Before and after: two simple words frequently used to describe a city in western Guatemala named Almolonga.  The locals consistently refer to their city in terms of two eras: before the power of God came in the mid- 1970s, and after, when it is reported that 90% of the 18,000 residents became born-again Christians.  The way the people of Almolonga say “before” is reminiscent of how others might say, “in the dark ages.”

After:  The word signals a new epoch for the city, marked by family harmony, prosperity and peace in the Holy Spirit.  The contrast is stark and real to these people who remember how, just 25 years ago, demons, fear, poverty, disease, idolatry, and alcohol dominated their region and their families.

Some call Almolonga the “Miracle City” because of the radical   transformations in many dimensions of this ethnically Quiché society (descendants of the Mayans).  Some Christian leaders say Almolonga is the best example they’ve seen of how intercession, spiritual warfare, and evangelism can transform a community.

Driving into Almolonga, one is immediately struck by the brilliant green hues of the fertile fields spreading throughout this magnificent valley.  Even before the onset of the rainy season, when much of the Guatemalan landscape is still dry, Almolonga remains vibrant and lush.  Hence, Almolonga is nicknamed   “America’s Vegetable Garden”.

Almolonga, Guatemala

A weak church

But it wasn’t always so.  About 25 years ago, the Church was small and weak, the fields were undeveloped and the city was characterized by an alcohol-induced lethargy – the fruit of serving an idol named Maxirnon.  This perverse idol is associated with the vices of smoking, drinking liquor, and immorality.  Maximon is a 3-foot idol consisting of a clay mask and a wood and cloth body.  He receives the kisses of the faithful who kneel before him.  Placing at his feet bottles of liquor purchased with their meagre earnings, they hope against hope that their offering will bring blessing and healing.  The priest   offers lit cigars to the idol, and taking a mouthful of the liquor offering, spews it over the devotees.  The followers leave expecting a blessing, perhaps receiving a demonic display of power, but nonetheless slipping deeper and deeper into an abyss of oppression.

Sadly, his influence is so strong that he is considered the patron saint and protector of many Guatemalan mountain villages.  In addition to serving Maximon, many of the residents of Almolonga once sought the blessing of other idols as well.  Pastor Genero Riscaiché, one of the pastors at Almolonga’s largest church, Mission Evangelical Monte Calvario, notes, “Before, this was a very idolatrous town.  There were many different types of idols.  Many worshipped the silver image of Almolonga’s patron saint, San   Pedro.”

But in 1974-75 the Kingdom of God dramatically started clashing with Maximon and the ruling powers of darkness controlling Almolonga.  Following the pattern of historic revivals, God first began this community transformation in the heart of one of his consecrated servants.  Mariano Riscaiché (no relation to Genero), now the pastor of El Calvario Church, was a typical young man of Almolonga who sought the protection and blessing of idols before he encountered the living God.

At his conversion, Pastor Mariano heard the Lord say, “I have elected you to serve Me.”   He said it was like waking from a dream; his understanding was opened and the promises of the Bible became real.  Pastor Mariano’s burning desire was to see people come to Christ and find freedom.  Then, one by one, his own family was saved.

Power encounters


Jesus is Lord of Almolonga


A new season of power encounters with Maximon began shortly after Pastor Mariano’s surrender to Christ.  Mariano and other pastors in town, such as Guillermo Satey, founding and senior pastor of Mission Evangelical Monte Calvario, saw more than 400 people delivered from demons.  When believers asked a demon to identify itself, “Maximon” was sometimes uttered by the oppressed one.  This mass deliverance was similar to the book of Acts where people burned their possessions that linked them to a past consumed by witchcraft and idolatry.  “Those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them.” (Acts 19:19, NASB).  The eviction of these demons not only brought freedom to individuals, but the spiritual oppression over the city began to lift as well.

The early days of spiritual warfare were extremely intense.  Those being set free were sometimes thrown across the room, and at times coughed up blood.  The Church continued steadfast in intercession, spiritual warfare, and evangelism as the name of Jesus was demonstrated to be the dominant force in this battle.  Pastor Mariano asserts that the enemy had to be confronted directly and boldly.

One of those set free from demonic control was a powerful priest of Maximon named José Albino Tazei.  Many people in Almolonga sought him out to heal their illnesses, foresee their future, and to bless their businesses.  But one night, José, near death after a month-long drinking binge, cried out to God to save him.  At 11:00 pm, José woke his family to share the glorious news of his new-found freedom in Christ.  In repentance, the family burned all of their idols and witchcraft paraphernalia.  The following day José went to the mountains to fast and seek the Lord.

Witnessing this well-known slave to witchcraft come to Christ intensified the Church’s intercession for God to transform not only individuals like José, but their whole community as well.

Before his conversion José would abandon the family for eight to ten days at a time to drink and conduct witchcraft activities for Maximon.  He often left his family without any money for food.  As his dedication to Maximon grew, so did his addiction to alcohol.

José’s oldest daughter, Francisca, grimaces and lowers her voice as she recounts the memory of herself and the other children kneeling before Maximon, burning candies and bringing their offerings.  But quickly she diverts the subject to “after we surrendered to Jesus” and joyfully asserts that God changed everything 24 years ago.  She proudly inserts, “We were some of the first converts during the mid 70s.”

“Before we received Christ, we didn’t have any money, little food, or a decent house, and only clothes discarded by others,” she continues.  “My father started seeking God and fasting.  He began a business and started working diligently.  Now, God has given us a house, a small store, and a calm, hard-working, godly father.”

Francisca recounts, “The church accepted us and didn’t leave us in the middle.  They loved us and visited us, and really struggled with us as we became established in Christ.” This care for new converts is one of the key ways God has used to maintain and deepen the effects of this revival.

As his grip started loosening, the evil one instigated a persecution against the Church.  Some merchants would not even sell food to believers recently set free from the old ways.  Enemies of the Gospel would go into church and do witchcraft to disrupt the services.  The believers suffered under this backlash for years, but one particular incident stands out in Pastor Mariano’s memory.  Six men attacked him, tying his hands behind his back.  They knocked his front teeth out, then one man shoved a gun in his mouth.  Pastor Mariano prayed for God to cover him, and as the Lord’s presence descended he heard the  “click… click… click” of the gun, unable to fire.  Bewildered by this divine intervention, his attackers ran away.

Pastor Genero, a native of Almolonga, describes the early resistance to the Gospel as follows: “If a person from outside Almolonga came to someone’s home to share the Gospel, people would kick them out of their house with sticks, stones, and even shovels.  It was terrible!  They didn’t view the Gospel as Good News, but as something offensive.  Unbelievers circulated rumours about the Church and accused the Christians of being lazy.”  Some of the unbelievers threw stones at houses where the church met for prayer.  Pastor Genero notes, “Many of those who threw stones are now leaders in the church.  Things have now changed, for even the non-Christians respect the Gospel.”

As one who has pastored a little over one year in Almolonga, Pastor Joel  Pérez agrees and says, “Even unbelievers in Almolonga recognize the  marvellous work of God.  These few unbelievers acknowledge that the advances in their society and agriculture are due to the Gospel.  They do not resist the Church now, as we heard about in the early days.  More than once, I have been eating in a restaurant and someone has said, “You are a pastor, aren’t you?  I’m not a Christian, but let me buy your lunch.’”

Since the power of God started transforming the community, crime has taken a definite downturn.  Donato Santiago, chief of police, can sometimes be spotted resting in the shade during market days.  Armed with a whistle, this tranquil brother has seen it all during his 23 years as a policeman in Almolonga.  “We used to average 20 to 30 people in jail each month,” he recounts.”  Crowds would gather just to watch the drunks fight.  It seemed like I had no rest.  I was often awakened in the middle of the night to stop family violence.  Before, we had four jails and that was insufficient to adequately house all of our prisoners,” Donato recalls.  “Things were so bad we enlisted around a dozen citizens at night to help the officers patrol the streets.  But now things are different!  The people have changed their attitudes.  Crime has risen in many places over the past 20 years, but not here in Almolonga.”

What accounts for this dramatic change in the townspeople?  Donato is quick to respond, “The Word of God!  Once people were converted they changed their customs and left behind drinking.  They gained respect in the community.  Day by day the rest followed and joined the church because of the changes they saw in the lives of Christians.  People living with a deep respect for God accounts for the changed attitudes.  Crime and drinking are now viewed by the people as a waste of time and a waste of money.”

The last jail closed in 1989!  Now remodelled and called “The Hall of Honour,” it’s a place for celebrating weddings, receptions, and community events.   In addition to the drop in the crime rate, great societal changes can also be observed by the absence of prostitutes and the number of bars turned into small stores with new names like “Little Jerusalem” and “Jehovah Jireh.”  Before, there was a house of prostitution and people often waited in line to get into the packed bars.  “There was even a custom in which we threw a party and gave alcohol (in small portions) to the little ones,” says Pastor Genero.  In the 1970s, 34 cantinas did a brisk business in Almolonga; today there are only three.  After the bars started shutting down, a new one opened but the owner closed the doors when he met the Lord three months later.   He now plays in a Christian band called “Combo Israel.”

Miracles

God’s mercy over Almolonga is evidenced in many ways, but one often-repeated display of grace is the incredible number of miracles.  Many have come to Christ through signs and wonders.  Teresa and her family found new life in Christ after she received a last-chance miracle.  In 1984, the incision from her poorly performed Cesarean section became infected.  This gangrenous state progressed to the point where she couldn’t eat; drinking was extremely difficult.

Teresa continued to weaken.  Different doctors each said that she was in a very dangerous state.  Valeriano, her husband, remembers the days of just hopelessly waiting for her to die.  She died about 10:00 pm one night.  Her husband checked for a pulse and placed a mirror beneath her nostrils to see if she was breathing, but there were no signs of life.  For three hours she lay motionless.  Grief stricken, at 1:00 AM Valeriano went to look for Pastor Mariano to make funeral preparations.  As Pastor Mariano and Valeriano were walking back to the house, Pastor Mariano heard the unmistakable voice of the Lord saying, “Do not prepare for the funeral; pray for her.  I will lift her up.’

Pastor Mariano recalls coming into the home seeing distraught people frantically running back and forth.  He grabbed Valeriano and they began to pray for God’s miraculous intervention.  After 10 minutes, Teresa suddenly began stirring.  Her colour returned and she sat up on the bed! Valeriano was astounded at this display of God’s power.  Pastor Mariano began to preach the Gospel to all the neighbours and family who had gathered at the home that night.  And in the days that followed, many believed.

Teresa’s strength was restored day by day.  In deep gratitude, she and Valeriano also gave their lives to Christ.  Now people come to their home to receive prayer for healing.  Remembering her miracle inspires faith when Teresa prays for others; she has witnessed many miracles as a result.  Valeriano now preaches the Gospel and testifies of a miracle working Heavenly Father.  He joyfully says, “God is the only one who is on our side and only he can do these miracles.”

