The Damned Cowards!

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

The first few times that I read Revelation 21:8, it just didn’t sink in.  Take a good look at who leads the list of people that are destined for hell: cowards!  When it finally dawned on me that cowards are going to hell (along with murderers, idolaters, liars, and the rest of the nasty crew), I wondered why.  After all, aren’t they already scared?

Then the Lord reminded me that courage is not about not having fear.  Courage is facing down the fear and triumphing over it.  Courage is not allowing fear to stop you when you know what you should do.

Courage is something I see every day in the missionaries and pastors of Europe.  While the rest of the world treats them as irrelevant, these brave men and women—and whole families, even!—take their faith to the nations.  Many of them have sold all their possessions to enter into the mission field.  Some have suffered hardships that have cost them dearly: health, marriages, and family death.

The cowardly are the ones who go to church, but don’t obey when God calls them to ministry.  In their amazing book, Experiencing God, Henry T. Blackaby and Claude V. King wrote that God invites you to join Him in work that He’s already doing, and that God’s invitation leads to a crisis of belief.  Joining God in His work requires major adjustments in your life.  But the thing that was hardest for me when I was working my way through Experiencing God was the chapter titled “Joining God Requires Obedience,” and especially the section titled “The Cost of Obedience.”

I was fine with obedience costing me, personally, but when I got to the subsection titled “Cost to my Family for me to do God’s Will,” it stopped me cold.  This was 1997, and I was a housewife and stay-at-home mom.  My family was more important to me than anything else on earth.  How could I ask my family to suffer and sacrifice for my answer to God’s call on my life?  Of course, at the time, I didn’t know what God’s call on my life was.  And if I hadn’t counted the cost—including the cost to my family—I might never have known.  God might have deemed me unsuitable for service if I had chosen my family over serving Him.

Baby Steps

God took me along in baby steps.  I didn’t jump into missionary service right then.  Later in the book, it asks the question: What work is God inviting you to join Him in?  When I prayed about that question, I remembered that I had been asked by another mother to help put together a children’s church program.  The church had been through a very bitter split just before I moved there, and the children’s program was a casualty.  So Sunday mornings consisted of great music, great teaching and preaching, but absolutely nothing for the children.  While the adults enjoyed the sermon, the children all around me colored pictures, ate candy, and went out to the bathroom with a frequency that far exceeded the needs of even the tiniest bladder.  So I called this woman and we met to pray and plan for putting together a children’s church program.  We had so much fun, both with each other and with our own children, that really the hardest part of all had been making that initial phone call.  That phone call had taken courage.

One day as I was showering I had an idea for a children’s program.  I was living in New England at the time, and there the kids had a week off from school, usually in February, and it was called Winter Break.  Many times, winter break put a strain on working parents, who then had to scramble to find someone to watch the kids while they work.  If they didn’t find someone, they simply had to take time off work for that week.  My idea was a one day Winter Carnival at which the kids could play games, win prizes, and learn about Jesus in a fun atmosphere.  My immediate reaction was “What a fantastic idea!” and on the heels of that thought was resistance because it was going to be a huge task to put it together in just a month’s time.

Having recently been through Experiencing God, I knew that an idea that great for sharing the Gospel together with my feeling of resistance meant that this was really God’s idea.  So I called the pastor and told him the idea.  He loved it, and told the elders about the idea.  They also loved it.  Before I knew it, people were calling and volunteering time, volunteering resources, and volunteering to help.  In the end, I had only a small part to do in planning, most of the set up, implementation, and clean up was done by others.  I had so many volunteers and so many resources that in the end, I couldn’t take any credit for any of it.  The biggest thing I did was call the pastor with the idea that God had given me.  And all that the phone call took was courage.

I knew at the time that children’s church was a temporary call, but I had no idea that God had a much bigger call on my life.  Two years after Experiencing God, and having Him change my life through service in children’s church, I got the big call.  But even the big call happened in small steps for me.  That story is too long to place here, but it is recounted in detail in my book, Laughing in My Dreams.

