Bitterness

Bitterness is a strongman of the enemy.  Just as there are ranks of angels (like in the armed forces), there are also ranks of fallen angels and demons.  Bitterness is a high-ranking evil spirit, but it comes in so subtly and so gradually that we’re unaware that we have even strayed into the enemy’s territory.  Here’s how it all works:

Unforgiveness – It all starts with unforgiveness.  Someone hurts you.  They say or do something that hurts you.  You must understand that people were not made to hurt, betray, or be mean to each other.  It is not in our original design.  But under the influence of the demonic voices all around us, we can inadvertently say or do something that hurts another person.

You are probably not even aware of it, but there are voices speaking to us all the time.  There is the voice of God, and there is the voice of the enemy—and we don’t even realize that we are listening to the enemy and being influenced by him.  So when someone says or does something to hurt you, they are acting on what they are hearing from the enemy.

Then you respond, acting on what you are hearing from the enemy.  The enemy says, “How could she say that about me?” and you repeat it as if it was a thought born from your own mind: “How could she say that about me?”

Every time you think you might be over the hurt, the enemy reminds you of it so that you have a very hard time getting over that hurt.  Unforgiveness is a small spirit, but now that it has been welcomed into your heart, it becomes very hard to forgive.

Resentment – Then resentment joins unforgiveness.  Under resentment’s tutelage you vow never to speak to that person again, to never allow that person to hurt you again.

Retaliation – The spirit of retaliation goads you into getting some satisfaction for the hurt you’ve suffered.  Retaliation promises to feel so good, but in fact can get you into a whole lot of trouble.  Retaliation actively seeks to prevent blessing from coming into the offender’s life.  Now, ask yourself, who exists to prevent blessings from coming into people’s lives?

Anger, Wrath, & Murder – When unforgiveness is finally joined by its bigger, stronger brothers, it is very difficult to go back and forgive.  Of course, not all unforgiveness ends in physical murder, but it can often end in character assassination.  We’ve all heard of an unforgiving father say to his son: “You’re dead to me.”  In his mind, the father has murdered the son, and the relationship is as good as dead from then.

People think that negative emotions, such as anger, depression, and unforgiveness, are merely emotions.  In fact, they are not emotions at all.  They are demons that can be cast out or sent away.  I have suffered lengthy very profound bouts of depression.  I was unaware that depression was a spirit at the time, but during the worst depressions I suffered suicidal thoughts and even suicidal hallucinations that I knew were not originating from my own mind.  I wasn’t possessed, but rather, I was suffering terrible demonic oppression.

Bitterness wants to produce fruit in your life: hatred, cruelty, revenge, self-pity, hypocrisy, jealousy, competition, frustration, and confusion.  Yes, even a little thing like competition, which American culture says is healthy, is in fact a foothold for the enemy.  Think about how many times you’ve seen someone get frustrated that the game didn’t go their way, and they turn the board over, scatter the cards everywhere, or they let the game’s physical side become too violent.

Self-pity is not an emotion, it’s a spirit.  It brings thoughts of entitlement—entitlement that has been violated.  Once we become aware of the enemy’s tactics, we can guard ourselves from jumping to the enemy’s camp.  I don’t want to give the enemy even the smallest victory over myself.

Bitterness can be present in your life without you even being aware of it.  And once this process is begun, it is very difficult to reverse it.  Sometimes you will have lived under the influence of bitterness for such a long time that you might not even believe that you are bitter.

Let me show you how bitterness can enter in: the offender, under the influence of the enemy says or does something that is truly wrong, evil, and bad.  The spirit of bitterness has been standing by, and takes that moment of offence to push its way into your heart.  Were you wronged?  Absolutely.  That is how the enemy works: by pushing his way in.  There’s no waiting for an invitation.  When you’re at your most vulnerable, he pushes his way in and begins speaking poisonous thoughts to you, playing on outrage, embarrassment, humiliation, hurt pride, physical suffering, violated boundaries, etc.  You believe these thoughts to be your own, when they are not.  And thus, piece by piece bitterness builds until it has become anger.  Anger can be so strong and so swift that it is literally just a heartbeat away from murder.

Forgiveness is a decision, not an emotion.  You can decide to forgive.  And that decision takes follow-through.  There were some people in my life that I have had to forgive all over again every time they came to my mind.  And I always did so, hoping for the day when that decision to forgive would finally become an emotional fact.  But true forgiveness did not come until I went back (in my mind and memory) to the time of the offense and forgave it there.  In that final act of forgiveness, I had to consciously give up all my rights to be angry or outraged at the offense.  The next time that person came to mind, the thought that came almost reflexively into my mind was: how could she possibly have known how precious I am to God?  My only feeling toward her, even remembering what she had done to me was pity that she hadn’t known how precious I am to God.

Forgiving was made easier once I understood the enemy hiding behind the person used to hurt me.  In truth, I have also been used by the enemy to hurt other people.  When you truly can grasp the realities hidden from our eyes, it becomes so much easier to give people the mercy and grace that we hope for from them, too.

Giving in to a spirit of bitterness or forgiving as generously as God has forgiven us is a life-changing decision.  Bitterness can prevent blessings in your life.  And through bitterness, the enemy might use you to prevent blessings in the lives of others.  Worse than all that, it can bring curses, especially in the form of physical illness.  Anger, hatred, and bitterness go coursing through your veins like a caustic, like poison.  If you’re aware, you might even feel it burning in your veins.

Giving up your right to be angry at an offense can feel like dying to yourself—in fact, that’s exactly what it is.  But you won’t truly begin to live until you do die to yourself.  It’s part of God’s upside-down logic that turns the world’s logic on its head.  Why is it so hard?  Because you are making a frontal attack on your own pride.

