“He has made my chain heavy.”

Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:31) But there can be times where it’s like what Jeremiah said, “He has made my chain heavy.” (Lamentations 3:7) Is there a contradiction? Not really. For those who are following the Lord, not just only believing in Him, there are certainly times when we can clearly see and experience what Jesus said, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)

Let’s sadly face it: in this day and age, the vast majority of Christians are not really following the Lord, as He said there. They may be believers; they may be saved and will be in heaven.  But at best, they “follow afar off” (Matthew 26:58). On the other hand, for those who really have committed to a life of Christian service, who are determined and in the practice of following both the admonitions of God’s Word, as well as and equally following the promptings of the Holy Spirit, taking up our cross daily can definitely be what God calls for. And at times it can even be like a heavy chain.

But, almost strangely, there’s an incredible, utterly unearthly freedom in following the Lord to that degree. That may seem like a huge paradox. How could there be freedom in carrying a cross and being chained? I could use a military analogy or talk about James Bond or Jason Bourne. But to use something less sinister, think of successful sports stars or concert pianists for example. Those folks often go all over the world, they are famous, well paid and have the adulation of the multitude.

But what level of commitment is required of them? How many hours of practice, of sacrifice and denial were necessary for that goal scorer to get to the place where he could play at that level? Or that pianist to play that solo so amazingly. For those very few who are endeavoring to follow the Lord the way He wants and needs us to, there’s both this incredible freedom of experience but at the same time an incredible confinement (if that’s the right word) that is done by the Holy Spirit to keep us on the track and direction for Him. The apostle Paul certainly knew of this. He said once, “Necessity is laid upon me, yeah, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.” (I Corinthians 9:16)

And if we follow that path, to attain God’s goals, He sometimes just waves the rules. In Acts 10, Peter was led of the Spirit to eat unclean meats, or at least it seemed so at the beginning of his experience. But it was a picture of what was about to happen, that the Spirit led him out of his Jewish training and restrictions into a new age of the gospel of Christ being open to the gentiles. I wrote about that here.

It seems Peter just barely obeyed because the leading of the Lord appeared so contrary to what he had thought was the will of God. Actually at first Peter just said no to God. Nevertheless he did obey, almost like with a chain about his neck since the Spirit was so clear and definite in what God’s will was right then. But he obeyed.

That’s the kind of following Jesus that changes the world. And it wasn’t just for 2000 years ago. The Holy Spirit is just as alive today; the needs are just as great, the freedom just as magnificent and breathtaking but also the cross and the chain just as real and necessary as it was in Biblical times.

When I came to the Lord when I was 21, the type of Christianity I was born into was a radical discipleship Christianity. It was about soul winning and forsaking all to go into all the world to follow Him to the ends of the earth for the Kingdom of God. Eighteen months after I got saved I was across the Atlantic and out personal witnessing in places like Hyde Park in London or Vondel Park in Amsterdam. In some ways it was tough but also it was often extremely exhilarating. Thankfully some decades later now that life of Christian discipleship is still what I’ve been allowed by God to experience.

If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free in deed.” “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” “Brethren, you’ve been called unto liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.There’s been amazing liberty, incredible experience and a sense of purpose and fulfillment. But if I ever use that liberty for “an occasion to the flesh”, the Lord may just lift off his blessing.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been having a life of thumb screws and aestheticism. He’s often given me many happy times, even in the physical side of this life. He’s very often “cast our lines in pleasant places.” (Psalm 16:6) But His cause and instant obedience to the leading of His will has always had to be preeminent and paramount.

It’s a wonderful life, almost charmed. But you have to accept that cross and that chain as part of the bargain and contract.

“Let not your heart be troubled”

Jesus told His disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled.” (John 14:1) You mean it’s up to us to keep a calm heart? We have some control and responsibility over the state of our heart? Yep. That might be a surprise to some. Because it seems that often people think that our thoughts and emotions are our masters, that we are in thrall to every whim that pops into our minds.

But we aren’t. Jesus was very clear about that and the Bible is full of examples where we are responsible for and even to rule over not only our emotions, but even conditions and circumstances around us, as strange as that may seem. So you don’t have to get mad. You don’t have to be swallowed up in despair, even though things may seem and even are very bleak and rough at the moment. This is another place where the miracle-working power of God commands us to do what seems to be the humanly impossible: to look at disaster or extreme despair in the face and to see “things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17).

