Texas People

It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the States. So maybe it’s a good time to tell you about something that had a major influence on my life when I was growing up that I’m very thankful for.

I’m from Texas. When I lived abroad for 36 years and someone would ask me where I’m from, often I’d say “Texas”, rather than the US. Why? Most of the time I’d be in places where the USA, because of its foreign policy, is sometimes not really liked.  But no one ever was hateful towards me because I said I was from Texas.

When I was 1, with my parents and grandparents. Kinder people and perhaps better times

When I was 1, with my parents and grandparents. Kinder people and perhaps better times

So let me tell you about some Texas people I’ve know and come from. In the picture above are my parents and my grandparents at my first birthday party. This will mostly be about my grandparents, especially my dad’s parents. Probably to many people they would seem like the most non-descript, plain, ordinary folks you could think of. They were born in the 1890’s and lived to their 60’s and 70’s. They never did anything really “great” or noteworthy in the way most people think. But they had a tremendous, fundamental influence on me when I was growing up, like Jesus said of some people of His day, “the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13)

They were kind. They were friendly. I never saw them argue or be mean in any way. In fact, that whole side of my family were some of the nicest people I ever met. And in my heart I just knew at an early age that this was the way people were supposed to be. When we went to their house, we “said grace”. That’s what you call it when folks pray and thank God before the meal. We always did that there. They were Christians. Not loud, in-your-face Christians but just simple, sincere country people Christians.

My dad’s mom had a tremendous influence on my life through her kindness and humility

My dad’s mom had a tremendous influence on my life through her kindness and humility.

We used to go to family reunions of my dad’s mother’s side of the family. There were 6 sisters and one brother and of course by the time I came along, these folks were in their 50’s or pushing 60. There would be these big get-togethers out on the central Texas countryside at someone’s house with lots of food and fried chicken, potato salad with general milling and mixing,  talking and chatting.

Lots of fights?” Never even close. “Lots of bragging, boasting and chest puffing?” Nope. I guess I’m a little sensitive to that kind of thing because in Texas you do run into a lot of rather proud, tough, assertive people.

But my relatives weren’t like that. They genuinely liked each other and had almost continual harmony; you didn’t feel threatened around them, you felt safe and welcomed.

Probably back then I wouldn’t be able to describe it the way I do now. I wouldn’t be able to verbalize what I was experiencing. But on the inside, it was really affecting me. I just knew that these were the best people I had ever met. “Lots of money and plenty of university degrees?” No. Mostly farmers, small businessmen and middle class folks with high school diplomas, which was pretty normal for their generation.

But there was wholesomeness; I’ll even use a seldom used word in our times, a purity about these people. They were “without guile” (John 1:47) , as Jesus described one of His disciples. Somehow to me it just made common sense that this was the way everyone should be. But of course they weren’t.

When I was 4, at perhaps a happier, more wholesome time in the history of America

When I was 4, at perhaps a happier, more wholesome time in the history of America

As I grew up, I realized more and more that many, if not most, people were not like my grandparents’ generation. They didn’t have the sincere and unfeigned faith in God that they did. They didn’t live their Christianity in their relationship with other people as my grandparents did.

By the time I was twelve, I had pretty much become an atheist. My dad’s father had passed on and we’d moved away from the town where my dad’s mom lived. And probably I’d lost some respect for her and those folks as I became more “educated” and “modern” and strived to be cool and intelligent.

It was only after I had my near death experience in university and then became a Christian that I remembered again what an impact those folks had on me. I’d been given an incredible sample of what it means to be a sincere, simple, unfeigned Christian. This is the type of Texas person that almost no one ever hears about. You’ll hear about mass murderers, hard-hearted haters or raunchy movie stars and rock band heroes from Texas.

But I can tell you that there were some humble shining lights of faith and simplicity here when I was a kid. Unknowns and unsung heroes, the kind of people that God blesses and wants us to be. If there were more folks still like that, perhaps this world would be a better place and we wouldn’t be overwhelmed with the daunting problems we’re faced with today. Thinking about it, they remind me of that famous verse in Ephesians, “And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

Kindness, humility, brotherly love, a lack of hatred, an aversion to pride, genuine friendliness and warmth. That’s what I saw in those folks when I was growing up. And I know that’s the way we should be and the way I want to be, God helping me. Texas people. I know there are still some of them around.


