Christian friends and family members to heart attack or cancer.  This is not meant to make you feel like your faith (or that of your loved one) wasn’t up to snuff.  But sometimes the word cancer pronounced by a doctor can be so intimidating and so devastating that we simply can’t believe for healing.  Believers in Brazil, or in Africa have seen such miraculous healings that they have actually seen missing limbs grow back, missing eyes appear, the dead raised, etc.  Why haven’t we seen such things in America and other parts of the Western world?  Probably because in our modern culture, we’ve always put too much faith in doctors, medicine, and medical science.  So that when a doctor says, “You have Stage Four Cancer,” and predicts only a year or less to live, it’s very hard for us to go against that culture.  This is where praying in tongues can be very valuable.  Praying the healing scriptures is also very valuable.
  3. Wrong Prayers – Wrong prayers go along with a lack of faith and a wrong belief about God’s will.  Going back to the example of a grave diagnosis of cancer: we take the news to our cell group or prayer group.  Everyone expresses sorrow over the diagnosis, and often believers will pray for a release from pain rather than healing and a full restoration of health.  Or sometimes half the group prays for healing while the other half pray for release.  Prayers at cross-purposes are not going to work.

Sometimes, believers will pray for “God’s will,” without ever asking Him for healing.  We’ve got to ask specifically for what we want from God—that is a hallmark of faith: that we ask for complete healing and restoration of full health for a person, in the belief that God hears our prayers and will answer accordingly.  If you want your son to bring you a glass of iced tea with sugar, you don’t say, “Bring me something to drink.”  Unless he’s a mind-reader, he’s just as likely to bring a glass of water, a glass of coke, or maybe orange juice.  Yes, God knows what you want before the words are formed on your tongue or in your mind, but He acts only upon what we specifically ask in faith.  “Ask and you will receive,” said Jesus, (Matthew 7:7).

I have heard believers actually pray, “Lord, we know that sometimes You choose not to heal. . .”  When did God ever refuse to heal anyone?  Jesus healed everyone who came to Him, asking for healing.  Often people will point out God’s Sovereignty.  But God is not insecure about His Sovereignty—He knows very well that He is Sovereign.  But that’s the amazing thing about Grace: that Sovereign God chooses to be generous with us!  To believe otherwise because of the results we’ve seen of prayer is to walk by sight.  But we are called to walk by faith and not by sight, (2 Corinthians 5:7).

And sometimes people will point out Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” which he calls a “messenger of satan,” (2 Corinthians 12:7).  There are ranks of angels called messengers.  Messengers in the Bible are always persons.  And Paul admits in this passage to a problem with pride.  It is Paul’s pride that opened a crack to let that enemy into his life.  And although Paul prayed three times, God did not take it away.  Why?  Because apparently the pride had not been overcome.  So instead, God told Paul: “My Grace is sufficient for you.”  Thus Paul’s pride was addressed, and he was able to continue being used mightily for the Kingdom of God.

So after God showed me these things, He told me to go to Deuteronomy 12:24-25:

You must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water.  Do not eat it, so that it may go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord. (emphasis mine).

Not that we are bound now by the Old Testament food restrictions, but the point is obedience.  When we live a life of obedient respect toward God, then He will not permit the enemy to touch us.

Friends, we are going to have to learn and discern if we want God to be able to use us to reach people with the Gospel message, which is the message of hope and healing and salvation.  God is good!

Canine Evangelism, Dreadlocked Drummer, and My Big, Open Mouth

Greetings from Jersey, in the Channel Islands of the UK!

I was invited here for a 36 hour continuous worship event called Lovesong for Jesus, a Pentecost celebration.  The friends who invited me here are Jenny and Julius, natives of Jersey who I met at the Feast of Tabernacles in Kalisz, Poland.  Jenny and Julius are musicians who also sing.  I do not play an instrument, and, well, let’s put it this way: I’m not known for my singing.  Jenny and Julius know this, so I didn’t hesitate when invited, and I saw that my calendar was open for this weekend.  Then I was surprised to find that my name was on the list of worship leaders.  I protested, and Jenny just laughed it off, saying that I’m a worshiper, even if I’m not musical.

I didn’t want to back out and not come, and didn’t even seriously consider doing so.  But what in the world was I going to do for a whole hour—or at least what would I do that anybody other than God would want to hear or participate in?

As the time came closer to my session, I realized that I would probably get little sleep anyway, so I decided to spend all night in the church before my session, which was set for seven on Sunday morning.  With the front doors wide open, the chilly night air rendered the church freezing cold.  I had brought a poncho, but wished for a blanket.  I looked a warm corner in which to snooze, but found nothing that worked that wasn’t already occupied.  So I passed the night listening to the worship, dozing and jerking awake.

At the three AM session, something wonderful happened.  My friends, Bill and Natalie were playing, and I was feeling grateful to be there to hear them.  Then the bars closed, and suddenly the church was full of people.  One young man was so enamored of the music that he clapped at the end of the song.  Despite his long dreadlocks, he didn’t seem to feel out of place, as some of his friends clearly did.  As the next song started, he asked if he could play the drums (since they had no drummer).  Bill and Natalie enthusiastically welcomed his musical contribution, which was actually pretty good.  The whole time his face beamed with the most beautiful smile.  When that song was over, he said goodbye, since his friends had already left.  He quietly confided to Natalie that he had been drinking, but she just responded with a smile because she knew that—we all knew that.  I was suddenly very glad that the church had left the doors open all night.  It was worth a little discomfort to have seen such a meaningful connection with people who might otherwise never have entered a church.  Well, at least one of them!

