I think Switzerland is the most beautiful spot on earth.  Perhaps that has something to do with being born in one of the flattest, driest, most featureless landscapes imaginable:  the panhandle of Texas.  The first time I saw a picture of a high mountain meadow, I was in love.  How can anyone doubt the Artist’s existence when they see the work of His hands?

From Milan, Switzerland sits enticingly close—just about an hour away.  Often when the summer in Milan leaves me feeling crushed with the heat, humidity, and shortened tempers, Right, my strength doesn’t come from the mountains, but God put me close enough to the mountains to go get some much-needed relief from the heat of a Milan summer.  “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?” (Psalm 121:1).  I’ve lived in Milan off and on since the summer of 2001.  Switzerland has been my favorite summer destination for the past 11 years now.  In fact, I even wrote about the beauty of Switzerland’s summer meadows in an article for The American Magazine (http://www.theamericanmag.com/article.php?feature=travel&column=70&article=1552&button=+).

So, being May, with summer swiftly coming upon us, when my friend, Anastasia, told me that she’s going to Switzerland, my ears perked up.  She’s meeting a friend from Russia who is going to Switzerland for in vitro fertilization.  Anastasia asked me to pray for her friend to become pregnant, and of course, I said that I would.

Then I remembered something I had read:  that Switzerland is the world’s number one suicide tourist destination.  The reason for this is that in 1941 Swiss voters determined that ending one’s life is a human right.  Therefore, one doesn’t have to prove a terminal diagnosis in order to legally end their life in Switzerland.  And there is an organization that will help foreign visitors end their lives.  There are active pro-euthanasia groups in Italy, but between the political dominance of the Catholic Church and the proximity of Switzerland, it is extremely doubtful that Italy would embrace assisted suicide.  Every year about 200 foreigners legally commit suicide in Switzerland.

Pro-Euthanasia Billboard in Milan, the large print reads: Let me die in peace.

I thought about the contrast of going to Switzerland because of the hope for life when so many go there seeking release from a life they consider hopeless.  I do fervently pray that Anastasia’s friend will become pregnant.

“I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains?  No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains,” (Psalm 121:1-2, The Message).  God is a god of life and hope.  I say to Switzerland:  Choose life!

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“Many, many Christians are pregnant, but never give birth.”  Bella’s eyes held me as she gripped her middle.  This little African woman could easily fool you into thinking that she’s weak.  The truth, I was discovering, is that she’s a fierce warrior—a prayer warrior.

“They are pregnant with a dream that God has given them, but at the first sign of resistance, they give up.”

“Buy why?” I wanted to know, “Why on earth would they give up on a God-given dream?”

She shrugged, “Who knows?  Laziness?  They take their eyes off of Jesus?  They get tired of praying?”  She shrugged again.

Despite the late hour, I felt like somebody had plugged me into the electricity.  My spirit told me:  “This is important!”

Bella had just finished telling me about how she had come to possess the House of Prayer in her city.  The house had been a church, but one in which the leadership had clearly gotten off on the wrong track.  Frankly, I don’t remember the details, but when Bella began telling me about the pastor’s pharaoh-like resistance to her efforts to use the house weekly as a House of Prayer, I began to be really interested.

From a purely human perspective, he seemed to be so stubbornly-entrenched that Bella would never be able to use the house, not even for an hour.  But that’s when Bella strapped on her armor and went to war—on her knees.  Each time she talked to the pastor, he dug-in even tighter, and Bella prayed ever-harder.  After several weeks, the pastor abandoned the house, and the rental agent called Bella to ask if she was still interested in renting the house.  Bella didn’t know how she would pay the rent, but she knew that God had given her the house, so He would also provide the rent money.  The church continues to meet there, but with a different pastor.  The rest of the time, it is a dedicated House of Prayer.

Here’s the thing:  when it’s a God-given dream, we need to be willing to pray it through to victory.  The think we often don’t realize that victory is certain.  When we partner with God, what can possibly stop us?  Finances?  People?  The devil?  Nothing!  Nothing can stop us when we are praying for a God-given dream.

