The Beautiful “Unneeded” Gift Pt. 2

June 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

Years ago, I was on the pastoral staff at Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Anaheim, California. One Sunday evening instead of going to our adult service, I took one of the staff prophetic ministers with me and went to spend the evening with our ten to twelve-year-old kids in their version of children’s church. There were about 150-200 of these kids in a large room in the back of the church. When we got them all seated, I told them they could ask me any question they wanted to ask. I hadn’t even thought to pray or ask God for special direction that evening. After all, they were just kids. Obviously, what they needed most was knowledge of the Bible, and I was sure I was qualified for that task. Truthfully, I felt overqualified, awesomely overqualified. How hard could it be to answer the questions of ten to twelve-year-old church kids?

The first raised his hands. “Pastor,” he said, “why is it that bad things happen to people who love God and try to follow him?”

Hmm, I thought. Why do bad things happen to good people? Theologians have been grappling with the problem of suffering for two thousand years, and no one has really solved its mystery. Even the book of Job never tells the ultimate reason why God permitted all Job’s suffering. I mumbled some sort of answer about God not wanting robots but rather friends with freedom and dignity. It didn’t impress the kids all that much. They looked a little bored. A second hand went up. “Pastor, why did God create the devil?” Hmm, why did God create the devil? Again, I mumbled some sort of answer about God not wanting robots but rather friends with freedom and dignity. They were less impressed than before and looked more bored. It went on like this for forty-five minutes. I had begun to think that some demon from hell had smuggled the kids a list of all the unresolved theological problems for the last twenty centuries and said, “Here kids, ask him these.” I decided to retire from the theological question-answering business. I looked over at the prophetically gifted pastor I had brought in with me and said, “Has the Lord shown you anything about these kids? He sure isn’t showing me much.”

“Yes he has,” he said. “He has shown me something about this young lady right here,” with that he pointed to a young, cute twelve-year- old girl sitting in the front row, “about that young man back there,” he pointed to a twelve-year-old boy sitting in the middle of the room, “and about this lady in the back,” he pointed to one of the Sunday school teachers in the back of the room.

He looked at the young girl. “What’s your name?” he asked.
“J-J-Julie.” Julie was not sure she wanted someone giving her a prophetic word in front of two hundred of her peers.
“Julie, while Jack was speaking I had a vision of you. It was Tuesday night. That’s five nights ago. You went to your bedroom and shut the door. You were crying. You looked up to heaven and said, `God, do you really love me? I have to know-do you really love me?’ God didn’t say anything to you on Tuesday night, Julie. He sent me here tonight to tell you he really loves you. He really loves you. He also told me to tell you that the trouble going on around you is not your fault. He didn’t tell me if he is going to change the trouble, but he wants you to know you aren’t the cause of it.”

Then he went on to say something about the young man and something about the lady. After it was all over, I called those three people up to the front so we could talk privately. I wanted to make sure of two things – one, that there were no misunderstandings between the people and the prophetic minister, and two, that everything that had been said was true. If part of the messages given to these people was false, then we wanted to own up to it and clear up any misconceptions.

“Julie, last Tuesday night were you in your bedroom crying really hard and did you ask God if he really loved you?” I asked.
“Yes.”
“Are your parents fighting now?”
“Yes.”
“Do you think that’s your fault?”
She looked up at me, smiled, and said, “Not any more.”

I walked out of church that night thinking, Who in the world could be against this ministry? Why wouldn’t anyone want the voice of the Lord to speak like this in their church?

-From Surprised by the Voice of God by Jack Deere (a book I highly recommend!)

The Beautiful “Unneeded” Gift Pt. 1

May 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

Nobody Ever Told Me
     ‘Did God bring me here, or did the devil bring me here – into this room to face someone I had never met, who knew my painful secrets? My façade of indifference was being assaulted secret by secret. Or was my heart being healed secret by secret? Was this torture or surgery? What good could possibly come from reading aloud the pages in a book of pain that I had closed forever? Yet it was I who had given the prophet permission to begin, and now I could not stop him.
     Nobody ever told me prophets were like this. Until that day, I had never met a prophet outside the pages of the Bible. I did not believe prophets existed outside the pages of the Bible. Because we have the Bible, I could not see why we needed prophets. Besides, if we let them run loose outside the Bible, who could predict the chaos they might cause? To me, the prophets were just a temporary substitute for the real thing, the Bible.
     Then something happened to change my view. But that is another story, which I tell in another book, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit. Let me just say that I found more reasons to believe in the existence of the prophets than to believe God has set them aside. But what did I believe? I still had a mostly theoretical belief. Then I heard from a friend that there were prophets, real prophets, in Kansas City. He was going to meet them. Would I like to go with him?
     From the moment I decided to go to that meeting I was doomed. Not because I was about to face an onslaught of controversy. Not because I would spend countless hours defending a ministry maligned by many church leaders. And not even because I would spend more hours binding up the wounds of prophetic abuses. I was doomed because I would never again be happy in church or ministry unless it was infused with the power of prophecy. The mind God had given me was no match for the prophetic heart.