Maybe you’re wondering if I’m a little off the beam and “out there” on this one. So perhaps an example of this in the Bible might help. In the Psalms, King David could get pretty down and desperate at times. Psalm 77 is an incredible example of his being in despair and at wits end. At first he says things like, “My sore ran in the night and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. You [God] hold mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak.” (Psalm 77:2-4)

So what does David do, go jump off a bridge? Go “postal”? Nope. Here’s what he says later in the same psalm. And I said, ‘This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High. I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate also of all Your works and talk of Your doings.’”  (Psalm 77:10-12)

David got a grip on himself, on his heart, and then made a strong, conscious effort to “let not his heart be troubled”. This is all similar to what I wrote about in the blog post ”Keep your heart”. And frankly, “with man it is impossible but not with God, for with God, nothing shall be impossible.”  (Matthew 19:26)

I suppose this is somewhat a sequel to what I wrote about having a troubled mind in “God has given… a sound mind.” Like Jesus said, “Why are you troubled and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:28) But when you’re really down, discouraged, despondent and in the depths of despair, one of the last things you want to hear or do is to be counseled to “let not your heart be troubled”. Usually you have gone beyond hope. Things look utterly impossible. But then, God teaches us that “it takes an impossible situation for God to do a miracle”.

It looked really, really bad for King David there. But he’d grown in the Lord and in His wisdom enough to know that he could, by the power of God, turn away from his despair by making a conscious effort of his heart to, if nothing else, start remembering all that God had done in the past for him. He just kept saying to himself, “I will remember…” all the good things that God had done for him before that time. For us in these times, a similar thing to this would be to just quote comforting, strengthening Bible verses to ourselves in times of greatest difficulty.

This is one of the miracles and secrets of a Godly life, that you can and even must have dominion over your heart and mind. You don’t have to be a slave to your emotions or circumstances and conditions. In the case of Jesus and His disciples, He said that to them that they should not let their heart be troubled, just hours before He was to be captured and led away to His trial and crucifixion.

It’s almost unfathomable and incomprehensible the grace, depth and love that Jesus must have had to be counseling and consoling His disciples at a time when He certainly knew that His excruciating death was less than a day away. But He did that so that we could have “rule over our spirits” (Proverbs 25:28), so that we can have victory through Him over, not only outside enemies, but the enemies within own hearts: our fears, our prejudices, our foolishness, our weak human emotions.

Let not your heart be troubled.” (John 14:1)  “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.”  (Proverbs 4:23) “I will remember the works of the Lord. I will meditate also of all Your works and talk of Your doings.” (Psalm 77:10-12) These are things we can and even must do in order to survive the terrors, traumas and vicissitudes of this present evil world. Granted, it can seem almost impossible. But then we know it really isn’t. “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

 

 

God has given …a sound mind

It seems like everywhere I go nowadays, I hear about people who are suffering from serious mental problems. Fears, confusion, syndromes, suicidal thoughts and just various forms of insanity or bleak mental instability. And these are folks across all spectrums and nationalities, Christian or otherwise. It really moves me because for a time, in my younger years, I certainly battled royally with what some call “mind battles”.

It’s serious stuff. If it doesn’t actually end up killing you, it can just snuff out your life as far as any joy, peace or enjoyment that should be ours. I feel I can really testify that this is a battle that is winnable as I’ve had a lot of those battles but have survived and even, I feel, been blessed and prospered in this life. And of course it’s all through the dear Lord Jesus. It wasn’t pills, therapy, scientists or yoga that got me through those terrible times. A Bible verse that has always meant so much to me on this subject is “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7)

I was going to say that perhaps the biggest thing that made the difference was when I found out that it wasn’t really my mind, it was my heart. But of course the really biggest thing was the work of God in my life, to show me His love when I was light years beyond any hope. First I found that there is a God, the true God of light and love, the God of Abraham, the God of the Bible. But then it was seven months later that I found that God was not alone up there in heaven. He has a Son who He sent to the earth to die for us, redeem us and “be a ransom for many”, (Matthew 20:28) as He said.

“Aw, Mark, darn. I thought you were going to tell us how to overcome mental problems and then you come along with all that Jesus and God stuff!”

Well, what should I say? This is what happened to me. This is how I found full deliverance and a joyous, meaningful life that’s now gone close to 50 years from the time I was so very far gone in confusion and depravity. So “all that Jesus stuff” may be, for some, too much a price to pay for having mental healing. But for those who will go that far, I’ll tell you more about what happened.

