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Texas, Faith, and Grief

IrmaMy wife, Dawn, recently had an odd experience that featured Texas. When I say she had an experience, I mean the type of experience where you are hearing things explained while you are in that in-between place. I often have those type of experiences when I am just falling asleep, or just waking up (the in-between state), and hear a few snippets about something. I’ve learned over the years, and so has Dawn, to grab on to the things we hear at that time so that we remember them. When she gets these snippets, they are often about things that give us opportunity to look at current events, even awful events, in a slightly different way. I’m certainly not saying that she gets the full picture or details of things, but the things she gets often give us alternative views to ponder as we look at the world around us.

Last Saturday, in an in-between moment, she got several different snippets about the South, and one on a related note about Texas. Obviously, Texas has come into the national consciousness because of the awful events that occurred in Sutherland Springs, but that happened a day later. Texas was not in our thoughts last week, and although we live in South Florida, we don’t live in the South. Any true southerner could easily testify to that fact.

The first thing she heard was that there is a big ball of anger growing in the South. Then she heard that the Lord had tried to put out some of that anger through the floods that have been hitting Texas over the past couple years, and especially through Hurricane Harvey this year.

When she told me what she had heard, I was puzzled. I don’t view floods as a pressure relief valve. If anything, I would think that they exacerbate anger because they threaten lives and do lots of damage to property. But as I thought this, I had a clear picture of what happened during Harvey. I remembered the news stories about the people of Texas helping each other; I remembered the Cajun Navy arriving to help. I remembered how people cheered each other on to help others; and then I understood.

We all know the anger that is growing in our nation. There is a clash of world views taking place that is separating families, friends, and neighbors. If the news reports are accurate, we just saw a sitting United States senator attacked by a normally well-respected and rational neighbor for his political positions. This past summer we saw congressmen (and those tasked to help them) shot for their political affiliation while practicing for a congressional baseball game. These things are not normal. But there is a growing anger in our country. It is building, and as a result, some will act out of their anger, targeting perceived threats to their wellbeing and their beliefs.

Of course, this same clash of world views is happening in Texas and the South, just like virtually everywhere else in our country. But the floods that Texas experienced certainly quelled that anger, if even for a brief moment. When I saw the news clips of people risking their lives to rescue those who were trapped in the floods, I noted that no one was asking for anyone’s worldview, their political beliefs, or their position on hot button issues before deciding to help. People of different ethnic and religious backgrounds helped each other. People who had different political views pitched in to rescue those who were in danger. They recognized their shared humanity, and reached out to help. For that brief moment the ball of anger was diminished.

As Dawn came out of that experience, she had one more snippet. She saw into the spirit realm and was shown an evil being. She knew this being’s job is to stir things up in Texas, and cause confusion whenever Christians there are wrestling and praying over major issues. If there is a threat that Christians might be approaching a breakthrough against a stronghold, such as the growing anger, his job is to do everything he can to plug the breach those folks are causing. As she was coming out of that experience, she knew intercessors needed to target this being because of the damage he is capable of doing.

Since we recognize that God often uses these in-between snippets to stir up prayer, we prayed about these things even as we discussed them. As a result, when we heard about the awful things that happened in Sutherland Springs, we couldn’t help but believe that the Lord had shown us some spiritual things behind the scenes. If ever we wanted to see behind the scenes, this was one such time. The plain facts were overwhelming. A close-knit church family lost twenty-six of its members and friends, including men, women, and children, to a violently angry man who had lost any remnants of his compassion, or his sanity. It is difficult to contemplate such horror and bloodshed without being overwhelmed by the tragedy.

Throughout this week, I have been praying for the people of Sutherland Springs, asking that the God of all comfort meet them. At the same time, because of the behind-the-scenes glimpse, I have been wondering what that little community of faith was doing that so panicked the spiritual agents of darkness that they felt it necessary to move against them. I have been remembering what Dawn heard on Saturday. Whenever Christians are effectively wrestling against evil by living for righteousness, there are evil spiritual forces stirred against them. This idea of wrestling is biblical terminology for living the opposite of whatever negative behavior is on display. In the case of growing anger and separation, it would usually manifest by obvious expressions of love and peace in the community. So I have to ask, “What life was this little community of believers releasing that they were such a threat?” And of course, it would not just be them. What life is the surrounding Christian community releasing that this confusion and pain was released into their midst?