God’s Little Miracles: Choice and Babylon

Amazing-flattenedSomething strange happened this morning. I guess it’s another of those “little miracles” that I’ve told you about in other places.

I try to start each day with a time of devotions, reading some Scriptural material, reviewing some of the Bible verses I’ve memorized and taking a time of prayer before starting the day.

This morning I was mulling over in my thoughts some things that are happening in my life right now. And as I was starting my devotions, I was thinking about how God gives us our choice, even if our choices are sometimes wrong. I was thinking about the verse “Nothing will be restrained from them which they have imagined to do.” (Genesis 11:6). It’s about the first Babel or Babylon and how God let them have their choice, even when it was really the wrong one.

And I picked up my devotional book and immediately I saw that the passage for this day was based around that very event in Genesis 11, drawing lessons from that incident and the verse that I’d just been thinking about!

How did I come to think about that 10 seconds before I was reading about it in my devotional book? Was it an accident? Just a coincidence? What would a Las Vegas gambler give as odds for something like that to happen?

I at least took it as one of those little “ringing bells in the Spirit” from the Lord that there was something to it which should be explored and possibly shared with others. And perhaps I can share my train of thought that I was having when contemplating these things.

One was just the whole concept of choice. Tower of BabelThose people way back then were off track as far as God was concerned. They wanted to “build a city and tower whose top may reach to heaven” (Genesis 11:4) and to make a name for themselves. It’s just another form of what people have been wanting and trying to do for all these thousands of years: ignore God and make themselves great. Make their own heaven and reject the will of God.

God saw this and then said, “Nothing will be restrained from them which they have imagined to do”. Why? Couldn’t He have stopped them? Of course. But He didn’t. He let them have their way. He also scattered them by bringing into their lives a multitude of languages. But it says of this “they left off to build the city” (Genesis 11:8) . They were hindered, delayed. It was still in their hearts.

But then we go from the first book in the Bible to the last. In Revelation we see Babylon again, not as a simple tower from ancient times but a worldwide Babylon, ruling over the people of the earth. And then it says, “For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God has remembered her inequities.” (Revelation 18:5)

The thing that was in the heart of mankind since before the time of Abraham, that earthly material creation called Babylon, where every dream of the unsaved heart of man finds its place, seems to finally be realized in the final days that the book of Revelation talks about. God gives unregenerate man his desire, “Nothing will be restrained from them which they have imagined to do”. In the final end, they get what they want which is called “Babylon the Great” in Revelation.

So we need to watch out what we want. We may get our wish but find it to be ashes in our teeth. It’s like what happened to the wandering children of Israel in their 40 years in the wilderness. King David said of them, when they murmured and wanted something more than manna to eat, that God “gave them their requests, but sent leanness unto their souls.” (Psalms 106:15)

Jesus taught us to “lay up treasures in heaven”  (Matthew 6:19), the eternal world to come that will ultimately be here on earth. Treasures now-flattenedBut the vast majority want to lay up treasures on earth, to fulfill the desire to build and be a part of an earthly heaven, the great, glittery false fantasia that’s the worldwide materialistic system that has come to such an awesome tower of prosperity and spiritual filth in modern times. That’s why God says to His people of the end days, “Come out of her [Babylon the Great] My people, that you be not partaker of her sins and that you receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God has remembered her inequities.” (Revelation 18:4&5) What was in unregenerate man’s heart over 4000 years ago has remained there and it is having its climax and fulfillment in our times. “Her sins have reached unto heaven.”

Jesus told the parable of the wheat and the tares. Wheat is good for us, tares are poisonous weeds. But at the beginning of their growth, they can look similar. And at times, at the beginning, simple innocent faith and infantile, undeveloped self will and stubborn independence against God can be hard to discern between. But at the harvest, the difference between the wheat and tares is crystal clear. The wheat has turned almost white and is ready to be harvested. The tares have turned almost black and are worthless. One goes to the fire, the other to be used and to be a blessing. So it is with the things we treasure in our hearts.