Then as my hour approached, my prayers got all the more fervent, begging the Holy Spirit to be there with me.  I had an idea of what to do: to worship God by naming His many Names and attributes.  So I went to a table in the foyer, pulled out a pen and paper, and began to write.  But soon I was interrupted by a new friend who wanted to talk.

I stopped writing, and talked with him.  He was there with his sister, who had a dog with her.  The dog was a friendly and well-behaved Australian Shepherd.  He saw that the dog and I had been drawn to one another (most dogs know who loves them).  So he started to tell me about Canine Evangelism, which is something he heard about in Cardiff, Wales.  He said that there is a neighborhood in Cardiff where unemployment has lasted for three generations.  He said that along with the hopelessness that such long-standing unemployment brings, there is also the alcoholism and drug abuse that frequently goes along with it.  Then one day a Christian woman was walking her dog, and a child was drawn to the dog (much as I had been to his sister’s dog).  The little girl was with her unemployed dad and grandfather.  As child and dog bonded, a friendship formed between dog owner and the adults.  Friendship led to a shared coffee, and that led to sharing the Gospel message.  What had seemed a coincidence turned out to be a “Godincidence.”  I love God’s many creative ways of reaching out to people to give them hope.

Now, I had just an hour before my set.  In desperation, I asked, “Do You have a word for me?”  And the Lord responded by speaking very slowly and clearly in my mind: “Psalm 81, verse 10.”  I grabbed my Bible and found the verse, which says: “Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it.”  That was just what I had wanted to hear!

When I went forward to do my session, I took the papers that I had written on, and began praising God by His Names.  The worshipers from the previous session stayed and played and joined me, with singing and music.  Sometimes we sang, sometimes we riffed, sometimes we prayed, but it had all been led by the Holy Spirit.  And too soon it was over, and the next people entered and began.

As I left the church, I felt so happy that I wasn’t even tired.  I shared all this with Angie, my hostess.  She caught my joyful enthusiasm, and the two of us, together with her twin sister, had church in her living room, first century style.  It wasn’t until after lunch that the fatigue of a night without sleep overtook me.  I had a long nap before we returned to the church for the closing session.

This has been an amazing weekend!  God is good!

Austria’s Identity


Yesterday we went to the balcony where Hitler addressed Austria as the leader of Germany and the Nazis.  There we prayed and proclaimed that no more lies would come from that place, but only words of righteousness and truth.  I was standing by a very evil-looking sculpture that had a beak like a bird.  In Budapest one of the locals had given me a rubber bracelet that I have been wearing ever since.  I put the bracelet around its beak as a symbolic/prophetic act to shut the mouth of lies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI shut his lying mouth!

Next we went to the Austrian Parliament building, but we had no connections, so we were not able to get in past the lobby unless we entered as part of a tour group.  If we did that, then we would not be able to stop and pray, so we went outside the building and prayed from there.  Our hosts told us that there is no Christian in the Austrian Parliament at all—perhaps in name only.  It was a difficult place to pray from.  The Hitler balcony had been prayed over many, many times, but the Parliament had obviously been neglected in prayer.  It was the most difficult prayer session since that first evening in Vienna (see God is Doing a New Thing).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Austrian Parliament Building

After lunch we had our debriefing, and all of us had felt the same difficulty praying at the Parliament building.  I had 2 impressions about Austria.  The first one I noted in my blog yesterday (An Emotional Day), about how in prayer my emotions had been up and down and up again—but only in prayer.  And I noted, as on the first day (God is Doing a New Thing), that I believe Austria has a female identity—and may I add, that she seems hormonal.

My second impression about Austria is that it seems to me very strange that there was no indigenous Austrian who went to pray with us.  They did pray with us in the church, but not out in the city.  To my knowledge, this was the first time that only foreigners prayed in the capital.  However, I have not been on all the prayer trips, and I was told that it was also this way in Luxembourg. 

The thing is that Operation Capitals of Europe (OCE) does not come in to do our own thing.  Rather, we want very much to come alongside the indigenous believers to support them in what (we hope) they are already doing.  Otherwise nothing lasting will result from our prayers because we cannot possibly return and return and return to pray for their capital—there are something like 50 capitals in Europe (not all are recognized, like Cardiff, which comes under the UK, but is in fact the capital of Wales).  Anyway, we did our best, and the local believers did seem encouraged by our visit and our efforts.  Much remains to be done in Austria, but we did what we could to help things along. 

Last night the team said their goodbyes to the local church, and today we said our goodbyes to each other.  I have returned to Bratislava to meet with a missionary here, then I will go to Budapest tomorrow, and fly early Sunday morning back to Milan.  It has been an interesting time, and there is still so much to pray about.  If you would like to pray for us, here are a few prayer points:

  • One teammate was unable to come on either this trip or the last one (Sofia & Skopje) because of illness.  This is obviously a spiritual attack because she was healed of this illness, so it should not have returned.
  • Others might likewise be attacked in the area of their health, especially due to the exhausting nature of these trips (see below).
  • Several of us on the team are over 45, and these trips are physically, spiritually, and emotionally exhausting.  Because of exhaustion, tempers sometimes wear thin.  We need to give each other a lot of grace and compassion.
  • Team unity has been gravely threatened by rebelliousness.  Nevertheless, we were able to remain united and to stay focused.  I suspect that the enemy will continue to try this tactic to divide the team.

All in all, I feel like this has been a very good trip—a challenging trip, but very good.  God is good!