How would you like to live every day like you were on vacation, as if it were a day away from work? You can, if you’ll learn how to really enter God’s rest.
My life used to be one big struggle. I was unhappy about almost everything and difficult to get along with because of the abuse I endured during my childhood.
In the early years of my marriage, I wanted Dave to be miserable because I was miserable. And it just about drove me crazy when he stayed happy while I was unhappy. He refused to join my pity parties and accept my negative perspective of life, and it made me mad.
One of life’s most perplexing mysteries is why bad things happen to good people. We have all heard the stories of how the most dedicated teenager in the church was abruptly killed in an automobile accident, or how the beautiful young mother with three children is stricken with cancer and suddenly passes, leaving her infants to be raised by loving family members. Why the righteous suffer has always been an enigma.
There is no one set reason or explanation as to why bad things happen. However, after years of ministry, I have some observations as to what may, at times, help prevent bad things from occurring:
Medical doctors call it Usher syndrome. It’s a disorder that causes deafness and gradual loss of sight.
You may have heard about it in the news in recent years. Jacob, the 9-year-old son of star horse jockey Kent Desormeaux, is suffering from the disease. Jacob is progressively going blind, and more quickly than anticipated. Doctors say one day he may not be able to see at all.
As a parent, this tears at my heart. I can’t even imagine this father’s pain, watching as his son slowly but surely loses his senses of sight and hearing; realizing his son will soon be unable to hear his voice or see his smiling face. But this natural example also awakened my spirit to the Father’s pain in watching some of His own children slowly but surely lose their senses of sight and hearing—through spiritual deception.
Like Usher syndrome, deception is progressive. I don’t believe people move from worshipping God to worshipping angels overnight, for example. Nor do I believe one leaps from the practical study of biblical types and shadows to practicing occultism quickly. It starts with a little erroneous fox. Just as the Word of God warns us how one sin can lead to another sin (read: David and Bathsheba) it is also true that one error can lead us into another error. One wrong belief can cause us to believe many wrong things.
In honor of Reformation Day, here are some complaints I’m nailing on the Wittenberg door.
Long before there was an Occupy Wall Street, Martin Luther staged the most important protest in history. He was upset because Roman Catholic officials were promising people forgiveness or early escape from purgatory in exchange for money. So on October 31, 1517, Luther nailed a long list of complaints on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany.
Luther’s famous 95 theses were translated from Latin into German and spread abroad. Like a medieval Jeremiah, Luther dared to ask questions that had never been asked, and he challenged a pope who was supposedly infallible. Through this brave monk, the Holy Spirit sparked the Protestant Reformation and restored the doctrine of grace to a church that had become corrupt, religious, dysfunctional, political and spiritually dead.
In the beginning, the earth was formless and void, but that did not deter the Almighty. He looked into the fathomless depth of its darkness and concluded, "All it needs is light!" Likewise, in the beginning of our spiritual lives, we also are "formless and void" and God, just as confidently, is still saying, "All they need is a little light!" Remember: it's the Lord's responsibility to create and our responsibility to submit to His creating.
The Lord only needs three things to fashion life. First, He needs a "nothing." The Almighty always begins His great, creative works with a nothing (and this is where we come in!).
When I first met my husband, Jim, he was a man with a past. For the prior 15 years he had been a heroin addict on the streets of Chicago, involved in every kind of sin imaginable. He had been an alcoholic as well, and to support his addictive lifestyle he had become a criminal, spending much time in jail. He had married and divorced not once, but four times.
On January 21, 1972, Jim knelt before the Lord and prayed a very simple prayer: “God, I don’t know much about you, but if you’ll make me happy like these Christians here [at Chicago Teen Challenge], I’ll do anything you want me to do.”
Throughout history, people have quipped about revenge. Filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock liked to say, “Revenge is sweet and not fattening.” Edward Gibbon believed, “Revenge is profitable, gratitude is expensive.” And you’ve probably heard it said, “I’m back with a vengeance.”·
I have to admit it. I’ve been tempted to take vengeance on those who have wronged me. I could take justified legal action to collect 12 years of unpaid child support and have enough money to go on an extravagant European vacation. I could justifiably file suit against the brother in Christ who ran off on Christmas Eve with $10,000 of my cash, never finishing the job he was paid for and leaving me with one toilet, no shower and no kitchen. I could expose those who have spread malicious lies about me and bring them to public shame.
Yes, I’ve been tempted to take revenge. But the Lord makes it emphatically clear that vengeance belongs to Him—and He will repay (Romans 12:19). Despite the emotions that rose up when I was wronged, I ultimately believe God’s vengeance will work out better for me than any forceful yet feeble attempt I could make to even the score. God sees everything. That’s why I reject the quips of Hitchcock and Gibbon in favor of the idea that Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius offered, “The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”
Visiting ministers can be a great blessing to any church. But if you don’t do your homework, you could be inviting disaster.