The lessons from thousands of years ago are still as true today. “Chose this day whom you will serve. If God be God, serve Him, but if (the gods of this world, Mammon, Babylon and all the rest) be God, then serve them. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. (I Kings 18:21, Joshua 24:15)

Soft heart, tough spirit

soft heart tough spiritLife is just full of contradictions. And it seems like, for believers, there are contradictions at times too. Some famous skeptics even wrote books about what they said they saw as contradictions in the Bible. But how about when, on the one hand, we’re told to be soft hearted and humble, and then it turns around and says we are to be like soldiers. How can that work?

It is a question. But of course there are some clear and simple answers to this to be found within the Bible. So if you don’t mind to look at some Bible verses on the subject, let’s try to check this out.

behold this love-flattenedJesus said of Himself that He was “meek, and lowly in heart.” (Matthew 11:29)  If ever there is anything that’s remembered about Jesus, it was His love, His humility, His tenderheartedness, his forgiveness. It was even noted in the writings of the secular Roman authorities how much the early Christians loved each other.

But did Jesus ever get angry? In one place it says of Him, “He looked about with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” (Mark 3:5) Jesus was angry at the hardness of heart He often found in the most outwardly religious of His day.

And Paul told the Ephesians, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” (Ephsians 4:32) The New Testament is just chocked full of admonitions to keep a tender heart, softened by the Lord’s love. And actually the Old Testament has a lot of the same teachings. “Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” (Psalms 95:7&8)

It’s pretty clear that loving kindness is essential and “a meek spirit is in the sight of God of great price.” (I Peter 3:4)

But some would say, So Mark, does that mean that we are to just sit around being noodles and wimps!?! That’s what we always see of Jesus: sweet, weak limp Jesus. Is that really what you’re saying?! And if Jesus was so meek and humble, then why did He go into the temple of God with a whip and turn over all those tables (John 2: 14-16) where those folks were cashing in on the economic activity of the temple? Huh? Huh?

Like I said, there are seeming contradictions in the Bible. Because Paul several times compared our lives as disciples to being athletes in training or even soldiers in at war. “Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” (II Timothy 2:3) Are we supposed to be hard or soft, tough or tender? Is it possible to be both?

It’s like I heard someone say one time, “Keep a soft heart, and a tough spirit.” That’s always stuck with me, maybe because it so clearly defines where we need to be soft and where we need to be tough.

In our hearts, we need to have and keep the loving tenderness that God wants each person to have. It’s just paramount, “the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13)  It’s so easy to harden our hearts; it’s so natural, and it seems so justified. But it’s just not God’s solution and never has been.

But, on the other hand, our spirit, that essence of ourselves that is the real “us”, not just our minds and our thoughts but our being that lives within our bodies, has to be strengthen to be able to withstand the turbulent darkness of this world, the sacrifices, the blows that come against us and the tempests that beset us throughout our lives.

That’s why salvation is so essential. In Salvation, that union with Jesus when He comes into our hearts, our spirits are changed through union with Him. We’re not the weak, incomplete, wavering spirits that we were before. That’s why John 1:12 has always been so precious to me. “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believed on His name.

SalvationThat is in no way just some obscure Bible verse; that’s exactly what happened to me personally. I received a transforming power when I received Jesus. My spirit was changed. It was strengthened. It was transformed and it continued to be transformed.

So we so utterly need both of these: a soft heart and a tough spirit. Isaiah said, “No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper,” (Isiah 54:17) On Guardbecause our spirits have been changed into the new creature in Christ Jesus that He wants us to be. And He wants us and needs us to be fighters for Him, fighting with spiritual weapons to win the battles here that need to be won for His Kingdom.

But we still have to choose to “keep our hearts with all diligence” (Proverbs 4:23) , to keep a soft, malleable, broken heart for Him and for others; that’s what wants to see in us. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, Oh God, you will not despise.” (Psalms 51:17)

Is Not Easily Provoked

easilyprovoked-flattenedA few days ago I wrote a blog post about “clouds”, those little nagging things that come into your mind and sometimes your heart which can block out the sunshine of His Love on your soul and spirit. Or at least they can try to.