Make a decision to begin seeing people the way God sees them—ask God to help you to see people the way He sees them.  You will find that you have more love and mercy for them, and forgiveness will flow easier and easier.  More than that, blessings will flow in your own life as never before.

So let go of your anger and bitterness!  God is good!

BBQ Becomes Ministry

dance BBQ

There was music and dancing at the BBQ.

I was invited to a grigliata in Biella.  A grigliata is a barbecue.  This was for Pasquetta, which is Easter Monday.  I had just met Caroline, a missionary who I immediately thought could turn out to be a valuable collaborator.  Caroline is a sweet little Italian-American with a big smile and a bigger heart.

The day after Caroline arrived, I had a young missionary coming to visit from Prague.  It was exhilarating to watch Caroline in action with Debbie: now cheering her, now helping her, now questioning her false assumptions—and all done in love.  Debbie was here overnight, and after we saw her off, we made our plans to go to Biella.

When we got there, the BBQ was in full swing.  There was lots of food, music, dancing, and games, in other words: fun.  Even though I had already visited Biella a few weeks ago, the greeting I got was as warm as if I had been gone a year.

There was a young woman at the BBQ who I knew slightly: Bo.  She greeted me, then sat with Caroline, sharing her story for the next half hour or so.  I already knew a little of Bo’s story, but learned more from hearing her pour out her heart to Caroline:

I’m a gypsy from Albania.  Well, OK, my mother was a gypsy and my father was a Serb.  My father left before I was born and my mother died when I was five years old.  A nice neighbor took me in and raised me as her own.  At fifteen I was sold in a marriage contract to another gypsy.  He raped me, and I became pregnant with my daughter.  He was very cruel and controlling.  I can’t tell you all the ways that he abused me sexually.  So I ran away from him and came to Italy.

Bo told Caroline all this with no trace of emotion in her voice or on her face.  This much of the story, I had already heard.  Then Caroline asked for more details about her daughter and step-mother.  It turns out that they were in hiding in a town just across the border in France.  And the ex-husband?  He was looking for her in a larger town in France, where she had put her daughter in school back at the beginning of the school year.  Somehow, he had tracked her down there.  “He is waiting there for my daughter to go back to school after the holiday, but he doesn’t have the right to take her from the school.”

Many years ago, when I worked at a daycare center, I had seen a father under a restraining order snatch his child right from the yard, just by calling him to come to the fence and talk.  So I knew that the school’s rules didn’t mean that the daughter was safely out of reach.

But how had he tracked them down here—and why had he gone to the expense and trouble of following them?  The answer to the second question is a repeat of history: Bo had been sold in marriage, and the daughter, though still too young to marry, could still be promised in a marriage contract to be sold when she turns fifteen.  A more sinister possibility is that the daughter might be sold even now to traffickers for a life of prostitution.  Either way, losing the girl was a financial loss for the father.  Bo said that a virgin girl could be sold for as high as €10,000 for one night.  But whether traffickers or marriage, Bo wanted a better life for her daughter.

It turns out that the father had tracked Bo down simply by watching her posts on Facebook.  Her posts and pictures on social media, intended to keep family and friends informed of her whereabouts, had also kept her husband informed.  Now he was threatening to take the girl, with the help of the French police.  If she doesn’t show up at school, then she will be truant.  Being a gypsy, the girl already has a lot going against her.  Truancy could jeopardize her asylum in France and cause the girl to fall even farther behind in school.

Caroline sensed that she was holding something back because she could just as easily bring the girl into Italy, apply for asylum here, and put her into an Italian school.  Bo said that God had told her to go back to Albania and get the gypsy divorce there.  But when questioned, she broke down and admitted that it was her step-mother that was pressuring her to go back to Albania.  The step-mother was convinced that this would solve the problem and get the husband off her back.  And Bo admitted that she was considering it.  But if she did that, she would have to take her daughter back to Albania with her, and there was a possibility that the gypsy council could decide that the daughter belongs to her father.

“Why would you even consider going back?” I wanted to scream the question.  Bo shrugged, having no answer.

I realized later that probably, having been the one who had sold Bo to this man in a marriage contract, the step-mother was pushing the gypsy divorce to save face in the gypsy community back home.

Caroline, seeing that there was a lot of cultural issues and some underlying issues that Bo was still hiding, made the wise suggestion that we all just stop and pray.  So we prayed and put the whole thing into God’s hands.  As we prayed for her, Bo’s shoulders shook as weeping erupted from within her.  Then we left her.

I don’t know what Bo will do or what will happen with her.  But we have done all that we can to help her make a good decision that will keep her daughter and herself protected.  I know that if Bo will depend on God for help in making those tough decisions, He will protect her and her daughter.  However, these are Bo’s decisions to make.  In the end, we each have to decide whether to trust God or not.

But I know this much: although God will not save you from the consequences of your bad decisions, He can be trusted to guide you and protect you when you surrender your life completely to Him.  God may take you by some ways you do not want to go, but His way is always better.  God is faithful.  God is trustworthy.  And as I always say: God is good!

Revival is Coming!

bus

Today has been an amazing, great, fabulous, fun, wonderful day in the life of this missionary.  It started about 6:30 this morning, when Giorgio, a young man from our church, arrived after an all-night prayer vigil.  He needed a place to sleep, and offering hospitality is what I do—part of what I do.

So basically, I was waking up just as he was coming in to sleep.  Good timing on his part, since the first thing I do is to enjoy some quiet time with the Lord and read the Bible over a cup of coffee.  Being Saturday, I wanted to honor the Lord’s Sabbath by not doing any work.  But I work for the Lord, so it’s kind of hard to know what’s really work and what’s OK to do on the Sabbath.  I asked the Lord to help me to honor Him today, and He gave me a one word answer: delve.  I understood this as delving deeper into His Word.