     So, on a bright sunny September afternoon, with my biblically guarded heart and skeptical mind, I met Mike Bickle, the pastor of these prophets and of the church, which then was called Kansas City Fellowship. Mike was not very tall, yet he was built like one of those halfbacks who got so sick of being told he was too small to play football that he disappeared into the weight room and when he came out he ran over a thousand bigger tacklers on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. His deep voice resonated with authority. Above all, he radiated joy. In his presence, I felt joyful, too. I could not imagine him ever having a down day. Before I knew it, I was disarmed and charmed. I wanted Mike’s joy, and his passion for God.
     But the joy did not last past the next morning. When I awoke, I remembered that I had come to meet prophets, not pastors. Before breakfast, I traded my joy for a superior attitude that was determined not to be deceived. I finished my last gulp of coffee, wiped my napkin across my mouth, and was ready to meet these so-called prophets.
That morning when my wife Leesa and I arrived at the church, we were led into a dingy little room with green carpet and orange plastic chairs arranged in a circle. Five friends had come with us. They wanted to encounter God. I wanted to evaluate men. Mike and four new faces were waiting for us. The first of those new faces met me at the door.
He was a six-footer with an athletic build, dressed as if he had just walked out of an Eddie Bauer catalogue. His face, though, was the kind of face you would expect to see on someone more at home in a camel hair tunic and sandals. He had longish graying hair, a salt-and-pepper beard, and disturbing, deep-set eyes. The eyes made him look otherworldly.
At first I thought his eyes were evil. Then I couldn’t make up my mind. Then he spoke. “Oh, I didn’t expect to see you here this morning.” Pretty cocky, I thought. Already I did not like him. “What do you mean? I don’t even know you,” I said.
    “Well I know you. It was eight nights ago. I had a dream. I woke up at three in the morning. I thought it was important so I wrote it down. You were in the dream. Would you like me to tell you what the Lord showed me about you?”
     “Yes,” is what I said. What I thought was, Try me. Take your best shot. I’m not going to be deceived. I have been warned about you prophets. I should mention that I was in a completely different tradition of Christianity than this fellow, and he really did not know me.
We took our seats in the circle. I knew about “cold reading,” a skill used by gamblers, palm readers, and probably by false prophets as well. By careful observation of your clothing, expressions, and mannerisms skilled people can “read” you without knowing you. Cold readers are also skillful in getting you to admit the details of your life in a way that makes it look like those details have been supernaturally revealed to them. On this morning, I knew that no matter how skilled in the art of deception this guy might be, I would give him no signs to read, no tells to help him win this game. I hardened my face like stone. We stared straight into each other’s eyes. My eyes revealed nothing. Then he spoke, and revealed everything.
“You have a prayer,” he said in a soft southern accent, “but it’s more than a prayer. It’s one of the major dreams of you heart.” Then he told me the prayer I had prayed that very morning in the hotel. It was a prayer I prayed almost every morning. And he was right. It was the dream of my heart. “God said to tell you this dream is from him and you will get what you’re asking for.”
I could tell you what the prayer was and still is, but telling it now would be, at the very least, immodest, and worse, perhaps self-serving. At the time, it was the biggest thing I could think to ask for. And here, like Daniel, is this prophet telling me my dream and that it will come true.
My granite face did not crack, not even slightly. My eyes remained placid, not a flicker of joy. He was getting no clues from me. But inside, my heart was exploding with joy. I had not cried since I was twelve years old. It took a superhuman effort not to cry now. Until that moment, I had never understood the expression “tears of joy.” Why would anyone, especially a man, want to cry when he was happy? Maybe I had never been happy enough to know until now. How could I be so special to God that he would put such a dream in my heart and then tell me he would make it happen?
     Next subject.
     “You had a father who dropped the ball on you,” he said. No! Not my father. That subject was off limits. Decent people never brought it up. How could he know about my father? My interior supports were giving way. How could he talk so calmly about the defining pain of my life? How could I hold it together any longer? If I let out what I was feeling now, I might destroy the self I had worked so long and hard to build. These fears kept me staring blankly at the prophet.
     My father had dropped the ball on me, on all of us. One morning we woke up a normal middle-class family of six, ready for a normal day. I went along with my two little brothers and my baby sister to play at our grandmother’s house. Mom went to work at her insurance office. My father stayed at home. By mid-morning, the lines for my father’s last battle had formed in his soul. We never saw it coming. Sometime that afternoon, in the living room of our little three-bedroom house, my father put a gun to his head and ended the war raging within him. That night my mother went to bed alone, a thirty-four-year-old widow with an eleventh-grade education and four small children to raise. We would never be a normal family again.
     I was the oldest of the kids. I had just turned twelve. Beyond some friends who brought the customary meals, there was no one to help us understand or heal.
     At that moment, I had no idea what the Lord was doing. I wasn’t even sure it was the Lord. All I knew was what I could feel, the prophet assaulting me with my own secrets, bringing up something wrong that could never be made right. I wanted the conversation to end. But the soft southern voice continued.
     “The Lord is going to make up the loss of your father to you. He will send you new fathers. You won’t learn from just one man. You will have the father you need for each new stage in your life.”
     Bringing up my father’s death pained me, but the promise of new fathers bewildered me. How could anyone, even God, make up for the loss of a twelve-year-old boy’s father? I didn’t need new fathers. I was thirty-eight years old. I was a father myself. And I was totally happy with the spiritual mentor who was then in my life. I couldn’t imagine I would ever need anyone else. But I said none of this aloud. I just returned his words with an unflinching stare.
     Next subject.
     “When you were young, the Lord gave you athletic ability, but he allowed you to be frustrated in the use of it. This was so you would put all your effort into cultivating the intellect. You’ve done that, but it hasn’t brought you what you expected, and you’re heartsick.”
     He could not have given a more accurate synopsis of the past thirty-eight years.