Just as Vateriano and Teresa’s family opened their hearts to the Gospel after this powerful miracle, in many cases the revival has spread through family units.  Pastor Mariano articulates a truth held dear in Almolonga when he says, “True success is when your whole family comes to the Lord.” Therefore believers seriously fast and pray to bring their family into God’s family.

Families redeemed

Although the women still weave and wear the beautiful indigenous dresses and carry heavy loads upon their heads (like Quiché women have for hundreds of years), they walk in a new dignity – a result of the redemption of the family.  Prior to God’s inbreaking, Pastor Genero recalls,  “The majority of men drank and the homes were disorderly.  Neglect and physical abuse were rampant.  It was common for men to hit their wives, sometimes even with sticks.”

“The family system before was at the bottom,” comments Pastor Francisco Garcia of Iglesia de Dios de la Profecia Universal.  Women were largely viewed simply as servants.  Pastor Genero comments, “Before, the custom was that only the men would study.  We believed that schools were not for women.  Since the Gospel came, we teach that both sexes have the same opportunities.  Today we see some women who are professionals.”

Ramon Cotzoy’s wife recalls the earlier days.  “My husband would sometimes treat me harshly and try to throw me out of the house.  Things have changed.   Now he is a humble man of God.”

Ramon admits that he neglected and mistreated his family prior to surrendering to Christ.  Now he ministers to men in the community and exhorts them to stop drinking and start loving their families.  Ramon observes, “Because the unbelievers see the peaceful example of how the Christian men are living with their families, they are treating their wives better now.”

“Today there is more communication within families and very little abuse in Almolonga.  In the church, we teach a lot on biblical family orientation,” says Pastor Genero.  “Couples solve their problems through dialogue and communication.”

This renewal of family harmony has opened the way for the Spirit of God to span the generations and impact all age groups, including the youth and children.  The youth do not view Christianity as simply something for the older people.  There is a new thrust of youth-motivated home groups with the focus to bring the remaining unsaved youth in the city to Christ.  Pastor Joel observes, “The youth are getting hold of God.  In different churches some of the youth groups even go on special fasting retreats.”

Chief of Police Santiago says, “The parents are taking better care of their children now.” Santiago explains why there aren’t teens loitering around town.  “The youth work hard to buy farm trucks.  This atmosphere of diligent work is the best atmosphere to grow up in.”

Seeing the youth and children cheerfully working alongside their parents in the fields and marketplace evokes a smile in visitors to Almolonga.  Pastor Mariano’s father, one of the oldest men in the city, observes, “Everyone in Almolonga works.  Even the 12-15-year olds fill a truck with vegetables to sell.   They throw themselves into God and into their work.”

Community transformation

This work ethic has produced an economic renewal, an incredible dimension of community transformation throughout Airnolonga.  There is no evidence of the unemployment, the beggars, the drunkards asleep in alleyways, or the loiterers that so often characterize similar places.  In other cities around this region people often appear exhausted with life.  Not so in Almolonga.

The people’s diligence and tenacity have seen this valley come alive with multiple harvests each year.  Celery, leeks, cauliflower, turnips, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, radishes, and watercress thrive under the skilful care of Almolonga’s farmers.  These vegetables are often incredibly larger than the size of those grown in the surrounding villages.  Pastor Joel attributes this agricultural blessing to the Lord of Glory.  He mentioned a time when agronomists from the U.S.A. visited Almolonga to test their scientific principles to produce better crops.  The result?  Pastor Joel says, “The wisdom God gave the farmers of Almolonga produced more than the scientific methods yielded.”

A subterranean stream provides a constant source of water for the farms.  These lucrative products have elevated the lifestyles of many of the believers.  Pastor Mariano’s father was one of the former bar owners who now runs a tienda (small store) and raises vegetables.  He reports that the greatest changes in commerce came in the 80s because the farmers not only quit spending their money on liquor, but they began to incorporate principles from God’s Word, saving and investing their profits.  Before the farmers would farm just enough to support their drinking habit; they had no vision beyond that.

Then God started giving the farmers understanding.  They began to plan ahead and invest in topsoil and fertilizers.  Some farmers have even paid cash for Mercedes trucks, emblazoning them with names like Regalito de Dios (“Little Gift from God”).  Many farmers have now hired others to work their fields.  They are even developing farms in the surrounding communities as they shift from being farmers to businessmen.  Mariano’s father marvels, “We never dreamed of selling our produce outside of Guatemala, but now we export to other nations.”

Church unity

Since this relatively small town has so many growing churches, a question often arises concerning the relationship between the pastors.  Pastor Joel describes the fellowship among pastors as “a tight fraternity of ministers.”  He further notes,  “We have an agenda of prayer and fasting.  We go outside the city to a hill to pray and earnestly seek the Lord …  When we have little things come up or if the enemy tries to interrupt our unity, we quickly restore it through seeking the Lord for more souls to come into the Kingdom.”

Pastor Genero says, “Presently we are strengthening our fellowship.  Years ago there was an association of pastors, but it faded out because of individuality.  This year we have restored the pastoral association again.”  Two Christian radio stations service Almolonga.  Pastor Joel reports that these stations enhance unity by allowing air time for all the evangelical pastors to use for a token price.

Reaching 90% of the city with the Gospel doesn’t satisfy the pastors’ evangelistic zeal.  Pastor Francisco emphatically asserts, “We are applying God’s guidance for the churches to keep growing.  We have the goal to reach the whole town!”

Pastor Mariano believes God is giving the Church insight into the strategies to deepen and extend this community impact into future generations.  His heart breaks when he hears about powerful revivals which were not passed along to the next generation.  To maintain the results already reached in Almolonga, Pastor Mariano’s strategy encompasses a fivefold focus:

living in the fear of the Lord,

maintaining intense prayer and fasting,

building Christian schools,

caring for new converts,

and establishing strong families.

Firstly, he urges his flock to, “always live under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  Live your life in the fear of the Lord as a good testimony.  When we truly live the Christian life, demonic principalities are more easily overthrown.”

Secondly, to maintain the results won through intercession and spiritual warfare, the Church must continue steadfast in prayer and fasting.  Long past the breakthroughs in the 70s, many believers in Almolonga continue weekly disciplines of prayer and fasting.  At El Calvario Church, people are held accountable to participate in prayer and fasting.

Thirdly, Pastor Mariano is taking steps to build a Christian school, which he believes is critical to sustain the revival.  He says that the children not only need an education, but a Christ-centred education taught by Christian teachers.  “Education without Christian teachers can set up a counterattack from Satan by introducing traditions outside of Christianity.  Then all that we have reached [in the revival] can crumble.”

A fourth ingredient to maintain revival is an intentional plan to care for the new Christians.  Someone from the church personally visits the new believers.  They hold special discipleship meetings focusing on basic Bible doctrines.  Deliverance and a clear break with their past life are important.  “We inspire them toward diligent hard work, debt reduction and to live in the fear of God.  New believers are instructed to prepare themselves for baptism.  Fasting is one of the first spiritual disciplines taught to the new Christian,” reports Pastor Mariano.

The fifth and final major focus to sustain the revival’s impact is establishing strong families.  Christians are instructed to only marry fellow believers.  One counter-cultural measure El Calvario introduced in the late 1970s was the concept of letting people decide for themselves whom they would marry.  Today, parents are consulted and there is a process of obtaining parental blessing and approval in mate selection, but the decision rests with the couple.  Before, the parents would determine whom their children would marry.  A courtship period was also unheard of in their culture; now they recommend a 6-month to a year courtship during which the couple gets to know each other.  This has increased marital harmony within the Christianity community.  Consequently, other churches in the community also follow similar plans.

Testimonies of individuals being changed relationally, spiritually, and financially by God’s power are common in Christianity.  But the amazing distinctive of Almolonga is that Christians there tell their testimony not simply as individuals, but collectively, as families and as a people.

Visiting a service at El Calvario Church is a little taste of Heaven.  The church building is one of Guatemala’s largest and most beautiful.  This debt-free sanctuary (seating 1200+) is the gathering place of exuberant worshippers.   Their release of emotions toward the Son of God is noteworthy because culturally these people are generally stoic and very reserved in expressing their emotions.  To watch this passion for Jesus, especially among the youth and children, it is hard to imagine that only a generation back, their families were in bondage to alcohol, idols, and demons.  Perhaps that legacy of suffering explains the great abandon with which they worship Jesus: these people know they have something to celebrate!

__________

See Almolonga stories also in Great Revival Stories and Transforming Revivals

Mell Winger has a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary.

This article is reproduced with permission from Chapter 17 of The Transforming Power of Revival, edited by Harold Caballeros and Mell Winger (Peniel Press, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1998). 

Share this page to bless others – see links below. 

A video called Transformation, including a report on Almolonga in Guatemala and Cali in Columbia, is available from Toowoomba City Church, PO Box 2216, Toowoomba, Qld. 4350.  Ph: 07 4638 2399.  E-mail: tccemail@tcchurch.com.au 

See also Renewal Journal # 17 Unity “Shapshots of Glory” by George Otis Jr.

©  Renewal Journal #16: Vision (2000, 2012)  www.renewaljournal.com


Reproduction is allowed with the copyright included in the text.

For weeks now we have been following Worship Songs that are capable of transforming one into the celestial realms and I must confess it has been really revealing while being relieving. We have found a couple of Minstrels that are not after their own glory, but whose sole aim of doing music is to serve as a guiding light towards the Splendour of the Heavenly Places.

Our Friend and Brother, David Dam is one of those Heavenly Minstrels.

His exploration into the mysteries of the Kingdom has bathed several Holy Spirit inspired Songs. Today we are blessed to have one of his works as a part of the Worship Unplugged Series. Here is Hail Yahweh

Hail Yahweh (Acoustic Version) composed by David Dams is a song of alleigence and worship to Yahweh. In this song, he describes the true picture of the body of Christ.. and make it clear that in all we do.. wherever we are.. we will always.. Hail Yahweh.

Click here to DOWNLOAD

Produced by – Jakes.

CONNECT WITH HIM
Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/DaveWorship
Instagram- @dayviddam
Twitter- @David_Dam321

Sometimes finishing well looks different than you think it does.

You don’t have to be everything to everyone to finish well. You don’t have to do it all and then some to be counted among the greats. You don’t have to travel far and wide or spread yourself thin to be valued.

Finishing well has more to do with your character than your time, status or audience.

Finishing well might mean that someone carries you across the finish line when you don’t have anything left to give.

Finishing well might entail helping someone else break through the tape at the end of the race.

You don’t have to be the best, look the best, or feel the best to be a champion in My Book.

You might cross the finish line broken and bruised—like I did—but holding a victory that cannot be taken and does not spoil or fade (see 1 Peter 1:3-9).

Sometimes finishing well is getting last place, just showing up, trying again and not giving up.

My economy is so different than yours. I value the weak. I pass out awards to the banged-up. I fill up the empty. I lay down my life instead of exerting entitlement.

Bow instead of bulldoze.

Dance instead of despair.

Give instead of hoard.

