Triumph and Tragedy

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     I write this post today from a position of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, as well as with a heart that is deeply saddened.  We had just ended our four-day retreat for Christian female military veterans and were having an assessment meeting when we got the news of the shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX.  It is difficult to express the sense that the intense victories we had experienced over the Enemy this weekend were tarnished for just a moment by this profound evil.
     You see, that little church is only about 45 minutes from where I live, and Mark and I have visited that church to hear a friend preach. This was too close to home and personal. But it only took a moment for us in Leadership to declare that Evil will never overcome the Light… the Light of Jesus will continue to shine even during the darkest of times.  And I do not want this tragedy to overshadow the life-giving work done by our Savior at the retreat.  So, let me share those thoughts, and I will make a final comment on the tragedy at the end of this post.
     It was such a blessing to have been invited to this retreat, and from the beginning, the devil tried to interfere. Several of the female veterans tried to cancel at the last minute, but with encouragement on our part, and courage on theirs, they took a leap of faith and boarded those planes, coming from California, Arizona, Washington D.C., and North Carolina.  There were some disappointments … one Seeker had car trouble and missed her flight and decided to return to her home.  We pray that God will arrange another opportunity.  And at first, we fought disillusionment that the number of women we were expecting dropped off by half, to where we only had six women show up. But God knew what He was doing!

     That small number of Seekers allowed us to create an intimate atmosphere in which we were able to minister to them in a more personal and individual way.  Add to this situation the fact that many of the women on the Leadership team (which included female vets, along with four of us who were civilians) were first-time participants in a Christian Warriors Retreat event. It allowed us to weather the storms of a first-time retreat without sacrificing what we wanted to accomplish. In the end, the opportunity to spend 4 days encountering Jesus was a journey for each one of us.
    And as with any first-time event, there were rough patches, but we had the advantage of learning from the nine male veteran retreats that preceded ours.  At first, we fought schedule interruptions, but decided that everything would be on God’s timing and under the Holy Spirit’s direction. Once we let go of that concern, we were ready to see what God had in store for these women.
     I do not want to betray any confidences, but I will tell you that, as expected, it was a spiritual battle from beginning to end.  The devil tried to throw personality conflicts at us; spirits of rebellion and pride and divisiveness; and an occasional physical trauma.  But we knew our authority and the power of our Lord to overcome any opposition from our spiritual enemies. Every time we were confronted with an obstacle, we fought back by praying against the spirits, praying for God’s will to be done in a particular situation, and laying on of hands to correct sudden and severe back pain, bodies that were out of alignment, and lengthening legs where one was shorter than the other.  We were not going to give up ground when Jesus wanted to set these women free!
     And how precious these women were!  Each one had her own particular beauty and strengths. But also, you could see the battle going on inside them.  At the risk of being politically incorrect — and in no way, is it my intention to insult or condemn the brave service of these women to our country — but I cannot imagine how women go to war and DO NOT come home with some sort of trauma, whether physical, emotional or spiritual.  And some of these women are married to men who are, or were, in the military, too.  So add that combustible element to the mix, and you could see the pain in their eyes.
     But Jesus wanted them free!  Slowly, hour by hour, and day by day, we saw them begin to let down their guard as they trusted us.  The female vets who were on the Leadership Team shared their testimonies, pointing the way to each woman’s significance in the Kingdom; the absolute need to forgive; the importance of prayer and how to pray; what Christian action and Discipleship looks like; how we can identify with the Prodigal son; the value of perseverance; and then left them with a Battle Plan to keep the freedom they received during the retreat.
     And let me tell you … when you hear the life stories of the Leadership, which encompassed abusive husbands, rape, abortion, molestation, promiscuity, adultery, alcoholism, etc., it broke your heart to know that your Sisters in Christ had endured such pain in their lives.  But, oh the redemption! They shared how Jesus freed them from shame, guilt, blame, unforgiveness, feeling lost and without hope, and then set them upon a journey to grow into the clean, purified, blameless, and strong women that stood before us.  Let’s just say, a lot of kleenex was handed out during those four days.
     But these veteran Leaders spoke Truth and Hope into the lives of the younger veterans.  They declared that they were washed clean by the power of Jesus’s blood and they had new identities and new names … a child of God; the daughter of the King; and the Bride of Christ.  Slowly, we saw eyes begin to shine, heads held higher, and they began seeing Jesus as the solution to their trauma and their issues. We watched them begin to open up, and through their Leader’s testimonies they received evidence that it is ALWAYS Jesus’s desire to redeem lives… but you have to seek Him, confess the sins in your life, ask for His forgiveness, and then receive the overflowing abundance of His love and the freedom He offers.
     Women who had arrived with wariness and distrust left with confidence that their demons (both literal and figurative) had been defeated. There were late nights filled with hearing their stories, and afternoons spent in the presence of the Lord, as all those painful wounds were healed. As part of Leadership, I got about 4 hours of sleep each night, as we prayed for the Holy Spirit to reveal the blockage in their spirits, and discussed how to partner with Jesus to see them set free. And always … always …. the answer was to point them to Jesus to receive their answers and strategy. In the end, with each of those six Seekers, and several of the Leadership team, there was a relationship with Jesus that had been forged through tears, confession, and surrender.  Spirits were lighter and hearts were cleansed.