I did spend more time than usual reading the Bible, then over breakfast, I watched one of Jim Staley’s Hebrew Alphabet teachings—delving some more.  Absolutely fascinating!  I encourage you to check it out.  The language of God is like none other on earth.  It is a supernatural language, it is a multi-dimensional language, this is the language God used to create the universe by speaking it into being.

I was watching the video about the letter Hey, and about three quarters of the way through the video, my calendar popped up with an appointment I had thought was next Saturday.  I had responded that I would go, and it was something I really wanted to go to.  So I got myself into gear, dressed, left notes for Giorgio, and went across town to the meeting.

This meeting was concerning Expo on 4 Wheels, a bus that’s basically a mobile church with a coffee bar and a library.  The bus is a joint effort between local churches and missionary organizations to focus on sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ at the Expo (1 May through 31 October) here in Milan.

It turns out that there are three major ways that you can help Expo on 4 Wheels:

  • Pray – The Expo will draw an estimated 21 million visitors from more than 130 different countries, many of whom have likely never heard the Gospel message. This is a unique opportunity to share the love of Jesus with millions of people.  But for this, they need prayer support.
  • Participate – The bus won’t be very effective without people getting out there and reaching people with the love of Jesus. Groups of any size are invited to participate.  To sign up, contact Missione REM.
  • Donate – As you can imagine, an operation like this costs a lot of money. If you want to invest in the Kingdom of God, you can do so on their website using PayPal or making a wire transfer: Donation.

So there was a lot of good information about reaching the world while there are lots of visitors here in Milan.  But when we started to pray, was when God really showed up and blew my mind.  The Holy Spirit reminded me of a vision that I had seen ten or more years ago:

I saw a lighthouse grow up out of Milan, and it gave light to the city.  It kept growing and gave light all over Italy.  It kept growing and gave light all over Europe.  And finally it grew so big that it gave light all over the world.

I understood the vision to be about revival.  But revival didn’t come, and didn’t come.  Friends said that revival would start in Sicily, in Naples, and other parts of Europe, wherever they were from.  One even told me that the big End Times Revival had already started in Sicily.  Finally I simply forgot about the vision.  Until today.

So when the prayer ended, I said that I had a vision to share, and told them about this vision, and about how I had actually seen it years ago.  A man immediately came forward and shared that he also had the same vision—and had it years ago, just like I had.  My excitement doubled with this instant confirmation.

Then we went out to look at the bus.  It is still being worked on, but it’s going to be beautiful.  There’s a very cozy and welcoming sitting area, a library area, and a coffee/snack kitchen.  I know the Lord is really going to use this bus, and all the people, churches, and organizations connected with it.  Revival is coming!

Then I came home and found a message from Suki, introducing me to an American woman (Italian-American in heritage) who is moving to Italy.  She doesn’t know exactly where or what she’ll be doing, but she knows that God has called her here.  Suki is God’s beautiful networking tool, and He has used her several times to connect people.  But it was the Holy Spirit inside of me, even more than Suki, that convinced me that I need to meet this woman.  So I’ve invited her to come for a visit.  But that’s a post for another time.

Revival is coming!  This is it: The Big End Times Revival!  If you want to be a part of it, you can follow the links above, get more information, register, get a team together and come to Milan.  You can also register on GoMissions.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss out on what God is doing.  God is good!

Will the Jews Finally Rebuild their Temple?

Temple

One of the keys to End Times Prophecy is that the Jews must have a Temple—something they haven’t had since it was destroyed in 70 AD.  That’s because during the last 2000 years since that time, the Muslims built and took total control of the Temple Mount.  If you want to start World War III, put a shovel into the ground on the Temple Mount and see what happens.

Well guess what: I don’t believe that the Temple was ever on the Temple Mount.  There is compelling evidence to suggest that the Temple was actually in the City of David, below the Temple Mount.  Back in the fourth century, long after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, people sought the location of the Temple, and finding the Western Wall, believed it to be the remains of the Temple.  And, being the highest place in the city, it seemed to make logical sense.

In fact, the only thing that doesn’t make sense just on glancing at it is the fact that the Romans would have left a wall of the Temple standing.  When they destroyed a rebellious people’s culture, they started by completely destroying their indigenous worship.  So why would the Romans have left that wall standing?

A careful reading of the scriptures reveals a few things that place the Temple elsewhere:

  • As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones!  What magnificent buildings!”  “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus.  “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down,” (Mark 13:1-2, emphasis mine).

If the Western Wall is part of the Temple, then Jesus’ prophecy in Mark 13 hasn’t been fulfilled, which, as I pointed out, doesn’t fit the Roman way of dealing with rebellious people—they would have destroyed their religious building as a way of defeating both the Jews and their God.

  • Historian Flavius Josephus wrote that the Temple was so completely destroyed that if he had not personally been in Jerusalem during the war and witnessed the demolition of the Temple, he wouldn’t have believed it ever existed.

The foundation wall that we call the Western Wall was most likely the remains of the Roman fortress.

Josephus also wrote that from the north side of the city of Jerusalem it was impossible to see the Temple.  The Temple Mount is visible from everywhere in Jerusalem, but the City of David and Mount Zion are to the south, and would therefore be impossible to see because the Temple Mount blocks the view of the City of David from anyone in the northern part of Jerusalem.

  • Now look at 2 Chronicles 3:1:

Now Solomon began to build the temple at the house of the Lord at Jerusalem…at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

According to this verse, the temple was to be built in the City of David at the place of the threshing floor—it cannot possibly have been on the Temple mount.

  • As a practical matter, because of washing rituals and large amounts of blood, the Temple had to have a plentiful and reliable source of water. The Temple Mount didn’t have any source of water until the Romans came in and built two aqueducts to it, coming from south Bethlehem.  But the City of David has always had the Gihon Spring, a natural spring, giving it a good source of water.