The point is that as I showed myself to be faithful in smaller things, God gave me bigger things.  The biggest obstacle to overcome was my own resistance.  That’s not to say that there wasn’t resistance and obstacles from other quarters.  There was.  But once I made my mind up, it was easy to overcome those things.

When I moved back to Italy as a missionary, I had a strong call of God upon my life, and my own determination to follow that call.  People on both continents told me that I am a very brave woman to have moved to Italy alone.  At first I thought that they just didn’t know how scared I am at times.  But then I realized that courage is not the absence of fear.  Courage is going ahead despite the fear.  And you know what I learned?  Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  What I learned in facing down fear is that fear flees when faced with determined action.

As many of my readers know, the End Times is on my mind a lot lately.  In reading Revelation 21:8 again, I realized that there will be a lot of people who take the Mark of the Beast, knowing that the Bible says not to.  In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Antichrist made that mark the number 666, just to snub his nose at God.  I have heard that several non-believers are reluctant to take a microchip into their hand because they recognize that it sounds like what Christians say will happen.  Those people who take the Mark knowing that they shouldn’t, will do so because they don’t want to be beheaded.  They are cowards.  They will end up in the Lake of Fire because they chose temporal comfort over eternal security.  And really, the only reason why they would do that is because they just don’t love God.

Don’t be cowardly!  Stand up for your beliefs.  We will overcome by the Blood of the Lamb and by the Word of our Testimony.  And never forget: God is good!  He will give you the strength and the joy to go through whatever you must go through.  Yes, joy!  The joy of the Lord is your strength.

Confetti, Silly String, Masks, and Streamers Everywhere!

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Milan has just had its Carnivale celebration.  Carnivale is the last hurrah before the carnal deprivation of Lent, and should technically be celebrated on Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday.

In Italy, however, Carnivale is celebrated for two weeks.  Unlike the nearly naked and drunken celebrations of Carnivale in Brazil or Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carnivale here is mostly for children.  Confetti, Silly String in aerosol cans, streamers and costumes can be found in most every market and shop during the month of February.  And a two week celebration means that a child can celebrate Carnivale with her grandparents in Parma one weekend and celebrate at home in Milan the next weekend.

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One February I was in the small town of Iseo, Italy by the like-named lake.  I was tired, so I sat on a bench near a place where the sidewalk narrowed.  There was a boy about 3-4 years old in costume.  His dad was also tired so they shared my bench.  The boy had a bag of confetti and every time he saw another child approaching he pulled out a fistful and—POW!—showered the other kid with confetti.  The giggling that followed was positively contagious.  Then he would load up again and wait for his next victim.  We passed an hour or so this way.

February of 2010 I was in Venice.  I would never have deliberately gone to Venice during Carnivale because I don’t like being in crowds, but since I was there and it would probably be my only chance to do so, I went to St. Mark’s Square and watched the celebration.  Venice’s Carnivale is quite a spectacle, with some of the most opulent and elaborate costumes I have ever seen.  It reminded me of the costume party scene in Hitchcock’s “It Takes a Thief.”  I was told that some people save up all year for their Carnivale costumes, and I can believe it.  But it was a also an event for children.  At one point, I found myself near a family with two children.  The little boy kept tossing confetti on his little sister, who was too little to understand or appreciate the fun.  Finally he got frustrated with her and turned and threw confetti on me.  “Whee!”  I giggled every time he did it, which made him keep doing it until his mother stopped him.  I think she must have thought I was just being kind, but really I was having fun.

The very next day was when God told me about my ministry to Europe.  I like to think that God will use me and the rest of the missionaries in Europe to bring revival, and then we’ll celebrate in a party that never has to end.

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Yesterday celebrations ended here in Milan—just when I had gotten used to riding the subway with fairy princesses and Power Rangers!  All that’s left is Carnivale’s detritus: confetti and spent streamers all over the ground, and silly string going gooey all over the walls.  The city is really good about cleaning up after Carnivale, so there will be hardly a trace of its silly fun.  I don’t normally mind the winter, but February really needs Carnivale’s fun.  I think God knew that!