Like I said earlier, it was just a huge awakening when it dawned on me that my mental struggles were a direct result of my unregenerate heart. I didn’t even know I had a heart! No classes about that at the big university I was going to! But through the tender and steady mercy of God, almost against my will, He led me through the deepest depths I’d come to into a place where the simple message of salvation through Christ was shared with me. So by “receiving Him” (John 1:12) I was able to have the first step along the path towards peace of mind, by having a born again heart.  Without that, there never could have been any recovery of my weakened, confused mind.

But once my heart and soul were saved, the Lord went to work on my mind. I’m so thankful that I was able to fall in with a band of young radical Christians back then, “Jesus freaks” as they were known in those days. Most of them had come from a similar background to me so they knew what I’d been through and what it took to start up the road to full recovery.

“So, Mark, what did those people do to you? Did they brainwash you, Mark?!”

That word has a real negative connotation and I suppose someone who was just against the work of God’s Spirit in transforming a person into “a new creation in Christ Jesus” (II Corinthians 5:17) could chose that word. But for some people, like I was back then, I certainly needed a major resetting of my values, concepts, principles, morals, purpose, vision, goals and the way I ordered my life. So I joyously and eagerly got with the program of daily Bible study, learning the basics of what was written there. The Bible talks about “being renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23). It talks about “the washing of water by the Word” (Ephesians 5:26). Jesus even said, “Now you are clean through the Word that I have spoken unto you.”  (John 15:3)

Like I wrote about in “Memorizing God’s Word”, a major part of this training and “rewiring” involved the daily memorization of specific Bible verses. “Oh, Mark! That’s so horrible! You just surrendered your mind!” Well, some people just come to the conclusion that they are their own worst enemy, that they really need help and they can get to where they’re so desperate, they even turn to God and the Bible, as despicable as that may seem to many. That’s what I had come to.

I can see that this subject won’t be exhausted in one blog post. Because it is a big subject and people are dying in their darkness and troubled minds daily for lack of the light of God. I hope to write more about mental problems and how the truth of God can solve them better than anything.

How to say no to Satan

If we’re honest, we know there’s a lot about us that isn’t as it should be or the way we want. Admittedly, it can get to be discouraging. And then, often, along comes the devil.

It may surprise you to know that the devil can tell you a lot of truth about yourself that’s horrible, not to mention all the lies. So it can happen like this. You’re already a little down and then the devil points out some weakness you have. The devil is “the accuser of the saints” (Revelation 12:10) but often it starts out with something that you even know is true or at least partly true.

So in your heart of hearts you know you have a problem with lying, or gluttony, or violence, or some form of sexual deviation, or something. And sometimes you’ve tried to resist it. It’s not really what you want to do or be most of the time. But then the enemy pulls out his big guns and best sales pitch. “Go ahead!” he says. “It’s there in your heart! It’s what you really are! You want it!” If you don’t watch out, it’ll almost make sense.

But…, but, my friends, this is where a knowledge of God and His ways is a matter of life and death. Here’s just one verse, a really good one, that can trounce all the drool of Satan. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” James 4:7. Folks, there is so much crucial veracity in those few words that I can’t do the subject justice.

Even if the devil has a point, even if you have a tendency or a proclivity to be a certain way, it does not mean you HAVE to be that way. Back years ago you’d hear people say, “The devil made me do it!Nowadays it’s more popular to say, “I was born this way!” I wrote a blog article about that one. Well, to hell with both of those ideas from hell. The devil can’t make you do ANYTHING unless you COOPERATE. And no matter how you were born, the grace of God brings salvation and freedom “from all sin” (I John 1:7). Jesus said to be “born again.” (John 3:3) That’s what happened to me and I was delivered from a whole host of sins, foolishness, iniquities and vanity that had virtually ended my life before I was even 21.

So the first step in these things is to resist the devil. Just know and understand that simply because you have a tendency to some form of sin or evil does NOT mean you have to actually do it. Someone said one time,temptations-and-doubtsYou can’t stop the birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair.” That’s the truth, isn’t it? Well that’s how sin can be. Temptations can be like birds flying over your head. But you can keep shooing them away. You don’t have to let down your guard and let them settle and nest on your head. All of us know this. And it’s a real analogy to how sin is.