So why do we have to labor in prayer?  I’ve wondered this, myself.  In large part, I believe it’s because enemy resistance slows the manifestation of the God-given dream, as in when the angel appeared to Daniel 10:12-13:

Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.  But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. “

Enemy resistance slows, but cannot stop God’s answer to our prayers.  And we need to understand that our prayers are helping the angels do battle in the heavenlies on our behalf.  But make no mistake about it:  God’s perfect timing will prevail.  If the dream is delayed, rest assured that it will never be late.

Understand this:  the only way the enemy can possibly win is if we give up.  So he throws obstacles into our path and whispers discouragement into our ears—many times through the lips of those we love and trust.  Unfortunately, this is often enough to stop Christians.  As Bella said, they are pregnant with a God-given dream, but never deliver.

Is your dream a God-given dream?  Here’s how you will know:  a God-given dream will always be something that saves souls.  II Peter 3:8-9 explains waiting on a God-given dream:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

A God-given dream will always result in people being saved.  That is God’s chief desire, and when your desire matches His, nothing can possibly stop you.  Don’t waste your time praying for something that is for your flesh, some temporary want—a fancy car, a plasma screen TV, that particular man or woman you want to marry (God will never make someone love you or want to marry you).  “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures,” (James 4:3).

Likewise, don’t waste your time laboring in prayer for God to give you what is already yours.  All the things promised to God’s children:  health, provision, patience, etc.  Those are already yours.  Instead, begin to ask God what is preventing you from receiving those things.  Often it is just a matter of having weak faith (sorry, but it’s true).  Faith is a muscle that must be exercised.  And faith comes from having the Word of God inside you.  Shut off the world (TV, radio, internet, and unchristian books) and get into the Bible–get the Bible into you.  On your daily commute instead of listening to secular music on the radio, listen to the Bible on CD or a Bible-based Christian teaching.  As you get the Word of God inside you, your faith can’t help but grow, and with it an understanding of your rights and privileges a child of God.

Have you ever looked at the moon and “held” it between your thumb and forefinger?  The moon is huge, but it’s far enough away to look very small.  The closer you are to the moon, the bigger it will become in your sight, until finally it’s big enough to stand on.  It’s the same with God.  If the problem seems bigger than God, it’s because you’re closer to the problem than you are to God.

Back to the moon:  seen in scale, the moon is tiny next to the earth; and the earth is tiny next to the sun.  The sun is a mere speck on the outer arm of our galaxy, and there are literally billions of galaxies, each containing billions of stars.  And God holds it all in His hand.  How big is your God?  Maybe you just need to get closer to Him.

I’m pregnant with a God-given dream, and I am praying and fasting to see it through to victory.  Bella has an enormous God, and I want to have her kind of faith.

Tithing is an important principle that many Christians misunderstand.  Tithing was established in Genesis 14:18-20 when Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything he had.  Melchizedek was the King of Salem and a priest of God Almighty.  Hebrews chapters 5 and 6 explain that Jesus is our high priest in the order of Melchizedek.  And tithing is the key to blessings, as explained in Malachi 3:10, which says:

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

Many Christians don’t realize (or just don’t like the fact) that tithing is not optional.  Giving ten percent of our income is our part of the covenant with God.  And many fail to understand the importance of doing the tithe correctly.  Ten percent is the minimum, and it must be the first fruits (Exodus 23:19).  In other words, as soon as you’re paid, before you write a check for the rent or mortgage, car payment, groceries, or other bills, first you give a tenth of your income to God.

That’s where a lot of people make a tragic mistake.  They think of it as giving to the church (a frequently flawed human institution).  In reality, they are giving back to God from what He has given them.  And it’s funny, but a ten percent grocery store coupon seems hardly worth the trouble, but ten percent of your income seems enormous.  They give what they can or they give whatever’s left after all the bills are paid.  Then they wonder why they are still struggling financially.  It’s because they are giving God their leftovers.  The rich people in Luke 21:1-4 were giving God their leftovers, but the widow gave sacrificially.  Ten percent off the top is so hard to do that many Christians just don’t do it.  Have you ever noticed the number of coins and one-dollar bills that go by in the offering basket?  Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you,” (Luke 6:38).

