A New Beginning and Goodbye to Sarajevo

Tara Canyon

Tara Canyon, Bosnia-Herzegovina

This trip with Operation Capitals of Europe (OCE) to Podgorica and Sarajevo has been an extraordinary one.  Like I said in yesterday’s post, Sarajevo is the halfway point—25th of approximately 50 European capitals.  And Sarajevo calls itself The Heart of Europe.  It’s also the place where East and West meet in Europe.

Plus there has been a heavenly shift on this trip.  Prayer has gotten easier, the burdens lighter, and the work more fun.  We functioned more effectively as a team, despite past glitches with the issue of unity.  Our love and respect for one another has grown as we’ve come to recognize each other’s giftings—which brings us back to teamwork.  We’ve learned how to rely on each other’s strengths.  In Podgorica we were seven—four OCE regulars and three who joined us.  Here in Sarajevo we were 25 – 40, some only attended the meetings in the church, but several also came along to prayer walk with us.

Even with new people (and the locals, who are always new), this time we worked so well as a team.  Frankly, it’s a relief to know that I don’t have to carry the full burden of this ministry myself.  I know that I couldn’t do it alone.  So I work in my gifts and let the others work in theirs, and that way the burden is light for each of us.  But this is a remarkable group of people who don’t try either to self-promote or leave the whole burden on others.  Over the years and several trips together, we’ve learned when to come forward and when to step back and let another teammate do the work, and usually the locals blend in nicely, adding their prayers and prophecies in their own language.

So today was the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, here in Sarajevo.  We went down to the bridge where the shots were fired, arriving at 10:00.  There was a place in the street that was open for the team to enter, and once in, the crowd closed around us and many people walked through little gaps in our group of about 25.  One woman had made a flag of a lion roaring, and shared a vision of a roaring lion.  I had a vision of a lion stepping on the head of a dragon.  Different people took turns holding the flag, and almost as soon as we were in place, people started asking about the flag, and it became a wonderful opportunity to share the love of Jesus.  Even news reporters from different countries came up to us, asking about the flag.  I spoke with a reporter from Italy and another from Hungary.  A couple of reporters recorded us singing and dancing.  For the first time, I was completely uninhibited in public worship.  It was wonderful.  Then someone from the City of Sarajevo Museum drove up with the Archduke’s car, parked it in the middle of the crowd, and cordoned it off.

Then we walked to the fountain in the middle of the Old Town Square, prayed some more, and walked to the East-West divider, and prayed some more.  From there we walked, worshiping all along the way, to Parliament Square.  We said some final prayers there, and then said goodbye because almost everyone was leaving town immediately afterwards.  Many people from previous trips to the Balkans had joined us here, so it had been wonderful to see them, but sad to make our goodbyes.

Two of my OCE teammates and I remain in town for another day, so we went to lunch together.  Tomorrow I will take an early bus to Belgrade and fly back to Milan from there.  It will be a long day of travel after more than two weeks away from home.  Although I will be glad to get back home, it’s hard to leave my friends—co-workers in God’s Grand Plan to save Europe.  Our next trip will be in September, and the adventure will continue.  God is good!

Lion flag

 

Redeeming Sarajevo’s Bloody Past

Muddy riverThe muddy river

So much about Sarajevo has amazed me.  First was Corrie’s personal story of war (The War—History Becomes Real), then we learned some surprising things.

Sarajevo is Operation Capitals of Europe’s 25th capital out of an estimated 50—this marks the halfway point*.  And the interesting thing about that is that the tide is turning, so prayer has started to become much easier.  Places that you would expect to be hard places to pray (like Bosnia-Herzegovina, which has a Muslim majority) have become easier to pray in.  And sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ has never been easier.  Evangelism is not the focus of OCE, but when an opportunity to share the love of Jesus presents itself, we are faithful to do so.

In fact, we had a surprise this morning when a Muslim man from Bosnia’s most radical sect knocked on the door of the church and asked for someone to tell him about Jesus.  This was during our morning prayer and strategy session before prayer walking in the city.  The pastor of this church had answered the knock, and told the man about Jesus—which he received eagerly.

For me, the Muslim coming to church was a personal confirmation because just this morning, I was, oh well not really praying, but sort of musing in God’s presence about the seriously religious Muslims (which seem to be a minority here).  And God showed me that some of them are sincerely seeking Him—and of course, the Bible says that when we seek God, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).