The Bible confirms that the Temple has a plentiful source of water in Joel 3:18 and also in Ezekiel 47:1.

  • The Bible says: “David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David,” (2 Samuel 5:7, emphasis mine). Again and again the Bible says that the Temple is in Zion (Psalm 2:6, 9:11, 65:1 & 4; Isaiah 2:3, 24:23, Joel 3:17 & 21,
  • 1 Kings 1:33 says: “Take your lord’s servants with you and have Solomon my son mount my own mule and take him down to Gihon,” (emphasis mine). Why would David have Solomon taken down to Gihon to be anointed king and thwart his brother’s uprising?  Only one reason: that’s where the Temple was.
  • Acts 21:30-35 places the Temple below the Roman fortress:

The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions.  Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut.  While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar.  He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

The commander came and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done.  Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks.  When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers.

Where could the Roman commander run down from if the Temple was on the highest place in Jerusalem?  And he takes Paul to the steps.  What steps?  The steps leading back up to the Roman fortress.

  • You can see some fascinating images of an excavation in the City of David that could be the ancient Temple: Search for the Temple.

If all this is true, then there is nothing to prevent the Jews from rebuilding the Temple.  And like I said, there has to be a Temple during the Tribulation.

Of course, there doesn’t have to be a Temple before the Rapture.  The Rapture could literally come any day now, and I believe that it will be very soon.  If you aren’t ready, watching, and waiting for the Rapture, you won’t go in the Rapture.  That’s all there is to it.

If you want to go in the Rapture, the first step is to get right with God.  If you’ve never made Jesus your Lord and Savior, it’s as simple as making that decision.  Just tell Him: “I believe You died for me on the cross, and I want You to be my Savior.  Please help me to live for You and to be ready for the Rapture.  Thank You, Jesus!  Amen.”

If you want to know more about the Rapture, I’ve written a lot about it on my blog and in my books.  Don’t let anybody deceive you.  Just because a giant, worldwide Rapture has never happened before doesn’t mean that it won’t happen.  Be ready!  God is good!

Total Eclipse of the Sun

colander eclipse shadow

A friend took this picture of his eclipse shadow using a colander.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so.  God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.  He also made the stars.  God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness.  And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day, (Genesis 1:14-19, emphasis mine).

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea,” (Luke 21:25, Jesus speaking, emphasis mine).

On Friday there was a total eclipse of the sun over Europe.  Here in Italy it was actually only a quarter, but the Faroe Islands (where I will be going next month) got a near total eclipse.  I wasn’t able to see it because of the clouds over Milan.  But friends in other parts of Europe saw it very well, and even took pictures (see above).

Personally, I wasn’t terribly disappointed because this was my second chance at a total eclipse of the sun.  The first time was in Atlanta in 1984.  I was working in an office building downtown and was able to get outside.  I didn’t have a viewing filter or viewing device.  But I had read about the double-shadow effect the eclipse would have on objects below.  The larger, fuzzy part of the shadow is called the umbra, and the smaller, more defined part is called the penumbra.  Sure enough, the peach tree in the vest pocket park below my office showed the double shadow effect.  It was very cool.

But this solar eclipse is more than just an interesting show in the sky.  Consider the following amazing facts about the total solar eclipse of 2015:

  • There hasn’t been a solar eclipse on March 20, the day of the spring equinox, since 1662.
  • This is the first time in human history (about 100,000) that a spring equinox solar eclipse has happened in the northern hemisphere.
  • This is a total solar Eclipse by a Super Moon, meaning that the moon is at perigee, the closest point in its orbit of earth.
  • And this is a Super Dark Moon since it is a new moon.
  • This is also the first seasonal appearance of the sun in the arctic regions.
  • All these facts add up to a convergence that only happens once in approximately 500,000 years.

And as if all that wasn’t amazing enough, when you take into account the Biblical significance of this event, you get some more interesting things to note:

  • This solar eclipse fell on the first day of the Hebrew month of Nisan—the day of the grand opening ceremony of the Tabernacle of Moses, when the fire fell from heaven and lit the altar.
  • The Torah portion being read in every synagogue this weekend is Leviticus 1-5, which records the events of that day, mentioned above.
  • March 20 marks the exact center-point day on the Hebrew calendar of the Shemitah year, the sabbatical year in which the farmlands are left fallow and all outstanding debts are erased.

In an interview with Charisma Magazine, Jonathan Cahn (author of The Harbinger) says, “It’s worthy of note that all these moedeem (signs) in the heavens are marking the exact center-point of the moedeem of the Shemitah on earth.”

Mark Biltz (author of Blood Moons) said, “I see all this as a new era beginning since it is the first day of the religious year, happening at the North Pole is like midnight and a new era has begun for the nation of Israel.  Especially right after the elections and we have a total lunar eclipse coming on Passover on April 4th.”

The lunar eclipse Biltz mentions is the second Passover eclipse in a row, and the third in the Blood Moon Tetrad.  A Blood Moon Tetrad is when there is a lunar eclipse on the first day of Passover and the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles two years in a row.

The Talmud (the Jewish book of tradition) says: “When the moon is in eclipse, it is a bad omen for Israel.  If its face is as red as blood, (it is a sign that) the sword is coming to the world.”  So, a lunar eclipse is seen as a bad omen for the Jewish people and Israel.  While a solar eclipse is seen as a bad omen for the world.

Every time a Blood Moon Tetrad has occurred on Jewish feast days, a big event has happened to the nation of Israel.  Blood Moon Tetrads have only happened seven times since Jesus walked the earth.  The most recent BMT’s were in 1948, when Israel became a country again (for the first time since 70 AD), and in 1967, when Israel won control of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War—two of the most significant dates in Israeli history.  Before that, you have to go all the way back to 1492, when the Jews were expelled from Spain.