A friend of mine recently told me that the leaders of a ministry invited a prominent American preacher to speak at a conference. During discussions about the engagement, the preacher’s handlers explained two of the terms of his visit: (1) he was always to be addressed as “apostle” by anyone who spoke to him; and (2) he was to be ushered out of the auditorium and into a green room immediately after he delivered his sermon, to guarantee that he would not have to fraternize with the audience. He needed his privacy.
If I had been on the other end of the telephone conversation that day, I would have offered this reply: “Please tell Apostle Arrogance that since he is so concerned about being bothered by the little people, never mind. Just don’t come. We don’t need the disease he is spreading in the body of Christ. God bless you.” Click.
The last few days I have been waking up thinking about Martin Luther King Jr. I kept hearing his "I Have a Dream" speech as I awoke each of the last few mornings. He is one of my heroes of the faith; a difference-maker, and a catalyst for good and for the generations. I asked the Lord if there was some further meaning to my thoughts about him. He said, "I gave him a dream, and I have given you a dream."
I decided to write out my dream in honor of one of my hero's dreams. Thank you, Lord, for Dr. King, who stood for You, stood for freedom and gave his life for the cause of that freedom. I write this in honor of him and the legacy he left for us all:
What could be more important than finding God? Take a day, a week or a month and do nothing but seek Him, persisting until you find Him. He has promised, “You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13).
If we truly find Him, no one will have to tell us to be humble. No one need convince us our old natures are as filthy rags. As we truly find God, the things that are so highly esteemed among men will become detestable in our sight (Luke 16:15).
Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Notice that Jesus is the Finisher. He always finishes what He starts—and He wants us to finish the God-inspired initiatives we start, too.
To be sure, one of the keys of the kingdom is the “key of finishing.” It unlocks the blessing of increase and is a clear manifestation of kingship.
Jesus is our example. Jesus was always concerned about finishing the work His Father sent Him to do. He saw the blessing on the other side of finishing. He had His eyes on the prize—the blessing—that came after He finished.
The prophet Habakkuk knew the secret: When circumstances look bad, we should hit the “rejoice” button and turn up the volume.
I have never been into country music. Nothing against Loretta Lynn, Kenny Chesney or Alan Jackson, or any of their fans, but I just don’t like twangy songs—especially the sentimental ones that drip with sadness about divorce, alcoholic husbands, wife abuse and rural poverty. Here are some of the worst examples of these heartbreaking tunes:
“I’m Drinkin’ Christmas Dinner (All Alone This Year)”
“How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?”
“I Bought the Shoes (That Just Walked Out on Me)”
“This White Circle on My Finger (Means We’re Through)”
“If You Won’t Leave Me (I’ll Find Someone Who Will)”
“Thank God and Greyhound (She’s Gone)”
“When You Wrapped My Lunch in a Roadmap, I Knew You Meant Goodbye”
“If you are in a difficult place today, I invite you to cancel your pity party. Stop singing sad songs about how bad it is. Instead, go in your secret place, shut the door and raise the roof with some Shigionoth praise.”
I know it can be strangely therapeutic to listen to someone sing about their problems when you have the blues. But even Elvis Presley could tell you that sad music will not pull anybody out of depression. You need to change the channel.
Centuries ago, the prophet Habakkuk composed what sounds like a syrupy country ballad. The entire third chapter of the book that bears his name is a song. Part of it says:
Though the fig tree should not blossom / And there be no fruit on the vines / Though the yield of the olive should fail / And the fields produce no food / Though the flock should be cut off from the fold / And there be no cattle in the stalls / Yet I will exult in the Lord / I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
Those first lines sound awfully sad—so much so that you expect to hear the words accompanied by a steel guitar and crooning background vocals. But the Bible gives clear instruction about the instrumentation of this song, and it is not a melancholy dirge. The musical notation at the beginning of chapter 3 says, “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.”
There is some debate over the exact meaning of this musical term, but scholars translate the Hebrew as “a highly emotional poetic form.” Shigionoth is not slow, whiny or sad, and Habakkuk 3 is not a cry-in-your-beer ballad. Shigionoth is a high form of praise—wild, rhythmic and exuberant. It is praise with pumped-up volume and no limits; it is worship punctuated with exclamation marks!
Before I had my own life-changing experience with the Holy Spirit, I sometimes heard people criticizing Pentecostals for being “too emotional.” The assumption was that if somebody laughed, cried, shouted, swayed, jumped, danced, waved his hands in the air or acted remotely undignified in a worship service, he was theologically off base and maybe even mentally unstable.