What we do is prophetic prayer, so it’s often accompanied by prophetic acts.  We pray as the Holy Spirit directs us.  So when we went out to prayer walk in the city, a young couple heard us praying by the river where it flows into the city.  One of our local believers noticed their interest, so he greeted them.  They asked about our prayers, and he explained about praying for the city.  They asked what we had thrown into the river.  And he explained that it was salt to purify the river, and how only the blood of Jesus can purify us and save us from our sin.  They were so happy that they started laughing.  The woman was fanning herself with her hand (Pentecostal-style!) and laughing.  So he made an appointment to see them tomorrow and promised to give them Bibles and a copy of the Jesus film.

In this land where death has reigned for so long, the Author of Life has come to bring life and hope.  Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife—which happened here in Sarajevo.  I feel that Sarajevo has passed through a door, and today starts the true history of Sarajevo—a history of life and love and hope in Jesus Christ.  God is good!

* Nobody can say for certain exactly how many countries are in Europe because there are countries that are not universally recognized, like the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (which is recognized only by itself and Turkey), Transnistria (which is recognized only by itself), Kosovo (recognized by all the world except Serbia), Wales, Scotland, and the Channel Islands (which are self-governing regions of the UK), the Faroe Islands (a self-governing region of Denmark), and all the countries that sort of straddle Europe and Asia: Turkey, Russia, and Georgia.

100 years Sarajevo

The War—History Becomes Real

War museumSarajevo War Museum

Greetings from Sarajevo!

Upon our arrival we were met by a missionary couple, Gerald and Corrie.  Gerald is American and Corrie is Dutch, but now an American citizen.  They took us to Old Town Sarajevo for an authentic Bosnian dinner.  After our delicious meal, we went for a Turkish coffee, but found the Turkish coffee shops full of noisy soccer fans because Bosnia was playing in the World Cup.  So we found a regular coffee shop.  Over coffee and dessert, Corrie told me their war story:

We were missionaries here for five years, and I had thought that we would always stay here.  We had three small children, the youngest two had been born here, and I was pregnant with the fourth.  We knew that war was a possibility, but the news media minimized the threat.  And besides that, they had signed the treaty, so we didn’t really think that it would happen.  But regardless, in war or peace, we were determined to stay.  We were young and the call of God for Sarajevo was so strong for both of us that really, we were in denial about the serious possibility of war.

Nevertheless, we needed to go back to the US to raise support and meet with our church, and the best time would be for two months beginning in April, so that we could be back for the summer because summer was an important time in our ministry.

Rachel, an American who had lived in Israel, had just come to help me with the children, and she would stay in the house while we were gone.  We went with two empty suitcases because there were many things that we couldn’t get in Sarajevo, so we intended to buy things to bring back.  We never imagined that we were leaving for good.  So we left and two weeks later, war broke out.

I felt so bad—almost guilty—for having left, though I know now that it was God’s plan to rescue our family.  I was concerned for our friends and neighbors, and of course for Rachel.  Contact was impossible, all communication was cut off.  On TV, we saw the tanks entering town in the very park where our children played.  It was surreal, and I tried to understand what I was seeing.

At this point shouting filled the street—Bosnia had won the soccer match, and the street quickly filled with flag-draped, cheering fans.  Corrie smiled at me, and continued:

Since we couldn’t come back to Sarajevo, we lived for seven years in the Netherlands, before finally moving to the US.  Gerald traveled back once a year, doing what he could here.

We visited Sarajevo after the war, not knowing what we would find.  Rachel, having lived in a war zone, had gotten herself out safely.  But our friends and neighbors?  Information was slow in coming, and in many cases, we never found out at all.  One family from the church had gotten out and moved to Germany, close to the border with the Netherlands, so we were able to visit them while we lived there.  We had heard about another couple from church who moved to the US.  And a friend who was also pregnant had been taken in the night to the hospital, and gave birth there by candlelight.

We found our house with the door and all the windows missing.  All our things had been taken, though we found a hand juicer in a corner, and the familiarity of the object was jarring.  Then I went upstairs and began screaming for Gerald.  All our family pictures were strewn all over the floor, taken out of the albums.  We gathered them like lost treasure.  Those were the only things, besides the washer, that remained—and the washer had been gutted for parts, like an abandoned car.  A few days later, we returned to the house and found that even the empty hull of the washer had been hauled off.