Listen instead of sounding off.

Stoop instead of strut.

Pick others up instead of sprinting ahead.

Finishing well looks different than you think.

It’s not about applause but about attitude. It’s not about accolades but an ability to endure when no one is cheering. It’s not about advancement but about being faithful with what He has set before you.

Sometimes it’s about resting, relenting and relinquishing.

Sometimes it’s about giving in order to gain and conceding in order to conquer.

Don’t give up. I go with You. I am for you. You can trust me to be strong in your weakness.

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” –2 Corinthians 12:10

I finished well. Follow My Lead.

Love,
Me

Connect with Katie M. Reid on her blogFacebook and Twitter. Let’s grow in grace as we learn together.

When it comes limits, I’m one of those people my friend Nicole Unice would describe as having a “dessert-sized plate”—I can only add so much to my schedule, my ‘plate,’ before anxiety sets in and overwhelm begins.

This is hard for me because I live with and find community with a lot of ‘big plate’ people – the type who fill their time with amazing ministry endeavors and projects and events, all with a certain amount of adrenaline fuelling them—they find life in full schedule. Like my friend Cara, for instance, who admits she’s not only comfortable with a high amount of chaos; she actually thrives in it. Thrive and chaos are never used in the same sentence in my world.

So right on the outset, this isn’t intended for everyone. If you’re like my friend Cara and thrive when your big plate is filled to the brim, this isn’t necessarily going to resonate. But if you’re wondering if maybe you’re stretching yourself past the God-given limits of your personality and phase of life, read on, dear friend.

Here are a few sure signs you’re living outside your limits:

1. The relationships closest to you are suffering. Who are you closest with (husband, children, best friend, mom)? Write your top 5 people down if you need to. Now, think about your relationship with each one. How are they fairing? Are you finding the time and emotional energy to care for these people, or are they getting the dregs of your time and love? When our plates are too full, the people we love most are usually the first to suffer. Committed, intentional time with your loved ones is crucial for your flourishing. (Nicole touches on this in a Q&A I did with her on knowing your limits—I’d encourage you to check it out!)

SEE ALSO: How Taking Care of Your Body is an Act of Worship

2. You no longer make time for the things that bring you life. Think about the things that bring you joy and refresh your spirit. My list would include taking walks in sunny weather, gardening, reading a good book, sitting down to a home cooked meal with my husband, and one-on-one time with a good friend. For you, it might look like going to see a movie, listening to music, taking a car trip to a new place, etc.

When we’re living outside our limits, often the first things to go are the things that refresh us and bring us joy. For example, I’ll skip a walk at lunch because I feel pressure to reply to all the email in my various inboxes. But when we don’t take the time to refresh ourselves, we become overwhelmed and our zest for life runs low.

Related, we might be tempted to think that God would rather us give all our free time to service projects or nightly bible studies or work or whatever good ministry opportunities crop up. But when things, even good things, overwhelm our schedule to the point where we no longer have the time or energy to enjoy what God has uniquely created us to enjoy—that’s a problem.

I’ve found some of my most worshipful times are when I’m immersed in an activity that brings me joy. Whether I’m out in nature or after a conversation with a good friend – I’m just overwhelmed with thankfulness and often pray prayers of gratitude to God for those sweet times of restoration. But those moments wouldn’t happen if I was so busy that I didn’t have time for the things my soul delights in.

SEE ALSO: When God Won’t Take Away Your Anxiety

3. Things that should be effortless become taxing. Think about the things you’re naturally gifted in – this can include spiritual gifts, natural talents, or skills you’ve honed over the years through hard work and study. For me, these things include writing, ministering to other women through my gifts of listening and good question asking, and strategic/creative idea curation at work.

When you’re at your best and living inside your limits, these giftings flow freely out of you. My friend Tabitha calls this getting into “flow” – when you’re in the “flow zone,” all other thoughts, distractions and anxieties are gone and you’re delighting in and completely focused on whatever the thing is you’re doing.

But when we’re living outside our limits, these natural gifts stall out. For example, I know I’m outside my limits when I find myself sitting across from a friend and have no capacity to ask good questions or listen thoughtfully to what’s going on in her life. It might not just be that I’m tired; I might be thinking about the dozens of other things I have going on that week. I might be feeling more anxious or insecure than I normally would, more self-focused and not friend-focused. What is usually a natural skill for me becomes totally nonexistent when I’m past my limits.

These are just a few key indicators that you’re living outside of your limits. If some of what I’m saying resonates with you and you think you might be trying to stuff too much on your plate, I hope you see how much might be gained by reassessing your schedule and learning to say no. When you live within the natural limits God has set for you, the relationships that are most important to you have a chance of thriving, you can better utilize the gifts you were born with, and you’ll have more time for the things that God created you to find joy and life in.

SEE ALSO: 3 Ways to Overcome the Fear of Missing Out

How do you know when you’re past your limits? How do you reclaim time for the things that matter most? Share in the comments section!

Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve.com.


The popular girls snickered as I walked by their table in the cafeteria. I could hear whispers of words like “brace face,” “twig” and “smarty pants,” but I just held on to my tray of lukewarm Papa John’s pizza and chocolate milk and kept moving. 

Back in junior high, I was a thin, book nerd and band geek with glasses, braces and what I like to call frizzly hair (both curly and frizzy). I was also on the swim, track and cross-country teams, but people seemed to pay less attention to the fact that I was little and smart.

Junior high is hard for a lot of people, but by the grace of God, the words, thoughts and opinions of others didn’t faze me. I had confidence – not just in myself but in the things I was passionate about. I knew I was loved by my parents, family members and most importantly, Jesus. That was all that mattered.

I don’t know when, where, why or how it happened, but somewhere between my junior high and high school years, that strong, simple confidence began to fade away. The world as I knew it grew bigger. The voices of my peers became louder. And competition felt more intense.

Without a mature enough faith to stand on, I started to doubt what I had always thought about myself. What if what other people say about me is really true? I wondered. What if all I am is a skinny, dorky, not-that-pretty girl? And … what if that’s all I’ll ever be?

True Confidence is Found in Christ

Maybe you can relate to these kinds of doubts and lack of self-assurance. Somewhere along the way, you stopped relying on what Jesus said about you and started looking to what the world said. Somewhere along the way, you stopped seeing yourself as a beloved Child of the King and started seeing yourself as a person that’s too opinionated. Too loud. Too fat. Too skinny. Too pale. Too smart. Too different. Too silly. Too _____ (you fill in the blank).

The truth is we aren’t born with confidence. If you really think about it, we pretty much come into this world unsure of anything. Nothing is definite; nothing is guaranteed. Confidence is uncertain. Until we encounter the love of Jesus, that is.

As a child I had encountered the love of Jesus and that perfect love empowered me to be strong and confident. I knew what it meant to be safe in His arms. I knew who I was in Him. But like I said before, somewhere along the way I forgot about that encounter. I forgot about the truths that had set me free. And I tried to find that confidence elsewhere.

Dear sisters, when we try to find our confidence in our appearance, people, places, situations or things, we are only setting ourselves up for disappointment. Because confidence doesn’t come from keeping up with the Joneses or having it all together. Confidence comes from knowing who we are in Christ: a positively lovely child of the King.

SEE ALSO: The Confidence We All Need

Want proof? Sprinkled throughout the New Testament are verses about the kind of Godly confidence we’re talking about here. Check out: 1 John 5:142 Chronicles 32:8Ephesians 3:12Hebrews 4:16, and Philippians 1:6.

Flip a few pages back in the Old Testament and we are told, “Righteousness will bring peace. Yes, it will bring quietness and confidence forever.” Isaiah 32:17 (NIV).

Confidence is found in surrendering to the perfect love and righteousness of Christ and following after Him.

A Prayer for Confidence

Dear God, you know my heart and you know that I love you. I’m trying to do my best to follow after you, but sometimes I get tripped up. Sometimes I lose focus. Sometimes I forget who I am in you and start looking to the world to tell me who I am. On the days when my confidence is fading fast, build me up again. Remind me of the simple truth that confidence can only be found in chasing after you. I can walk around confident knowing I am loved. I can walk around confident knowing I am enough. I can live knowing I have been rescued, free and called to do great things. Help me remember these things, wonderful Father. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

SEE ALSO: Want to Gain More Confidence? Try a Monthly Challenge!

Lauren Gaskill is an author, blogger and speaker who is passionate about inspiring others to lead joyful, healthy, redeemed lives. She believes life should be sweet — rich in stories, and full of good food, love, encouragement and inspiration. Lauren is the creator of MakingLifeSweet.com and the Finding Joy podcast, and she is in the process of publishing her first inspirational book. When she’s not writing, Lauren is creating new recipes in the kitchen or spending time outdoors with her husband and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Facebook Twitter Instagram

THE WEDDING PARTY MASSACRE

ON THE AFTERNOON of March 6, 2002, Lt. Cmdr. Vic Hyder and more than two dozen operators from SEAL Team 6 boarded two Chinook helicopters en route to eastern Afghanistan hoping that within hours, they would kill or capture Osama bin Laden.

Earlier that evening, general officers from the Joint Special Operations Command had scrambled the SEALs after watching a Predator drone video feed of a man they suspected was bin Laden set off in a convoy of three or four vehicles in the Shah-i-Kot Valley, where al Qaeda forces had fortified themselves. Although the video had revealed no weapons, and the generals had only tenuous intelligence that the convoy was al Qaeda — just suspicions based on the color of the man’s flowing white garb and the deference others showed him — they were nervous that bin Laden might get away again, as he had a few months earlier after the bombing of the Tora Bora mountains in December 2001. This was a crucial moment: Kill bin Laden now and the war could be over after only six months. The vehicles were headed east toward the Pakistani border, as if they were trying to escape. The mission was code-named Objective Bull.

Afghanistan’s Paktia province is about the size of New Hampshire, with 10,000-foot ridgelines and arid valleys with dried riverbeds below, nestled along the border with Pakistan’s tribal areas. The prominent mountain range often served as the last geographic refuge for retreating forces entering Pakistan. As the special operations helicopters approached the convoy from the north and west, Air Force jets dropped two bombs, halting the vehicles and killing several people instantly.

That was not how the SEALs wanted the mission to develop. Inside the helicopters, some of the operators had pushed to hold off any air attack, arguing that they had plenty of time to intercept the convoy before it reached the Pakistani border. “The reason SEAL Team 6 exists is to avoid bombs and collateral damage,” said a retired SEAL Team 6 member who was on the mission. “We said, ‘Let us set down and take a look at the convoy to determine if it’s al Qaeda.’ Instead, they dropped several bombs.”

The bombing stopped the convoy along a dry wadi, or ravine, with two of the trucks approximately a kilometer apart. Survivors began to flee the wreckage, and over the radio, Hyder and his team heard the order that the convoy was now in a “free fire zone,” allowing the Chinooks’ gunners to fire at anyone deemed a threat, regardless of whether they were armed. The SEALs had no authority over the helicopter gunners.