So what could be the next big event for the nation of Israel?  I believe that the Jews will be allowed to rebuild their Temple.  More on that tomorrow.  Keep looking up!  God is good!

Making an Ass out of You and Umption

brick

Build your wall one brick at a time.

If you will steady yourself and seek My face, says the Lord, I will reveal to you things that have been difficult to grasp.  Bring your inquiry before Me, and be assured that if you ask, I will answer.  But, you must lay aside your own speculations and assumptions and come with a heart wide open and ready to receive.  Do not be afraid.

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you,” (Luke 11:9)

I subscribe to a prophecy newsletter, and yesterday I got this prophecy in my inbox.  Now my problem is not so much that I don’t ask God the questions.  Rather, I ask, believing that God will reveal things to me.  But sometimes I will believe that I’ve figured out the truth, and then go off on my own assumptions.

God has given me a gift for researching, digging out truths, and understanding some of the more difficult concepts.  The internet has made research much faster and easier than in the past, when I used to spend hours in the library, pouring over books.  However, in addition to good, sound information, the internet is also filled with many assumptions, many half-truths, and many, many lies.  So while it is faster and easier to do research, it is at the same time more difficult because of the vast amount of information that must be sifted through and discarded.  And sometimes my human mind will grasp a concept that appears to be right.

This is where the danger lies: it looks so plausible that it must be right.  So I run with that, when I ought to take it to God first.  This is the intellectual equivalent to the very same thing problem that launched me on the Faith Trip (recounted in my first book, Look, Listen, Love): a failure to wait upon the Lord and seek Him for the answer.  Perhaps this is my opportunity to grow past this unfortunate tendency.

So this morning during my prayer time I prayed:

Lord, please help me to lay aside my own assumptions and speculations!  You have given me a gift for understanding and figuring out certain mysterious things, so this is really hard for me.  But I do now deliberately lay those things aside, including that gift.  I surrender all of it to You.  I want to know the Truth more than I desire to be proven right.

So then I asked:

Q: Why do we still suffer attacks on our health, our finances, our relationships, etc., when we are fully committed and surrendered and living for You and Your Kingdom?

And He immediately responded both verbally and with a vision.  I saw Nehemiah and his crew rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other.  He said:

A: You are committed and surrendered, but your walls still have weak spots and breaches in them.  Surrender is only the first step, but the enemy is circling about, trying to take any weak spot, even the tiniest crack, any foothold that he can gain.  So while you’re busy building your walls by spending time in My Word, the enemy’s hordes are watching and howling at you, trying to distract you.  Like Nehemiah, you must rebuild with the trowel in one hand and the sword in the other.

Q: That’s great!  But what does that look like, exactly?

A: The trowel is My Word applied to your life as you obey it.  As you yield to the Truth of My Word, your wall is built and strengthened.

The sword is also My Word that you are to use as Jesus did, responding to each temptation with the Word.  This Sword is mighty to drive back the enemy, while allowing you to build brick by brick.

The key is not to allow yourself to be discouraged by the size of the task (this is also a temptation of the enemy).  Rather, focus on the brick in your hand.  In other words, stay in the moment.

I don’t know about you, but I found this very helpful.  I’m not finished asking questions, but I want to take some time now to really digest this before asking any more.  The great thing is that I know He’s always ready to respond whenever I have a question.  God is good!

Favor

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My Jesus car, packed for the drive to Texas

If I were asked to give one word characterize my winter visit to the US, it would be the word favor—specifically favor with the Jews.  I started Hebrew classes at the beginning of December, and Mom was so proud that she told all our friends and neighbors that I’m studying Hebrew.  Our Jewish friends were pleased at that news.

(I want to make it clear that everyone in Mom’s retirement complex knows that I’m a Christian missionary.  My faith is something that I absolutely do not hide.  In fact, my car is covered with Jesus bumper stickers.  And most of my clothes are labeled with Jesus labels.  I am not, repeat, not a secret believer.)

Jesus label shoe

One friend, Norma, invited me to a “Souper” Bowl party at her synagogue.  It was a fundraiser and soup contest.  They had 15 chicken soups in 3 categories: traditional, international, and exotic.  We were given a voting sheet to vote for the soups, the table displays, and the costumes.  It was lots of fun, and lots of very different delicious variations of a theme.  My favorite was the traditional Jewish chicken soup, which they named Jewish Penicillin.  The table was set up like a Red Cross booth, manned by people in doctor scrubs and nurse outfits.  But there were some very creative and delicious soups, too.  I liked the miso matzo ball soup.  The whole thing was loads of fun.

Seeing how comfortable I was around the other Jews, Norma asked me if I would like to come with her to the Friday evening Shabbat service.  I leaped at the invitation.  Her son picked us up, and to my surprise, I found myself able to keep up with the Hebrew prayers (though my tongue is not able to quite get around the words yet), and I found myself picking out words that I recognized: Adonai (Lord), Elohim (God), yom (day), melek (king), and others.  A few things were written out in the Hebrew text, but most of it was transliterated (for example Elohim would be written םיהולא in Hebrew text).

The thing that really blew my mind was the respect shown to the Torah.  When it was time to read from the Torah, they opened the curtain behind the bema (like an altar/lectern), took the scroll out, took the silver scroll tips off, took the cover off, and then walked the Torah scroll around the whole congregation as joyful music played.  Meanwhile people in the congregation took their pew Torah (book, not a scroll) and when the Torah came by, they touched theirs to the scroll, then kissed their Torah.