     I was born with athletic ability. I was strong and quick. In Little League baseball I could play every position of the field and always batted in the top four. I grew up playing tackle football with no pads on. Then, when it was time to start seventh grade, the time when I could play organized sports for the school, I lost my father. Everything changed.
     There was no one to take me to practices or to bring me home. My mother worked late into the evenings, selling insurance and collecting premiums to keep her four little kids fed and clothed and under one roof. Sports were not on her list of necessities. I learned how to make the evening meals, and I missed out on the next three years of sports.
      And I gave in to a lifestyle of drunken recklessness. That’s when the Lord saved me, literally. It was the fall of my junior year. I started reading then, reading the Bible, C.S. Lewis, everything. And I never stopped. I found out that I could make straight A’s when I wanted to. I also found out that there was an advantage to being perceived as smart. And the older you got, the greater the advantage became.
     By the time I entered seminary, I had discovered that not only did I have an ability to think theologically, but I also had a facility with languages. Greek, Hebrew, and other languages were easy for me to learn, even fun. In seminary no one knew who had played sports in high school or college, or if they did, they didn’t care. Everyone, though, knew who the “A” students were.
     After the first year of my doctoral program, I finally made the team. Two of our Old Testament professors were taking leaves of absence for two years. I was picked to fill in. “Professor Deere.” That was better than batting cleanup.
     I was a professor. And not just any professor, like a professor of English or chemistry. I was a professor of the most important subject of all, theology, the study of God. And not just any branch of theological studies – I was a professor of perhaps the most difficult discipline of all, Old Testament exegesis and Semitic languages. As a result, people all the way from my fellow professors to my peer group to my parishioners treated me with a new level of respect.
     Nobody ever told me it was dangerous to be a theological professor, particularly a young one. And no one ever told me that if you tried to find your identity in being smart, especially theologically smart, you would wind up heartsick. No one, that is, until now.
     This prophet was amazing. He was right. I was heartsick. I knew it, but I hid it. From everyone.
     The southern accent, now almost soothing, started again on the same theme. “All of that frustration was necessary to prepare you to fulfill the call that God has on your life.”
     So, there was a purpose behind the heartsickness. It was the mercy of God inviting me to travel a new road. There was a call on my life, but I had not yet entered into that call. Everything so far was just preparation. God would not let me succeed on an athletic field, but neither would he let me die drunk in a car wreck. He let me succeed in academics, but he would not let me remain intoxicated by that success. He sent my heartsickness to warn me of the danger of building my identity on such shaky foundations as athletics and academics.
     Next subject.
     “You’re in a conflict right now, and you think there are only three people on your side. The Lord says to tell you that there are five more on your side.”
     I was in a conflict, and I did think only three people stood by me. Besides me, the only one in the room who knew about this was Leesa. There was no way the prophet could know about the conflict. Yet he did. How did he know this? How did he know any of these things?
     I was astounded. He was a real prophet. And God was a real God. Of course he is; we all know that. But sometimes he seems so distant and so removed from our troubles. Sometimes it seems that all we have to lead us into battle is a textbook on war, when what we really need is a wise and courageous captain. I heard the voice of my Captain in those prophetic words. He was telling me not to worry, that he would lead me through the minefields of this conflict.
     By now, I should have dropped my guard. Instead, I continued to hold back the tears and look unimpressed by the Lord’s loving omniscience.
     Next subject.
     The future. The prophet left the subject of my past and went to my future. These predictions, I think, were meant for me to ponder, not to publish. Since these words were exclusively about the future, they, of course, could not be verified. But because he had gotten four key facts about my past correct and given them a meaningful interpretation, I believed his predictions.
     I should have fallen on my knees like the psalmist, crying out to the nations to give glory to God, but I couldn’t. My façade of indifference remained intact. Maybe it was stubbornness. Maybe it was pride. Or maybe it was some sickness in me that rendered a public display of emotion impossible. But maybe I was just making sure of the prophecy by not giving the prophet any last-minute clues. That way, when it was all over, I would know it was all God, and that I had not influenced any of it.
     Now the prophet was finished with me.
     There was no longer a reason for me to maintain the façade. It was over. The prophet had told me the secrets of my heart. The secret prayer of my ministry. The secret pain of my childhood. The secret frustration of my adolescence. The secret heartsickness of my adulthood. The secret conflict of my present life. With each secret came a promise that gave me freedom from the past and hope for the future. The prophet was real. I wanted to shout for joy to the Lord, but I didn’t know how. Instead, I simply said, “Thanks.”
     When we were walking out of the room, Mike asked me, “Was any of that accurate or meaningful to you?”
     “All of it was right on the money. Couldn’t have been more correct,” I said.
     “You’ve got to be kidding. I was watching your face the whole time. I was sure you thought it was all just a bunch of bull!”
     I walked out of that drab room into a colorful fall day. I was elated with the discovery that prophets were indeed alive and well. I was in love with prophetic ministry. I was ready to articulate its virtues to anyone who would listen.
     I made a more profound discovery that morning, one I could not articulate then. I had worked so hard to overcome the pain of my past, to become somebody special. Others thought I was special, but I felt sick at heart. Then, through the words of the prophet, God’s healing love came to me, reinterpreting my past, present, and future. God told the prophet all about my pain because God wanted me to know that he had always been there. Always. Watching over the little boy robbed of his father, watching over the frustrated athlete, watching over the drunken rebel, and watching over the heartsick scholar. Why? Because I was special to him. That was my discovery. I had preached that truth to others many times. But you can preach a truth without feeling the truth for yourself. Now I felt that I had always been special to him, and feeling this made me love God all the more. Through the prophet God was removing the burden of trying to be special, and he was telling me that I had never needed to look beyond his love to find my significance. Divine romance had just sneaked back into my life, and its calling card was happiness that I felt but could not, at that moment, explain.’
– Jack Deere