The two Chinooks landed separately, one near each end of the convoy. Both teams exited the helicopters to find a grim scene. The SEALs with Hyder came out and separated into two groups. One, led by an enlisted operator, took in the damage to one of the vehicles. Men, women, and a small girl, motionless and in the fetal position, appeared dead. Inside the vehicle were one or two rifles, as is customary in Afghanistan, but none of the men wore military clothing or had any extra ammunition. “These were family weapons,” said the retired SEAL.

The SEALs from the other helicopter immediately headed up a steep hill after landing to locate an armed man who had been shot from the helicopter. When they reached the hilltop, the operators looked down in disbelief at women and children, along with the man — all were dead or mortally wounded from the spray of gunfire from the Chinook’s gunners, who had unloaded after the free fire zone had been declared. They realized the man had been trying to protect the women and children.

Other SEALs on the ground proceeded as though the survivors were combatants. Hyder and an enlisted operator named Monty Heath had gone in a different direction and saw a survivor flee the bombed vehicle toward a nearby berm. Heath fired once, hitting the man, sending him tumbling down the back side of the small rise.

At that point, Hyder began assessing the damage and surveying the dead. “I was going around to the different KIAs with my camera to take photos,” Hyder told me in an interview, using the military term for enemies killed in action. “It was a mess.”

Hyder said that he and a few other SEALs began to bury the casualties near a ravine by piling rocks over them. As he did so, he approached the man Heath had shot. “He was partially alive, faced down, his back to me, and he rolled over. I shot him, finished him. He was dying, but he rolled over and I didn’t know whether he was armed or not. That was the end of that.” Hyder said that his single shot had blasted open the man’s head.

According to Hyder, the encounter ended there. But the retired SEAL who was on the mission tells a different story. According to this source, after shooting the man, who turned out to be unarmed, Hyder proceeded to mutilate his body by stomping in his already damaged skull. When Heath, who witnessed Hyder’s actions, reported them to his team leader in the presence of other members of the team, “several of the guys turned and walked away,” said the retired SEAL. “They were disgusted.” He quoted Heath as saying, “I’m morally flexible but I can’t handle that.” Heath refused to comment for this article.

The retired SEAL, who spent the better part of two decades at the command, said he never asked Hyder why he mutilated the corpse. It wasn’t necessary. He assumed it was a twisted act of misplaced revenge over the previous days’ events — specifically, the gruesome death of Hyder’s teammate Neil Roberts.

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Top: Photo of helicopter on Takur Ghar. Bottom left: Screengrab from drone feed during the battle of Roberts Ridge. Bottom right: Candid photo of U.S. Navy SEAL Neil Roberts.

 

Photos: U.S. Department of Defense; Screengrab from video by U.S. Department of Defense; U.S. Navy by the Roberts family

LESS THAN 48 HOURS before Objective Bull commenced, a small reconnaissance group from SEAL Team 6’s Red Team had tried to establish an observation post on the 10,000-foot peak of Takur Ghar, overlooking the Shah-i-Kot valley, where forces from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division intended to strike the last redoubt of al Qaeda forces massed in Afghanistan. Neil “Fifi” Roberts, a member of the SEAL recon team, fell 10 feet from the back of a Chinook and was stranded as the helicopter took fire from foreign al Qaeda fighters who were already on the snow-covered mountaintop. Two hours passed before the SEALs in the damaged helicopter were able to return. They didn’t know it, but Roberts was already dead, shot at close range in the head shortly after his helicopter departed the mountaintop. A Predator drone video feed filmed an enemy fighter standing over Roberts’s body for two minutes, trying to behead the dead American with a knife.

Eventually, two other elements of a quick reaction force — one of which included Hyder — landed at the top of Takur Ghar. In the ensuing 17-hour battle with the al Qaeda fighters, six more Americans were killed, and several were wounded. After the bodies were recovered, Hyder and the other members of Red Team were forced to reckon with the mutilation and near beheading of their fellow SEAL. Hyder was new to SEAL Team 6, but as the ranking officer on the ground during that operation, he was technically in charge. He took Roberts’s death hard.

Neil Roberts was the first member of SEAL Team 6 to die in the Afghan war, and among the first elite operators who died after 9/11. Beyond the dehumanizing manner in which the al Qaeda fighters had treated his corpse, Roberts’s death pierced the SEALs’ self-perception of invincibility.

The battle of Roberts Ridge, as it came to be known, has been frequently described in books and press accounts. But what happened during Objective Bull, the assault on the convoy in the Shah-i-Kot Valley, has never been previously reported.

Roberts’s death, and the subsequent operations in eastern Afghanistan during the winter 2002 deployment, left an indelible impression on SEAL Team 6, especially on Red Team. According to multiple SEAL Team 6 sources, the events of that day set off a cascade of extraordinary violence. As the legend of SEAL Team 6 grew, a rogue culture arose that operated outside of the Navy’s established mechanisms for command and investigation. Parts of SEAL Team 6 began acting with an air of impunity that disturbed observers within the command. Senior members of SEAL Team 6 felt the pattern of brutality was not only illegal but rose to the level of war crimes.

“To understand the violence, you have to begin at Roberts Ridge,” said one former member of SEAL Team 6 who deployed several times to Afghanistan. “When you see your friend killed, recover his body, and find that the enemy mutilated him? It’s a schoolyard mentality. ‘You guys want to play with those rules?’ ‘OK.’” Although this former SEAL acknowledged that war crimes are wrong, he understood how they happen. “You ask me to go living with the pigs, but I can’t go live with pigs and then not get dirty.”

SEAL Team 6 patches. Clockwise from top left: Blue Squadron, known as the Pirates; Gold Squadron, known as the Crusaders or Knights; Red Squadron, known as the Redmen; and Silver Squadron.

NO SINGLE MILITARY unit has come to represent American military success or heroism more than SEAL Team 6, officially designated as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group and known in military vernacular as DevGru, Team 6, the Command, and Task Force Blue. Its operators are part of an elite, clandestine cadre. The men who make it through the grueling training represent roughly the top 10 percent of all SEALs. They are taught to live and if necessary die for one another. The extreme risks they take forge extreme bonds.

Made up of no more than 200 SEAL operators when the Afghan war began, SEAL Team 6 was the lesser known of the U.S. military’s elite “special mission” units. Created in 1980 and based at the Dam Neck Annex of Naval Air Station Oceana near Virginia Beach, the command prided itself on its culture of nonconformity with the larger military. The unit’s name itself is part of an attempt to obscure U.S. capabilities. When it was commissioned, the Navy had only two SEAL (Sea, Air, and Land) assault teams, but founding officer Cmdr. Richard Marcinko hoped that the number six would lead the Soviet military to inflate its assessment of the Navy’s SEALs.

When SEAL Team 6 first deployed to Afghanistan in January 2002, the command had three assault teams, Red, Blue, and Gold, each with a mascot. Red Team, known as the Redmen, employed a Native American warrior as a mascot; Blue Team, known as the Pirates, wore the Jolly Roger; and Gold Team, known as the Crusaders or Knights, wore a lion or a crusader’s cross.

The prevailing narrative about SEAL Team 6 in news coverage, bestselling books, and Hollywood movies is unambiguously heroic; it centers on the killing of Osama bin Laden and high-profile rescue missions. With few exceptions, a darker, more troubling story has been suppressed and ignored — a story replete with tactical brilliance on battlefields around the world coupled with a pattern of silence and deceit when “downrange” actions lead to episodes of criminal brutality. The unit’s elite stature has insulated its members from the scrutiny and military justice that lesser units would have faced for the same actions.

This account of the crimes of SEAL Team 6 results from a two-year investigation drawing on interviews with 18 current and former members of the unit, including four former senior leaders of the command. Other military and intelligence officials who have served with or investigated the unit were also interviewed. Most would speak about the unit only on background or without attribution, because nearly every facet of SEAL Team 6 is classified. Some sources asked for anonymity citing the probability of professional retaliation for speaking out against their peers and teammates. According to these sources, whether judged by its own private code or the international laws of war, the command has proven to be incapable and unwilling to hold itself accountable for war crimes.

Most SEALs did not commit atrocities, the sources said, but the problem was persistent and recurrent, like a stubborn virus. Senior leaders at the command knew about the misconduct and did little to eradicate it. The official SEAL creed reads, in part: “Uncompromising integrity is my standard. My character and honor are steadfast. My word is my bond.” But after 9/11, another code emerged that made lying — especially to protect a teammate or the command from accountability — the more honorable course of action.

“You can’t win an investigation on us,” one former SEAL Team 6 leader told me. “You don’t whistleblow on the teams … and when you win on the battlefield, you don’t lose investigations.”

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BY THE TIME the two dozen Red Team operators departed for Objective Bull, tension had built up between Hyder, a commissioned officer, and the enlisted operators technically under his command. The situation was not particularly unusual. Historically, SEAL Team 6 is known as a unit where officers “rent their lockers,” because they typically serve about three years before rotating out, whereas the enlisted operators remain for much of their careers, often for a decade or more. Simply put, the unit is an enlisted mafia, where tactics are driven by the expertise developed by the unit’s enlisted assaulters, whose abilities and experience at making rapid threat decisions make up the command’s core resource. Officers like Hyder, who did not pass through the brutal SEAL Team 6 internal training program, known as Green Team, are often viewed with suspicion and occasionally contempt by the enlisted SEAL operators.

Even before the attack on the convoy and the alleged mutilation of the dead Afghan, Hyder had committed at least one killing with questionable justification. Several weeks earlier, in January 2002, Hyder killed an unarmed Afghan man north of Kandahar during the unit’s first ground assault of the war. In that operation, Hyder led a team of Red operators on a nighttime mission to capture suspected al Qaeda militants in a compound. After securing several detainees and cordoning the area, Hyder and his men waited for their helicopters to arrive and extract them. During the mission, the SEALs reported receiving small arms fire from exterior positions, though no one was hit. After 90 minutes, as the helicopters were nearing the rendezvous point, one of the SEALs alerted Hyder that an old man who had been lying in a ditch nearby was walking toward the SEALs’ position.

In an interview, Hyder said the man had approached his position with his arms tucked into his armpits and did not heed warnings from other SEALs to stop. Hyder acknowledged that the man likely did not understand English and probably couldn’t see very well. Unlike the SEALs, the man was not wearing night-vision goggles. “He continued to move towards us,” Hyder said. “I assessed he was nearing a distance where he was within an area where he could do damage with a grenade.” Hyder said that a week earlier, a militant had detonated a concealed grenade after approaching some American CIA officers, seriously injuring them. “He kept moving toward us, so at 15 meters I put one round in him and he dropped. Unfortunately, it turned out he had an audiocassette in his hand. By the rules of engagement he became a legitimate target and it was supported. It’s a question, why was he a threat? After all that activity, he’d been hiding in a ditch for 90 minutes, he gets up, he’s spoken to, yelled at in the dark … it’s disturbing. I’m disappointed he didn’t take a knee.”