These questions have helped me grapple with eternal truths during this week of sadness. My questions have informed my thoughts in a comforting way. If my understanding is anywhere near the mark, then these twenty-six people are not just victims of a senseless act of violence. They, and other Christians surrounding them, were actually such a threat to Satan’s plans that he had to stop them. In essence, they were spiritual warriors on the front line of this particular battle, and even though we lost them on earth, they were welcomed into the Lord’s heavenly embrace with a heroes welcome.

Of course, even with this understanding, I am still sad. I still grieve for all those who were lost, and especially the children whose lives were just starting. I grieve for those who are overwhelmed by pain and loss, and will continue to pray that the Lord meet them and help them. But if what I suspect about that Christian community is true, there will be hundreds, and even thousands of those from the believing community who will be reaching out to support them in their time of need. That knowledge does help at some level.

“And we know that God works with those who love Him so that all things result in good;
He works with those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

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Hurricane Irma Postscript

IrmaIrma has whirled into history, and has impacted millions of people. My heart goes out to all those who faced Irma’s strong winds, and to all those whose homes and livelihoods have been severely disrupted. My prayers also go out to those who have lost loved ones to this storm. I pray that God’s peace that passes understanding rest on them. And of course, we are praying for the first responders, the incredible folks restoring the electric grids, and all those providing relief efforts wherever Irma hit. Their efforts are needed, and accomplishing amazing things.

As I write this post, please remember that I am writing from a southeast Florida, Broward County perspective. God puts each of us in a geographical location to defend and protect that location. When I use the Keys of the Kingdom (see my previous post on Irma HERE for a fuller explanation of this type of prayer), my greatest authority extends over my geographical area.

What that means practically, is that while I prayed with millions of people around the world that Irma would not impact the Lesser Antilles, the people with the most authority to pray were the ones who live on those islands. My prayers, and the prayers of those from afar supplement and enhance the prayers of those who live there. I also believe that our prayers have direct impact on preserving lives through these negative events. In this sense, we have tremendous authority, wherever we live, to pray for life, because humanity is one large family.

For us, that means that as we gathered for five evening prayer meetings last week (Tuesday through Saturday evening), we started by praying for the storm to turn north before it struck the islands. We knew the best scenario, and the one everyone was praying for, was that it would turn north and spin out into the northern Atlantic. However, once it slammed the Lesser Antilles with unimaginable force, we shifted our strategy. Once a storm coming across the Atlantic gets through the first islands, there is no place to send it that doesn’t impact people. At that point, we stopped praying that it would go in a certain direction, because there were no good choices, but that it would diminish. We also felt that the Lord had shown us that the islands close to us were at risk, so we prayed for the Bahamas at first, and then for the Florida Keys as it slid by the Bahamas.

But through all that, we never forgot our main calling: protect Broward County; pray for our primary area of geographical influence. This truth, that we are the ones with the most authority over our own geographic area, was hammered into me by a spiritual mentor, the late Bob Jones*, who would contact me during every hurricane season to remind me to do this job. Our trust is that other prayer warriors in their geographic areas were doing exactly the same thing. We also knew that many other congregations in South Florida were having prayer meetings, and that millions of people were praying for South Florida during the entire time.

We thank every one of you who prayed on our behalf. Those prayers were invaluable in strengthening all of us for the onslaught of fear released through the media, and through well-meaning folks who felt it necessary to remind us in the strongest terms that our lives were in danger and we should get out. Again, as I wrote in my first post on Irma referenced above, panic and fear had already set in by Tuesday. People didn’t have false bravado, but for most, evacuation north is just not an option. There are too many people with too many needs.

Ultimately, like Frances and Jeanne in 2004, Katrina in 2005, and Matthew in 2016, Irma skirted Broward County so that we only received a medium strong tropical storm. The Miami-Herald’s headline on Tuesday of this week was: “Irma, at least in Miami-Dade and Broward, wasn’t even a Hurricane.” To me, that means, our gates were shut to the hurricane. It wasn’t pleasant. It was so large that tropical storm winds continued for most of a day, and that accounted for the many trees that went down as the ground saturated with water. But the good news is, in a tropical storm, the tree limbs generally stay on the ground; in a hurricane, they can become missiles and battering rams.