I guess when you get right down to it, it’s like Paul the Apostle said about the devil, “we are not ignorant of his devices”. (II Corinthians 2:11) We’re all tempted to doubt, depression, confusion and “the sins which so easily beset us.” (Hebrews 12:1) And it seems like, if the devil can’t trip you up with one device or trick in his bag, then he tends to show up again down the road with some other method for tripping you up.

That happened this morning. This time the mechanism was an old enemy of mine: provocation. And that’s why the thirteenth chapter of  Corinthians has always had a special meaning to me. One of the attributes of living in God’s love is that we are “not easily provoked.” (I Corinthians 13:5) But, boy, if you’re not deep in the Lord, it’s such a temptation sometimes to get provoked.

Some people just have a knack for saying and doing things that provoke others. Sometimes it’s unintentional, some little quirk or personal trait they have that rubs people the wrong way. At other times, a person can virtually know exactly what they’re doing and even intentionally provoke someone into saying or doing something that’s wrong.

Some of the worst things that have ever happened to me happened when I got provoked. So the whole lesson of not allowing myself to be provoked has been a very deep one for me. I guess it’s a temptation or weakness which God really doesn’t want me to fall prey to.

Perhaps the most famous incident in the Bible of someone being provoked to anger and then sinning was the story of Moses. Those folks he led out of Egypt and through the desert were a real case. They almost constantly were murmuring, doubting and complaining. Usually Moses just kept calm and stayed submerged within the peace of God.Moses Rock

But on one occasion the people were murmuring about not having water. So God told Moses to smite a nearby rock and that water would be given to them. But Moses didn’t really do it the right way. He was so incensed and provoked by the incessant grumbling and whining of God’s people that he said to them, “Hear now you rebels, shall I fetch water out of the rock!” (Numbers 20:10) hit rock twice-flattenedAnd then he hit the rock twice, with violence and wrath.

As they say in Spanish, “No bueno.” You could think, “Well, I don’t blame him, it wasn’t his fault, he was provoked. It was the people’s fault.” It can certainly seem that way. But God seems to have a lot higher standard for His people, especially the leaders of His people. God told Moses, “Because you didn’t sanctify me in the eyes of Israel, you will not lead this people into the promised land.” (Numbers 20:12) Moses was provoked and it caused him to act completely contrary to how God wanted him to act.

And that’s the problem, often the big problem with being provoked. It can seem like it’s not your fault. “Look what they did!”, you can say. And maybe often you’re right: someone really did something that was wrong. But still, those who know and love the Lord are not justified in being provoked to retaliate and answer back in kind for some wrong and evil thing that they are hit with.

That’s a hard saying, isn’t it? It doesn’t seem fair, does it? But then we aren’t supposed to be like everyone else. Jesus wasn’t. Jesus was certainly provoked very many times, over and over; the Bible says so. (Luke 11:53)

Personally, I can tell you that I stay really “on guard” about being provoked, or yielding to a provocation so that I don’t respond in the way God wants me to. It’s a real device of the devil to get you into an argument or to get you out of the peace and Spirit of God.

It’s in those intense moments when we’re so stirred up and insulted, when our first reaction is to quickly blurt out some thoughtless word or unwisely do something we’ll later regret, it’s in those times when we most need to look to the Lord, to not let our “old man” (Ephesians 4:22) and worldly reactions get the best of us and cause us to sin.

provocatoins-flattenedSometime it’s those kinds of sins, provoked by gross injustices or even Satanic diatribes from Godless people, those are the tests and temptations that can really come against us. But God’s grace is there to give us the power to not yield to provocations. Yes, that can be difficult. But the results of being provoked can be a lot worse that holding our peace in the moment of trail and temptation. May we all be aware of this dangerous ploy of the devil that too often many of us fall for. “When the enemy shall come in like a flood (through provocation), the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.” (Isaiah 59:19)

Burn Through The Clouds

under cloud-flattenedYou ever had a cloudy day? I’ve had a few in the last days. I felt “bottled up”, little nagging questions, fears, complaints or other kinds of nuisances just stacked up behind each other at the edge of my thoughts and mind. They seemed to come from the general direction of doubts.