So our children grew up in the States.  Then last year, Gerald told me that he wants to move back to Sarajevo.  I didn’t feel ready to move back, leaving our children there (and a daughter in Holland) but after much prayer, I agreed, and we moved in August.

I was speechless at first.  It was a very sobering thing to arrive in Sarajevo and find that the house across the street from our lodgings with bullet holes all over the façade from when the soldiers with Kalashnikovs had sprayed the area with gunfire—especially knowing how recent that war was.  But it was another thing altogether to hear this personal story of war and God’s miraculous rescue of this family.  Imagine what might have happened if they had stayed.  They might have lost the baby (and mother!) or Gerald might have been killed.

And this morning, Corrie brought a friend to meet me.  She has been friends with Radosta for 26 years.  Radosta recalled with smiles how she had carried their youngest in a baby backpack through town.  Radosta would sing and the baby would lift her hands in praise.  Reuniting with Radosta had been a real joy and a blessing for Corrie.

God calls each of us into divine partnership with Him, and for those who answer His call (unless He has called them for martyrdom), He shields them and their family from harm.  God is good!

cemetery parkThis had been the park where Corrie’s children had sledded down the hill.  Now it’s a cemetery for those who died in the war–including their first convert to Christianity.

Worshiping with Laughter in Podgorica

TitogradTitograd–AKA Podgorica

Greetings from Podgorica!

This morning, after a strategy meeting for prayer walking in Podgorica (the capital of Montenegro), we met with some missionaries over coffee.  They explained the particular challenges for the church here, which boiled down to suspicion and division.  They couldn’t stay long, so we prayed for them, and blessed them in their ministry here.

Meanwhile a couple of teammates went to talk and pray with a newspaper man (a Christian) who is a former minister in the government, and who likely could have a future role in the government of Montenegro.  The teammates who went to his office were one who has a special calling to pray for government, and the other is a missionary in Albania, and thus, the only teammate based in the Balkans.  By coincidence (or as I’ve recently heard it termed, “God-incidence”), both are Norwegian men.  The rest of the team went prayer walking in the center of the city.

Our walk took us down to the confluence of the small river that runs through the city center and a larger river.  It is a really beautiful spot on waters that are sparkling clear.  We found a small cave into which a small stage has been built.  But it looks as if the site has long been abandoned, and probably used as a teenage hangout for drinking and drug use.  The stage has been torn up and there is broken glass everywhere.  Nevertheless, the natural beauty of this place is undeniable.  We found there a couple of girls who had set up easels and were drawing.  The Holy Spirit spoke to us of this place as being a place of worship and the release of creative gifts.  So we included worship in our prayers there.  It was there that the Holy Spirit revealed hope to me.  I felt such hope for this city and this country.

Then one teammate told us of a statue that spoke to her of the powerful weapon that worship is against the enemy.  It is a statue of a man holding a guitar in one hand, with his other hand raised to Heaven, and under his feet is a skull.  So we went there for more prayer and worship.

On the way back through the city center, we were surprised to find our Norwegian teammates.  They told us that the half hour appointment with the newspaperman had been extended to 50 minutes because he was so interested in what they had to tell him.  They prayed for him, prophesied over him, and showed him things in the Bible that he found very encouraging.  Needless to say, they were likewise encouraged by the meeting.

At that time, we split up, some going for lunch, others for a rest.  Afterwards, we met again for a more formal debriefing of our morning’s adventures before beginning our afternoon adventure on the hill: Gorica.  Podgorica means underneath or at the foot of Gorica.  In the Communist Era, Podgorica had been renamed Titograd, for Tito, dictator of Yugoslavia—and the name remains in some parts of the city.

A little way up the hill is the tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War II.  Honestly, it looks just like an altar.  From there, it is obvious that the Communists, despite protesting that that they worship no god is a lie because they worship death.  The tomb of the Unknown Soldier is an altar to death, and there had been a spirit of death that has reigned for a long time over this city.  Our Balkan teammates both felt headaches coming on as we mounted the steps to the tomb.  They prayed the headache away, and it left immediately.  So we used our God-given authority and broke the death spirit’s hold on this land.  We also sang a worship song, and the heavy atmosphere lifted.

