Day 2 – Short Circuit (Part 1)

Readers, I would like to take a brief note to thank you for your patience. You have stuck with me through over 60 incredibly verbose blog posts, missed deadlines, and sometimes me dropping off the face of the blogging earth for months at a time–yet hear you are, your beautiful eyes gracing my eager journalism. You bless me big. Thank you.

Read Day 1 here. Want to know what Power Surge is? Click here!

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After sleeping horribly with terrible dreams, I woke up bright and early at 6 and slunk into the kitchen to prepare a pot of coffee (Emily’s family always has the best coffee) and read my Bible before the morning got busy.

Before long, Mark lumbered into the kitchen as well and started moving around to get his breakfast and lunch ready. We talked about how good God is (an endless topic, to be sure). I got the chance to sozo/shabar Mark a bit, and it was absolutely cool because when he pictured a little boy, he saw a porcelain doll of a little Dutch boy. Holy Spirit saw that I was puzzled at this unusual description, so He whispered to me, “It’s like Pinocchio.”

We asked father God what the little boy needed, and His response was, “He needs to be brought to life…like Pinocchio.”

Talk about confirmation! It was so awesome! I got a little bit further in my Sozo tools, but then Mark left for work and I read some Bible.

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Emily and I went to the church a little bit later to drop off sleeping bags and meet the new interim pastor, Stephen. His 18-year-old daughter, Eryca, was there also. Instantly, I fell in love with both of them. They are as loud as I am, always smiling, and can’t seem to go two minutes without talking about how amazing God is.

Emily and I met with Eryca for about an hour where we shared testimonies. I was impressed and inspired by Eryca’s story and how her parents raised her into her identity. She shines so freely! I shared our testimony of God’s faithfulness coming through for our wedding in September, and it was a golden-apple-timely-word of confirmation for Eryca and her family, that I had no idea they even needed! We had a wonderful time, I got to sing over her, and Holy Spirit was ridiculously heavy on all three of us.

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Best. Game. Ever.

After scrambling to get the rest of everything we needed for the retreat, it was go time. 5 o’ clock rolled around and kids started showing up, one by one. I was anxiously waiting for Levi to get off work and drive down to Vancouver, but in the meantime I ate dinner and played games with the kids, getting a chance to get acquainted with them.

I fell fast in love with all of them, particularly Sammy.
Sammy is thirteen years old. He is one of the most optimistic people I have ever met in my life. He’s affectionate, loves games, and absolutely LOVES praying when it’s time to bless a meal.

But if you saw a picture of him, that probably wouldn’t be the first conclusion you’d jump to. Sammy was diagnosed six months ago with bone cancer when a sports physical to clear him for football season revealed a tumor in his knee. Sammy has gone through 40 weeks of chemotherapy, and now that his hair is gone, he prides himself on bearing a close resemblance to Voldemort.

When we were getting in line for dinner, I was just behind him when he asked loudly, “Who wants to pray for me?”

Very seriously, I looked him in the eye and said, “I would love to pray for you. What would you like prayer for?”

Sammy gave me a hard look and said, “What do you think? I’ve got cancer.”

“I know,” I replied, still being absolutely dead serious. “But I don’t want to think of you as just Sammy with cancer. I want to think of you as my friend Sammy, who has cancer for the time being but probably has a lot of other things he’d like prayer for as well.” I told him that I didn’t want to have our relationship revolve around the temporary fact of his disease. I think that really impacted him, because afterward he didn’t say any more, but sat with me at dinner.

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I left early to prepare songs for worship, and Levi showed up just when I was getting super anxious about when he was going to get there. Sweet relief! The youth group filed in for worship and Levi and I began the first song, with me leading on guitar and Levi singing backup while doing some sweet rhythms on a bongo. We were seated on the steps of the stage, at eye level with the group, who sat in a semicircle of chairs around the stage.

The music was great, I was singing my heart out…

Then I stopped. And started talking to the group. My heart was pounding and my mind was screaming WHAT ARE YOU DOING??? because I was going against every performance inclination I’d rehearsed; but I needed to make something very clear.

“Is this what you need?” I asked, taking the time to look each and every one of them in the eye. “Because if this isn’t what you need, we can do something else. We are here for you. It’s not the other way around. And we don’t want to come up here in front of you and go through the motions for the three days that we have together with you, then go home feeling good about ourselves while leaving you with absolutely nothing.”

It was silent in the sanctuary as they realized I was serious, then one or two of them spoke up and said, “This is what we need.”

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So we continued. And we worshiped our little hearts out. I stopped again after the second song to share a word that Holy Spirit put on my heart about a sacrifice of praise in even the worst circumstances and situations, and then Levi and I taught them “One Thing Remains” by Jesus Culture. It felt like we sang it forever, yet it felt like we didn’t sing long enough.

We moved into the youth room to transition into “lesson time.” I had no idea what to give a “lesson” on, and I wasn’t feeling any promptings from Holy Spirit, so I just started to tell my testimony. Little did I realize, the majority of my audience were 13-to-15-year-olds with attention spans that short-circuited very easily. Not even fifteen minutes into my story, I was losing them.