This past year my income was cut in half, but I never felt the pinch.  When I learned that my income would be significantly less, I gave the problem to God and continued to do everything I needed to do in our ministry:  travel, meet with missionaries over coffee or a meal, etc.  In fact, I didn’t waste any time wondering if God would provide.  You see, His Word says that He is my Provider, and crazy as that sounds, I believe it.  I’m a faithful tither, and I believed that He would open the windows of Heaven for me.  When I returned to the US with Christmas and all my big bills coming due (property taxes, registration and inspection on the car, etc.), my brother informed me that our Grandfather’s second wife had died.  That dear lady remembered us in her will, and left enough to make up for the shortfall, but not enough to be taxable.  I could never have predicted where the money would come from, and never dreamed that she would leave something for us in her will.

I had other expenses at that time, too, because I needed to do a lot of traveling in the US in order to attend missions conferences and speak at churches about missions in Europe.  Where would the money for travel and conferences come from?  I didn’t know, but I knew that God would provide.  Since I would be out of the country for several months, I had some valuable Indian pottery that I wrapped up and left at my brother’s house before returning to Europe.  Just before returning home, my brother’s house burned down.  My pottery miraculously survived the collapse of the house, but the black-on-black glaze that had made these three pieces valuable and unique was burned off.  I didn’t want to make a claim on his insurance because my brother literally lost everything, so my claim was on my own homeowner’s insurance.  The insurance company carefully investigated, photographed, ordered an appraisal, and discovered the value of the pottery, which was far more than I had ever imagined.  The insurance claim more than paid the expense of travel.

But that’s not all:  my brother and sister-in-law, now without their house, had moved into my house.  They knew that I intended to sell my house, so they helped me clean it out, repair it, and get it ready to sell.  We came across a collection of wheat pennies that my father had left me.  I had taken the collection to a coin dealer several years before, so I didn’t think my chances of selling the collection was very good because wheat pennies are not very valuable or rare.  Still, I took it to a coin dealer with a reputation for being honest and fair.  His reaction was more or less what I expected.  He said a wheat penny is worth 1½ cents—not really worth his time.  Then I remembered that at the bottom of the sack there was one penny in a plastic holder.  I pulled it out and his eyes popped.  He grabbed his coin book and looked it up.  He showed me what the book said and offered me $650 for the whole collection.

Sometime later, I had attended all but the last conference, which was scheduled for the week before my return to Europe.  I had the feeling that this conference was important, but two things bothered me:  I hadn’t had any communication from them, even after numerous e-mail inquiries—possibly it had been cancelled!  The conference was in Halifax, Canada, and the cost to fly there was about $600.  Nevertheless, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was important for me to go, so I prayed about it again, asking God if He really wanted me to go, and pointing out the cost.  Immediately He responded, “The cost for you is only a penny.”  I laughed, and it still makes me laugh.  I love that God has a sense of humor!

A speaker at the conference in Canada said this:  “Some of you are laboring to have Ishmael, when God wants you to sit quietly and wait for Isaac.”  I got Isaac (financial provision), through no effort of my own.  I didn’t even wear God’s ears out with praying for provision.

We serve a supernatural God.  Therefore it is right to expect supernatural help.  I know it seems crazy, but for us it should be the usual thing.  Sometimes we must wrestle with God for our blessing, yes, even when it seems like He has said no.  If you wrestle in prayer, there will come a moment when you feel something shift.  Either God is ready to drop that provision into your lap or God will give you something far better.  When you feel the shift, begin to expect it!  Thank Him for it even before your eyes see it.  God’s provision, though rarely early, is never late.

People call me courageous and faith-filled.  My answer is that faith comes by hearing the Word of God.  If you feel your faith sagging, then shut out all other voices:  television (yes, even the news!), non-Christian music, and non-Christian reading material) and concentrate only on what God is saying to you—primarily through His Word and also through other Christian resources.  Turn on the Christian music and keep it on—especially anything that sings of the Scriptures.

Go spend time with a mighty prayer warrior.  Let her faith shore up yours.  Ask for her prayers and listen to how she prays.  Pray according to her example.  Then watch what God does.

Decide now to accept God’s supernatural provision.  That will be key to receiving it.  Stop laboring for Ishmael and open your arms to receive Isaac.

Faith grows in the midst of a crisis.  “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:5).  Be strong and courageous!  It takes courage to believe in the midst of the crisis, but I tell you God will not fail you!

Greetings from Biella, Italy!  Biella is about 50 miles north of Turin in the beautiful mountains of northern Italy.