     To seal everyone’s new identity, we were blessed with a special dinner on the last night.  It was kept secret until we entered the dining hall, which had been transformed into a wedding feast.  White linen, china settings, pearls and flowers.  We were Brides!  We were seated and served by the men who served as our retreat “angels” (who spent the entire four days praying for us, interceding for us, and showing us into the presence of Jesus in the “Bridal tent”). We saw ourselves worthy of the King and to be called His Bride.  Oh, how I wish I could describe the radiant looks on their faces as they walked into that beautiful wedding feast.  Words fail me, but it is a memory that will never fade.
     The final day, we had a closing ceremony and the local community came to celebrate with our Seekers.  They were invited to come and answer two questions before the public … What did you get out of this retreat?  And what are you going to do with it?  Leadership sat there holding their breath.  Were our efforts to encourage a relationship with Jesus enough to make a difference in their lives?  Would anyone feel their experience was so transforming that they wanted to share it with the people in attendance?  And finally, would they keep Jesus to themselves or share Him when they returned home?
     Imagine our surprise when two of the quietest and most shy of the six got up to declare that Jesus had set them free and they were going to go back home and encourage other female vets to come to this retreat. There were tears from the podium, in the audience, and from the Leadership team. Thank you, Jesus! We had grown to love these women and now we were sending them out into the world to resume their lives, and all we could do is pray they keep their freedom.  We had done the best we could to point them to Jesus; we had overcome Satan’s fiery darts; and now the inaugural female veteran retreat was over.  The Enemy was defeated!

     That sense of victory was literally maybe 15 minutes old, when we started getting the text messages about Sutherland Springs.  What we initially felt was a safe place was now a target.  i remembered my husband asking me if I was going to take my handgun with me (I am licensed to carry, and highly trained).  I said, “I’m going to a retreat for Christian female veterans at a secluded retreat center. I’ll be fine”.  I felt there was no threat… until there was.  We would have been a perfect target.  The Director of the retreat and I drove three of the Seekers to Houston to the airport — a seven hour round trip — in a church van, and I can tell you, we felt vulnerable.
     But it didn’t take me long to declare this attack is because the devil is getting scared.  He sees small pockets of the Remnant becoming stronger in our ability to fight in this spiritual battle, and he must ramp up his opposition.  He is fighting back because we are winning!  This retreat was about bringing the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit to the forefront of these women’s lives, but it was equally a testament to fighting in the spirit, applying the blood of Jesus to strongholds and powers of darkness, and developing spiritual battle plans to overcome the Enemy and take back spiritual territory.
     As extremely sad as the Sutherland Springs tragedy is, we can rejoice that God knew that very morning that those 26 spirits would be returning home.  He has known since the foundation of time.  We can rejoice that Satan and all his demons know they are going to lose this battle!  They see us rising up in spiritual warfare, and they know we are gaining valuable revelation from Heaven as to how to fight in the spiritual realms.  He is angry because we are winning and we are not going to stop!
     So, I ask you to pray for continued revelation; that more people will join us in spiritual warfare; and that the Heavenly host will come down to protect us from any more of these tragic displays of evil.  Bless the spirits of those killed, and the families who must now arrange for 26 funerals.  Father God, give us the strength to mount up for battle, while remaining in Your mercy and grace.  We are ready to follow you into battle, Jehovah Nissi! We know the battle is Yours, and we are neither afraid nor dismayed. We know that You will deliver our enemies into our hands.  Praise You!