If you want to find out what happened next, follow and subscribe to the blog, and don’t forget to Like the Facebook page!  See ya next post!

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Sozo and Shabar

Quite frequently in my blog posts, you’ll hear me talking about Sozo ministry. Occasionally, I’ll talk about Shabar as well. Sozo is a Greek word meaning “Healed, Saved, and Delivered.” Shabar is Hebrew for “Brokenhearted.”

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Started in Bethel Church, Sozo is a deliverance ministry based on a lot of forgiveness. The leader of the Sozo session will use learned tools and direction from Holy Spirit to facilitate a conversation between whomever is receiving the Sozo, and God Himself.

One of our teams in Olympia developed a tool we refer to as Sozo Plus, an exercise that isn’t included in a normal sozo. Before, we would jump right into trying to get the sozo-ee to talk to Father God, something that most people find intimidating and even impossible!

Now, we start out the Sozo by telling the Sozo-ee to close his or her eyes and picture an apple; once they see the apple, they are to picture taking a big bite out of it. Then you have them open their eyes and describe the experience. How big was the apple? What color? Was it crisp or mushy, mealy or watery, or juicy? Sweet, sour, bitter or bland?

What they don’t realize is that they’re hearing from Holy Spirit, even then! The apple represents the quality of their life. If the apple is big, shiny, red and crisp and sweet, then they are at a really good season in their life right now where they can enjoy the fruit of their own sweetness and characteristics. Sometimes, the apple will be mealy or watery, which simply means that God wants to either add some doctrine (water) or experiential substance (more ‘meat’ in the apple).

Next, you have your sozo-ee picture a dog. The dog represents Jesus. You have them pay close attention to what the dog’s attitude is, how they feel about the dog, whether he’s excited or calm, and how close they are in relation to him. Typically at the beginning of a Sozo, the dog will be really excited, jumping up and down and wagging his tail. This is Jesus saying, “I want to be close to you! I just want to be your friend! Let me in!” The marvelous thing that typically happens by the end of a Sozo is that when you take them back to the scene with the dog, he is right up close against them, happy and calm—which signifies that the person and Jesus had an encounter, and now Jesus is content with their friendship.

The third thing you have the sozo-ee picture, is a bird—which, of course, represents Holy Spirit. It’s so exciting, what different people see! Some people see robins that turn into eagles, eagles that turn into bluebirds, seagulls, or doves. The most common thing they see is that the bird is far off, flying, not making a sound. This usually means that they don’t really have much of a relationship with Holy Spirit, that He’s just some distant, intangible spirit that we can’t grab ahold of.

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By the time you introduce the sozo-ee to the apple, dog, and bird, they have been fully plugged into Holy Spirit by their imagination. Before this exercise was revealed to a Sozo team by Holy Spirit, Sozo ministers had a difficult time getting past the lie so many people believe of, “I can’t hear God,” or “I can’t see Him,” or even, “I can’t feel Him.” Holy Spirit starts speaking to the person in your session the moment it begins, just because of your intent and the anointing on you.

You begin the Sozo session by having Holy Spirit take the person to a safe place. This is done simply by having them repeat after you, “Holy Spirit, will you take me to a safe place?” This can be a bedroom, a favorite vacation spot, or even someplace imaginary that they have never seen before. From there, you have them invite Father God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit into their safe place one by one.

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Here’s the funny thing about relationships: Our relationships with the Godhead will always be reflected by our relationships with people in our lives. For example, how we see Father God will either be enhanced or distorted by our relationship with our birth father. How we see Jesus is influenced by our relationships with our siblings, cousins, friends, or spouse. How we see Holy Spirit is a reflection of our relationship with our birth mother.

So when a sozo-ee asks Father God to join them, and Father God makes Himself evident as the sun in the sky in their safe place, it’s usually indicative that their birth father was very distant, lofty-thinking, much smarter than they were, et cetera. So from there, you lead the person into asking, “Father God, is there anything I need to forgive my father for?” Holy Spirit will tell them Yes or No, and if the answer is Yes, you have them ask, “What is it?” He will tell them, show them a memory they need to forgive, and they forgive it, renounce a lie about God that resulted from that incident, and then they get to receive their healing and a special gift from Father God.

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You repeat this process with Jesus and Holy Spirit for as long as there is time (Sozo sessions generally go about 2 hours).

There are several other tools to Sozo that I will likely talk about in a later post, but this is enough background for now. It’s amazing how much healing people get with just that!

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Shabar Ministry is a form of Advanced Sozo. If a person can’t see Father God, Jesus, or Holy Spirit—if you are coming up against what feels like a brick wall, and can’t get any ground—chances are, you need to move into Shabar.

The concept of Shabar is that oftentimes, when we are children, if we experience a trauma that we aren’t meant to handle or understand, a coping mechanism like a spare tire comes out and allows that child to function and keep going. But if the issue of the trauma isn’t addressed and the child doesn’t receive healing, that spare tire will stay out even as the child grows older. How many of you know that a car doesn’t run well on a spare tire for extended periods of time? So often, the people around us are running on a spare tire from a childhood trauma that they don’t know how to get rid of.