I don’t have the time to get into what happened on Florida’s west coast, but one forecaster that I read stated that Irma’s path “threaded the needle” of the western population centers as it came ashore so that the impacts were less severe than they should have been. The dreaded storm surge, especially for the Tampa Bay area never materialized. Having said that, I can’t imagine the rebuilding process that will now need to take place for much of southwestern Florida and the Florida Keys (as well as Cuba and the other impacted islands). Your prayers, along with those who exercise the primary geographic authority, did much to protect life.

Thank you for all your prayers, your support, and your concern. Last week was intense, but I believe we did the job the Lord has called us to do. God is good. Storms like Irma are bad. And we are those who stand in the gap between the good and the bad.

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*Not the Bob Jones of Bob Jones University, but a prophetically gifted man who had major spiritual insight and vision.

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Images credit: National Hurricane Center

Hurricane Irma Prayer Thoughts

IrmaAs one can see from the graphic, Irma hasn’t made up her mind yet. That hasn’t helped anyone’s peace of mind. Even though the storm will not be near Florida until the weekend, hurricane supplies are flying off store shelves, people are fleeing the area to other states, events are being cancelled left and right, and builder supply stores are filling up with people desperate for the last piece of plywood. And one can also feel the palpable undercurrent of fear. I suspect that Harvey’s impact has certainly exacerbated the normal tension. In addition, Irma’s strength combined with her uncertain path has driven some from understandable anxiety, over into irrational fear or panic. That helps no one.

Take a deep breath. Turn off the weather reports, and get focused on the one who is greater than the storms. Of course, we have to make our normal preparations, but by this late in the hurricane season, South Floridians have been prepared for months, and the only thing to do now is the “top-off-the-supplies” things.

Oh, and we also need to pray. I have been contacted by many people asking if the Lord has given us anything about this storm. For those who are new to this blog, my congregation has an almost twenty-year history of stirring up prayer against storms like this, and building faith to pray against any storm that threatens our area. When Jesus walked on the earth with his disciples, he taught that he was going to give his Church the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven (see Matthew 16:19). Keys give one authority, but it is an authority we use in faith, and works most effectively through agreement. For those who are new to the topic, you might want to download my book (Amazon Link ) or read these posts to become acquainted with the topic (Joaquin, Turning Away Hurricanes).

Has the Lord shown us anything? He gave us an encouraging picture just yesterday; it was a picture of a series of gates closing. For those who understand that the Keys of the Kingdom open and shut doors (or gates, in this case), that indicates that our prayers are having an effect. We want the gates shut to this storm. However, what that means for me practically, is that I can walk a bit more peacefully, even as I complete my personal and congregational preparations for any hurricane strikes. It means it gives me a picture to latch on to as I pray with my congregation about this storm. Using the Keys, I will command all the gates through which this hurricane can enter to close (that is how you pray with the Keys). I will also continue to ask, seek, and knock on the doors of heaven asking for the Lord to intervene at every turn (that is normal prayer). In that way, we cover our bases of prayer, and pray in the way in which Jesus taught Christians to pray.

As I look at Irma’s potential paths, I can see one that gives it a chance to spin harmlessly out into the Atlantic. Obviously, for the next several days I will be praying that the storm diminishes in strength, and that it spins out to sea. I will also be praying for the islands that are currently in its path. They need our prayers as the threat for them is imminent.

If I get anything else helpful, I will update this blog as I can. Time to Pray, Prepare, and Praise: Pray it away; Prepare responsibly; and Praise when it is past.

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Update/Wed Sept. 6th: It appears that the comments that have come in are not appearing for this article. It is a glitch of some sort. My apologies to those who have sent comments.

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Images credit: Accuweather.com

 

 

North Korea: A Prayer Thought

UssRonaldReaganEvery once in a while, I have a nudge from the Lord about a particular topic or focus. Some Christian traditions call these nudges burdens or leadings. Others call them words or some type of revelation. Obviously, these are not limited to Christian tradition, and those who are from different faith traditions also understand the nature of these nudges. Those without a faith perpective might call them hunches, or even premonitions. Whatever we call them, they are a common part of Christian experience; and whatever you call them, I have been dealing with one lately.

I have spent some time praying about the situation in North Korea. I hope that you have also. The situation is chaotic, unstable, and of course, very dangerous because of all the parties involved. The ever-present military threat to the civilian populace of South Korea (and North Korea), as well as the continued verbal incitements toward war from North Korea’s leader, should have us praying for the continued peace and prosperity of that region.