But Mark, I’m so weak! I have so little strength to resist!” OK, I know how that can be. For one, are you saved? If not, I can tell you, sin will “have dominion over you” (Romans 6:14), as it did for me. Here’s the truth that clinched it for me. “As many as received Him [Jesus], to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12) That’s what I did. I received Jesus into my heart and I strongly experienced receiving inward, supernatural power against sin that I didn’t have before.

But Mark, I just hardly believe any of this. I have so little faith.” Virtually everyone starts out like that; you’re not alone in this. How can you increase your faith? Again we go back to the Word of God.The-Word-of-GodSo then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17) It’s the Words of God that will grow your faith. It IS possible. You CAN resist the devil. You don’t have to give into temptations or even the things you know are in your heart but you don’t want to participate in. Read the Bible. If you don’t know where to start, try the gospel of John.

Like I said, if you aren’t sure you’re a saved, born again child of God, start with that. Jesus died on the cross to take our sins, to free us from sin and to defeat the devil. If you have Jesus, then you have that power to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). So don’t give in to discouragement or some perverse form of fatalism that says you’re doomed to be some way you know is not right and not what you want to be.

Call out to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Put your will, heart and mind on the Lord’s side. I know this works because this is what happened to me. If you keep up your resistance, the enemy HAS to flee. But also make sure you’re getting filled up with the things of the Lord and turning away from any activities or lifestyles that expose you to the dark side. The Bible says, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

“Is it not a little one?”

Lot had just been rescued and delivered from the fiery judgments of God which He had rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot, his wife and two daughters had to be led by the hand out of Sodom, being warned by the angels to not even look back. Famously, Lot’s wife did look back and was turned into a pillar of salt. That might be hard to believe but evidently Jesus Christ believed it. See Luke 17:32.

You might think all this would be an incredible shake-up for Lot. My gosh, that guy is going to walk the straight and narrow the rest of his life, no? Evidently not. And it’s a watershed moment in the history of sin when we read what happened next. Lot turned to the angels as they passed by another heathen town of wickedness and said to the angel, “Behold, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one. Oh, let me escape thither; is it not a little one? And my soul shall have rest.” (Genesis 19:20)

Folks, you can get the soul out of the worldly satanic system, whether it be Sodom of old or the satanic amalgam of metropolises that now dominate the earth. But just like with Lot, it’s not easy to get the satanic system out of the soul. God had “delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked.” (II Peter 2:7) But was Lot all contrite and trembling before the Lord? Did Lot make a bee line to his Godly uncle Abraham and his family up in the hills and highlands of God, begging to be taken back in like a prequel to the Prodigal son?

Nope, Lot immediately tried to cut a deal with the angels, “reasoning” with them that another little Babylon-like city not far from Sodom would do just fine and he’d really like to get back to some system preserving compromises and worldliness, even after God had just destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah literally right before their eyes.

“Ah,” you say, “this happened 4000 years ago and things are different today.” Really? If you think that, I’ve got some bad news for you. It’s like Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) As difficult as it was to go through, I’m thankful that God made about as plain to me as He could just how hopelessly sinful and lost I was long ago. My own ignorance, my own willful darkness very nearly took my life except for the totally undeserved, almost strange mercy of God who brought light to my soul when I was writhing in the agonies of the afterlife without God.

“Oh, Mark! Why did God do that to you?! Why did He treat you like that? Why does a God of love send us to hell?!!” Sister or brother, you got it wrong there. God doesn’t send us to hell. We send ourselves to hell through our willful, stubborn ignorance and choosing the wrong path, away from the presence of God to live in the presence of our choices which we made against His truth and light.

He didn’t have to plead with the angels to let him go to a new manifestation of the worldly system of his day. Lot could have asked to have a place at his uncle Abraham’s table and to learn more fully of the ways of God as evidently Lot did believe in the Lord. But it’s just like how it is for millions and billions of people: sin does have dominion over them. And except for the mercy of God, sin will and does have dominion over every one of us. Lot was like the Prodigal Son but who never “came to himself” (Luke 15:17). And sadly there are a lot of those it seems.

In the last book in the Bible, we are told of “Babylon the Great”, pictured as a wretched prostitute which sits upon many nations and rules over the kings of the earth. And God says, “Come out of her, My people, that you partake not of her sins or receive of her plagues.” (Revelation 18:4) But God in a sense has been saying that for thousands of years. He even had the angels take Lot and his family out of the Babylon of his day by the hand. And in the last days before the setting up of God’s kingdom on earth, He is going to destroy the final Babylon the Great, this final Sodom and Gomorrah that has now spread across the earth. Whether or not any of His people will get the message and “come out of her” remains to be seen.