Last night I was invited to dinner at the home of friends here.  Salvatore was raised in an Evangelical Christian family.  So unlike most Italians, he was never Catholic.  But like most of us, he nevertheless bears the scars of the world. 

He told us about his “lost” years, when he was a wild youth, partying, drinking, and taking foolish risks.  Then he spoke about his passion for music, how he had always dreamed of conducting; and how that dream was very nearly quashed by his father’s angry words.  He said that he would be playing the drums, dreaming away when he was nine years old.  His father would take the drum set and throw them out the window, saying to Salvatore:  “You’ll never amount to anything with these drums.”  As he spoke, his eyes filled with tears—more than 30 years later, the pain of the memory was still fresh. 

He said that he had wanted to go to university for a major in music, but his parents wouldn’t sign the papers because of financial concerns.  Then when he had been working a while, he tried again, only to be told he was too old.  His shoulders sagged with remembered disappointment.

Now Salvatore is the conductor of the worship team at church.  He is a very talented musician.  He told about how he had consulted a professional technician about the set up for a concert the church was putting on.  The technician had worked for Vasco Rossi, one of the top stars on the Italian music scene.  When he looked at how Salvatore had set up the master board, he said the only thing he would do differently would be to label the inputs.  He smiled at the confirmation of this professional. 

My comment was this:  “Salvatore, obviously you have a Master’s Degree from God’s University of Music.  What more could a human university do for you?”  As he reflected upon my words, he agreed that God had done more for him than any piece of paper from a university.

I think we parents must be very careful about the things we say to our children.  Salvatore had been so wounded by his parents’ words and actions that he was unable to see God’s stamp of approval upon him.  And I doubt he would have wandered into that dark underworld of alcohol abuse and risky behavior if he had gotten the approval and support of his parents.

Jesus said that we will be called to account for every idle word we speak (Matthew 12:35-37).  Perhaps his father was just having a bad day, which he’s no doubt forgotten about now.  But look at the hurt inflicted.  Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”  For good or evil, our words have power.  Listen to how you speak to your children and others that you love.  Make your words sweet, empowering, and full of love.  The future is not in your hands, it’s in your mouth.

This time last year I was in St. Peter’s Basilica for the Easter afternoon service.  The sermon was all about salvation in Jesus Christ.  I was surprised to hear that there was nothing about works or Jesus’ mother (who the Italians love to distraction).  Tonight I just returned from a cell group meeting of an historic church here in Milan.  It was one of the most anointed meetings I’ve ever attended.  Except for a few Catholic terms (parish, priest, and mass, for example), it was indiscernible from any other cell group meeting.  Tonight’s subject:  Seeking the Holy Spirit’s Help to Forgive.

I returned to Italy Saturday evening, and like always, I found myself really wanting to settle down again in Milan.  My ministry requires a lot of travel, but I really do need a place of my own.  My friends have been incredibly supportive:  one friend and his family hosted my kitty, Boo-Boo for most of this past year (until her death of cancer).  Another friend has let me store most of my things in his garage.  Yet another has let me use her apartment as a landing spot between ministry trips.  And many other friends always have a couch or bed that I can use for a few nights whenever I come their way.  Has anyone ever been more blessed than me?  I don’t think so!

This time last year I was packing my things to put them into storage.  Now I feel the need for an apartment where I can get to the things I need without having to ask my friend to unlock his garage for me.  I would also like to have a place where I can come and go at whatever hour without worrying that I’ll disturb someone.  You know how it is.  So I am looking for an apartment, but not only for myself.  It has been in my heart to open a guesthouse here in Milan where I can host visiting missionaries and pastors.  Milan is strategically located for travel throughout the continent, being pretty much central to Western Europe.  It’s also super-connected with 3 airports and many more train stations.  The guesthouse would also serve as a House of Prayer for Europe.  I would love to share this burden for Europe with those who pass through.

This time last year I was getting ready to go on a Faith Trip because I had gotten ahead of God.  Now I’m carefully seeking Him for guidance as I look for an apartment.  But I am still flexible enough to be ready to go whenever and wherever He leads.

What a difference a year makes!

The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.’ ”  Leviticus 19:1-2

This passage comes in the middle of the Bible’s longest list of “thou shalt not’s.”  This week I got the sad news that my kitty had to be put down.  But even sadder was word from a missionary in Italy who told me of a church she had visited where all the thou shalt not’s are still imposed—with several additions–as though the veil was never torn.