Hyder, who was the ground force commander for the Kandahar operation, was cleared in an after-action review of the shooting. The rules of engagement allowed the ground force commander to shoot anyone he viewed as a threat, regardless of whether they were armed at the time of the shooting. But in the eyes of the enlisted SEALs of Red Team, Hyder had killed a man who didn’t have to die. Two of the operators with Hyder reportedafterward that the man was not a threat. One of those operators was Neil Roberts.

“The SEALs believe that they can handle the discipline themselves, that’s equal to or greater than what the criminal justice system would give to the person.”

The morning after Objective Bull, Red Team gathered at Bagram Air Base. Most of the operators held a meeting to discuss what had happened on the mission. No officers were present, and the enlisted SEALs used the meeting to address Hyder’s alleged mutilation of the dead Afghan the previous day. The discussion covered battlefield ethics. Inside a heated tent, as many as 40 SEAL Team 6 operators asked themselves how they wanted to treat their fallen enemies. Should they seek revenge for Roberts? Was it acceptable, as Hyder had done with the wounded man whom he executed, to desecrate the dead?

“We talked about it … and 35 guys nodded their heads saying this is not who we are. We shoot ’em. No issues with that. And then we move on,” said a former SEAL who was present at the meeting. “There’s honor involved and Vic Hyder obviously traipsed all over that,” he said. “Mutilation isn’t part of the game.”

Nonetheless, Red Team did not report Hyder’s alleged battlefield mutilation, a war crime. In what would become part of a pattern of secrecy and silence, the SEAL operators dealt with the issue on their own and kept the incident from their chain of command.

“The SEALs believe that they can handle the discipline themselves, that’s equal to or greater than what the criminal justice system would give to the person,” said Susan Raser, a retired Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent who led the agency’s criminal division but did not investigate this mission. “They have an internal process that they think is sufficient and they are not inclined to cooperate unless they absolutely have to.” Raser, who conducted investigations into both regular SEAL units and SEAL Team 6, said that in her experience, SEALs simply didn’t report wrongdoing by their teammates.

Senior leaders at the command knew the grisly circumstances of Roberts’s death had unsettled Red Team. “Fifi was mutilated,” said a retired noncommissioned SEAL leader who was involved in internal discussions about how to prevent SEAL Team 6 from seeking revenge. “And then we had to address a very important question, how do you get the guys’ heads straight to mitigate any retaliation for Fifi? Otherwise we knew it’s going to get out of control. A third of the guys literally think they’re Apache warriors, then you had the Muslim way of removing a head. I understand the desire, I don’t condone it, but there was definite retaliation.”

Hyder told me that he did not desecrate the body. “I deny it,” he said, adding that he didn’t understand why Heath would have claimed to have witnessed it. “Even if it was true, I don’t know why he would say that.” Hyder said he was not aware of the Bagram meeting held by the enlisted operators about him or the accusations. “Why would I do that?” he asked. “Somebody else is making this up. Memories get distorted over 14 years. They’re telling you how they remember it. There was a lot of chaos. I’m telling you the absolute truth.”

After the deployment, SEAL Team 6’s leadership examined Hyder’s actions during Objective Bull. For some of them, what was most troubling was not that Hyder might have taken gratuitous revenge for Roberts’s death on an unrelated civilian, but that on more than one occasion, as ground force commander, he had fired his own weapon to neutralize perceived threats. “If you have multiple incidents where the ground force commander pulls the trigger on a deployment, you have a total breakdown of operational tactics,” said one retired SEAL leader. “It’s not their responsibility — that is why we have DevGru operators.”

Beyond the story of the alleged mutilation, the sight of the dead civilians killed during the opening airstrikes of Objective Bull, especially the women and children, left members of Red Team with deep psychological scars. “It ruined some of these guys,” said the former SEAL operator on the mission.

Six days after Objective Bull, the Pentagon announced at a press conference that an airstrike had killed 14 people, who a spokesperson said were “somehow affiliated” with al Qaeda. Sources at SEAL Team 6 who were present during the operation estimated the number of dead was between 17 and 20. Inside the command, the incident became known as the Wedding Party bombing after it was learned that the convoy was driving to a wedding.

Hyder finished his tour at SEAL Team 6 shortly after returning from the Afghanistan deployment and was later promoted to the rank of commander, the Navy equivalent of a lieutenant colonel. He was awarded the Silver Star for his efforts at Takur Ghar to save Roberts and the rest of the Red Team recon element. A few years later, after Hyder’s name was mentioned for another rotation in Red Team, some of Hyder’s former operators informed SEAL Team 6 leadership that he was not welcome back in the unit.

Neil Roberts’s bent rifle was placed on the wall of Red Team’s room at the SEALs’ base near Virginia Beach, a visible reminder of their teammate, their first deployment, and the troubles that would follow.

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ONE CLEAR SIGN that all was not right with the command was the way sadism crept into the SEALs’ practices, with no apparent consequences. A few months after Objective Bull, for example, one of Hyder’s operators began taunting dying insurgents on videos he shot as part of his post-operation responsibilities. These “bleed out” videos were replayed on multiple occasions at Bagram Air Base. The operator who made them, a former SEAL leader said, would gather other members of Red Squadron to watch the last few seconds of an enemy fighter’s life. “It was war porn,” said the former SEAL, who viewed one of the videos. “No one would do anything about them.” The operator who made the bleed-out videos was forced out of SEAL Team 6 the following year after a drunken episode at Bagram in which he pistol-whipped another SEAL.

The SEALs’ successes throughout 2002 resulted in the Joint Special Operations Command choosing the unit to lead the hunt for al Qaeda, as well as the invasion of Baghdad in March 2003. The rise of JSOC as the sharp tip of America’s military effort led to a similar increase in size and responsibility for SEAL Team 6 in the early years of America’s two post-9/11 wars. By 2006, the command rapidly expanded, growing from 200 to 300 operators. What were originally known as assault teams now formally became squadrons, and by 2008, the expansion led to the creation of Silver, a fourth assault squadron. One result of the growth was that back in Virginia, the captain in command of the entire 300-SEAL force had far less oversight over tactical battlefield decisions. It was at this point that some critics in the military complained that SEAL Team 6 — with their full beards and arms, legs, and torsos covered in tattoos — looked like members of a biker gang. Questions about battlefield atrocities persisted, though some excused these actions in the name of psychological warfare against the enemy.

Against this backdrop, in 2006, Hugh Wyman Howard III, a descendant of an admiral and himself a Naval Academy graduate, took command of Red Squadron and its roughly 50 operators. Howard, who has since risen through the ranks and is currently a rear admiral, was twice rejected by his superiors for advanced SEAL Team 6 training. But in 1998, after intervention by a senior officer at Dam Neck, Howard was given a slot on Green Team. Because of Howard’s pedigree, SEAL Team 6 leaders running the training program felt pressure to pass him. After being shepherded through the nine-month training, he entered Red Squadron. Howard took the unit’s identity seriously, and after 9/11, despite the questionable circumstances that led to his ascent, his influence steadily grew.

In keeping with Red Squadron’s appropriation of Native American culture, Howard came up with the idea to bestow 14-inch hatchets on each SEAL who had a year of service in the squadron. The hatchets, paid for by private donations Howard solicited, were custom-made by Daniel Winkler, a highly regarded knife maker in North Carolina who designed several of the period tomahawks and knives used in the movie “The Last of the Mohicans.” Winkler sells similar hatchets for $600 each. The hatchets Howard obtained were stamped with a Native American warrior in a headdress and crossed tomahawks.

At first the hatchets appeared to be merely symbolic, because such heavy, awkward weapons had no place in the gear of a special operator. “There’s no military purpose for it,” a former Red Squadron operator told me. “But they are a great way of being part of a team. It was given as an honor, one more step to strive for, another sign that you’re doing a good job.”

For some of Howard’s men, however, the hatchets soon became more than symbolic as they were used at times to hack dead fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Others used them to break doorknobs on raids or kill militants in hand-to-hand combat.

During the first deployments in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it was common practice to take fingers, scalp, or skin from slain enemy combatants for identification purposes. One former SEAL Team 6 leader told me that he feared the practice would lead to members of the unit using the DNA samples as an excuse to mutilate and desecrate the dead. By 2007, when Howard and Red Squadron showed up with their hatchets in Iraq, internal reports of operators using the weapons to hack dead and dying militants were provided to both the commanding officer of SEAL Team 6 at that time, Capt. Scott Moore, and his deputy, Capt. Tim Szymanski.

Howard, who declined to answer questions from The Intercept, rallied his SEALs and others before missions and deployments by telling them to “bloody the hatchet.” One SEAL I spoke with said that Howard’s words were meant to be inspirational, like those of a coach, and were not an order to use the hatchets to commit war crimes. Others were much more critical. Howard was often heard asking his operators whether they’d gotten “blood on your hatchet” when they returned from a deployment. Howard’s distribution of the hatchets worried several senior SEAL Team 6 members and some CIA paramilitary officers who worked with his squadron.

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Top left: Red Squadron tattoo. Top right: A bearded Red Squadron SEAL in Afghanistan. Bottom left: A Winkler hatchet similar to those issued to Red Squadron. Bottom right: Undated photo of Adm. Wyman Howard.

 

Photos: Facebook; airsoft-army.com; http://www.lightfigher.net; Facebook

BEGINNING IN 2005 and continuing through 2008, as U.S. Special Operations forces became more central to the American military strategy, the number and frequency of operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan increased dramatically.

One former SEAL Team 6 senior leader said that he and others at the command were concerned that the scale and intensity of the violence in Iraq was so great that U.S. operators might be tempted to engage in retaliatory mutilations, a tactic al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgency sometimes employed. “Iraq was a different kind of war — nothing we’d ever seen,” said the now-retired Team 6 leader. “So many dead bodies, so many, everywhere, and so the potential opportunities for mutilations were great.”

The operational tempo was very high. “On my 2005 deployment in Afghanistan, we only went on a handful of ops,” said a retired SEAL who served under Howard. “By the time we moved over to Iraq, we were doing missions as much as five nights a week. Iraq was a target rich environment, and Wyman allowed us to be more aggressive.” According to several former SEAL Team 6 leaders, it was JSOC commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal who ordered the increased operational tempo and pushed SEAL Team 6, including Howard, to conduct more frequent raids to help wipe out the insurgency in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Howard, according to two of his former operators, was more willing than previous officers to greenlight operations based on “weak” intelligence, leading to more raids and strikes. As a result, Howard became popular among the enlisted SEALs under his command, several of whom defended and praised him.

Howard’s critics argue that the hatchets were emblems of the rogue, at times criminal, conduct on the battlefield the commander was encouraging. “Every one of us is issued and carries a suppressed weapon,” said one former senior SEAL, referring to the Heckler & Koch assault rifles, equipped with silencers, issued to the operators. “There just isn’t a need to carry a two-pound hatchet on the battlefield.” For those who favored them, this former SEAL said, the hatchets could be justified as being no more than knives. “It’s a great way to explain it away, but they have the hatchets to flaunt the law. Our job is to ensure that we conduct ourselves in a way befitting the American people and the American flag. The hatchet says, ‘We don’t care about the Geneva Conventions’ and that ‘we are above the law and can do whatever we want.’”