When this was done, the Torah was opened on the bema and the reader took a yad (literally “hand”), a silver tool that looks like a long, ornate pencil, and read from the Torah.  The yad is used so that their fingers never touch the inside of the scroll, yet they don’t lose their place on the page.  This is to maintain the integrity of every letter in the handwritten scroll.  In Israel I learned that the copiers of Torah scrolls are constantly monitored to be sure that they are copying every line, every word, every letter correctly (to read the precise guidelines for copying Torah scrolls, see http://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/torahaccuracy/.

After the service there was a meeting in the fellowship hall, but instead of coffee, they offer dixie cups of wine (or grape juice, at Norma’s synagogue, it was wine), which is taken with a prayer, which goes: “Blessed are You, God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.”  Then a hunk of challah bread is broken off by each person, and eaten with a prayer: “Blessed are You, God, Ruler of the universe, who creates bread from the earth.”  Then come the coffee and cakes and friendly conversation.  I don’t know about you, but this reminded me of the Lord’s Supper, and surely came to be as a foreshadowing of that night.

Norma’s rabbi is a beautiful (model gorgeous) woman who doesn’t look like she could possibly be old enough to be the mother of her twenty-something son.  The rabbi was cordial, but so busy that I didn’t ever get more than just a brief, cordial greeting.  I noticed that she (and some of the other women) wore a yarmulke, the skull cap.  And during the service, she (and some others) had a tallit (prayer shawl) over her shoulders.  I had always thought that the yarmulke and the tallit were a male-only thing.  Obviously, I was mistaken.  Either that or this is what modern Judaism does that their ancestors didn’t do.

The next day, Saturday, Norma wanted to know what I thought about the Shabbat service.  I told her that I loved it—and I did.  Another Jewish neighbor, Myra, heard that I had gone to Norma’s synagogue.  So she invited me to her synagogue.  I had no idea that Asheville had two synagogues.

Turns out that Norma’s synagogue is Reform, while Myra’s is Conservative.  Reform Judaism is liberal.  Orthodox is traditional to the point of being ultra-conservative (these are the Chasidim that you see with the traditional hat and curly forelocks, Jews who keep Kosher to the point of having two sets of dishes, not driving on Saturday, etc.).  Conservative Judaism came about as a middle expression between the two extremes.  Myra wanted me to see a more traditional synagogue.

So the following week I visited Myra’s synagogue.  Myra is 95 years old, and walks straight and tall without the help of a cane.  She still drives, but because of her age, she refuses to drive with anyone else in the car.  So she asked me if I would drive.  I said I would, but suggested that we take her car.  Evidently, she hadn’t seen my car.  So when she asked why we shouldn’t go in my car, I pointed it out to her.  She quickly agreed that it wouldn’t be good to park in front of the synagogue in a Jesus car.

The service at Myra’s synagogue had no music, and all the prayers were in Hebrew, written in the Hebrew text.  I had a lot of trouble keeping up with the prayers, and often had no idea what page we were supposed to be on.  At one point, I decided to stop worrying about it, and just enjoy the service.  When the Torah scroll came out, I was happy that I knew what to do.  I just wish that I had been able to know what scripture they were reading.

Then the rabbi, a nice looking young man with a big smile, gave a sermon that absolutely blew my mind.  He talked about Moses going up on Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, while the people waited below.  He said that most people read that and understand “the people waiting below” as being that they waited at the base of the mountain.  But he said that the Hebrew word for below there is actually the word underneath.  He said that likely this means that God actually picked up the mountain with Moses on it, while the people remained underneath the mountain, where it had been.  I thought about it: that would certainly explain the warnings God made that nobody, not even the livestock, touch the mountain (Exodus 19:12-13).  After all the plagues and wonders they had seen, this might not have struck them as being so unusual.  Interesting idea!  In fact, I love the idea because it’s another Rapture passage made even more Rapture-like.

After the service, the synagogue served lunch (being a Saturday morning service, rather than a Friday evening service).  They did not have the wine and challah, but served a gourmet vegetarian lunch buffet that was delicious.  Myra introduced me around.  The rabbi was very welcoming and friendly.  I was invited to come to the Wednesday noon Midrash class, where they study the Torah in Hebrew.  Although I’m sure this would help with my Hebrew studies, I simply didn’t have the time because this was just before my return to Italy.

I loved my time in Asheville, with my Jewish neighbors.  Our complex is called Bella Vista, but one of them renamed it Bubbie Vista (bubbie means grandmother in Yiddish).  Yes, indeed, I look forward to returning to my friends, the Belles of Bubbie Vista.  God is good!

Permitted

17 March

Here I am at the photo booth, getting my passport photos for the renewal

As I was putting my papers together for renewing my Permit to Stay in Italy, I came across some old Permit papers.  I mean really old papers—the papers I found dated back to the first time I lived in Italy (2001 to 2007).

I’ve told the story many times, how one day in 1999 I was having my usual Bible and prayer time when God spoke audibly.  He said, “Ask Me for it.”  I said, “Um, ask You for what?”  And instantly I remembered Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  I realized that God was inviting me to ask Him for the desire of my heart.  Without missing a beat, I said, “I want to live in Europe.”

As I asked for the desire of my heart, I knew two things: 1) that it was going to take some prayer—after all, I was a housewife, a stay-at-home mom with a ten year old son, how would I ever move from a small town in rural Connecticut to Europe?  So I knew it would take some prayer.  At the same time, I knew that 2) if God was inviting me to ask for it, then He had every intention of making it happen.  So I prayed those prayers, knowing that I was collaborating with God, Himself.  Nothing could stand in our way.  And two years later, my husband was offered a job in Italy, in a small town just outside of Milan.

So as I was looking through these old papers yesterday, I realized that God had made many individuals (my husband, his boss, in fact the whole company, and the Italian government) come together for one purpose: to bring me to Italy.  None of them were aware of it, only God and I knew.