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An extreme form of this that is easiest to understand is the concept of schizophrenia, or multiple personality disorder, or various forms of bipolar/mania. I dealt with this with my husband back when we were dating (and this was before I knew any kind of Sozo or Shabar Ministry, so I had no idea how to handle it).

What happened with Levi was that, as a result of the traumas that had occurred in his life (being forcefully separated from his mom at birth, and his parents divorcing two years later), a part of his spirit was literally fractured. Part of him was able to grow and mature and develop at the normal rate a child should, but there was a part of him that stayed at that level of a very small, very frightened child. There would be times that seemed random, where the smallest and most insignificant things (to me) would trigger these enormous breakdowns. The Levi I knew vanished and I had no idea how to get him back. In his place was a terrified little boy who didn’t know how to handle the grown-up world around him in his grown-up body.

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When someone in Sozo is unable to progress in seeing God, or if they start manifesting (like the trigger I mentioned above) during a session, you guide them back to a safe place and you start speaking to the child that’s broken inside them. You have them ask, “Father God, is there a little girl/boy you want to heal?” Holy Spirit will tell them Yes or No, and if it’s Yes, then they ask, “Father God, show me the little girl/boy.” You have the sozo-ee pay special attention to what the little girl or boy is wearing, what they are doing, how they feel, et cetera.

Typically, the first question you have them ask beyond that is, “Father God, what does the little girl/boy need?” Or you could go a roundabout way and say, “Father God, how does the little girl/boy feel about you?” But eventually you get to the point where you have them ask Father God what the child needs, and if the child would be okay with Father God coming near to give them what they need. Tremendous healing happens as a result of this—the testimonies are endless, but no words can describe what happens in these sessions.

So, there you have it. A little (and I do mean little) background on the Sozo and Shabar ministry that I am privileged to be a part of. Hopefully this will give you some good context for what I reference in my posts, and I’m always open to answering questions about it.

Repossess My City

There is an awesome event going on in Olympia called Repossess. It was started either my freshman or sophomore year of high school, and has been growing exponentially ever since. A common catch phrase for Repossess, as listed above in the title, is “Repossess My City,” or “Taking Back Our City.” I never questioned that slogan before, but I’m glad one of my friends did. He’s been asking around on Facebook for a while–“What is Repossess trying to ‘take our city back’ from?”

It took quite a bit of praying and searching my own heart to find an answer that satisfied me. I’d heard people answer, “Satan!” or “from demons and evil spirits!” but that didn’t really resonate with me, because that wasn’t what I felt those people on stage who were speaking or worshiping were trying to communicate. Here is my answer:

I think the personal answer I feel strongest about is that so many people in our community feel hopelessly helpless over their own lives. Even if we restrict that “people” qualifier to just youth ages 12-19, I know personally my life was hell for most of those years. My family, my feelings, my relationships–EVERYTHING I was involved with was so out of control for me.

The first Repossess I went to was the one that came to Tumwater. It had been a horrendous week; the Saturday before, I got the phone call that one of my classmates had killed himself. I’d never experienced anything like that before and I had no idea how to handle it. The rest of the week was a haze until Friday, when I had Subdistrict competitions for Swim team, Sean’s memorial service, and Repossess all in the same day. I almost didn’t go. I was this close not to going. But I went, because I needed hope SO bad.

At first it was painfully awkward because I was not Christian…as in, AT ALL. I hated church, hated God, hated anybody who had anybody to say about any of it. So the singing and the raising of hands and that weird peer pressurey atmosphere was just weird for me and uncomfortable and I did not like it…it didn’t do anything for me.

But then our principal got up and spoke, broke down in tears several times during his message, and shared the most glowing heart of compassion for Sean’s friends and family and our community in grief. That was what touched me, was someone who cared THAT much. I don’t even remember the message. I have no idea what he said, but what stuck with me was just this deep, deep love that I had never felt from anybody before. How vulnerable our principal was when he got up in front of us. He wasn’t the peppy, charismatic public speaker he usually was in front of us at assemblies or announcements, but he was so real and so down-to-earth with us. That impacted me so much and has stayed with me ever since.

So…I don’t know if that answers the question. But Repossess came into my life at a time when I desperately needed it, and it kept me going. It’s impacting hundreds and thousands of young people’s lives, and giving them hope–something our communities are sadly deficient in and probably wouldn’t even know how to define if asked. And I don’t mean that derogatorily–we have these words that we have really vague definitions for, like love and hope and peace and joy, all .these things that are supposed to be so big and important and intense, yet so difficult to grasp.

Day 1 – Behind the Scenes

Thursday morning, I got on a train to head down to Vancouver.

Levi stayed behind to do two more days of money making, and dropped me off at 7:30 on his way to work. He had just driven out of sight when I saw the sign on the door that said the station wasn’t going to be open until 8:30. I had read my ticket wrong! Instead of my train being at 8:10, it was scheduled for 8:50. There was nobody inside the station yet, and nobody in the parking lot.

So I went around to the side of the building and huddled in a ball, turning my laptop on so it could at least keep my legs warm. I was determined to grin and bear it and have a good two hours of cold solitude.