Farther up the hill, closer to the top, we found a couple of benches which were great places overlooking the city.  So we rested there before continuing up the hill.  At the top, Gorica is flat, and from there we couldn’t look down on the city.  There at the top, I felt a headache coming on in a different place from the side where I had always gotten migraines.  It was clearly a spiritual attack, but I just prayed it away, and it left immediately.  We prayed some prayers at the top, repenting for the blood-guilt upon the land, and performing a prophetic act by pouring a little wine into the soil to cover the blood-guilt with the blood of Christ.

Then we went back to the benches to pray, prophesy, and proclaim over the city.  Again, I felt hope rising in my spirit for this country.

At the foot of the hill is the oldest church in Montenegro.  It had fallen into disrepair, but is now being repaired, and restored.  Behind the church is a graveyard, with stone sarcophagi, many of which lay open and empty.  One even had a tree growing out of it.  That is a strong symbol of resurrection, and resurrection brought to mind that repeated feeling of hope.

In the evening, we went to meet with local believers: a couple who are expecting their first child in a few weeks, and the husband’s mother.  We got together for the purpose of encouraging them, but also to worship together.  As we worshiped, laughter broke out, first in the husband, then spreading to all of us.  I prophesied a joy anointing upon them and their house, rippling out to all the neighbors and across the city.  Also, I prophesied that their baby girl will be a worshiper—which was immediately confirmed by the wife.

So this was an amazing day, full of hope and worship and laughter.  God is good!

The Prince bows to the King of Kings

millenium cross

The Millennium Cross – The biggest cross in the world (sorry Rio!)

On the schedule was an item that said Prince Philip of Prussia would speak.  I wasn’t sure if this was an actual prince or if he fancied himself a prince or if he had taken the name Prince like the singer.  In any case, I was curious.

At the appointed time, a thin, well-dressed man came to the stage.  It didn’t even occur to me that this might be the prince because he’s a man that you would never pick out of a group as being royalty of any kind.  In fact, he seems almost too humble and unprepossessing.

He introduced himself and his family tree (follow the link above, and you can read all that).  Prince Philip became a believer at the age of eighteen, and is now a pastor.  He spoke of his great-grandfather, William II (also known as Kaiser Wilhelm), and the start of World War I.  Although he was deeply shocked by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, it was a war he never wanted.  When you understand the family relations, you will understand why he didn’t want the war: he was the eldest and best-loved grandson of Queen Victoria.  In fact, the rulers of Russia, Spain, Norway, Romania, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Greece were all his family.  So it’s easy to understand why he didn’t want war in Europe.  But the generals insisted that it was necessary to respond to the assassination quickly and with power.  The tragedy is that William II was a believer, but he lacked the faith to seek God for the answer.

Banner over me

So because of his great-grandfather’s lack of faith, a war resulted with over 37 million military and civilian deaths.  And William II abdicated, opening the way for Hitler (obviously, I’m over-simplifying for the sake of brevity), and the deadliest war of all time, World War II, with an estimated 30 – 50 million military and civilian deaths.

Then came a moment when the whole hall was so silent that it seemed that we scarcely dared to draw a breath.  Prince Philip drew a deep breath and stated his desire to repent on behalf of his family for Europe’s bloodiest century, and asked our forgiveness before God.  I was sitting in the first row, and I don’t know if I was first, but I didn’t see anyone before me leap to their feet faster and begin clapping.  Then the whole hall was on their feet, clapping and clapping for several minutes.  The conference leaders went up on stage and surrounded Prince Philip, and the applause went on and on.  My hands were aching, but I could not stop.  I applauded his courage and integrity, and my willingness to forgive such a man.  And I wanted him to know that he is forgiven.  Well, obviously, he knows that God forgives, but I wanted him to know that I forgive, too.

Trumpet globe

Finally, the conference leaders each embraced Prince Philip, stating their forgiveness on behalf of their nations and their families.  It was one of the most moving moments I’ve ever witnessed, and I feel certain that it changed the spiritual atmosphere over Europe.  Now, I believe, Revival can happen here.  God is good!

world in Skopje

 

Blessed Reassurance

Part One

My title today is a play on words.  Many of you know the old hymn Blessed Assurance (link here, just in case you don’t), which sings of the assurance that we can have of our salvation.  The same people who feel strong assurance about salvation are some who have trouble believing in the full message of grace or a pre-tribulation rapture.