Critics inside the command were troubled by the combination of battlefield aggression and Howard’s lack of military discipline. A retired noncommissioned officer said Howard’s encouragement and provision of Winkler hatchets was simply adding fuel to the fire. The power of the Native American mascot, he said, was not to be dismissed. Since the 1980s, when Red Team was first created, there were many operators in the unit who had experienced a “metamorphosis of identity and persona” into Native American warriors. “Guys are going out every night killing everything. The hatchet was too intimate, too closely aligned with a tomahawk, to have been a good idea.” The former SEAL, who himself had served in Red during his career, said that by giving operators the weapon of their battlefield persona, Howard sent an unmistakable message to his men: Use it. “That’s when you take away a hatchet,” the retired SEAL said. “Not provide them.”

During one Iraq deployment, Howard returned from a raid to an operations center with blood on his hatchet and his uniform. Back at the base, he gave a speech to a group of analysts and nonoperational officers in which he told them that his bloody appearance was a demonstration of how a battlefield commander should lead. One operator, who confirmed Howard’s remarks, added his own: “That’s the business we’re in.”

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3HEAD ON A PLATTER

THE DEATH AND attempted decapitation of Neil Roberts on Takur Ghar affected no one so profoundly as Britt Slabinski, the operator who led the rescue team back up the mountain only to find that Roberts was already dead. One former teammate who served with Slabinski described his effort that day — outnumbered and with inferior fire support, taking incoming fire from the moment the helicopter landed — as “one of the most heroic things I’ve ever seen.” On the day when SEAL Team 6 lost its first operator in the post-9/11 era, Slabinski became a unit legend.

By all accounts, Slabinski, a second-generation SEAL who joined Team 6 in 1993, was an excellent sniper and reconnaissance operator. Thin and lanky, he was less physically imposing than many SEALs but was charismatic and dedicated. After Roberts’s death, Slabinksi wanted revenge. In audio of an unpublished interview with the late Malcolm MacPherson, author of a 2005 book about Roberts Ridge, Slabinski describes in great detail an operation that took place about a week after Objective Bull. In that mission, known as Objective Wolverine, Slabinski and his fellow SEALs were sent in Chinook helicopters to follow a convoy they believed was filled with al Qaeda fighters escaping to Pakistan. A drone flying above the convoy showed the occupants of three vehicles were heavily armed.

After the Chinook miniguns strafed the vehicles and stopped them, Slabinski and his team of snipers landed and moved to a rise several hundred yards away from one of the trucks and began firing sniper rounds at the militants. In that brief firefight, the SEALs killed nearly 20 foreign al Qaeda fighters, some of whom carried U.S. military equipment taken from Takur Ghar. Slabinski told MacPherson that Wolverine had been “really good payback.”

“Just a phenomenal, phenomenal day. We just slaughtered those dudes.” After describing one particular fighter who from a distance had resembled Osama bin Laden, Slabinksi continued: “To this day, we’ve never had anything as good as that. Oh my gosh. We needed that … there was not a better group of people to go and do that. The guys needed that to get back in the saddle because everyone was gun shy.”

“I mean, talk about the funny stuff we do. After I shot this dude in the head, there was a guy who had his feet, just his feet, sticking out of some little rut or something over here. I mean, he was dead, but people have got nerves. I shot him about 20 times in the legs, and every time you’d kick him, er, shoot him, he would kick up, you could see his body twitching and all that. It was like a game. Like, ‘hey look at this dude,’ and the guy would just twitch again. It was just good therapy. It was really good therapy for everybody who was there.”

Audio from an unpublished interview with Britt Slabinksi conducted by Malcolm MacPherson, author of a 2005 book on the battle of Roberts Ridge.

Shortly after that operation, Slabinski returned to the SEAL Team 6 base at Dam Neck. He was awarded a Navy Cross, the second highest battlefield award for heroism. For several years afterward, the leaders at the command limited Slabinski’s battlefield exposure — assigning him to Green Team as an instructor, for example — hoping the psychological wounds from Roberts Ridge would heal.

By late 2007, Slabinski was deployed to Afghanistan as the senior noncommissioned officer in Blue Squadron. The war was entering its seventh year and had become intractable, with no clear path to victory. Early in the war, the SEALs’ mission was to hunt down al Qaeda’s senior leaders, who had largely vanished into Pakistan, but now Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the leader of JSOC, extended the mission to target the Taliban, who along with al Qaeda were moving back and forth across the Pakistani border with impunity. The SEALs were now going after low-level Taliban financiers and shadow governors.

Blue Squadron was led at that time by Cmdr. Peter Vasely, a Naval Academy graduate who had not gone through the advanced assault training of Green Team that the other members of SEAL Team 6 had endured. He was an outsider, despite having been at the command for many years. Like Vic Hyder, he struggled to command the respect of his men. Slabinski — experienced, charismatic, and by now legendary — bridged the gap.

According to two senior SEAL Team 6 sources, however, the leadership dynamic in Blue Squadron was a failure. By 2007, the command’s leadership was aware that some Blue Squadron operators were using specialized knives to conduct “skinnings.” Using the excuse of collecting DNA, which required a small piece of skin containing hair follicles, operators were taking large strips of skin from dead enemy fighters. The two leading officers at the command, Moore and Szymanski, were informed that small groups in each of the three squadrons were mutilating and desecrating combatants in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Slabinkski and others in the squadron had fallen under the influence of an obscure war novel, “Devil’s Guard,” published in 1971 by George Robert Elford. The book purported to be a true account of an S.S. officer who with dozens of other soldiers escaped Germany after World War II, joined the French Foreign Legion, and spent years in Vietnam brutalizing the insurgency. The novel, which glorifies Nazi military practices, describes counterinsurgency tactics such as mass slaughter and desecration and other forms of wanton violence as a means of waging psychological warfare against the “savage” Vietnamese.

“These fucking morons read the book ‘The Devil’s Guard’ and believed it,” said one of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders who investigated Slabinski and Blue Squadron. “It’s a work of fiction billed as the Bible, as the truth. In reality, it’s bullshit. But we all see what we want to see.” Slabinski and the Blue Squadron SEALs deployed to Afghanistan were “frustrated, and that book gave them the answers they wanted to see: Terrorize the Taliban and they’d surrender. The truth is that such stuff only galvanizes the enemy.”

One telling illustration of what had gone wrong with Blue Squadron occurred on December 17, 2007, during a raid in Helmand province. Slabinski had told his operators that he wanted “a head on a platter.” Although some of the more seasoned SEALs took the statement metaphorically, at least one operator took Slabinski at his word, interpreting it as an order.

Later that night, after Blue Squadron’s assaulters had successfully carried out the raid, killing three or four armed men and recovering weapons and explosives, Vasely and Slabinski conducted a walk-through of the compound. Vasely, who was wearing night-vision goggles, looked through a window and saw one of his operators, his back turned, squatting over the body of a dead militant. Vasely later told investigators he saw the operator moving his hand back and forth over the militant’s neck in a sawing motion. Alarmed at seeing what he believed was a decapitation, he told Slabinski to go inside and see what the young operator was doing. By the time Slabinski entered the room where the dead militant lay, according to three former SEAL Team 6 leaders, the operator had severed much of the dead man’s neck.

Slabinski did not report the decapitation, however. He told Vasely that the operator had been trying to remove the dead fighter’s chest rack, a small vest that can hold ammunition and clips. Slabinski told Vasely, and later, Navy investigators, that there had been “no foul play.”

After leaving the compound and returning to their base in Kandahar province, Vasely reported to Moore, his superior officer, that he believed he had witnessed a war crime, a mutilation. Vasely told Moore he wanted an investigation into the incident. Moore, sitting in his office in Virginia Beach, pressed Vasely: What had he actually seen? Was there another explanation?

Moore told his deputy, Szymanski, who was in Afghanistan, to sort things out. Ten days later, the internal JSOC investigation was closed. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service then opened an investigation but was forced to rely on photographs and witness statements because active hostilities made the alleged crime scene inaccessible. When investigators approached the operator accused of mutilating the dead fighter, he exercised his right to remain silent and his right to counsel. A few days after the attempted interview, investigators obtained photos purporting to be of the dead fighter. No cuts were visible in the photos, according to a military official who has reviewed the file. Three weeks after the incident, NCIS closed its investigation, concluding that there was no evidence the SEAL had violated the laws of armed conflict. But according to multiple SEAL sources, the incident did in fact occur.

Szymanski, according to these sources, was directed by Moore to make the episode disappear. “Tim took a dive,” said a former noncommissioned SEAL officer, and it was “at Moore’s direction.” Szymanski had known Slabinski for at least 15 years. They had bonded over Roberts’s death.

Although Blue Squadron had avoided criminal charges, their battlefield conduct continued to set off alarms within the command. Some SEAL Team 6 leaders were appalled by how easily Vasely and Szymanski had folded under Moore’s pressure.

Within two weeks of the apparent beheading, Moore deployed to Afghanistan. While he was there, he confronted the Blue Squadron troop and the operator who’d tried to behead the Taliban fighter. A former SEAL Team 6 leader who has knowledge of the episode told me Moore shamed Slabinski and the squadron for their conduct. That was the only punishment. (The Intercept is withholding the name of the operator, who believed he was following an order. He remains on active duty and has not responded to requests for comment.)

One of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders, who investigated several Blue Squadron incidents, including the mutilation of bodies, said he repeatedly asked the operators why they felt the need to commit such acts. “Often we’d hear, well, they’re savages,” the former leader said. “They don’t play by the rules, so why should we?”

The Intercept submitted three pages of questions to both Adm. Szymanksi, who as head of Naval Special Warfare now commands all SEALs in the Navy, and Capt. Vasely, who currently runs the operations divisions of JSOC. Both declined to comment. Moore did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson at Naval Special Warfare, which oversees SEAL Team 6, declined repeated requests for interviews and refused to answer a detailed list of questions, writing in a statement, “We do not entertain or support public discussion of classified information because it puts our forces, their families and our future operations at great risk.” The SEAL command asserted that “all members of Naval Special Warfare are required to comply with the Laws of Armed Conflict in the conduct of military operations.”

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Top: Capt. Peter Vasely with members of Blue Squadron in Afghanistan. Bottom: Britt Slabinski, left, and Capt. Timothy Szymanski, commanding officer of the Naval Special Warfare Group, after Slabinski was blackballed by SEAL Team 6 in Norfolk, Va., March 25, 2011.

 

Photos: http://www.navyseals.hu; Robert J. Fluegel/U.S. Navy

IN 2010, WHEN Slabinski was up for a promotion at the command, SEAL Team 6 leaders conducted two internal inquiries before making a decision. Almost immediately, the issue that received the most scrutiny was the December 2007 attempted beheading. According to two former SEALs, Slabinski told his teammates and superiors that his remark about wanting a head was figurative and not a literal order. By then, there was no question about whether the attempted beheading had occurred; the question was why.