We need to acknowledge our sinful nature and ways every single day and pray desperately and sincerely that God will “withhold you from sinning against Me.” (Genesis 20:6) Because as sure as your garden will start turning up weeds if you don’t diligent tend it, your own human heart and nature will rise up against your Christian convictions and character if you don’t daily “keep your heart with all diligence.” (Proverbs 4:23)

“Oh Mark, I’m not going to read your blog posts anymore! I’m going back to Joel Osteen and his lovely wife. They’re so sweet and positive, always encouraging and uplifting, not like you!” Friends, I’m all for being loving, positive and uplifting. But I’m just telling you from extremely hard experience that none of us had better ever get to the place where we forget how much we need the Lord , how much we should be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?!” (Romans 7:24)

Don’t be like Lot. If the Lord has delivered you from your Sodom and Gomorrah, don’t beg the angels to let you off at the next hellish place just down the road so you can continue in the compromised worldliness that is anathema to God’s highest and best in your life. Instead, be like Moses who “forsook Egypt” (Hebrews 11:27) because “he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.” (Hebrews 11:26) What Egypt, Sodom or Babylon is God calling you out of?

Italian video “Il libro di Daniele -secondo capitolo”

I’ve completed the Italian version of the Daniel chapter 2 video. Daniel Chapter 2 is the briefest, most concise picture of the history and future of the world in the entire Bible. I’ve found it to be the easiest way to introduce beginners to the phenomenon of fulfilled prophecy. The next video being worked on is the Hungarian version of Daniel chapter 2. My hope is to have that out in 10 days to two weeks.

Broken Branches

Everything means something, you know? I was out for a walk when I saw something and immediately I knew it was like a message or at least significant. Hanging from a small tree was a broken branch. It had somehow been almost totally torn away from the tree. It hung down and was evidently just barely still attached. But the thing I noticed was, the leaves and the branch itself was still very much alive and didn’t show any sign of dying, even though it was so damaged.

Lord forgive me, I should have taken a picture of it right away. Instead, my gardening instincts kicked in and I pulled it from the tree. But I’ll include a picture here to the left so you can see how far the branch had been torn and how little of it was still attached to the tree. Mostly you can see a black scar where it had somehow been torn away. But you can also see a smaller whitish place where it had still been attached. It had just been barely hanging on by that little white scar you see on the lower branch.

“So what!” you say. Well, like I said, everything means something or at least it can if you see with the eyes of the Spirit. Paul said, “The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made…” (Romans 1:20) And maybe a way to understand this parable that appeared in front of me is to turn to what Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” And He told us to abide in Him. “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abides in the vine, no more can you except you abide in Me.” (John 15:5)

But, let’s face it, there are a lot of us around who are broken branches. Lots of folks are just barely hanging on, like that branch I saw yesterday. I don’t need to tell you, life at times can be rough. Those of us who’ve embraced the Lord and His path of discipleship have such an incredible account of grace and power to draw from as we go through life.

But, brother, there are storms, no? Like Job said, “The thing I greatly feared is come upon me”. (Job 3:25) And sometimes it gets worse than that. You just never imagined that what happened could happen. Surely the Lord wouldn’t let that happen. Surely that person, such a dear and trusted friend, wouldn’t turn on you or turn on the Lord’s Work.

Sometimes “a man’s foes shall be they of his own household”. (Matthew 10:36) And it can get to be where you, the branch, can very nearly be torn from the tree. Your faith and your commitment are struck at the very roots, it seems. Those you trusted and loved most in this world, even brethren in Christ, fall away or even worse. And it hits you deeply. You may even be like that branch I saw, almost torn away, hanging awkwardly, almost upside down.

But for this branch I saw yesterday, it somehow was still clinging to life. “Its leaf also shall not wither” (Psalm 1:3) and this broken branch still looked healthy, even though it was so broken and wounded. Maybe you’ve see trees like that. Sometimes they are totally uprooted and laying on their side. The storms of life have completely knocked them over. Sometimes for some it kills them. But you see others who go on to live hundreds of more years after some great calamity like that.