Grace

The people preaching against “hyper-grace” believe in grace, up to a point.  They believe that they are saved by grace, but then they must take over and work hard to live a holy life.  And if they’re discipling somebody, they stay vigilant over that person to make sure that they dress right, live right, talk right, etc.  They believe that the grace of Jesus Christ got them into Heaven, but they need to work hard to stay there.  They teach a God of rules that watches to see if we are going to continue in sin.

Read 1 John 1:5-2:17.  Anyone who continues in sin proves that they are not really born again (1 John 1:6).  But John continues by explaining about what happens when believers sin, which we do.  Remember that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).  We are in perfect agreement about the fact that there must be repentance.  What we disagree about is the power to live out that repentance.

They believe that it’s now up to us, and so mix law in with the message of grace.  “Oh, you’ve got to watch out for sin,” and they teach daily confession and repentance.  The law has never saved one single soul.  That’s because the purpose of the law was to demonstrate our need for a Savior.

How do we get saved?  It is as easy as believing.  Here are some sample verses (there are many!):

John 1:12 – Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.

John 3:16-18 – For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.  Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Acts 16:30-31 – He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

Romans 3:20-24 – Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.  But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

Galatians 3:6 – So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

That last one is so good and appropriate for this discourse that I’m going to expand it:

You foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you?  Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.  I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?  Are you so foolish?  After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?  Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain?  So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?  So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” (Galatians 3:1-6, emphasis mine).

You know what I think?  I think that it’s all just too easy for some folks.  After all, there are lots of religions out there that require their followers to live by a set of rules: don’t eat this, don’t touch that, etc.  Christianity breaks that mold by being simple and easy.  It’s simple and easy for 2 very important reasons: 1. God is almighty and He has done it all for us; and 2. Since we didn’t do anything besides believing, we can’t take any of the credit.

So what is the power of grace?  Love!  Just as it was love that kept Jesus on that cross when He could have called down countless angels to save His life, it is love that gives us the power to live a life that pleases God.  We love God because He first loved us (I John 4:19).  When full grace is preached—that is preaching that gives us an idea of how long and wide and high and deep is the love that Jesus has for us—then we respond with a love that seeks to please the lover of our soul.  At that point, sin loses all its appeal.  And it’s not because we confess and repent daily.  It’s not because we dress right, talk right, act right.  It’s because we think with a completely different mindset.  Instead of doing this or that based on what we want to do, we do things based on what would most please or honor God.

Most days I wake up with a love song to God playing in my head.  Nobody told me to do that.  I just love Him, so my heart wakes up singing love to Him and my head overhears it.  Here’s a link to the one I woke up with today: Amazing Love.  God is good—believe it!

Generous Grace

As I thought more about the massive furor over the issue of grace (or what some people are calling hyper-grace), I began to wonder why some people are so resistant to the idea.  Of course control is a major issue, which I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, Dis-graceful Conduct.  But as I thought about it more, I began to wonder why some people—good people, godly people, including friends of mine—were so rabidly and viciously coming out against the idea of the full grace of God.  I asked myself why they couldn’t accept God’s generosity.

That’s when it dawned on me: they have trouble accepting God’s generosity because true generosity is so very rare these days.  They don’t trust generosity in their fellow humans because it rarely comes without a price-tag of some sort.  So along comes God into their lives, and His generosity is so immense that they simply cannot bring themselves to believe it.

Think about it: God offers us eternal life with Him in Heaven, a place that is so wonderful and beautiful that it defies description (1 Corinthians 2:9).   And all we have to do is to repent and believe.

But the sweet by-and-by is not all that we get.  We also get real and practical help throughout our life here on earth (Matthew 7:7-8).  And all we have to do is to ask, believing.

But that’s not all we get.  Every day as we live in the continual outpouring of God’s love, we become more and more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).  And all we have to do is follow Him, believing.

And that’s not all we get.  The Holy Spirit gives us gifts for ministering to our fellow humans so that we can live together in harmony as the Body of Christ here on earth (1 Corinthians 12 & 13).  And all we have to do is follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, believing.