“We didn’t debate whether Slab had told his guys he wanted a head on a platter — he copped to that. The only issue was, was his order real, or just talk?” said one of the retired SEALs involved. “It didn’t make a difference. He said it and one of his operators did it because he believed he was following an order.”

Ten officers and master chiefs voted unanimously against allowing Slabinski to return to the command. At that point, the second inquiry was commissioned by the SEAL Team 6 commanding officer, Pete Van Hooser. Evidence was presented that Slabinski gave an order to shoot all the men they encountered during another raid, whether or not they were armed. According to the New York Times, Afghans accused Blue Squadron of killing civilians during that operation, but a subsequent military investigation determined that all those killed had been armed and hostile. When Slabinski was confronted by the command’s senior enlisted leader about whether he had instructed Blue Squadron operators to kill all males during the operation, code-named Pantera, Slabinski acknowledged that he had done so. The second inquiry also uncovered the “head on a platter” remark as the instigation for the beheading in December 2007, but the command’s senior enlisted leader told Slabinski he would not get the promotion or be allowed to serve at the command again because of the Pantera order. Overall, it had become clear that Slabinski’s run as a leader on the battlefield caused Blue Squadron to come “off the rails,” according to a former SEAL Team 6 leader.

Slabinski has not responded to multiple queries and requests for comment, though he did deny to the New York Times in 2015 that he gave the illegal pre-mission guidance to kill all males. In his interview with the Times, Slabinski asserted that it was he who had witnessed the operator slashing at the dead fighter’s throat, saying, “It appeared he was mutilating a body.” Slabinski portrayed himself as trying to police his men and said that he gave them “a very stern speech.” He claimed to the Times that he told his men, “If any of you feel a need to do any retribution, you should call me.” Slabinski says nothing in the Times story about Vasely ordering him to investigate the scene or the remark about a head on a platter.

“To this day, he thinks the guys turned on him,” said one of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders. “Well, they did. What we didn’t do was turn him in. You will step over the line and you start dehumanizing people. You really do. And it takes the team, it takes individuals to pull you back. And part of that was getting rid of Britt Slabinski.”

Two other SEAL Team 6 leaders with a combined 35 years at the command said the removal of Slabinski and the failure to pursue official punishment was an indictment of the senior officers — they had failed one of their most basic duties, to hold themselves and others accountable for wrongdoing.

When Szymanski, who was then commanding officer of all regular East Coast-based SEAL teams, heard that Slabinski had been rejected by Team 6, he requested him as his senior enlisted adviser. The request was approved and Slabinski was promoted.

“If a guy cuts off another guy’s head and nothing happens, that becomes the standard,” said one of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders. “You’re moving the bar and buying into an emotional justification, ‘War is hell.’ If you’re not disciplining your force, you’re saying it’s OK.”

Slabinski retired from the military in 2014 after 25 years in the Navy. The operator accused of the attempted beheading has experienced difficulties as a result of his service. Last year, the command became concerned about his psychological condition, determining that he was medically unfit to deploy again. His superiors believed he had become “unglued” over the 2007 deployment. He was quietly removed from Team 6 and returned to a regular SEAL unit. He has told at least one former SEAL Team 6 teammate that he hopes to never deploy again.

“He’s just beginning to suffer for what he did,” said another SEAL Team 6 leader.

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I’ll start with my parable of a little boy from a poor home. one day playing in the woods, he found a precious stone, he loved it dearly. He couldn’t take it home for the many questions his poor parents would ask. So at the end of each day playing with it, he would bury it. The next day, he would set out early, dig up the stone, go to the nearby stream, wash it up, play with it till evening and bury it again. He was soon getting fatigued at the route he had to take every day just to play with something he loved. So he found a beautiful way out.

You will found out at the end of this thread what the brilliant young boy’s solution was. So here goes what God has been to us forever. 

God has never been mad at you, never was, never will be. But you are too scared to accept the reality that you are loved unconditionally. God’s covenant with Abraham was independent of Abraham’s actions. In blessing, I will bless you… Abraham had no part in the covenant. Years down, his descendants, Israel are on the march out of Egypt, note there was no ten commandments, so how did God deal with Israel? Pure Grace, he did good for evil unto them because he loved them. But as with all things good and undeserved, the Israelites were sceptical. Like we do: “At what point does my sin become too much of an issue with God?” “shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” sad

The Israelites shot themselves in the foot and told God “all that you command of us, we are willing and able to do” The consequence…? They had just told God, do to me according to my own works, I don’t want to be loved unconditionally, I want my love to be measured. The Israelites wanted God to deal love unto them on a performance basis. It saddened God. His nature is love and He deals it in abundance. Before this time, their clothes & sandals grew on them, when they asked for food he gave them manna. When they complained about manna, saying “Oh Lord what is this worthless bread” God didn’t say see these ingrates and kill them, nope,  He gave them Quail. Isn’t His love pure? All that changed when the law came, you do good, you get good, you do bad, you get beat. The wrath of God was unveiled. They demanded it.

God couldn’t hold out on anger that long so he did what only he could. God became man, and made a covenant with God on behalf of men. So as you see again, as with Abraham, man didn’t have a contribution to the covenant, because HE DOESN’T NEED YOU TO LOVE YOU! The law in itself is a stumbling block, Christ said this to the Pharisees. Notice something in the way he addressed the teachers of law… Christ called Pharisees “Brood of Vipers” that the law has blinded them. Paul said in Romans “where there is no law, there is no sin”. Some “My Pastor said” Christians will say “But Jesus said, I didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfil it”. Hmmmmmm

I will explain this now.

When you fulfil a thing, what does it mean? You satisfy the conditions in it and it is a done deal right? Let me get deeper for clarity. Lawyers on here know that you can’t punish someone twice for the same offence, even if you uncover new evidence. He is free, He is free. Hence, in the forgiveness of sins: Jesus hung on the cross like a common thief for you and I and screamed “it is finished” what did he mean? He meant: every punishment for sin, every condemnation, every sickness, has been fully paid for on the cross. He took it all on his body.

So Friends, what does “it is finished” mean to you? It means blow after blow after blow, Christ took all your punishments… And said…”… There remains no other sacrifice for sin”  Sin ended on the body of Jesus, believer, you are discharged, blameless and acquitted!!! Christ himself was the end of the law, why did the curtains of the temple tear open from top to bottom, The forgiveness of sins went in.

The law in itself is condemnation, look at the people that got healed in scriptures. they had to forego condemnation to be healed. A life of no condemnation is what we now call FAITH. Hence Christ always told those he healed… “Go, your faith has made you whole”. Put simply, Jesus meant: “thank you for coming out of the law, sin and condemnation, that’s the only way to get a taste of my pure love”.

I like to say it often but Christian apologetics hate me for this “the law was not made to be kept” Let me tell you why the law was made. The law was brought in so that the sin might increase. (Romans 5:20 NIV) I will tell you what this means. Remember the Israelites story? God made the law so that they would sin more and get burnt out, so that they would need a saviour: Jesus. The law was brought in so that man would come to the end of himself, be tired of keeping the laws and beg for a saviour, THE GRAND PLAN!

There were two people Jesus said had great FAITH in scriptures, they were the Syro-Phoenician woman and the Centurion, want to know why? They had one thing in common!!

Wait for it!!

THEY WERE NOT JEWS, THEY WERE NOT UNDER THE LAW, THEY HAD NO CONDEMNATION TO DEAL WITH!!!

I will wrap this up in a moment with the question “shall we continue in sin that grace may abound”

Let heavenly wisdom flood your heart

Paul wasn’t asking a question, he was repeating people’s popular question to him, like we do today. Paul’s answer is in the next verse…His answer was “God forbid, how can you who have died to sin live any longer in it” 

I will tell you what Paul means by God Forbid…

“God forbid” in this is context is “How can these things be?” Like: is that a question, it would be stupid and disrespectful to even answer. Paul was saying “Its impossible, you can’t live in sin, sin has been paid for, Christ is the end to sin and judgement, how can it be?” Paul even said to the Romans “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” BELIEVERS, PLEASE BELIEVE!!!
People are quick to take me to 1 John  1. Let me show you what it means. Discern what parts of scripture is yours and which is not.

FOR UNBELIEVERS:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

FOR BELIEVERS

“…that you don’t sin. But if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, The Righteous one” (1 John 2:1)

Sons of God hear His voice.

Remember the boy at the beginning of the story? Here was what he did and he that blows my mind every time. He pegged the precious stone between two rocks inside the stream, so that he doesn’t have to dig up and wash every day. Beautiful stuff.

Believer, you are the pearl of great price, God was tired of digging you up and washing you every day, so he put you under his blood and washes you continually with his waterfall of forgiveness, his blood. Believer you are righteous once you have Jesus. It is a GIFT.

Now, “Grace has found you, Love will avail himself to you every step of the way”. The devil has no grip on you, the sacrifice on your life is an overpayment, be free of condemnation right this moment, YOU ARE FREE!!!

I Pray that GRACE AND PEACE be MULTIPLIED unto YOU. You will know the length, breadth and depth of God’s super abounding love for you. Grace will abound towards you so bountifully and tangibly that you will experience his love so thick like a mist. Grace will envelop you. GRACE HAS FOUND YOU.

Stay Blessed.

Charles Isidi @i_am_pixelhub

​By Kate Motaung


Does immediate gratification hinder our ability to wait well?

The other night, I went to our local DVD rental store, because yes, I’m old school and I’ve never had Netflix or cable. Try to set that detail aside, and stand with me for a moment in the ancient aisles of my DVD rental store, Family Video.

So I’m perusing movie titles, and a married couple in the aisle next to me has a conundrum. The wife points to a movie and says, “Oh, I really wanted to watch that one – but it’s only available on Blu-Ray.” The husband has a quick solution, as many husbands do: “Well, we could always just run over to Best Buy and use my points to buy a new Blu-Ray player.”

If this interaction had been documented on Twitter, it would’ve merited the hashtag, #firstworldproblems.

SEE ALSO: 7 Practical Ways to be a More Patient Parent

I found myself instinctively looking at my watch. 8:40pm. Were they seriously going to rent the Blu-Ray movie of their choice, drive to Best Buy, and purchase a brand new Blu-Ray player, just so they could watch the movie they wanted to watch? Apparently so.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with shopping at Best Buy or having Best Buy points to spend — I fall into this category, on both counts. But after hearing this couple’s interaction, I did wonder:

SEE ALSO: 3 Ways to Be Patient and Wait on the Lord

Does our culture’s knee-jerk reaction toward immediate gratification cause us to miss the important life lesson of learning patience?

After checking out my DVDs from Family Video, I climbed into my minivan and did a little soul searching. I thought about how quick I am to go out and buy things as I need them, provided the money is available. 