I could name names but I won’t. They might be reading this. But I know of some dear saints of God who’ve gone through some pretty horrific things, not at the hands of ISIS but in relationships and cooperation with other Christians where they feel they’ve been mistreated or abused and it has nearly taken their life, spiritually.

Or maybe it had nothing to do with another Christian. Maybe it was just the storms of life, the varmints and the lightning bolts, all that each person faces at one time or the other. Some have just wilted and died on the vine. But some I know are like that little branch I saw yesterday, still alive, still green and growing , even after such an event that nearly tore it from the tree.

It’s funny sometimes the things I see on my walks. I’ve written about things like the worm I saw on my walk in “Everything Means Something“. Or how the Lord was almost yelling at me when I saw those 5000 little apples I wrote about in “Bite Now, Chew Later“. We all need to hear from God and He seems to speak in different ways to different people.

So, the bottom line? Hold on. Don’t stop abiding in the vine. Otherwise you’ll be like the branch that Jesus spoke of, “If any man abide not in Me he is cast forth as a branch and is withered…” (John 15:6) Don’t let that happen to you. Even if you’ve been pretty severely ripped at your base, there’s still some of you attached to the Lord and the sap of His Spirit can and will still keep flowing into you, just as it was with that branch I saw. You may not be the way you were but you’re still alive and in Him. “Cast not away your confidence which has great recompense of reward.”  (Hebrews 10:35)

Letting the Word be our prayer

You yourself can become your own worst distraction. You’re trying to go to the Lord in prayer and then suddenly you notice that your shoe lace is loose. Then there’s a beautiful bird that flies by. And then you’re a little hungry. “Oh, wait! I’m supposed to be praying!” Ever had that happen? Is there any solution or hope for this? One thing I turn to is to pray the Word.

Sometimes when I go to prayer, I just start quoting to myself Psalm 23 or, even better, Psalm 27. There’s an incredible power in the Word of God. It’s like changing channels inside your brain. When you quote the Word to the Lord, or to yourself, or even to the devil, there’s so much more power in it. God likes it and honors it when you bring His Word before Him , claiming it, clinging to it and letting it become your thoughts and your heart cry.

Of course there’s one hitch, isn’t it? You usually will have had to make an effort to commit portions of Scripture to memory beforehand. And I’m tempted to wax cynical or sarcastic here but I’ll just say it plainly: there are virtually no churches anywhere that do anything in the way of seriously admonishing their congregations to memorize the Word. So this integral part of our prayer life is left weak because so few know this principle of praying the Word. And so few really know the Word well enough to claim it and quote it in prayer.

Thoughts like this came to me some minutes ago as I walked back from my morning prayer time that I take in a clearing near where I live. Like everyone has experienced, I had been hit by distractions as I’d been praying and I needed to repeatedly “have rule over my own spirit” (Proverbs 25:28) and “bring every thought into subjection”. (II Corinthians 10:5) Thank God for His infinite mercy on us. Because, if we were required each day to pray earnest, distraction-free, focused and long prayers, I don’t think many would measure up to that. Therefor, often the Lord has to do things to break our hearts or make us in some way truly feel a strong need for the Lord. And in those times we can usually be a little more focused, a little deeper and more sober about our continuing need for Him.

Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Nothing good, that’s for sure. Paul said, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of Christ.” (II Corinthians 3:5) And this is as true when it comes to prayer as it is in everything else.

I’ll be in prayer and then some idiotic thought tries to take over my mind’s eye. So I’ll quote to myself, “I hate vain thoughts but Your law do I love.” (Psalm 119:113) Or suddenly I’ll get a picture in my mind of some foolish worldly thing, it doesn’t matter what it is. So, hopefully, I will quote to myself, “I will set no wicked thing before my eyes, I hate the work of them that turn aside, it shall not cleave unto me.” (Psalm 101:3) And if I’m fervent and focused enough, I’ll go on to quote “I have set the Lord always before my face, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” (Psalm 16:8) Or, another one along the same line of keeping our eyes on Jesus, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Maybe you don’t have this kind of struggle. Maybe you glide effortlessly each day into long periods of rich, full, deep, intimate interaction with the Lord. I guess I’ve had some times like that over the years. But more often than not I’ve had to make some effort to get through or out of my carnal mind and “the affairs of this life” (IITim. 2:4). And praying the Word, just entering into the Word of God and letting it be my shield and the  words of my mouth in prayer has been a method that’s helped me get beyond the trivialities and physicality of this world that’s so often with us.