But that’s still not all we get.  Someday—and it’s going to be soon!—Jesus will come rapture away His church to escape the Tribulation and instead enjoy a 7 year wedding feast: ours to Jesus! (Matthew 25:1-13 & Revelation 21).  And all we have to do is keep doing the work He has given us to do, believing.

So it’s not all a control issue.  Plus, I think that it’s not only a matter of looking for the hidden price-tag on God’s Generous Grace.  As I dug a little deeper, I realized that some people have trouble accepting even a compliment from a friend.  Compliments don’t often come with a price-tag, so why would people have trouble accepting compliments?  Because they don’t feel like they deserve it.  Likewise, they have trouble with the full generosity of God’s Grace because they know that they don’t deserve it.  Of course they don’t!  None of us do!  The definition of grace is unmerited favor.  When we are born-again, we are given what we don’t deserve because Jesus took the punishment that He didn’t deserve.  And all in the name of Love.

Grace is powerful.  It can transform lives by the power of love.  His love for us transforms us from strangers into daughters and sons of the Most High God.  And our love for Him transforms us into victorious overcomers as we live to please our Generous God.

Grace is generous—mind-blowingly generous.  Man’s generosity comes with a price-tag.  God’s generosity also comes with a price-tag: come and die.  But then He promises that if we lose our life for Him, we gain it (Matthew 10:39; John 12:25), so that in the end, the cost of enjoying God’s generosity has been paid for us, and all we have to do is live it out, believing.  Trust God!  Why?  Because God is good!

Dis-Graceful Conduct

I have heard and read so much against the so-called hyper-grace movement lately that I feel like I must speak up.  People have stopped preaching the Gospel so that they can preach against the preachers who preach about Grace.  Now who do you think is really behind that?  If you want a clue, let me say it again: People have stopped preaching the Gospel so that they can preach against the preachers who preach about Grace.

And here’s what they say about them: that they are teaching people that there is no need for repentance.  I have never heard any of the grace preachers saying anything of the sort.  It’s ridiculous!  Joseph Prince is the main preacher accused of preaching hyper-grace.  I have never heard Joseph Prince preach that sin is OK with God.

But what I have heard is his accusers mixing law in with the message of grace.  Why would they do that?  Because they don’t really understand the power of grace.  They use the law as a means of controlling new believers until they know how to behave.  If Joseph Prince and the other grace preachers are guilty of anything, it’s trusting the Holy Spirit too much.  That’s right, they leave the picky little transitional tweaks up to the Holy Spirit.  Girls, new believers, that haven’t figured out yet that they need to dress more modestly, and men who still cuss.  Rather than wag his finger at them, he preaches the message of grace.

The message of grace is the message of how much God loves us, and it’s that love that changes us from the inside out.  We came to Christ based on love.  It is an ever-deepening knowledge of that love that gives us the power to change.  Not a change based on external pressure, but change born of our own reciprocal love for a God who loves us much more than we can ever understand.  It is our love for God that makes us want to live our lives in such a way that we please Him and bring glory to His Name.

Anybody who claims to be born again, but continues in sin is not really born again (1 John 1:6 & 2:15).  The litmus test for this is fruit.  What kind of fruit does their life bear?  If they are continuing in sin, that will be obvious to all sooner or later.  If someone is determined to continue in their sin, no amount of preaching or “discipling” by controlling their behavior will work in the end.

But when someone really grasps “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18), there really is only one response: to live to please Him.  They don’t have to constantly check themselves for hidden sins and doctrinal error because they willingly lay aside their flesh and begin to live in the Spirit and to walk in the power of that same grace that saved them.  That’s why it’s important to preach the Gospel of Grace, and to keep emphasizing the love of God.  Judgment is surely and swiftly coming.  But while the fear of Judgment might get some people in the door, it is the love that saves them, and love that helps them to truly walk in the “newness of life,” (Romans 6:4).

Believing that you must control new believers is flesh and it is unbelief.  Grace is available not only to save, but to empower the new life.  Let go and let God.

Put on Your Royal Robes

Day Twenty

Tomorrow is the last day of my fast.  My answer is coming!  While praying this morning the Lord said to me: “Put on your royal robes.”  He didn’t tell me what that meant, so I looked up the words “royal robes” in the Bible to see if the term had some kind of significance.

One thing I noticed is the contrast between the first and last mention of royal robes:

1 Samuel 19:24 (Amp) – He took off his royal robes and prophesied before Samuel and lay down stripped thus all that day and night. So they say, Is Saul also among the prophets? (emphasis mine).