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…Or not. Within 10 minutes of adjusting to my plight, the door swung open to my right and a friendly face peered out. His name was John, and he volunteered as the agent for the Lacey Amtrak station. He smiled broadly and invited me to come inside. Heaving a sigh of relief, I scrambled to get my things together and hurried inside behind him. Oh, to be warm again! Blessed relief!

It turned out, John was considering not coming in early that morning. He was considering waiting until about 8:20 to come and fire up the heat and get everything going. But he had decided to come in early anyway. Hmmm…

Miracle #1, duly noted.

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I had a wonderfully uneventful 2 hour train ride down to Vancouver, which gave me time just to think about how ridiculously good God is and listen to prophetic words from 2010 (which were spectacular, by the way).

Fro-yo...om nom nom.

The rest of the afternoon was pleasant and sleepy. Gail picked me up at the station, got me coffee, and then we went shopping until late afternoon. We picked Emily up at some point and went to get fro-yo…nothing terribly exciting. When we were all together at the house and Emily’s dad, Mark, was getting everything ready for dinner, Holy Spirit nudged me to ask Mark if he had ever been disciplined with a blow to the head.

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I was reluctant to ask straight out, so I asked what his mom was like. This led to him telling me that he and his mom weren’t really involved in each other’s lives during his childhood, that she had been involved in many other relationships and marriages. He had mostly been raised by his grandmother—who I then learned was a very strict Catholic, who wouldn’t hesitate to take a cane to little Mark’s head in the incident of disobedience.

I shared a smile with Holy Spirit, marveling at how He somehow knows everything (like I should be surprised at this point). Then I tucked that information away for future deliverance purposes. I had full intentions of sozoing him at some point that weekend.

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After dinner, we only had about half an hour before Dawn and Jim, the other leaders for the retreat, were going to get there. I seized the opportunity to snag Emily. We went into her room and I shared some frustrations with her that I was having, just with things I was picking up and not knowing how to deal with and give to Holy Spirit. So we prayed, and then I got to do a little bit of sozo on her (it was glorious!! Holy Spirit got a lot done in only 20 minutes). Then it was time to have our staff meeting.

Dawn and Jim are spectacular; that’s all I’m gonna say. At first I had a hard time letting my walls down and just being vulnerable, but once I started asking questions and trying to see their heart for the youth and for that weekend, I just fell in love with them. They are incredible people and have gone through so much. (Keep an eye out for a guest blog from Jim in the future, by the way!) God is so big in them and I can’t wait to tell you all more about them as the testimonies of the weekend go on.

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After the staff meeting, Emily and I rendezvoused in her room again. I started spacing out and pretty much just being a zombie on my laptop browsing Facebook, but a little movement out of the corner of my eye startled me back into reality. Can you imagine what it was?

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen—it was a hobo spider. Those of you who have known me personally for a while know that I had the immense privilege of being bitten by a hobo spider a year ago. It was in my sleep. And it ended up turning black and I couldn’t walk and I was in tremendous pain and all sorts of gory things happened to me. I still have a gnarly scar to prove it.

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So this reunion with my dear friend the hobo spider totally freaked me out. I was paralyzed by fear, and all I could do was call out for someone to come and kill it for me. Mark came to my rescue, but I was still horribly shaken afterward. As I started getting ready for bed, I entered intense warfare against a spirit of fear trying to close around my heart. I prayed and prayed and prayed and declared peace over myself…but it followed me to bed anyway. I had terrible, skewed dreams about how I was afraid camp would turn out, and I didn’t get restful sleep at all.

That's how I felt when the alarm went off...

But Jesus.

And you’ll find out more about that from tomorrow’s post, so stay tuned! Because tomorrow begins the first day of actual youth camp…day 1 of Power Surge. And that was when God started showing up in a BIG way.

Power Surge 2012 – An Introduction

Last weekend, Levi and I had the privilege of going down to Vancouver to speak at a youth retreat for a Free Evangelical Church.

It was ridiculously awesome.

Just to give you some background, the church has recently gone through an enormous upheaval in leadership. They are dusting off the debris of destructive doctrine and stepping into a new season of romance with God. They have a new interim pastor and his family who moved recently from Michigan, and with them they brought a double dose of Holy Spirit! (Can you tell I’m excited?)

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Levi and I went down with explicit instructions from Holy Spirit—we were not to prepare a message. Our charge was simply to prepare ourselves. Easy enough, right? Take into mind what E.M. Bounds says about this in his book, “Power Through Prayer:”

The character  as well as the fortunes of the gospel is committed to  the preacher.  He makes or mars the message from God to man. The preacher is the  golden pipe through which the divine oil flows. The pipe must  not only be  golden, but open and flawless, that the oil may have  a full, unhindered,  unwasted flow.

The man makes the preacher.  God must make the man. The  messenger is, if possible, more than  the message. The preacher is more than the  sermon. The preacher  makes the sermon. As the life-giving milk from the mother’s  bosom  is but the mother’s life, so all the preacher says is tinctured,  impregnated by what the preacher is. The treasure is in earthen  vessels, and the  taste of the vessel impregnates and may discolor.  The man, the whole man, lies  behind the sermon. Preaching is not  the performance of an hour. It is the  outflow of a life. It takes  twenty years to make a sermon, because it takes  twenty years to  make the man. The true sermon is a thing of life. The sermon  grows  because the man grows. The sermon is forceful because the man is  forceful. 