So I suggest you try it, if you’re having problems like this. Maybe what I wrote elsewhere about Memorizing God’s Word could be a help to you. And, admittedly I’ve written about this subject before in “Praying the Word”. Also I wrote about “Distractions”.

But I sort of think that this is a problem a lot of people have. “It’s all by grace” but at the same time, we often do have to make some real effort to leave the Egypt of ourselves and enter into the Promised Land of His Spirit in prayer , coming “boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need”. (Hebrews 4:16) If you are feeling weak and struggling in prayer, try stirring yourself up to stronger fervency by quoting the Word in prayer and claiming His promises. God bless you.

Sharing your faith and seeing miracles

Sharing our faith with those who don’t know the Lord is not only “the Great Commission”, it’s an incredible way to experience the thrills of heaven and be right immediately where miracles of God happen. It’s a crying shame that so few Christians regularly share their faith with others, or “witness”, as it is called. There are virtually no churches who teach their congregations that they should actively share their faith with others, much less teach them how to do so.

Most of us would like to see more miracles in our lives. We know the Lord is there and that He can do “exceeding abundantly, above all we ask or think.” (Ephesian 3:20) But how can we be part of that? I’ll tell you, if you take the step to launch out and share your faith, you’ll often see some truly amazing and supernatural things happen, things that are impossible without God.

I’m blessed to be part of a weekly Christian fellowship, folks who almost all are active daily witnessers here in Texas. Many of these have backgrounds similar to mine, a lifetime of Christian service which was mostly spent outside the USA. So mostly these friends are not beginners to witnessing. And with this example I’m going to share, some of you might feel these friends have a lot more holy boldness than you feel you have right now. Their method of witnessing is perhaps not what you feel you’re ready for. But they told us recently of an incredible experience that happened to them while they were out sharing their faith and I thought to pass it on to you.

These friends told us of an afternoon when they were witnessing in restaurants. [“Oh, Mark. I COULDN’T POSSIBLY do that! What would people think? I’d just be making a fool of myself!”] OK, like I said, this is not a beginner’s witnessing testimony and an example everyone would feel they can immediately emulate. But here’s what they said happened.

“We were in a restaurant and we approached a table where two women were talking intensely. We had some Christian material with us that we usually offer to people in order to start a conversation. So we offered the first lady something that highlighted a Bible verse, Isaiah 41:10. And just looking at it she started crying. At first we didn’t actually see that the woman had started crying and I offered the other woman material having to do with the serenity prayer. Then that woman started crying. And we couldn’t talk to them for a minute or two because they both were crying.”

“We apologized to them that we made them cry and the first woman said that it wasn’t really us, it was just that her grandson is in the hospital with cancer. And his name is Isaiah. And then it turns out that Isaiah’s little sister is named Serenity. These women had just come from the hospital where little Isaiah was  and after lunch they were going back. We were able to pray with them and they said they knew the Lord sent us to them right then to comfort them and to be like a sign to them. They said, ‘We know God sent you to us right now’.”

My freinds went on to tell me, “When you are out there, it really isn’t like hard work. So often people say, ‘When I met you, it’s like I feel I’ve met the Lord in you.’ Often there’s this incredible timing to things, even though we don’t know it ourselves. It’s like a flow to be in and we take on the mantle of the Lord. This is how He’s ordained it and when you make yourself available, then His miracle working power is done through you, right in front of you and you are as amazed as the others. A person said to us today, ‘How does this work? Does God know this and then He told the angels to send you to this restaurant so you can talk to me? It must be because it’s not an accident that you came to see me today.’”

“Mark, these folks must really be saints. Probably no problems but just barely in this world they’re so spiritual.”

Well they just told me that not long ago, when their children were really not doing good, having troubles with growing up, that the only way they got through it was to go out daily and share their faith with others. Thinking about the needs of others and pouring out to others was a way to keep putting first the things of the Lord when their own situations were going over their head, even after they’d been doing everything they could for their kids.

They said “It just helped us to go out and talk to and help others as so many have so many problems and we were just there to be a blessing and help to others. One time we were driving down the street and I said, ‘I don’t even know how I can talk to people today, so many things and problems are going on.’ But then the first person we talked to said almost immediately, “Wow, I know God sent you to me today.”