Then I discovered the power of praise, and learned that King David (who literally wrote the book on exuberant worship) believed in getting “highly emotional” when he was with God. Not only did he sing, shout, clap and dance to rhythm—he was accused of being a religious fanatic. Habakkuk apparently understood this same musical principle. He knew there are times in our lives when we need to go overboard in our praise.
Habakkuk 3 has specific application for all of us today as we pass through a difficult season of national crisis, economic uncertainty and spiritual challenge. We are in a day of distress, and we will be tempted to sing the blues if we focus on barren fig trees, empty fields, lost jobs and shrinking family budgets.
Habakkuk instructs us to shift the mood by creating a noisy soundtrack of praise. This prophet refused to let the failures of the present dictate his future. He was not in denial of the facts, but he saw clearly that God was above his circumstances. He broke out of depression with a loud declaration. He chose to Shigionoth instead of sulk. He sang with deep emotion: “Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.”
If you are in a difficult place today, I invite you to cancel your pity party. Stop singing sad songs about how bad it is. Instead, go in your secret place, shut the door and raise the roof with some Shigionoth praise.
Amnesty. It means an official pardon for the guilty offender for actions against a government. It’s an acquittal, a "not guilty" verdict, but even more—it's a pardon for offenses committed. We don’t often think of amnesty when we think of the cross. But that’s exactly what happened. The government of God acquitted us, pardoned us. It’s God’s ultimate solution for guilt. A few days ago the Holy Spirit brought before me a face familiar in the current news cycle. I had not followed the trial of a young American by Italian courts. Snippets I heard were too devastating for everyone on every side.
My husband, Steve, and I once owned property that had an eagle’s nest on it. One day after a spring storm we went out to check on the property and found that a third of the nest had been blown down.
As I looked at the fallen pieces, it occurred to me that often when we think of eagles we picture the majestic bird that is our national symbol—a bird that is able to soar high above any tempest that might come along. We rarely think of eagles as having to go through storms.
Don’t look back—unless you need to deal with demons from your past that continue to pull you out of God’s will and into sin.
Some of us have dramatic testimonies of how God delivered us from dark places into which even your typical sinner doesn’t venture. But if we aren’t truly free from the demonic influences that held us in bondage, we could fall back into the snare of the enemy once again. We are forgiven from our past sins, but sometimes we must deal with our past demons.
I’m a big advocate of not looking back. Unless I’m sharing my testimony to help another, I don’t talk much about the past. After all, I’m a new creature in Christ. The old Jennifer has passed away. I was crucified with Christ and I am no longer living for myself. I am letting Christ live His life through me. My position in Christ is clearly spelled out in the Word of God, but that doesn’t mean when I got saved I was immediately delivered from demons of the past that plagued my soul. I’m not talking about character flaws or immaturity. I’m talking about demonic strongholds like drug use that, left unchecked, would have ultimately destroyed me.
Many people struggle to believe God loves them because of a dysfunctional mom or dad.
This past weekend I spoke to some students at a college in New Hampshire. Knowing that many young people today come from broken homes (more than 1 million children today are the victims of divorce), I felt I needed to talk to them about the fatherly heart of God. I wasn’t surprised when several people’s eyes got misty as soon as I mentioned the word “father.”
One of the things that good “Baptists” did not do back in “the old days” was go to the theater. As a very young boy I wasn’t sure why, but it seemed to have something to do with going to heaven, along with not having long hair (guess that shows my age).
One summer, when I was about 9 or 10, my brother and I went to stay with some adult friends in Albuquerque, N.M. They were a bit older than our parents and had no children. We loved going and staying with Herman and Cleo. This particular summer, the movie Bambi was in a theater in their city. Cleo decided to take us. She reassured us that it would be fine and that she would take the blame.
I remember my emotions so clearly. Fear … coupled with childhood excitement. We got popcorn and the lights dimmed as the movie came on. The story opened with Bambi as a new fawn simply trying to get his legs under him to stand up and walk. We then delighted in his adventures with his friends, Thumper and Flower.
The music, songs and scenes made us smile and even laugh out loud. Bambi even meets Felin, the little doe fawn. Love blossoms. What a joy! Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, things changed. “Man,” as the movie calls the hunter, disrupts the peace and quiet. In horror and fright we watched as Bambi’s mother is shot and killed. Who shoots a baby’s mommy?
As if that wasn’t bad enough, a short time later the forest is burned to the ground, once again by “Man.” First Bambi is orphaned and now he is homeless. Suddenly I understood why Baptists didn’t go to movies. I can remember wanting to leave. This “movie” thing was not what I had hoped.