During the ten years I lived in South Africa, I witnessed a different way of life – a culture and community who looked to friends and neighbors for material resources before rushing out to buy a brand new item.

I couldn’t help but wonder – if the Best Buy couple had been in a DVD rental store in South Africa, would the husband have offered a different solution? Would he have suggested that they borrow a friend’s Blu-Ray player for the weekend, rather than go buy a new one for themselves? Or would he have said to his wife, “I’m sorry that we aren’t able to watch that movie tonight, honey. Why don’t we see what else is available on DVD?”

SEE ALSO: The Power of Patience

Patience as more than a virtue

Most of us have heard the phrase, “Patience is a virtue.” Sure, patience is a noble and desirable trait – but is that all? For the Christian, isn’t patience a necessity? Don’t we define our lives by waiting for Jesus to return, by waiting to meet Him in glory?

Does our ability to satisfy our wants in the moment take away the blessing of learning how to wait well?

If I can’t wait well for things like watching a rented DVD or getting an Oreo McFlurry from McDonald’s, how will I wait well for eternity?

And what does it mean to “wait well,” anyway?

The morning after my visit to Family Video, the Best Buy interaction was still on my mind. I decided to open my Bible and do a little word study on the term, “wait.” Three phrases stuck out to me from the Scriptures: waiting quietly, waiting eagerly, and waiting patiently.

Wait Quietly

Lamentations 3:25-26 says, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

What does it mean to wait quietly? Without complaint?

I’m embarrassed to admit that my kids have heard me groan with impatience when the red traffic light doesn’t turn green as soon as I’d like.

What else do I groan and grumble about when I don’t want to wait? The long lines at the McDonald’s drive-thru? The slow teller at the bank?

Am I setting an example of waiting quietly, or do I make sure everybody knows I’m not happy?

Wait Eagerly

I found several verses in the Bible that talk about waiting eagerly.

Hebrews 9:27-28 says, And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

Am I one of those? One who is eagerly waiting for Him? Or am I waiting with a begrudging, impatient heart?

According to Romans 8:19 and 23, “… the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God …. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

Galatians 5:5 says, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.”

Is my life characterized by an eagerness for my own redemption? Do other people see eagerness in my words, my actions, my facial expressions? Or am I only waiting eagerly for earthly, material things?

Wait Patiently

How does living in a world of instant gratification affect our longing for heaven? According to Romans 8:25, “… if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

In reality, do we really wait for it patiently? Or do we just swing over to Best Buy to pick up a new Blu-Ray player?

Hebrews 6:15 says, “And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.” Abraham waited patiently for God to lead him to the Promised Land – but remember that detour he took regarding the promise of an heir?

In Genesis 15:5, God told Abram his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. At the time, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

But maybe as the years past, Abram grew tired of waiting. Maybe his patience wore thin. The Bible doesn’t tell us what he was thinking, but when his wife, Sarai, suggested that Abram have a child with their slave, Hagar, Abram agreed (Genesis 16).

If you read on in Genesis, you’ll see it didn’t go so well for Abram when he took things into his own hands rather than waiting for the Lord’s promise to be fulfilled.  

“Be patient, therefore, brothers,until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:7-8).

The One Thing We Shouldn’t Wait For

There are many things worth waiting for, and many things we should learn to be more patient about – but there is one thing we should definitely not postpone for another second. That is acknowledging Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives.

We have no idea when our time here will come to an end, or when Jesus Christ will return. It could be today. It could be tomorrow.

If you haven’t acknowledged your need for a Savior and declared Jesus as Lord of your life, don’t wait another day. Today is the day of salvation. 

 

Kate Motaung grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan before spending ten years in Cape Town, South Africa. She is married to a South African and together they have three children. Kate is the author of the e-book, Letters to Grief, hosts the Five Minute Friday blog link-up, and has contributed to several other online publications. She blogs at Heading Home and can be found on Twitter @k8motaung.

Debbie McDaniel Crosswalk.com blogspot for Debbie McDaniel of Fresh Day Ahead

Don’t let the enemy steal your joy today. He’ll try you know. You may not even realize it until it’s too late. From the moment your feet hit the floor, he’ll do all that he can to distract you, to overwhelm you, to frustrate you, and to stir up worry and strife. Often his ways are subtle, other times they’re more clear. It’s what he does best. Stealing. Killing. Destroying.

Just say “no.”

Don’t let him win.

We have a choice of who we listen to and what we believe. Recognize who is at the root of it all, and push past his lies, step over his traps.

God gives us the power through His Holy Spirit to live free from the entanglement of sin. He gives us the power to live strong. He gives wisdom and discernment to make the right choices. He gives joy deep inside. He offers the assurance, that no matter what we face, He is with us.

His truth says this, 8 loving reminders:

“The joy of the Lord is my strength.” Neh.8:10

“Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4

“No weapon that is formed against you will prosper…” Is.54:17

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Rom.15:13

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Ps.118:24

“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Is. 55:12

May His grace, peace, and joy cover your day.

He is with you…

“Dear God, 

At the start of each day, help us to recognize you above all else. Enlighten the eyes of our heart that we might see you, and notice how you’re at work through our lives. Give us wisdom to make the best choices, fill us with a desire to seek after you more than anything else in this world. Let your Spirit and power breathe in us, through us, again, fresh and new. Thank you that you are greater than anything we may face in our day. Thank you that your presence goes with us, and that your joy is never dependent on our circumstances, but it is our true and lasting strength, no matter what we’re up against. We ask that your peace lead us, that it would guard our hearts and minds in you. We ask for your grace to cover our lives this day. We love you Lord…we need you.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.”

(This post was first published, Oct. 2015)

“Many in the church today are being held captive spiritually, not because of the enemy’s power, but because we do not clearly understand our authority and calling in Christ…  As we begin to understand the hope of His calling, we will begin to walk in an abundant life of freedom and power.” Angie Weaver 

Dear intercessors, 
 
Most Christians do not exercise the tremendous authority they have in Christ.God has called us to make a difference in our nation. He can enforce His will, but He limits His dealings on earth by working through His people. He does not want us to passively stand by and watch the earth fall into decay (Psalm 8:4-6, 115:16). But if we were to evaluate the situation, isn’t this what many Christians are doing? How many of us exercise our authority? This needs to change in the coming days.
      
God has given us authority on earth to rule. It may not feel like it, but it’s true. He does nothing on earth unless he does it through a person. He always intended to rule the earth but through His delegated authority in mankind (Genesis 1:26). We were to carry out the government of the earth, but Adam and Eve gave it away through disobedience. You know the story. Adam transferred authority over the earth to Satan (Luke 4:4, 2 Corinthians 4:4). All of mankind was then under his dominion. God did not give Satan authority over the earth, Adam did.
 
We needed someone to stand between us, and Satan, in order to break that dominion. Jesus was the only one who could. He came as a man completely fulfilling God’s will and became our intercessor – the one who could join us to God again and break Satan’s headship over us (Isaiah 53:12). Jesus purchased us with his blood (Revelation 5:9, 1 Timothy 2:5) and not only restored us to God, He became the way that God could again have dominion over the earth (1 Corinthians 15, Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus could now rule in the affairs of earth.

He has given us authority to rule – and through prayer – we exercise this authority in Christ.  

We are called to pray and seek justice on the earth on behalf of others. Not only can we break the personal strongholds in our lives through prayer, but we can impact our cities and nations. The world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19). Look around and you see this everywhere; drugs, pornography, murder, evil and so on. But we can make a difference. Jesus has authority in heaven and on earth, but since He is no longer on the earth, He rules through his Church. He changes things on earth through us! We must learn to exercise our authority right in the middle of Satan’s territory. As we use our authority, we can actually subdue powers and principalities (Ephesians 3:10). Wow!
 
But how can we walk in authority in the midst of personal, and sometimes unrelenting, spiritual warfare? What are some ways we can stand strong?

Ways to Stand Strong in Steadfast Authority

“Praise be to the Lord, my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle”(Psalm 144:1).

  • Abide in Christ – As you abide, you are able to pray the things that are on God’s heart.
  • Be steadfast in prayer and ready for battle – Know that you are in enemy territory, and you are here to fight for God’s Kingdom in prayer. Watch for those fiery darts, hold up your shield of faith, and put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6).
  • Stand upon the promises of God – Do not listen to the enemy. Speak God’s promises over your family, neighborhood, city, and nation. 
  • Know and Pray God’s Word – The Bible is filled with Scripture you can pray. Declarative prayer is a key way to exercise your authority in prayer. Try praying Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9:3-19.
  • Focus on God during times of warfare – The enemy will try to discourage you as to your authority. Focus on God instead of the things you see happening in the world. Remember, you have authority in Christ.
  • Mix praise and prayer together – Worship is the atmosphere where truth dwells. There is power released in worship warfare. God is greater than all enemy attacks. 
  • Practice fasting on a regular basis – Fasting gives you spiritual power and strength to steadfastly stand against the enemy.
  • Let God’s peace rule in your heart – Come in the opposite spirit of the world system. An attitude of peace and joy in the midst of darkness is powerful (Colossians 3:15).    

When we got new inter-net access a few years ago, a man came and installed it outside our house. While we were at church one Sunday, someone cut the wires. We were unable to communicate with anyone! We knew that it was an unreasonable next-door neighbor because he had done bad things to us in the past. In this and other difficulties, we’ve learned to walk in God’s peace and take our authority in prayer by practicing these points. Perhaps you can identify with some form of spiritual warfare where you live or work. Practice taking your authority in prayer, look to Jesus, and realize that God has called you to live in steadfast authority on earth for such a time as this.  
 
It’s time for the Church of Jesus Christ to arise and aggressively take back land stolen by the enemy. Are you and I going to let the devil control our cities when Jesus died for the entire world? The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Psalm 24:1). Let’s not forget that. This will be our finest hour if we learn to wield the weapons of warfare and stand in our God-given authority. It’s time to arise and realize the victory we have in Christ. It’s time to arise in steadfast authority in prayer.

A Prayer for Steadfast Authority

“Dear Lord, I thank You for giving Your people authority to rule on earth. Help me to understand the hope of my calling. Teach me to exercise this authority in my life, my city, and my nation. Thank You for becoming my intercessor and breaking Satan’s headship over my life (Isaiah 53:12). Help me to pray and seek justice on the earth on behalf of others. I thank You for giving your people authority to actually subdue powers and principalities (Ephesians 3:10). I choose to reign with You and walk in Your authority. I am called to declare Your authority and rule the earth with You (Revelation 1:6). Through steadfast authority in prayer, I can enforce Your victory on earth (Romans 16:20,Colossians 2:13-15) and fight for the nations (Psalm 2:7). ‘Praise be to the Lord, my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle’ (Psalm 144:1). In Jesus’ name, amen.”
 
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:10-13).


Together in the Harvest,
 
Debbie Przybylski
Intercessors Arise International
International House of Prayer Kansas City (IHOPKC)
deb@intercessorsarise.org
www.intercessorsarise.org