2 Corinthians 4:8-9      We are pressured in every way [hedged in], but not crushed; perplexed [unsure of finding a way out], but not driven to despair; hunted down and persecuted, but not deserted [to stand alone]; struck down, but never destroyed; 

The REAL Power Of Your Testimony

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     I’m not even sure how to begin this conversation with you. My original thought was to share how frustrated I am with all the finger-pointing that various Christian factions are engaging in towards fellow Believers who are different than them. Accusations of heresy and diabolical practices are tossed back and forth, and unity among the Body is far from evident.  The New Reformation movement thinks anyone involved with the Charismatic or Pentecostal branch of Christianity is practicing outside the boundaries of Scriptural doctrine.  And any Christian who even hints that they believe in Healing or Deliverance is accused of being caught up in “Charismania”.
     Have there been self-proclaimed people of God who have been misled, and who are misleading and deceiving Believers?  Yes, on both sides of that spectrum!  Just as in the Bible, men have sought to elevate themselves (rather than God) through signs and wonders — I think of Simon the Sorcerer.  But I can also think of several prominent pastors and teachers who preach against anything supernatural in our relationship with God, keeping Believers bound in theology that restricts the power of God in their lives.  It goes both ways.  And how does any of that benefit the Church?  The bickering and finger-pointing only serves Satan’s purpose, which is to keep us focused on our differences. That contributes to division and takes the focus off the validity of our personal testimonies.
     I think it is safe to say that the world doesn’t want to hear the Doctrines of Men; our creeds, our theology, or our dogma. As Christians, we know that God wants a personal relationship with us.  But why do we think that the world will be drawn into our buildings when the people of the world have made it clear that they reject our message?  We must reach the Lost the same way that Jesus instructed His Disciples:   But you shall receive power of the kind which God has [and exerts] after the Holy Spirit has come upon you.  And you shall be those who testify of what they have seen and experienced, my witnesses, both in Jerusalem and Judea, and in Samaria and to the end of the earth (The Greek Translation of the New Testament).  We must share our testimony of how we have experienced Jesus and the Holy Spirit in our lives!
     So, now I’m at the heart of what I want to say in this blog post … how our personal testimony can both shine the Light of Christ into the Unsaved and strengthen the faith of our fellow Believers by sharing the power of God in our lives.
     Whenever I’ve got a nugget of knowledge or wisdom that I feel is important for us to consider, but can’t quite flesh it out, I always take it to my husband, Mark, who can usually see it with spiritual eyes and help me get the bigger concept.  This time was no different… he actually became quite passionate about what our testimony should accomplish.
     Using himself as an example, he said most Christians think their testimony is boring … I was raised in a Christian home; attended Church most of my life; and can recall the day I accepted Jesus as my Savior.  I accept that I am a sinner, that Jesus died for my sins, and I have tried to live a life pleasing to God.  He said, “We think how we express our doctrinal beliefs or theology is our testimony.  And if you’re one of the lucky ones, perhaps you have a dramatic conversion experience when you realized you needed to change your life, and you found yourself on your knees, and asked Jesus to come into your heart”.
     But then he went on to say, “Most of us don’t have that. So where is the experience of God’s presence being exercised in our testimony? Does it really speak to the needs of the Lost who are hurting, or to the Believers who need confirmation that God/Jesus/Holy Spirit still interact with us today?
     Just a couple of years ago, the Body of Christ was not even able to consider that God still acts supernaturally in this earthly realm.  They could not conceive that He still wants to heal our physical sicknesses and afflictions, or that He still wants His Disciples to cast demons out of oppressed people.  But that is changing, thank the Lord!  I see Christians beginning to renew their minds about what the Scripture actually says, and they are seeing Jesus’s commands through new revelation. And, in some instances, the word “demon” is even being accepted as part of the Christian experience; some even going so far as to acknowledge that we can defeat them just as Jesus and His Disciples did! [And for those who are still skeptical that demons can oppress Christians, who do you think is responsible for so many Christians suffering from anxiety, depression, unworthiness, bitterness, inadequacy, fear, etc? Since the Church quit believing in Jesus’s command to “do the works” that He did in casting out demons, the devil and his evil spirits have had a heyday with Believers!]