The sermon is holy because the man is holy. The sermon  is full of the divine  unction because the man is full of the divine  unction.

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The first time I picked up this book, I couldn’t get past those few paragraphs. They have haunted me for about six months, following my every move. And when we were invited to go to the youth retreat and speak, the call to rise to this standard grew louder, and louder, and louder. At first, I resisted just as loudly: “NO God, I don’t want to do that. I want to write a sermon and make it simple for the kids.” Then I turned around and said, “Holy Spirit, what do you want me to talk about?” And He kept bringing me back to this. It was truly a vicious cycle. For about two months, I wouldn’t budge.

Then I relented. As soon as I gave in and lifted the entire retreat up to Him, He came in and started a deep, deep work in me.

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There were weeks where every single night, just as I was about to go to sleep, He would bring to the surface a very painful memory of bitterness or offense in my life. I would lay in bed and soak my pillow with tears while my heart cried. Some nights, Levi was awake and held me to comfort me in my sorrowful repentance as I faced things I had locked away in the closets of my memory. Other nights, it was just me and Papa God, Him holding me as I cried and cried and cried…and then would come the peace and the rest, only to repeat the process the following night with another memory.

Levi and I faced challenges in our own relationship that we needed to work out, and it took running into the arms of wise counselors to find peace in that area. God spoke to both of us about prioritizing our time, and asked us to lay down distractions that we were very reluctant to let go of at first.

But every moment of it was worth it. There was intense testing, blue-hot fires, and tremendous pressure that demanded equally tremendous sacrifice…but it was all worth it. Because every single thing He brought me through was accompanied by His tender reminder that it was all for the sake of the kids we were going to be speaking to at the retreat. He said, “They are worth enough to me to do this.”

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So my response was to fling my arms open and cry out for Him to come closer and burn me all the more. I prayed dangerous, scary prayers like, “God, I want the growth that would normally take years—and I want it now. I want all of you, no matter what it takes.” He heard and honored my prayer.

So many people sowed into the retreat with their prayer and encouragement over Levi and I, and I knew we were being specially anointed for this trip. As the days counted down, I felt the strangest mix of peace and great anticipation, excitement to see everything that God would do!

And He certainly did not disappoint. He was manifest powerfully in His love and His passion over each and every one of us! My life was changed by Him and what He’s doing in each one of the youth we got to spend the weekend with. He brought me toe-to-toe with my greatest fears and my longest-standing chicken lines several times every day, and gave me the choice to turn around and go back to where it was safe. But He also gave me the courage to face my chicken lines and run at them with everything I had—what relief! What reward! What breakthrough!

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The posts following this are an account of the glorious things God did for us that weekend. I hope you claim the promises, the breakthrough, and the spectacular power of the testimonies contained inside!

Let There Be Light

Genesis 1:1-3
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

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My spiritual father brought this up in church a couple of weeks ago. He read this portion, all the way through much of the first chapter of Genesis, but after the first two verses, he stopped reading, looked up at us, and said, “That was me.”

“The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters.”

That was me. That was you, too. That was all of us.

“And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”

That was God in my life. That was God wooing me to Him. That was God protecting me from evil and preserving me for a grand purpose that I knew nothing about and certainly didn’t want to have anything to do with.

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I think we have this interesting idea about sinners (the definition for “sinners” being that they are in the world and don’t know Jesus and yahda-yahda) that because they reject God or don’t know anything about Him, that He is absent from the situation and the devil has total control of that person. It takes a lot of courage and a lot of discernment to see God hovering over them, protecting them, brooding over them, being concerned for them, mourning for them, and moving on their behalf, orchestrating things perfectly so they can come into the Kingdom.

And it’s just interesting to me, because a lot of the time we’re unwilling to share our hearts with people and have intimate conversations with them and let them into the safe places of our hearts until we see the conversion point of “Let there be light.” And THEN we acknowledge them as people, THEN we want to know what’s on their heart and what concerns them. THEN we want to be their friend.

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I’m not disregarding what the Bible says. I’m not skipping over the verses of caution that say, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” Yes, we have an enemy. Yes, he is formidable. Yes, he is the prince of this world. Yes, we have to resist the devil so he may flee from us (James 4:7).

But immediately after James writes that, He says “Come near to God, and He will come near to you.”

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Maybe this is just me, but I know I personally have never found encouragement or strength in looking at my enemy. I don’t need to behold him. I don’t need to assess him. I don’t need to analyze him. And I certainly don’t need to focus on how close he is to me.

Because I’m easily impressed with darkness–that’s a great weakness of mine. I used to hear stories about demons and the darkness of the world, and just eat it up without even thinking or questioning what sort of spirit was behind this news and what spirit I was receiving it all in.

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God has given me a gift of great discernment of spirits, and I have to be careful not to get all wrapped up in it all the time. It’s so easy to see someone and notice that there is a spirit of death on them, or a spirit of depression and rejection–and then to take that knowledge and address it in a way I see fit, like go right up to them and say, “Oh, do you have problems with rejection?” Or go and tell my friend, “Hey, so-and-so has a spirit of death on them. We should really pray.” (I think the only reason we should make certain discernment of evil spirits public is so we empower each other to speak life and blessing and encouragement into whomever or whatever the spirit is on.) I hope that makes sense.