Today, I Am Thankful

May 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

Almost exactly a year ago, my aunt invited me to her “kind of charismatic” church’s Bible study, led by the pastor, John Wallace (a graduate of DTS). I was amazed at how solid and Biblically based it was. I wondered how someone could go from graduating from a school like Dallas Theological Seminary to being labeled as”charismatic” (or, “evangimatic”, as he preferred).

Then I visited Kingdom Culture, the church, and was even more amazed by the body of believers there. I had never met a group of people that were all so unified, so loving, and such servants. After just a few weeks, I felt more at home in that church than anywhere else I have been. It was as if I was benefitting from the personal time all of them spent fellowshipping with Jesus, just by being around them. And I truly was. As the Lord poured into them, they poured into me. Their love for and deep relationship with Jesus both excited and greatly challenged me. The Lord used them to catapult me into a season of seeking His face, wanting to know Him deeply, and experiencing Him and His wonders in ways I thought were not possible.

In this past year, I went from being a somewhat cessationist to experiencing and seeing legitimate gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, time and time again. I saw my friends and family be healed of long-lasting pain and incurable diseases. I met people and knew friends that were given the same exact prophetic dreams (in America!). I had friends, my pastor, and complete strangers get incredibly similar or even identical visions from the Lord for me (without knowledge of the similar/identical visions I had received before). Many of these spoke directly to the questions I was secretly asking God the night before, or confirmed the desires and dreams the Lord had been giving me for years (it’s quite strange to have strangers know your heart’s desires (you know, the ones you don’t openly share), down to the exact wording you would have used). I personally experienced various manifestations and things that I cannot even explain. I had various friends who received the gift of tongues and spoke out in languages they had never learned. My pastor, and others, received words of knowledge about strangers they had never met, containing personal information they could have never known. In short, my mind has been blown, as well as the box I personally had put God in for most of my life.

I am thankful that the Lord has shown me all these things He is doing and ways He is moving. But, I am most thankful that He has captured my heart this year in a way that I had struggled and failed to give it to Him for 22 years. Friends, when we seek God, we will FIND Him! And that journey of constant seeking only goes deeper and deeper. Despite all the wonderful things my eyes have been open to, I cannot say that it has been the easiest year. In fact, it has been one of the hardest. I have shed many tears. Tears over rejection, tears over confusion and fear, tears over the hurt of being misunderstood. It has been a hard year, but I would not have it any other way. The Lord has taught me just as much through my pain as He has through His signs and wonders. The more I have given the Lord my heart, the more He has changed my life. I am thankful for all these things.

Today, I am especially thankful for John Wallace and Kingdom Culture. I’m so thankful that the Lord knew exactly what I needed to bring me to this point. Although I have only been in Dallas for a short time in this past year, that church is always near to my heart. Which is as true as it is cheesy. Which means it’s pretty darn true. God is continually a loving and good Father, and has given me a spiritual family I definitely don’t deserve. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

And as I write this, the lyrics of Give Me Your Hand repeat in my mind: “How good it is to know you, God! How lovely is Your Bride.”

Come to Me

August 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Wow. What an incredible last two months it has been! This last Saturday was the last Shabbat I’ll be spending here in Melbourne (as far as I know). It was very bittersweet. Teaching the children has been such a blessing. They are so quick to love. It’s truly a gift to see their excited faces when they spot me at the congregation each week.  This week we sat together in a circle and shared our prayer requests, that I then wrote down in our new prayer journal. As I was explaining why we had a prayer journal, I told the kids, “So then we can look back each week to see if God has answered any of our prayers…” “But!”, Cameron interrupted, “God always answers our prayers!”. Haha. So true. Praise God for the faith of a child.