One more thing they shared, I just can’t leave this out. They had been in Beirut, Lebanon during the time of the war when there were the militias and the Green Line. So they had witnessed to the Christian militias which often were teenagers. Late one afternoon they were coming back from downtown Beirut through the Muslim section and they were about to cross the Green Line to the Christian side of the city. But some Muslim militiamen came up to them and asked them what they were doing, pointing their Kalashnikovs at them. They were there to prevent people crossing back and forth.  Then out of a side street came the Christian militia they’d witnessed to and, pointing their guns at the Muslims, told the Muslims to let them pass over into the Christian section, that they were with them. But their witnessing to the Christian militias earlier was what keyed them to stand up for my missionary friends when they we were stopped by the opposing militias.

Whew. This is a lot better than sports bars, virtual reality or Netflix, no? I sure think so. Witnessing and sharing our faith is where it’s at.

Knowing

I know it is flatWords are kind of funny, kind of deep. You know what I mean? Take “knowing” for example. You can say you “believe” something but when you say you know something, it’s similar but also really different. And both of those words occupy a very prominent place in the Bible.

Probably the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” They say the whole message of the Bible is encapsulated in that verse. And the key and pith of it is in “believing” in Jesus. But that word, “believe”, in English, can at times come across as slightly weak. You can ask someone, “Are you going to the party?” And if they say, “I believe so”, you might come back with, “Well, are you sure?” And if they then say, “I think so,” you’d probably sense a lack of certainty in their voice. But if they say, “I know I will”, then that’s pretty much it. There’s certainty in knowing.

John writing in prison flatAnd the Bible teaches us not just to believe in Jesus and God but to know Them. And, yes, that is possible. Paul said, “I know whom I have believed…” (II Timothy 1:12) And John the beloved disciple said, “These things I have written to you that believe on the name of the son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life…”. (I John 5:13) There’s actually quite a lot about this in the Scriptures. Paul said, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.” (Philippians 3:10)

Think about it. Jesus had certainty enough that God was going to raise Him from the dead that He allowed Himself to suffer the most horrible death known at that time, crucifixion. And, sure enough, “God raised Him from the dead.” (Acts 13:30) Maybe you don’t believe that. But 10 of the 12 original apostles of Jesus were certain enough about that resurrection that they all themselves suffered martyrdom. They didn’t just “believe”. They didn’t just “think”. They “knew” , they were certain enough about the truth they’d seen and heard from the Lord that they died for that truth and that Lord, knowing with certainty that eternal life was theirs.

And against the backdrop of the world we live in, that kind of certainty, that kind of knowing is rather rare. Of course, it can be said that people give their lives for causes all the time. Soldiers do it and many others give their lives in a lifetime of what sometimes turns out to be a very questionable goal or dream.

So, admittedly, there’s a lot of uncertainty in this world. I was thinking about an obscure verse this morning in Ecclesiastes which says of God “…also He has set the world in their heart so that no man can find out the work that God does from the beginning to the end.path ahead(Ecc. 3:11) That’s why we Christians say we have to take a lot of things “by faith”. Paul said, “We walk by faith and not by sight.” (II Corinthians 5:7) But with the heavenly vision we get from His Word, the eternal truths that are our foundation for this life we now live, we can see and find “the path of life” (Pslams 16:11) which often is radically different from “the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2) which is what the ungodly trudge along in.

But for those of us who know and believe in the Lord, there is so much more an element of certainty and knowing than in what the world has to offer. Jesus talked about building our house on the rock so that when the storms come, our house will stand. That’s all about knowing, about the kind of belief that has entered into rest. It’s a knowing kind of belief. This is what Solomon meant when he said, “Have not I written unto you excellent things in council and knowledge? That you may know the certainty of the words of truth, that you may answer the words of truth to them that send unto you.” (Proverbs 22:20 & 21)

Life can be really tough. We all make mistakes. We all have times where we really thought we were right about something and it turned out we were wrong. foggy flatOr there are times where we are just in confusion, not knowing exactly what is true of false. But for those of us who know and have the Lord, a good deal of the fogginess of this life is lessened if we truly know and have a living relationship with God and His Son Jesus, plus also that we deeply study and receive the truth of His written Word, the Bible.

Then, even if there is a lot of uncertainty around you, a lot you don’t understand, a lot you just don’t feel very smart about, you can still have a strong presence of truth and knowledge of the most important things in this life: eternal life through the mercies of God and Jesus and precious instruction in how to live daily in this world through His Word.