I didn’t even realize the significance of moving to Italy at the time.  Like most people, I didn’t know that Italy (and indeed Europe) was a mission field.  I quickly learned that it is, and my heart yearned for the salvation of the people of Italy.  These people were so disconnected from God that they either slavishly attended mass daily, parroting prayers that begged God to hear their pleas or they walked away from church and sought spiritual significance in witchcraft, fortunetelling, New Age/paganism, pseudo-Christianity (Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormonism), Buddhism, hedonism, even satanism.

Once again, I was struck by God’s purpose and His power in all this, moving individuals, a big company, and the Italian government just so that I could be a missionary here.  To those who have missionary dreams, I say: partner with God.  Pray big, scary prayers.  Pray with assurance, seeing what you want to happen, and don’t ever give up!  If God wants you here, He will move Heaven and earth to get you here.  Nothing, no issue (financial, health, or legal) can stand against His purposes.  God is good!

Night and Day

Suki is an evangelist.  Most of her evangelistic experience has been one-to-one, sharing Jesus.  But she has a really amazing testimony.

Suki had been placed under a voodoo spell, raped, and had a near-death experience in which she saw both Heaven and Hell.  Now that’s the kind of testimony that a Christian comedian once observed: “makes you hate your own testimony.  Why couldn’t I be on drugs?”

I knew that the Lord wouldn’t want to keep Suki hidden away in her small town in Tuscany forever.  And sure enough, she has started getting invitations to tell her testimony all over Italy.

Just a week after my return, Suki had an invitation to speak at a small church here in Milan.  Did I say small?  Tiny!  Nevertheless, they had invited Suki to come to their International Women’s Day party and speak to the women there.  So Suki asked me two things: 1) could she stay at my apartment? and 2) would I like to come to the party with her?

I said yes to both questions.  The church is in a tiny storefront on the other side of town.  They have been without a pastor for two years, and the church would be impossible to accidentally find.  That’s not to say that I have something against small churches.  Not at all!  But after two years, one wonders if perhaps it might be time to give up the expense of the storefront and go back to meeting in homes.

And size really is the least of this church’s problems.  Without a pastor, there doesn’t seem to be any clear leadership at all.  For example, Laura, the woman who had invited Suki to speak had gotten a promise from others of the church that they would pitch-in and pay for Suki’s train ticket, which is only right.  In the end, they did not give Suki a penny for her trouble.

Here’s what happened:

Saturday Night

As Suki was leaving home in Tuscany, Laura called to tell her that the women don’t want to hear anything about witchcraft.  She explained that not all the women at the party would be believers, and the majority of them were South American, so they were very familiar with witchcraft, demonic spirit, and so forth.  Well, Suki can’t give her testimony without touching on those elements.  She asked me what she should do.  I said, “Pray about it, and ask the Holy Spirit to give you the right thing to say,” (that’s what I always do).

Suki also asked me and another friend, Giulianna, to give a brief testimony, too.  So we did.  But the set-up was very odd.  Laura picked us up from the subway station and brought us to the church, which was close enough to walk in under ten minutes.  However, we would never have found the church without Laura’s help.  The tiny storefront was about 12 by 24, so twice as long as it was wide.  They had set up chairs all around, and in the middle there was a long table, heaped with cakes, cookies, and candies.

I gave my testimony (the five minute version), then Giulianna gave hers, and then the woman who appeared to be in charge announced that we would have a closing prayer—completely skipping Suki.  Suki stopped her and the woman rather grudgingly let Suki give her testimony.  I couldn’t help but notice the way eyes of everyone on the other side of the room kept roaming from Suki to the dessert table in front of them.  I admit, I couldn’t keep my eyes from roaming to the dessert table, too.  And as Suki spoke, I noticed the leader getting very agitated.  Suki spoke for every bit of the 20 minutes allotted to her, and didn’t skip the uglier parts.  She did not, however, go into much detail about those uglier parts, since there was a child present.

When it was over and dessert was finally served, a couple of women practically flew to Suki, asking for prayer—one of them asked how she could be saved.  The woman next to me was wearing a pretty glass Star of David, so I asked her about it.  Her name is Sarah—she emphasized that her name is spelled like Sarah from the Bible because the Italians leave off the h.  She is taking Hebrew lessons, too—from a Rabbi here in Milan.  So we talked about the wonderful Jewish roots of our faith and my trip to Israel.

The leader kissed each of the women there and left.  The only woman she did not kiss was Suki.  When Laura drove us back to the subway station, she regretfully told Suki that she would not be able to pay her after all because the church had decided not to.  This is why I don’t believe that they can last as a church.  They don’t honor either their commitments or God’s people who come to serve them.

The last thing Laura said to me was that she wants to come visit my church, which is the biggest evangelical church in Milan.  Even people outside of Italy know my church and our pastor.  This has caused a lot of jealousy and rivalry among the other evangelical churches of Milan.  Please pray that this changes.  Pray for unity among the churches and God’s people.

Sunday Afternoon

Sunday morning Suki, Giulianna, and I boarded a train to Turin.  This was the first time in a long time that I had taken this train all the way to Turin.  Usually I get off and take a subsidiary train to Biella to visit my friends and favorite church there.  We arrived in Turin just about noon and Suki’s friend, Pastor Margarita, picked us up.  She took us to a restaurant where they had set aside a whole room for the celebration of International Women’s Day.  The event was so well-attended that the restaurant had to bring in more chairs, and squeeze us in tighter.

Margarita had invited Suki to come speak at their celebration.  Again, Giulianna and I were asked to give a brief testimony.  Giulianna had another task, that of being the event photographer.  She was a good choice for the job, and took some great pictures.  But first the restaurant began bringing in one delicious pizza after another and another, each one with different toppings.  I have no idea how many pizzas were consumed, but I would say at least 35 to 40, possibly more.  We finally had to ask the staff to stop making pizzas for us.