After working with the kids, I went with the youth to Jahleel’s house, and I got a chance to talk to the youth one last time. As I was reading through the Scriptures last week, asking the Lord what He wanted me to share, I came across the parable of the man who builds  his house on a rock. I couldn’t get this parable and powerful image out of my head, and I knew the Lord wanted me to share this passage and what He had been doing in my life these past two weeks. The Lord really blessed this time, because the kids were silent and wide-eyed the whole time I was talking to them. I knew I had their attention and I knew they were listening. After reading the passage together, I told them about my background. I told them how I grew up with a family who loved the Lord, I had always been very conservative and the “good kid”, I had committed my life to Him, I had loved studying the Bible from early on, I had gone to Bible school, and I was now hoping to do missions overseas. In a very big way, I had built my house on a rock. To any onlooker, I’m sure it would appear that I had completely built my house on the rock. But, it wasn’t true. Though much of my house, my life, and my security was built solely on the Lord, there was always a part of me continually trying to build some of it on the sand. Though I would pray with my mouth, “Lord, I will go overseas and serve you!”, my heart would whisper after, “But, only if I can serve with a loving husband…” Or I would pray, “Lord, rid me of these sins!”, and my heart would add, “But, I’m not ready yet…” I have been somewhat aware of this problem for about two years now. I knew that in someway I was keeping myself from a more dependent, intimate relationship with the Lord, but I didn’t know how to change. I even came up with the idea of living with nuns in a convent for a year. Well, praise God that He didn’t wait around for me to do that! But, I told the kids that two and a half months ago I had prayed for God to do whatever it takes to bring me to a more intimate,  dependent relationship with Him. And that two weeks ago, even though I was not in a good place, and no longer praying that prayer, He chose to answer it. I told them that what He had brought me through these past two weeks had not been easy, but He gave me the peace and joy I needed to get through it. That in these two weeks I have felt more of His presence and His love than I have felt in my entire life. That although it still makes me sad sometimes, I would not choose to be in any other place than where He has me right now. I then challenged the kids to pray the same prayer I did, to ask God to do whatever it takes to bring them to a life of dependency and intimacy with Him. I know that He used my story of His work in me to plant some seeds, please pray with me that God would grow those seeds.

I wanted to share this song with all of you. It is one that I recently found, and I have enjoyed and been blessed by it so much. I have come to truly realize how important it is to fill our minds daily with His truth. (You can click on the title to listen to it!)

Come to Me

I am the Lord your God,
I go before you now
I stand beside you
And I’m all around you
Though you feel I’m far away,
I am closer than your breath
I am with you
More than you know

I am the Lord your Peace
No evil will conquer you
Steady now your heart and mind
Come into my rest
And oh, let your faith arise!
And lift up your weary head!
I am with you
Wherever you go

Come to me, I’m all you need
Come to me, I’m everything
Come to me, I’m all you need
Come to me, I’m your Everything

I am your anchor, in the wind and the waves
And I am your steadfast, so don’t be afraid
Though your heart and flesh may fail you,
I’m your faithful strength!
And I am with you
Wherever you go

Come to me, I’m all you need
Come to me, I’m your Everything
Come to me, I’m all you need
Come to me, I’m your Everything

Don’t look to the right or to the left, keep your eyes on me
You will not be shaken, you will not be moved
I am the hand to hold, I am the truth, I am the way
Just come to me, come to me
Because I’m all that you need

Pruning

August 22, 2012 § 2 Comments

“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit”
(John 15:2)

“And to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19)

Soon after the Lord started the process of this new work in me, I began to wake up in the middle of the night with a deep pain. I had already been waking up around 5am most mornings, but I then started waking up as early as 3am with a pain deep in my chest. At first I assumed this pain was because of heartache, but that never seemed quite right. It wasn’t linked to any one thing or person. At times, it felt as though the Lord was carving out the remaining buildup and residue of the sin I had allowed in my heart for so long. Does this sound painful? Because it was! I remember one night last week, I could not help but call out, “Lord, it hurts!”. But, as I prayed through it, and filled my mind and heart with Him, the pain would go away, and I would go back to sleep. I still wake up this early every night, but it is no longer pain that I feel. The pain has been replaced with a deep yearning. I didn’t realize how strong this feeling was until I participated in the 40 hour famine. That night when I woke up, after fasting for some 33 hours, I felt the difference between my hungry stomach and my yearning spirit. Except, no real comparison could be made, because the hunger I felt was so overshadowed by this feeling deep in my chest. As David writes, “My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You” (Psalm 63:1). I now wake up with a longing to be filled with Him and His truth. And, Praise Him, because there hasn’t been a night where He has not satisfied this thirst.

I found a beautiful song by Misty Edwards called I Am Yours. It is encouraging to hear of a believer who is experiencing similar things, and she has been given an incredible gift.

Though I sleep, my heart is awake
Though it’s night, on You I wait

It’s been a long night, and I am weary
It’s been a long time, and I am hungry
So I’ll wait in the stillness again
I’ll wait in the quiet again

For when I heard Your voice
When You said my name
When I heard Your voice
My heart it yearned

In the middle of the night
In the middle of the night
In the middle of the night
My heart it yearns

I am so thankful for the Lord’s work in us. Just three weeks ago, I was in such a bad place. I can confidently echo Paul’s words — “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). These past two weeks, I have cried much more over conviction and shame of my secret sins and my destructive patterns, than over any heartache or sadness. But, praise God that His love for me was too great to let me continue in these things. And now, in a time  in my life where many think I should be feeling lonely and depressed, I am overwhelmed by His love, His presence, and His joy. And it is because of nothing I did. To Him be the glory.