Acts 12:20-22 – On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man,” (emphasis mine).

Saul took off his royal robes to prophesy, and Herod put his royal robes on.  Herod didn’t stop the people from worshiping him, and pride made God strike him down.  Saul humbled himself and that allowed him to be used of the Holy Spirit, flawed as he was.  Now, I’m pretty sure that God wasn’t telling me to put on my royal robes and get all prideful.

In the next 2 instances of royal robes (both are accounts of the same story), wicked King Ahab tells Jehoshaphat that he is going into battle in disguise, but instructs Jehoshaphat to wear his royal robes in battle (1 Kings 22:30 & 2 Chronicles 18:29).  Ahab was thinking that the enemy would surely target the man in the royal robes.  But instead of being safe in disguise, a random arrow fatally wounded Ahab, while Jehoshaphat was left untouched.  So Ahab had thought to hide his royalty and be safe.  Earlier in those same chapters, the 2 kings were dressed in their royal robes listening to false prophets prophesy about the upcoming battle against the king of Aram, and even the true prophet had been instructed by the Lord to prophesy falsely, and so entice Ahab to his death in battle.  This was probably what motived Ahab to go into battle disguised.

But what does this story say to me about putting on my royal robes?  I think it says to be true to who I am.

In the next 2 passages, Ezekiel 26:16 (The Message) and Jonah 3:6, the kings take off their royal robes at bad news or in repentance.  Again this is a theme of humbling oneself by removing the royal robes.

But here’s the passage that speaks to me:  Esther 5:1: “On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace, in front of the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the hall, facing the entrance,” (emphasis mine).  Esther put on her royal robes to go and intercede on behalf of the Jews—at a very real risk of death.  I believe that what God is telling me is to put on my royal robes (be aware of my position and authority) and intercede for my people.  And who are my people?  My people are the missionaries and pastors I serve here in Europe and the lost people of Europe.

So, there it is, put on your royal robes and intercede for your people—and I will.  God is good!

Gracious Grace!

Day Eighteen

This morning I read yet another rant against grace, and now I just can’t keep silent any longer.

Grace is the power of God to save.  Power.  To save.  People who want to reduce grace only to a salvation event fail to understand the power behind grace.

On the other hand, people who want to use grace as a license to sin fail to understand the true liberty of grace, and also the necessity of repentance (read Romans chapter 6).

Grace has been granted once and for all to cover our every sin past, present, and future.  That should be obvious, since this all happened long before any of us alive today were born (or our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents, etc.).

Grace is also the power to walk in the newness of life, once we’ve repented.  Without repentance, we are not allowed access to grace.  Grace is granted only on the condition that we have repented.  Repentance is literally turning around and going the opposite direction.  If my life didn’t produce fruit that shows my repentance (Matthew 3:8), then I also wouldn’t truly have grace.  Therefore, grace is not a license to sin.

Grace gives us power to live this new life through the same thing that brought us to the cross: love—our response to Jesus’ love.  “We love Him because He first loved us,” (1 John 4:19, NKJV).  Love and grace are inseparable.  Grace was granted to us because of Jesus’ love for us.  If He hadn’t died for us, then we couldn’t say that He ever loved us, and grace would be an unknown and unknowable concept.  So since love and grace are inseparable, if we love Him, we also have the power (through grace) to live a life that is pleasing to Him.

The problem is us, not grace.  Our love is imperfect.  We tend to think of love as an emotion.  Love is a decision—a sacrificial decision.  Love made Jesus lay down His life for us (John 15:13).  If we waver and struggle with sin, it’s because we love the world more than we love Jesus.  And in that case, we need to go back to step one: repentance.  If we don’t do repentance right, then our whole Christian walk is worthless—worse than worthless because it casts a negative light on the Gospel.

But to go too far the other way risks falling back into legalism.  Legalism is a rejection of grace.  It says to Jesus, “No thanks, I can do it for myself.”  For more about how I feel about legalism, look at my recent post: Stop Complicating the Simple Things.

Also check out an article that I found in my inbox today from Charisma News: What’s Wrong with Grace?  Grace gets under the legalists’ skin, but it’s also abused by some.

Thank God for grace—it is Amazing!  God is good!