     But there is still a reticence among Christians to share those testimonies with the Church.  Believers who are willing to admit that demons exist are still cautious about sharing their personal, spiritual and supernatural encounters with Jesus and the Holy Spirit in which the demons attacking them have been thoroughly defeated.  Why would we be willing to attribute some of our spiritual attacks to demons, but not be willing to share how Jesus and the Holy Spirit defeated them in our lives?  Isn’t that presenting the problem without sharing the solution?  And when that solution was the presence of God, interacting with us in the spiritual realm, doesn’t that provide the unmistakable power that our testimonies are missing?
     If we could share that Jesus actually showed up [in the spirit] and comforted us as we dealt with the loss of a parent, or a childhood molestation, or a miscarriage, or a time of profound doubt in ourselves — and we felt His embrace and heard Him whisper, “I’m here with you; accept my healing in this situation”, don’t you think that is a more powerful [and persuasive] demonstration of Who we profess to have faith in?  Which do you think the Lost will find it easier to identify with — your personal testimony that speaks of the power of Jesus to heal your (and their) wounds — or a sermon that speaks of a theological point that has no relevance to them or their experiences?
     And if Christians could be healed by sermons, then there would be no hurting souls sitting in the pews.  But you and I know that is not the case.  In the end, I see this as really simple … I just wish the Church would quit denying what our Bible tells us; and quit defining this generation as “too enlightened” to believe in the supernatural character of God.  The truth is that our rational, modern, and self-informed viewpoint has left us impotent when it comes to the attacks of the Enemy.
     As more and more Christians come to believe the literal Word of God regarding our Commission, they will begin to experience the literal power of Jesus in their lives, through healing and deliverance.  And when they can share their personal encounter with the Living Christ, and how He healed the wounds of their lives, then I believe the Lost in the world will be drawn to that message and we will have the opportunity to share the full revelation of God.  (I mean, that’s how Jesus presented the Gospel!) Furthermore, the Church needs to hear that testimony of Power as well.  They, too, need to know they can experience those personal and supernatural encounters in order to come into their full identity as images of Christ.  Then the Church will be operating in the Power of Heaven (instead of their own authority); and the REAL POWER behind the word of their testimony will conquer the devil and his schemes.

Psalm 107:2   “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary.”   