Today I got to be a part of another amazing outreach to the Russian Jews of Melbourne. About 80 people showed up, and they were able to hear the incredible testimony of Roya. Roya is an Iranian, and the joke that everyone says about her is, “If you don’t know her for her good looks, you know her for her big mouth!” She has a beautiful testimony, and is so passionate about the Lord’s work and the God of Israel. As she started telling her testimony, I felt a strong need to share it with others. I knew that the Lord had done a great work in her and that her story was one that my American friends needed to hear. So I typed vigorously on my iTouch as she talked, trying to get all the details. After she was done telling her story, and I was finished writing everything I could remember, I still felt a burden. Here was an Iranian woman who came to know Jesus, was led to worship in a Messianic congregation, and who has been given a vision to see Jews and Muslims reconciled in Yeshua. Although I have been involved and exposed to many ministries and needs here, I felt like that Lord was telling me that He wanted me to remain involved in this one. But, not by staying here and participating in it. I believe that He has given me the desire to share her story and ministry with American believers and churches. I talked to her about this afterwards, and we are both really excited. She is in the process of writing the story of her testimony and ministry down. Once she is done, I am going to share it with all of you on here, as well as email friends and family, and hopefully be able to speak to some groups about it. I pray that God will use many American believers’ prayers for her and bless her financially. She has recently left her job for this calling and has a lot of need. She is also looking for a pastor to start up a sister-congregation. Please pray for her and her ministry! Also, please remember the Russians in your prayers. One woman came up and asked for general prayer. Another came up and said, “I believe everything you have said”, and is now a follower of Yeshua. Praise Him! God is truly at work in this place.

Listening

August 19, 2012 § 3 Comments

I’ve been teaching swimming lessons for six or seven years now. In my classes, there was usually a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio. In all my many classes, I often saw a certain “type” of student show up. This child would generally be very excited to be in the water and would often take a liking to me. In their excitement, they would try to “show off” the entire class. Here I was, trying to teach them important skills, survival, and safety; yet, instead of listening, they would be jumping up and down and trying to get me to watch the little tricks that they could do. “Look at me, Miss Rachel!” “Miss Rachel, watch THIS!” “See how I can put my whole body in the water?!” “Look at how I can touch the bottom!”. While this could be endearing at times, it was often much more frustrating. I was trying to get them to listen to me. I was trying to teach them something so much more important than little tricks. I didn’t want to see them put their whole bodies in the water or touch the bottom… I wanted to see them swim across the pool. Eventually, I would end up having to pick them up and sit them on the edge of the pool. Sometimes I even had to gently hold their heads so that they were forced to pay attention to my words and learn what I was teaching.

I think that for my whole life, or the far majority of the time, I have been this child. From a pretty early age, I understood how important our faith was. I knew that I didn’t want to be a “Sunday Christian” and I knew that I did not want to settle for a shallow life. I wanted to please God. I so earnestly wanted to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. And the more I participated in ministry, the more I read my Bible, and the more teaching I received, the more I wanted to please Him. “Lord, look at this!” “Do you see this Bible study I am in?” “Father, see how I can teach these kids?!” “God, I’m going to Bible school!” “Lord, I’m going to serve you in a third-world country!”. As I’m sure you know, I do not believe any of these things are bad. But, I also think I have greatly missed out on something. As I was running around, trying to work for Him and trying to please Him, I imagine that He was just sitting there watching me. Smiling and shaking His head at times. He didn’t need me to do these things for Him. He doesn’t need us to do anything for Him. Instead of running around crazily, He wanted me to just sit at His feet. Patiently sit before Him, get to know Him, and learn to wait on Him. I was not made merely to serve Him and I was not made to serve man. I was made to worship Him. To bring “pleasure, joy, and fellowship to God”, as Tozer would say. Out of this worship, and out of this relationship, service will surely come. But it all will be in His timing and with His leading. And, this can be no cop-out and no easy task. The pursuit of God is hard. For someone as independent as I am, who always desires to feel “useful”, it can be incredibly hard. I look back and I see the many times I started to hear His voice. I heard Him start to speak, or saw Him reach out His hand; but, instead of stopping, I jumped back in the water. Too distracted by selfishness or service. And now, God has finally, and lovingly, picked me out of the water, grabbed the sides of my head, and made me pay attention to Him. And now, finally, I am listening.

I cannot thank you all enough for your prayers for me. I know that God has used them. This past Shabbat, I only had two girls in my class. It turned out to be the biggest blessing. I was able to really disciple them, instead of just talk at them. I was able to ask them about their personal relationships with God, and pray for and over each of them. And, we got to work on a project of building a model of the Second Temple, which they really enjoyed. I spent the rest of Saturday, and a good part of Sunday with the youth group, doing the 40 Hour Famine. I so desire to see these kids hunger for God the way they hungered for food. I want to see them desire to be filled with the Spirit.