With this gift of discernment, and being surrounded by a lot of very prophetic people who are sensitive to the workings of the Holy Spirit, it can be very tempting to focus on the problem and not on the Solution–yes, Solution with a capital S, because the Solution is not a bill passed, a law, a mandate, a behavior, a punishment, a program or a speech–the Solution is a Man. His name is Jesus.

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People come over to our house to pray almost every day–and we’re talking large groups, from spheres and spectrums all across the board, all different ages. And a lot of them pray very fiercely against certain moves of law in our Capitol. Sitting in on these prayer meetings, I quickly became very confused, and extremely exhausted–and discouraged. And my heart was crying out with the desire just to worship and to set our gaze on Jesus and bring Him glory with our words and the meditations of our hearts.

Because my heart is to seek His heart. And if I focus on the problem–the sin condition, the behavior of a person, the way I’m feeling, the offense someone dealt me or another–if I focus on that for any length of time at all, it will start to consume me because darkness is so easily overwhelming when we pull our focus from the Solution.

My only excuse to spend time thinking about these things are so I can say: “Okay Holy Spirit, help me understand this. What is this? …Oh, okay. I understand. Now I will pray equipped, powerful prayers about this. And I give this burden to you. Will you show me your face? Oh Holy Spirit, you’re so good to us,” and so on. My prayer time always begins and ends in worship, exalting who He is, magnifying Him above the problem. And in the face of His glory and His strength and His might, the world just fades away into the background.

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This is not to say that I disagree with words of caution at all, but just to maybe bring a new perspective and share some of my testimony. And if you’re feeling a word of caution that we need to focus on righteousness and that maybe the devil is getting a little too close to our personal business for comfort, I’d like to challenge you to start declaring life to that.

I’d like to challenge you to lead us in declaring over ourselves, things like, “I was made in God’s image” (Gen. 1:27), “I am being transformed by the renewing of my mind” (Rom. 12:22), “I have a new nature–Christ’s nature” (Eph. 4:24), “As God is Holy, so I am Holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

Just try it and see what happens.

God’s Will, or God’s Won’t?

Last Sunday, our pastor challenged us to ponder a question over the week.

The question at hand: Is everything that God allows to happen, His will?

First of all, my answer is a resolute no.

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I’ll break up the explanation for my answer in a few categories: death, healing, offenses, and free will.

Death
God has given us a good 80-some years to live our lives. Some people make it past 100. I personally believe that the only “Natural cause” for death should be having lived a full life and leaving this earth sometime between 80 and 100 years—not of cancer, pneumonia, injury, or any other disease or pain. I refuse to believe that God’s primary instruments for passing man from here to eternity are instruments of pain and destruction of body or mind.

Last year, I watched my grandma pace helplessly as her mother, hundreds of miles away in Texas, lay dying. My great-grandma Callaway had lived a full life in graciousness and extravagant generosity, yet now her strength, as well as her mind, was failing her. I don’t remember exactly what she had, but I think it was Alzheimer’s that was now sapping her mind of sanity.

Every day, my grandma called her sister in Texas, asking for a report. My heart broke as she absorbed the blow of news of her mother’s rapidly worsening condition. My great-grandmother was waking up in her hospital room disoriented and confused, often in tears as she tried to sort out what was happening to her. Once, the nurses found her huddled on the floor, clutching a teddy bear to her chest.

My grandma put up a wonderful charade of strength for our family over that Christmas and New Year’s Eve, though it was evident her mind was elsewhere. Her usually festive Christmas decorations were absent, and there was a stale atmosphere of false cheerfulness over the holiday. My dad, my aunt and uncle, my grandpa and I all did the best we could to support my grandma, but for the most part, words failed. What encouragement can you offer to someone whose parent is being robbed by disease?

My grandma, through her grief, resigned herself to believe that God must have decided it was time for her mother to pass into Heaven and this was His way of doing it. The injustice of this rubbed me very wrong. A year-old Christian at the time, I was offended in my heart at the idea that it was God’s will for my great-grandma to die this way. I was fine with thinking that her time was up on earth; but I refused to even consider that God intended for her to die in the pain and confusion the disease was causing her.

I don’t have a seminary degree, nor a lifetime of Bible studying beneath my belt. But what I had learned of the Godhead in my short time in His presence was that He is gracious, merciful, kind, loving, and the giver of all good gifts (James 1:5). And I knew that sickness, disease, and death were the fruit of the prince of this world (John 14:30). I also knew that Jesus had said it is not the Father’s will that any should perish, but that all should have everlasting life (Matthew 18:14).

This isn’t a dictionary definition by any means, but when I think of the word “perish,” I think of an early, unnatural death. I think of the grief left in the anticipation and wake of these deaths. The  actual dictionary definition of the word “perish” is ” To die or be destroyed, especially in a violent or untimely manner.” If we put this with 2 Peter 3:9, it says “But He bears patiently with you, His desire being that none should die or be destroyed in a violent or untimely manner, but that all should come to repentance” (emphasis added). As humans being mortal, we all die. Our spirits are eternal, but the houses they live in are “but a breath.”