So it’s all caused me to pray all the more. Victories are won in prayer almost more than any other way. Jesus, at the beginning of His ministry, went out into the desert to pray for 40 days. He had to defeat the Devil first. And it sounds like it was quiet a battle. But He won. (See Luke 4:1-13)

fog-flattenedSometimes when you’re surrounded by clouds, the best thing is to pull over. Kind of like, “wait till the fog clears.” Sometimes that’s the thing to do. If you’re not sure what you should do and you can’t see the road ahead of you, then it could be time to pull over till you can see clearly again.

But I think at other times, that’s not really God’s highest and best. Like the old song says, “Up there, the sun is always shinning.” I’ve been beset by clouds for a few days. But I know where the sun is. I know pretty much what my vision is and what I believe the Lord wants me to be doing. Maybe it’s time to “walk by faith, not by sight.” (II Corinthians 5:7) I believe the Lord was wanting me to let His sunshine within me burn away the clouds of uncertainty and the many other things that have been assailing me the past few days.

Sometimes you just have to go on “automatic pilot”, like airplanes do. The pilots often just fly by their instruments, not looking out the window. It’s like Solomon said, “He that observes the wind shall not sow and he that regards the clouds shall not reap.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4)  Like I wrote about Nehemiah in “Cannot Come Down”, sometimes we just have to say no to the folks who want to have us come down from the wall of God’s will into “the plain of Ono”. (Nehemiah 6:2) It’s actually says that, the plain of “Ono”.

It’s the Devil sometimes who brings the clouds, the temptations, the negative emotions, everything he can find in his bag of tricks to get us out of God’s Will. If he can’t dissuade us from doing God’s will, he tries to delay us, to get us tripped off on sidetracks and anything rather than using our precious time for God’s highest and best.

Paul on one of his missionary journeys seemed to be in a fog for a while.  He and his helpers were out on the mission field in Acts 16, going from city to city and then it says “they were forbidden by the Holy Ghost to preach the Word in Asia.” (Acts 16:6). So they kept going forward and it says they were planning to go to Bithynia, the modern southeast coastal area of the Black Sea, “but the Spirit did not allow them.” (Acts 16:7)

I don’t know about you but I might have been tempted to get agitated around that time. “Well, Lord, here we are out serving you and you keep telling me “no” every time I turn around! I’m in a fog Lord!” come to MacedoniaIt’s not recorded Paul said that but he might have been tempted. But I’m guessing it really got them in a stronger sense of prayer. And then came the answer, “A vision appeared in the night to Paul, a man of Macedonia saying, come over and help us!” (Acts 16:9) They were in a fog. But then it lifted and they got a clear answer from the Lord.

But if you look closely at the verses there, it doesn’t say they just stopped all activity. Sometimes you have to really read closely to see a hidden point. In Acts 16:8, even after they had been stopped twice by the Holy Ghost in going a direction they were thinking about, it says “Then passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.

They didn’t let the clouds of uncertainty and what could have even been a temptation to doubt get to them. They kept the light of the sun inside of them keep them going when in some ways they didn’t know what they fully were to do. They went on the instructions they already had. They kept going by faith, even if everything was not totally clear.

And, like the men Jesus healed, “as they went, they were healed.” (Luke 17:14) Sometimes we have to do the “wenting”, the obeying. In this case, Paul and his companions kept the faith and kept obeying, even when they seemed to maybe be getting their signals wrong. Eventually the fog cleared and they went on to the light of a brighter day. In this case, it involved the first works of the evangelization of Europe when they went into Macedonia and established what became one of the strongest of the Early Church communities.

If you’re in a fog, it may be necessary to pull over for it to clear. On the other hand, don’t let any doubts of gloom or confusion cause you to be deterred in your journey of faith. “We don’t look at the things which are seen, but the things which are not seen. The things which are seen are temporal but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:18)