Thoughts on Heroism, Discipleship, and Loyalty To God

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Desmond Doss

     My last post focused on Desmond Doss, an Army Medic and real-life hero of WWII, who vowed to serve both his country and his God, no matter the cost.  As he told a military tribunal who tried to court martial him for his refusal to carry a weapon, “With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don’t [sic] seem like such a bad thing to me to put a little bit of it back together.”
     As I stated in the prior post, Doss single-handedly saved at least 75 men during one of the most horrific battles of the War, on the island of Okinawa.  At times, it may seem as if those kinds of heroes are vanishing, as we lose the last of the Greatest Generation.  But what Desmond Doss stood for will never be lost as long as there is one man or one woman willing to take a stand for their freedom of conscience… the right to follow our own beliefs in matters of religion and morality.
     As Stephen Greydanus, a writer at the National Catholic Register, expressed, “Desmond Doss is a hero for our own troubled times”.  And as fellow writer Eric Metaxes expounds, it isn’t only in the arena of war where freedom of conscience needs to play a part … “Times in which florists and bakers are being hauled before civil rights commissions, being fined, losing their businesses; times in which pharmacists in Washington State can lose their licenses for refusing to dispense abortion pills; times in which churches in Massachusetts can run afoul of “public accommodation” laws requiring gender neutral bathrooms — we do indeed have a model in Desmond Doss”.
     And Metaxes, as a writer, is very familiar with another hero of that time, Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  In his masterful book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Metaxas tells us of the challenges Bonhoeffer faced in reconciling his faith, his moral ethics, and the politics of the day, which were quite diabolical in Nazi Germany. How does a committed Christian deal with the prospect of conflict with the Enemy on the battlefield?  While Doss and Bonhoeffer ultimately made different decisions on how they would be obedient to God, they both followed their consciences according to what they discerned was their instruction in the Bible.
     Doss determined that he would serve his fellow man by putting him first; willing to endanger, and even sacrifice, his own life in order to save another’s.  He would save lives, rather than take them, choosing to live out, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.  Bonhoeffer, however, was faced with how to stop the demonic actions of Adolph Hitler, the anti-Christ of his times. Like Doss, Dietrich knew the 6th Commandment, Thou shalt not kill.  But he faced the moral dilemma of doing nothing to stop the murder of 6,000,000 Jews.  He finally came to the conclusion that he trusted God to understand his motives in becoming involved in an assassination attempt on Hitler.  To Bonhoeffer, it had come down to God’s admonition to Hate evil, love good, And establish justice in the gate! Both men exercised their freedom of conscience, and they took their accountability to God not only seriously, but solemnly.
     So, are we all capable of being as heroic as Doss or Bonhoeffer?  We may not find ourselves in the midst of a gruesome battlefield, or at the immediate center of a moral and ethical dilemma, but, as Christians, we are all in a battle with our culture, and the increasingly compromising positions of our Churches and governmental officials.  And like Doss and Bonhoeffer, we must decide how we are to act, as we find ourselves inside the collective drama.  We cannot, and must not, separate ourselves from the world.  But it is going to take courage to be and maintain the image of Christ, while all around us, the darkest impulses of the human will try to overwhelm and defeat us.
     If we are true to our faith, we know where our citizenship lies.  In fact, we are already there with Jesus, in spirit.  We just have to conform our mind, emotions, will, and these temporary bodies to the heavenly conviction of our spirit, and then let our actions show who we are.  It is not enough to pray… although we should not abandon sending our petitions heavenward.  We must be totally committed to our Biblical morals and completely loyal to God; acting on our faith, not just believing.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

     And it will cost us.  Discipleship in the Name of Jesus will not be a road easily traveled.  We can look at the lives of all the Apostles and see what it cost them. And in the cases of Doss and Bonhoeffer, we can see how loyalty to their God resulted in very different outcomes — one’s actions led to a hero’s medal; the other to execution by hanging. I know that there will be those who say that Bonhoeffer’s path was wrong and can never be accepted nor forgiven by God.  But my thoughts turn to King David, and his actions in having Uriah killed so that he could lie with Bathsheba.
     As theologian and Hebrew scholar, Michael Heiser, so eloquently writes in his fantastic book, The Unseen Realm, “King David was guilty of the worst of crimes against humanity in the incident with Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite.  He was clearly in violation of the law and deserving of death.  Neverthless, his belief in who Yahweh was among all the gods never wavered.  God was merciful to him, sparing him from death, this his sin had consequences the rest of his life.”  The lesson here, is that personal failure, even the worst kind, as exhibited by Bonhoeffer, will not separate you from God’s mercy. Although Bonhoeffer was not spared from death [as King David was], he never disavowed his loyalty to God, nor doubted YHWH’s loyalty to him.
     In the final minutes of his life, before being led to the gallows, he led a short service for fellow prisoners, praying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Then he asked that a message be delivered to Bishop Bell in London; the message reading that “this was the end, but for him also the beginning of life, and that the ultimate victory of their cause – a universal Christian brotherhood rising above all national interest – was certain”.
     The prison doctor, who witnessed the execution recorded this impression: “Through the half-open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God”.
     So, how will we, as modern day Christians, exhibit our loyalty and discipleship to our Lord?  We have seen in the examples of Desmond Doss and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the very picture of heroism — two entirely different men, but both committed to acting out their faith. Neither set out to become a hero, and I wage that neither welcomed the mantle. Each man simply followed his heart; a heart set on being obedient to the will of God. Not a simple thing to do in this world.  But ultimately, I believe that we can all be heroes to someone in need of the image of Christ in their life… a bright light in the midst of the darkest time in their life. And I know in my spirit that God will honor our actions on His behalf. He’s just looking for willing participants.

Isaiah 50:7-8:  “But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near…”