If it was God’s will to inflict someone—to inflict a strong, faithful Christian—with a disease to kill them off, wouldn’t that be contradictory to His nature? The Bible says that God and satan cannot walk hand in hand, and throughout the Old Testament, God demonstrates His inability to even tolerate, much less partner with, sin.

In tears, I went to God. My spirit was in complete turmoil. “If what my grandma is saying is true,” I thought, “This changes everything I thought I knew about You.”

In Jeremiah 29:11, one of the most familiar Bible verses quoted and memorized by the Church, God says “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper and not to harm you. Plans to give you a future and a hope.” Why would a God with a plan for your life, for a future and a hope, will for you to die before you have that future? When He said that to Jeremiah, He was speaking it into eternity for all who accept it. Even Paul said, “For even if it was written in the Scriptures long ago, you can be sure it was meant for us.” (Romans 15:4)

This is not a conditional promise. This is for everyone. This is a proclamation that spans generations and denominations. We know that God has a plan for every single one of us.

When I was 16, a friend in my class overdosed and killed himself. When I was 18, a slew of students from North Thurston High School were killed in several auto accidents, all within the span of a week. I have known several women who have miscarried and lost their children—some of them lost their faith in those seasons also, because someone told them it was God’s will, or that they didn’t have enough faith to change the course of events that had happened.

My grandma on my mom’s side died in a house fire when my mom was 10 years old. Last week would have been my grandma’s 74th birthday. My mom struggled through the rest of her childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. An orphan in spirit and in the natural (my grandpa, her dad, was alive but absent throughout her life), my mom remains fractured and brokenhearted. I feel the void in her heart that only a mother or an act of God could fill.

You can’t tell me that it was God’s will for my grandma to be killed when my mother was a child. If God’s heart is to comfort orphans and restore them to wholeness, why would He create more of them by killing off more parents? It’s not His nature. Though God is bigger than circumstance and tragedy—He can and does use every terrible thing in our lives for His glory and our healing—He doesn’t need to create a setup of pain just so He can swoop in and save the day.

Can you imagine, if a superhero went around the city causing disasters just so He could come and rescue the citizens, put out the fires, and take the cats out of the trees? The citizens of the city would become his pawns, and his integrity as a hero and savior would be compromised.

On a less anecdotal and more Biblical note, let’s talk about dead raising. If everybody who died short of their 80-some years died of causes that were God’s will, then why was Jesus going around raising the dead? If Jesus went about during His years of ministry, healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out demons–all against God’s will–then He was the biggest rebel against His Father that history has ever witnessed!

Why would God give us the power, and Jesus give us the command, to raise the dead unless it isn’t God’s will that everyone die when they do? Even in the Old Testament, prophets raised people from the dead. Under Old Covenant, even without the instructions of Jesus Christ telling us to heal the sick, raise the dead and cast out demons! And this was back in the day where if someone accessed or witnessed the glory of God outside of His will, they were killed—such as when when the Israelites were moving the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem, and someone was killed because they reached out to steady it from falling.

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Along the same lines is the topic of Healing. We are instructed to lay hands on each other and pray for healing. We are given numerous promises throughout the New Testament that if we pray for something, it will be given. Jesus healed all the sick in Nazareth and in other cities He ministered in. How are we to do any less?

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My third point is on Offenses.

Sometimes, we pray for something to happen—or not to happen—and they happen anyway. Is it God’s will? Not always.

When I was 15, I had my first boyfriend. He was a Christian, but he was also a teenage boy in his first relationship. I was not a Christian, and I had so many issues with rejection and self-esteem that I was starving for any and all affection he would give me. I placed my desire to be loved above my values to stay pure and save myself until marriage. Our relationship quickly grew physical, and I fell more in “Love” with this boy the more we fooled around. Suddenly, he broke our relationship off, saying he had lost interest—when in fact the opposite was true; God had convicted him of our relationship being lust-oriented, and he was desperate for a way out before we lost our virginity entirely.

Heartbroken, I swore myself away from dating. A year later, God encountered me in my brokenness and I accepted Him as my father. Our relationship didn’t progress beyond that, and I did nothing more than write in a prayer journal and receive comfort from Him. I didn’t attend church and I refused to open my Bible. But I prayed.

A few months later, after my ex boyfriend and I rekindled a sincere, platonic friendship, he invited me over to his house for a few movies. He assured me that his parents would be there at the house. I was immediately afraid that something would happen if I went, but I was afraid of telling him no…so I said yes. While I waited for him to come pick me up from the house, I broke down before the Lord and I prayed that nothing would happen. I prayed that He would protect me and keep me safe, that He would give me the courage to say no, to leave the house, to get away from the situation if the boy tried to instigate anything. But at the end of my prayer, I made a promise: “Whatever happens, I will still love You.”