I only have ten days left. It is amazing how fast this time has passed. Please pray that God continually grows my desire for Him. I want so desperately to know His voice and seek His face. Pray that I would be able to finish my work here and glorify Him in all that I do. And pray for the kids and the youth, that they would truly grow to seek the Lord.

When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, O LORD, I shall seek.” (Psalm 27:8)

I strongly encourage you all to read The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer! One of the Kindle editions is free. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the Kindle app for your computer or iTouch/iPhone to read it. http://www.amazon.com/The-Pursuit-of-God-ebook/dp/B004TQ8GP2/ref=tmm_kin_title_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1345417843&sr=1-1

Take More

August 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

While last week was one of the hardest weeks I’ve had in awhile, this week has been one of the most rewarding. Although I haven’t been in the office, with the kids, or participating in any of the various ministries in Melbourne, I truly feel that I have learned more this week than any of the others. I essentially spent the last four days on my own, with the Lord, and in His creation. I wouldn’t trade this time for anything, and everything I’ve been through to get me here has been well worth it. It has been so good to simply rest in Him. To play the role of Mary, when my whole life I have been much more of a Martha.

Of all the places I went to and the things I saw, Manly Beach was by far my favorite. And, not just because of its name.

If you look to the right, there’s actually a walkway that most people take to walk around the beach. I wondered why I was the only one walking across the huge rocks instead. It’s much more fun that way.

The reason I loved this beach so much, was because I truly met with God there in a special way. I loved Sydney because of its beauty, but I will  miss it because of sweet times I had there with Him. I can’t really explain the peace and the joy that I found in this place. Feeling the cool wind, I was reminded of His love. Hearing the crashing waves, I was reminded of His power. Being in a place like this, seeing the mighty works of His hands, how could I not desire Him more? I have not been gone from Sydney for more than twelve hours and already I ache to go back. I miss being with Him there.

While sitting on these rocks, I asked the Lord for a psalm to read. He told me “Psalm 37”. Now, I’d like to say that my response was, “Thanks, Lord!”, but it was more like, “Okay. But, what if that’s one of those weird psalms where David talks about wanting to kill his enemy’s babies?” But, of course, it wasn’t. It was beautiful and encouraging. I’m not going to post the whole psalm, because it is long, but here are a few passages from it. Praise Him.

“Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!…

Better is the little that the righteous has
than the abundance of many wicked.
 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
but the Lord upholds the righteous.

The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will remain forever;
 they are not put to shame in evil times;
in the days of famine they have abundance…

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way;
 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand.

I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or his children begging for bread.
He is ever lending generously,
and his children become a blessing…

The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.”

I thank you all for your prayers and precious encouragement. I know that God has used all of it, and all of you, to mold me. I wish that I would have been at this point at the beginning of my trip. I wish that I could say that I have spent this internship fully trusting in His strength and seeking His way, but I have not. So much of this trip has been done in selfishness and my own strength. I am so sorry for not being a good steward of His blessings, and your prayers and resources. I am just thankful that He has used me here regardless, and that He will continue to use me in these next two weeks. Please pray that my focus would be on Him and that He would guide me.

I want to challenge all of you to pray the prayer that God put in my heart two months ago. Pray that He would do whatever it takes to rid you of your sin and draw you closer to Him. His answer might be painful, and it could be incredibly hard, but it will be worth it. It is always worth it. And now, after going through His loving discipline, my heart’s desire is only to ask for more. As I sit before Him, basking in His love and presence, I only ask that He will take even more from me. Every sin. Every hindrance. Every distraction.

O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that so I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.

-A.W. Tozer

 

Love

August 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

As some of you know, because of my public life of Facebook, my very serious boyfriend and I broke up yesterday. It has been a very hard few  weeks, but I so feel that the Lord protected me and has kept me in His love through it all. Earlier this week, I was so full of the love and joy of the Lord, I found myself praying and singing out loud as I walked to the office. Yesterday morning, the verse that God gave me was Romans 8:38-39, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He even confirmed this with the children’s lesson this week. Not only was this verse the verse the children learned and memorized for the day (which another leader was teaching, and I had totally forgotten about), but the craft for the day was a shield with the words “God’s Love” on it. I write these things with tears streaming down my face, so thankful for a loving God. So thankful that the God of the universe cares about a sinner and unfaithful servant like me. So thankful that He protects me and shields me with His love.

I am still confused as to what the Lord is doing in my life. I don’t fully understand how the things He has told me matches up with the things He is doing. However, I am excited for how He is already using this to change me. I have no doubt that He wants me to use this time in my life to get rid of all the sins, big and small, that I have been holding onto. To “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” so that I may better run this race with perseverance. I was reading this passage in Hebrews 12 earlier this week, as well as the rest of the chapter. These words are such an encouragement to me: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?  If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline —then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all…God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Holiness, righteousness, and peace are worth any discipline and hardship. Thank you, Father.

In God’s goodness and perfect timing, it was planned for me to leave today to spend four days in Sydney. I truly believe that this is an absolute gift from God and a much needed break. I am so thankful for the opportunity to get away, to be in a beautiful city, and to rest in His presence.