It was during a time of prayer on April 18th that I felt a nudge in a particular direction. While I was praying, my prayer focus shifted to praying for our ships that were being deployed around the Korean peninsula, and as a part of that prayer, my attention was directed to the USS Ronald Reagan. This was an odd turn of events for several reasons. First, I have not seriously given thought to the fact that our ships at sea would be in danger from North Korea. We all know about North Korea’s missile threat to its neighbors and others, and of course, we also know a bit about the nation’s nuclear ambitions and threats, but I had not been all that concerned about the naval assets that the United States has in the region. However, I found myself praying that the personnel and the ships in the region would remain safe. Second, while I am conversant enough with military affairs to know that the Ronald Reagan is an aircraft carrier, I knew precious little else about its current disposition or deployment.

As I usually do after getting a nudge, I decided to find out more about the USS Ronald Reagan. I could not recall the name of the carrier strike group that had been deployed to the Korean peninsula, but I also wanted to find out more about it. It turned out that the carrier that had been deployed to Korea was the USS Carl Vinson. In addition, I found out that the USS Ronald Reagan was at its base in Yokosuka, Japan, undergoing scheduled maintenance.

As you would probably do, I simply made a note to pray more about this situation, and went on with my day. Then, on April 24th I read a CNN report (see CNN report HERE) that said:

North Korea’s state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in an editorial the country is ready to illustrate its ‘military force’ by sinking a ‘nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with a single strike.’

You can imagine that this piece of information got my attention. As a result, I have asked my congregation to pray for the safety and wellbeing of those deployed in the region, and for peace to reign over the Korean peninsula. We have also prayed these things publicly at our congregational meetings. We will keep this type of prayer up until peace and stability returns more obviously to the region.

That is probably the end of what I would have done with this particular nudge if there had been no further developments. But I just read a report that the USS Ronald Reagan has completed its maintenance, and on Tuesday left Japan to rendezvous with the USS Carl Vinson. The CNN report states (see full report HERE),

The US Navy is moving the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier to the Korean Peninsula where it will conduct dual-carrier training exercises with the USS Carl Vinson amid heightened tensions in the region, two defense officials told CNN.

Again, you can imagine how this piece of information drew my attention. I certainly felt I understood the reason for the nudge back in April when only a week later North Korea threatened to destroy an aircraft carrier. But now the carrier that I had specifically prayed about on April 18th is heading to the region.

I am certainly not over-anxious about this, or even assume that I fully understand why the Lord has us praying these things. I do believe that the one who created all things likes to invite us to pray over issues that impact people and circumstances in this world in order to change those things. So when things like this come together, I usually publish a call to prayer so that intercessors throughout the world have a chance to receive the invitation. Together our prayers can certainly pour the oil of peace on troubled waters. I think you understand how that metaphor is most appropriate in this situation.

Please join us in praying over this difficult situation in North Korea. Pray also for all those who live in the region, and for those who have been deployed in that region. Like all our military personnel, they always can use our prayers.

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Image credit: USS Ronald Reagan, Public Domain

Hurricane Matthew Report

windsAlmost from its inception, Matthew drew people’s attention. Its quick development in the face of strong shear will be cause for much discussion in the scientific community in the days ahead.

Although our congregation held three evening prayer meetings (Friday, Tuesday, Wednesday), I haven’t posted on Hurricane Matthew, simply because of a hectic schedule (including those prayer meetings).

I wanted to send this update to all those who were praying for us, and to thank you for the prayers. As you can see from the wind field graphic to the left, hurricane force winds (the red line in the graphic) did not come to South Florida. It appears at this point, that the storm will not make landfall in Florida, and perhaps it will not make landfall in the United States on this pass. Obviously, there is still room to pray for those who continue in harms way. Hurricane paths are tricky things, and it could yet make landfall. There is also room to act, as Haiti, Cuba, and the Bahamas did not fare as well with this storm as we did yesterday. Please be generous as you consider how to help those who have been harmed.

If you don’t know where to give, consider Food for the Poor (Click Here for their website). Several of my congregation members have worked there over the years (some still do), and it is a worthy charity that helps the people of Haiti and other poor nations in many different ways.

Thanks again for the prayers, and the well wishes. They are appreciated.
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Subscription Notice: I have found that the most dependable way of notifying subscribers of a new post is through email. So I have added an email subscribe option below. Just add your email address and click subscribe (you will receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription—so check your spam folders if you don’t). You will receive an email alert whenever I publish an article. Your emails will be used for no other purpose.


 

Image credit: NHC