It turned out that his parents were not home after all. You can guess what happened. Violated and ashamed, and taking the blame completely for everything that had happened (after all, I hadn’t been able to reach my voice to tell him no; how could it not be my fault?), I told no one but my best friend for months. And I kept my promise to God. I still loved Him and I didn’t hold Him responsible for not answering my prayer. Though I was confused and didn’t understand why He would have allowed this to happen, I didn’t let my heart be offended. I needed Him too much.

Was it God’s will that I was humiliated in this way? What about all other rape victims? What about the girls and boys across the world who are stolen from their families and sold into slavery, trafficked across country and state borders, smuggled even into our own country? Is that God’s will? No.

Many people who call themselves atheists, agnostics, or polytheistic use the situations I have previously mentioned to spearhead their argument against God being gracious, sovereign, loving, and all the other qualities we know to be true about Him. A favorite target against God is the issue of world hunger and poverty, that there are hundreds of thousands of children dying due to starvation or no access to clean water. Then there’s the Holocaust, and the millions killed in wars throughout history. How do you explain those away?

To be sure, these are all questions that are meant to challenge our faith—and we should ask them! We are encouraged to ask the Holy Spirit all of our questions, and who better to ask than God Almighty, Omniscient, and Faithful? He is honest and true, and He is eager to answer our questions because if we are asking things of Him it means we are seeking His face. I would like to add as a sidenote, however, that there is a very distinct difference between seeking His face on an issue and demanding something of Him with arms crossed.

In Genesis, when God informs Abraham of His intentions to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham does not stand away from God, offended in his heart—nor does he slump his shoulders resolutely and state that all this is simply God’s will. Rather, he invites the discussion as fruit from intimacy with God. The Word says that Abraham came closer to the Lord: Abraham approached Him and said, “Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? Suppose you find fifty righteous people living…” (Genesis 18:23) The discussion goes on for several verses, down until God promising that if He finds even one righteous man in the wicked cities, that He would not destroy them.

In Exodus, when Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Wilderness to the Promised Land, the Israelites forgot God and began to worship idols crafted of gold. At one point, God in His anger says He will destroy the children of promise and start over with a line from Moses to inherit His blessing. Moses reminds the Lord of the promise He made to Abraham, and the Lord changes His mind.

God is moved by the supplications of a people seeking after His heart. He isn’t looking for people who know His law, for the law is not the language by which we relate to Him anymore. Now, we are free to come boldly into His presence by the blood of Jesus. Now, we are free to make our requests of Him just as Abraham and Moses did. Now, we can take events in which God allows disaster to happen, and implore that these things be reversed, or used for good and His glory.

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Free Will

Because of Jesus, the curse placed on humanity from the beginning has been finished, and man has been given the opportunity to start over with the original blessing: be fruitful and multiply, and take dominion over all creation. Man has been re-invited to co-create with God through declaration, the laying on of hands, dreaming, imagination, and simple prayer.

But these things are all active, and we must choose to do them. We have been given the world as our land to take care of and be stewards over. Through years of selfishness and sin, we have enslaved each other, killed each other, orphaned one another, and robbed each other. The world we see today is the result of this. Poverty, third world countries, extreme greed and imbalance of wealth, and an earth that is physically groaning with the efforts of holding back its cries to glorify the Lord and be consecrated back to its original design. Proverbs 9 says that the Lord designated the boundaries of the waters of the ocean, saying that it cannot cross beyond its shores.

The Japan tsunami of March 11th, 2011 is a direct rebellion of this Word. Not that we can blame a world that has remained cursed as the result of God’s children’s refusal to rise up and take dominion of what is rightfully ours and God’s.

The reality is that we are partners with God. Though He is Sovereign, the only way He could bring justice and righteousness and peace back into our world is if He were to either kill all who are unrighteous or rob us all of our free will. And because God is a God of relationship, to do either would be a contradiction to His nature.

Earlier, I mentioned the ordeal that happened with my ex boyfriend. Months after I had been hurt, I told my mom about it. I asked her why God had let it happen. She said that though I had prayed, the boy was still a human being with free will. If God were to have been sovereign in the situation, He would have had to compromise His nature by stealing this boy’s free will. He would have had to violate this boy to keep him from hurting me, which would have been no less wrong.

Through the years following, God has healed me of this offense. I have forgiven the boy for hurting me. My marriage has helped me heal from the scars left by rejection and being taken advantage of, and dispelled all lies that I deserved what happened to me.

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Not everything that happens is God’s will. Pastor Bill Johnson explains it this way: “God is always in charge, but not necessarily in control.” Please don’t take this to mean that God doesn’t have the power to control; He does. He is Sovereign. He could step in at any moment and take control of everything. But He doesn’t, and He won’t, because we have a role to play in all of this. God has relinquished control to us as stewards of the earth. One day, He will take His place as King of all, but for now it’s up to us.

So, World Changer. Yes, you. Reading this, right now. It’s up to us. Scary? Absolutely. Impossible? Oh yes. But with God, all things are possible. If He is for us (and He is!), who can stand against us? We have been invited to participate in the grandest commissioning in history! And we have the best partner, whose yoke is easy and burden is oh so light.

Be encouraged. Whatever you’re supposed to be doing, you’re doing it. Right here, right now. You are an instrument of His purposes here on earth, and you are extending Kingdom.

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