You may be wondering how that is sadder news than the death of my beloved kitty.  It is sadder news because my kitty had a good life.  She was staying with trusted friends who loved her.  When they learned of an inoperable tumor in her lungs, they did not allow her to suffer.

Yet all the freedoms given to us by grace through the death of Jesus Christ have been denied to these dear believers.  They live as slaves or prisoners of their faith, instead of living as beloved and forgiven children of God.  They have been told that they cannot possibly understand the Bible without a theologian to interpret it for them.  The pastor of this church called it presumption to claim the Biblical promises.  Men are separated from women during the worship services, and the women must wear veils in church.  The teens were forbidden to fraternize with unbelievers.

All this is so tragic.  No wonder people grasp at New Age, Buddhism, Witchcraft, or anything else that seems to offer both freedom and spirituality.   Often they just give up on God altogether, expecting to find freedom in a hedonistic lifestyle.  Slavery is slavery, whether it’s to sin or to human-imposed rules.

Find true freedom in Jesus Christ.  And when the bad stuff happens, like the death of a beloved pet, you can have peace in your heart.  Let’s pray that the pastor of that church receives a revelation from the Lord about freedom, even the freedom to occasionally slip.

Sunday night at my home church’s Super Bowl party I had a moment with one of my pastors.  She told me how poorly she had slept the night before, so I prayed for her.

This is what I do in ministry:  I listen and respond in prayer.  The only difference is that my mission field is Europe, so that is where the ministry mostly happens.  She was very moved by my simple prayer, and the fact that I cared enough to pray for her.

In praying for her again today, I realized that I’m really glad I’m called as a missionary, and not a pastor.  Pastors probably have the most difficult ministry in all the kingdom of God because they are constantly sought after.  There are always some people in the church who seek them out for prayer and counseling on every issue in their lives.  Pastors encounter those who can be dysfunctional in their relationships and even mentally or emotionally unstable and demanding.  Pastors know better than anybody that not everybody who attends church is seeking a closer relationship with God.

Additionally, being a pastor is like drawing a big bull’s eye on yourself because you are the enemy’s primary target.  If he can take down the pastor, he can potentially destroy many others as well.

Wise pastors construct a godly team of people that they can delegate to handle the day-to-day issues and problems of the flock.  Indeed, my pastors are very wise.  They are also very accessible and caring people, refusing to hide themselves behind a wall of leaders, as some pastors do.  I am not criticizing pastors who are less accessible, but rather, stating a sad fact.  I have no doubt that many have been forced to retreat from interactions that could jeopardize their ministry and time with their families.

How can you care for your pastors?

  1. Pray for him or her.  People are always seeking their pastors for prayer; instead keep your pastor in prayer daily.  Pray for your pastor’s health, safety, family, finances (many are forced to work a second job), relationships, ministry (guidance and wisdom for leading the church), and anything else that you know about or are lead to pray about.
  2. Respect the “process” your church has for communication.  When I was called as a missionary, I contacted my pastors directly for the very first time because I knew that I would need the support of my church.  If I had been less sure of my call, I would have first talked with my small group leaders about it.  Be aware of the process in your church.  In some cases, you should talk to your small group leaders, or perhaps an elder or a deacon, and let them talk to the pastor.
  3. Be a friend.  When you do have a moment with your pastor, say something encouraging and/or supportive.  Let your pastor know that you are someone who cares for them.  One thing I frequently do is quote my pastor from the sermon.  In fact, I did it again Sunday night—and the pastor overheard me.  I just smiled and said, “Yes, I really do quote you all the time!”
  4. Get involved.  Remember what a tremendous burden the pastor carries.  It is unrealistic to expect the pastor to do everything in the church.  Your pastor is always praying for you, among all the others of your congregation.  Your pastor is also seeking God’s wisdom and guidance for the church.  There is so much more to pastoring than just giving a sermon on Sunday.  If your church has a team of intercessors, consider joining it.  If you are not involved at your church, pray about how God wants you to be involved.  My pastor says, “We’re not called to go to church, but to be the church.”  (Yes, I really do quote the pastor!)

How is God calling you to be the church?