Then, the scene changes dramatically. Springtime arrives. New growth comes and lying in the bushes is Felin with two fawns. The camera pans back and there stands Bambi on the bluff looking over his kingdom, the proud “Prince of the Forest.” As horrible as things had gotten in the movie, I was glad I stayed. The ending made it worth it all …
Look at Revelation 21: “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth … and I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them … And God will wipe every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death.’ … Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful’” (Rev. 21:1-5, emphasis added).
This world we live in is full of sorrow, pain, tragedy and trials. Sometimes, if you are like me, you feel trapped. Afraid. Wondering what it’s all about. Remember this, the evil one, Satan, is the “prince of the power of the air.” He runs free in this world. He has turned God’s wonderful creation into his playground. Sin, filth, degradation and unforgiveness abound. Life often seems unbearable.
However, here is the joyous good news. We know what the end of the “movie” is. Our Champion, Jesus Christ, wins. His kingdom is restored. Alpha and Omega destroys the enemy once and for all. There is hope, because we have His Word, which records the end of the story for all to read.
As you journey this week in your Christ walk, rejoice. We know the end of the story. Life may be tough right now. You might have some health issues, or experienced the recent loss of a loved one. There may be strife in your marriage. You might not have enough money to make ends meet. Do not lose hope! Just when you think the “movie” could get no worse, your Champion will be there.
And in the end, we win in a big way. There will be no more tears. No more mourning, or pain or even death, but life eternal. Everlasting. And we will cry with the saints of all time, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong toour God”Just hang on. The end of the “movie”—the end of the story, recorded for all to read—makes it worth it all. I promise.
PRAYER POWER FOR THE WEEK OF 10-3-2011
This week look beyond your circumstances and “enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.” Thank Him that we can rely on His Word and that what He has promised He will fulfill. Continue to lift up Israel when you pray for our allies, and remember our military and their families. Thank Him for the continual protection of our nation and pray for repentance, revival and righteousness to permeate every aspect of our society. Pray for your pastors, for unity in prayer and purpose and more laborers for the harvest. Ps. 100:4; Rev. 21:1-5
To enrich your prayer life and learn how to strategically pray with power by using appropriate scriptures, we recommend the following sources by Apostle John Eckhardt: Prayers that Rout Demons, Prayers that Bring Healing, Prayers that Release Heaven on Earth and Prayers that Break Curses. To order any or all of these click here.
Have you ever spent weeks—even years—praying about one specific thing and still found yourself wondering, When is God going to answer this prayer? If so, I know exactly how you feel.
When I pray, I really want my prayers to be answered. I know faith, patience and timing all are in the mix, but sooner or later I need to hear from God.
The fact is, He gives us some pretty outrageous promises in His Word about prayer. If you’re not seeing the fruit of those promises and if you’re still in the waiting period, I encourage you to simply ask why.
At several times in my life I’ve had to get honest with myself and say: “OK, God, I see what the Word says. Why isn’t it working for me?”
Each time, God has led me to ask myself three very direct questions. I believe they can also help you to find the answers you’ve been seeking.
Stumbling blocks. You don’t want to be one. And you don’t want them in your life, either. But what do you do when the stumbling block comes from someone you love dearly, or from someone with whom you know you are called to labor in God’s Kingdom?
In order to avoid stumbling blocks, we need to recognize them when they arise along the narrow path. At the most basic level, a stumbling block is an obstacle to our progress in the Lord; it’s something that gets in between us and God’s perfect plan for our lives; it is anything that leads us into temptation. It’s a snare. Strong’s Concordance defines a stumbling block as “any person or thing by which one is (entrapped) drawn into error or sin.”
The phrase “stumbling block” is used 14 times in various translations of the Bible. I am going to focus on just one in this exhortation—one that came straight from the lips of the Anointed One to my spirit. It’s an example that shows how even those closest to us—even those called to walk with us and do great things for the Lord alongside us—can at times present a stumbling block in our path. How to we deal with loved ones who present stumbling blocks in a spirit grace, mercy and love without falling into the trap?
This Sunday is Pastor Appreciation Day. Here are six specific ways to pray for your spiritual leaders.
Often when I speak to a group of aspiring ministers, I greet them by saying: “Welcome to the war.” I also remind them that when they signed up to join the front lines of spiritual battle, a bright red target was painted on their backs. Ministry can be wonderfully rewarding, but let’s not kid anybody: Most of the time it’s a thankless job full of headaches, disappointments, conflicts, loneliness, frustration, petty complaints and tight budgets.
And while we might assume all pastors lead megachurches and drive new cars, keep in mind that the average church in this country has 75 members and the average pastor makes less than $34,000 a year—and may work an extra job to feed his or her family. The statistics are alarming: 90 percent of pastors work more than 50 hours a week; 70 percent say they don't have any close friends; and 45 percent say they've had to take a leave of absence from ministry because of depression or burnout.