Please pray for me. Pray that God would give me a peace in my heart, mind, spirit, and soul about what He is doing. Pray that I would trust Him and His plan. Also, pray for a quick recovery. I have recently been getting sick. I have not been able to eat or sleep much, and I have had a cough and what seems to be the start of an ear infection.

I love this quote by Elizabeth Elliot, “I have one desire now – to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my energy and strength into it”. This is truly my desire and prayer.

Tisha B’Av

August 3, 2012 § 1 Comment

Sorry about falling behind in updating, it has been pretty busy over here.

A few weeks ago I started to have an itchy head. I checked for lice/dandruff, but didn’t see anything white, so I assumed it was an allergy or something else. After a week of being itchy, I decided I should check my hair again. This time I brushed my hair over a colored towel, and low and behold, I saw some little black bugs. I’ve never had lice before, so this experience was all new to me. Praise God, I was advised on the best shampoo and lotion to use, was able to wash my things, and I am now lice free! I am so thankful that this was not the difficult and dramatic experience it could have been.

2. Last week was Tisha B’Av. This is a Jewish fast day on the 9th of Av, the same day the first and second temple were destroyed. It was a joy to teach the children about both temples and how sad it was for Israel to lose both of them. It was even more of a joy to talk to the children about how God allowed the second temple to be destroyed soon after Yeshua had left the earth. Although many Jewish people mourn because they think God’s presence has left the earth and because we have no way to sacrifice, we can know that neither is true! God has not left us in the dark to figure out, on our own, a way to have a relationship with Him. Throughout Scripture and history, He has never done such a thing. God allowed this to happen because He had already provided a new, better way. An eternal sacrifice, and a Spirit through which we always have access to His presence. His ways are truly wonderful.

Please remember the Jewish people. Last week they were mourning and fasting. Pray that God would open their eyes to His revealed way, that they would come to know their Messiah.

2. This past week I also joined the youth. We tried to have a very serious time of talking about what Yeshua has done and about the relationship we can have with Him. To be honest, it was really frustrating. The majority of the kids were so distracted, and were talking, making noise, or just not paying attention during the discussion. Afterwards, we had a time of open prayer, where we tried to pray for each other. Besides Jahleel and I, only one other person wanted to pray (out of nine or ten). Although there are a few who are seeking God, the group at large is so disconnected from Him. Please pray for them. I want to see them have a passion and hunger to know the God of the universe, and I know He wants that as well.

3. From now on, I am handing over the teaching to the people who normally teach. This week I gave a member of the congregation the story and verse to teach the kids. I will still be doing the songs and craft, to help her out. The following weeks, I am hoping to just sit back and observe how the parents and leaders do with the curriculum. Please pray that this would be a smooth transition! Also, please pray that more people would volunteer.

4. Yesterday, I had the amazing opportunity to help the congregation hand out food to people living in government housing. A member of the congregation gave heaps (a word commonly used here) of fruits and vegetables, and even some bread, for us to bag and hand out. It was so good to get out of the office and do some hands-on ministry. Most of the people were older Russian Jews, many of whom come to the Russian outreach once a month. Please pray for these people!

5. By God’s grace, I am able to visit Sydney in two weeks and stay for four days. I was not planning on this at all, and I am so thankful that I am able to go for a really low price. I look forward to seeing some of the ministry happening there and experiencing such a great city!

Charts and Commitments

July 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

This past week has been really great. I stayed up really late Friday night and woke up early Friday morning to finish making these..

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They may look simply, but they took hours to make. I’m really happy with them, though, and I hope these and the rest I make will be good tools for the congregation to use once I leave.

One of the challenges of teaching the kids at this congregation is how inconsistent everything is. There are never the same amount of kids, the same ages, etc. My first week we had eight kids, pretty evenly split between boys and girls, ages from 5-10. This past week I had four girls 8-11. Because of this, I had to change some of the things we did and the way that I taught on the spot. I think it went well, though. We talked about the call of Abraham and the promises he was given. Because of the promise that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, we all colored and put together 3D stars. I also started to teach them the Aleph-Bet and Am Yisrael Chai songs. They picked both up pretty well and really seemed to enjoy it.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot is how to get the parents more involved and committed. I had an Israeli mom talk to me today about wanting to have a sort of kids choir with Hebrew music. She had some great ideas, but they would take someone who would be willing to commit and work with the kids every week. She, like many of the other parents, are not consistent in their attendance. This is usually because the congregation is too far or because it does not offer what they want for their children. Because I will only be here a short time, there’s really very little I can do to make a lasting impact if more of the parents don’t get on board. We do have a group of very sweet people that are teaching once a month, but I really believe that these kids need more consistency in the leaders if we are going to expect them and their families to have consistency in their attendance. The Lord knows all of this, and I trust that if He wants to raise up a worker to be over the children’s ministry long term here, then He will. Please join with me in praying for this.

 

Today, one of the teens from the ski trip will be coming to the office to meet with Jahleel and I. She wants to learn more about God and who He is before she is baptized. Praise God for this! Pray that this fire does not burn out.