Then Suki gave her testimony.  I could see that the women were spellbound by Suki’s recounting of these events.  When Suki got to the part about seeing Heaven and Hell, I saw tears in many eyes all around me.  And when she finished, Margarita led us in a closing prayer and many of the women flew out of their seats for one of two destinations: Suki or the bathroom.  One woman made her way over to me, instead.  Kelli is an American missionary who is also from Texas.  She told me that she and her husband have been in Italy just three months.  She’s still learning the language.  Margarita later told me that Kelli is giving her English lessons.  Knowing how busy a pastor’s life is, I am impressed that she is taking the time to learn English.  It will definitely serve her.

After most of the women had left, we went to the parking lot, where we made some final prayers with the women who had stayed around, waiting to talk to Suki.  It was very clear that God had used her to bless and encourage this wonderful group of women.

Then we went to Margarita’s church to meet her parents, Claudio and Michela.  Her dad was pruning a tree, and another couple, Sandro and Daniela, were also helping with routine cleaning and maintenance before the evening service.

We were then taken to Sandro and Daniela’s house for an afternoon coffee break before taking the half hour trip out to Claudio and Michela’s house, where the three of us would be staying the night.  We had been invited to the evening service at church, but we all declined.  We were exhausted from the train ride, the party, and schlepping our bags all over Turin.

On the way to their house, Claudio stopped at the supermarket to pick up some things for supper.  Sandro and Daniela had followed us in their car, and they also bought some things for supper.  Once we got to the house, Claudio took our bags up the stairs to the loft, where we would be staying.  And as we settled in, he began cooking supper.  Michela told us that most of the time, he is the cook.

He cooked for almost an hour while we rested and settled in.  Then hunger drove us downstairs to the kitchen.  We visited while he continued cooking, making wonderful smells.  After a while, Margarita and her family arrived, so Michela and Daniela shuttled dishes and utensils, napkins and glasses downstairs to the basement dining room.

While they did that, Claudio told us his testimony.  He said that he had been a heavy smoker, and had cared nothing about God.  But his grandson (who was three years old) kept praying for him.  Every time he was sick, this child would pray for him, and he would be instantly healed.  Then one day, the boy prayed that he would quit smoking.  After the boy went home with his parents, Claudio went out the back door to smoke.  He lit the cigarette, but found himself unwilling to smoke it.  All desire to smoke was gone.  Soon after that, he gave his life to the Lord.

Then dinner was served at about 8:30.  Dinner revived me, and the conversation around the table was very interesting.  At one point Sandro asked me to guess what his last name is.  Of course, I couldn’t.  It’s Quattr’occhi—Four-eyes.  I laughed my head off, saying, “Really?”  He assured me that it really is his name.  He said, “I was teased a lot during grade school, as you can imagine.”  Oh yes, I can imagine that’s true.

After supper, which lasted until almost 10:00, the long day finally caught up with me.  I hardly even remember brushing my teeth and going to bed.

The next morning, as I began my prayer time, I told the Lord, “My heart is so full, I just want to know what’s on Your mind.”  And He replied, “I want to bless all the people of this church.  I am about to open the windows of Heaven to pour out a blessing on them.  The testimony you heard about Claudio’s healing, will become commonplace.  Children will pray for people and they will be instantly healed.  Adults will donate money as I direct them from a bottomless wallet.”  Wow!  I could hardly wait to tell Margarita.

Later that morning we met Margarita at her office (she works at a plumbing supply company).  When I told her what the Lord said, she got tears in her eyes.  She said, “I have been fasting and praying specifically for these things.”  So this was big confirmation to her.

So we all prayed together, and then Claudio took us to the train station.  Suki and Giulianna got on their train and I took mine.  The difference between these two churches was night and day, and that difference was, I believe, the willingness to let the Holy Spirit move the way He wanted to move.  It was a privilege to be a part of it.  God is good!

Your Pants are on Fire!

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” 

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” 

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. 

A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. 

Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. 

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.  Mark 5:1-20

I love this passage.  The formerly demon-possessed man became the very first missionary!  Jesus gave him his own personal Great Commission.  He didn’t go to seminary or take any kind of training.  He got delivered and sent, just like that.

The Gerasene man also gives us hope.  He had been not just tormented, not just oppressed, but completely and totally demon possessed, and yet, God sent him out as a missionary.  It takes away every excuse for not answering a missionary call.

I was thinking about the Gerasene man today and it occurred to me to wonder how many soldiers were in a Roman Legion.  It turns out that there was somewhere between 4000-6000 men in a Roman Legion.  Notice that Mark says that there were about 2000 pigs.  Not that the number of pigs has to match the number of demons exactly, but one of the devil’s tactics is to scare people by making himself seem more powerful (or more numerous) than he actually is.

I’ve had Christians ask me, “Do you think the devil can read my thoughts?” with obvious terror in their eyes.  Absolutely not!  I told them.  But he’s been watching people since the beginning of time, so he can make a pretty good guess about your thoughts, based on his vast experience and your facial expression.  But don’t let that scare you.

The devil wants us (especially Christians) to be so paralyzed by fear that we never fight any spiritual battles.  But know this: the only way that the devil can possibly win is if we don’t fight.  And the only offensive weapon we have, according to Ephesians 6, is the Sword of the Spirit: God’s Word.  We don’t have to fight in the same way the world fights.  We just need to stand on the Word of God.  That’s what Jesus did when He was in the wilderness being tempted by the devil.

So how many demons were in the Gerasene man?  I don’t know.  But it wouldn’t surprise me if the devil didn’t fudge the number.  They do it in Washington all the time!  (Oops!  Did I really write that?)  But God is still good!